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Painting The Swan Ballerina Using Derwent Shade and Tone Mixed Media Set by Zoe James-Williams

  • Dec 24, 2021
  • Written by: Zoe James-Williams

I was incredibly excited to receive the new Shade and Tone Mixed Media Set including a mix of natural and monochrome pan watercolours and pencils from Derwent collections. I was particularly taken with the different shades of greys and blacks complimenting the warmer colours and was immediately taken back into the shadows of wings of the theatre which inspired me to paint this scene from The Dying Swan. This is a prima ballerina dancing a solo as I saw her from the wings. I thought her white feathered costume against the night sky would be perfect for this palette. 


From the Shade and Tone set:

  • Shade and Tone Paint Pan Set
  • Graphic B Pencil
  • Onyx Dark Pencil
  • Drawing Terracotta Pencil
  • Mini Waterbrush

Extra to the set:

Stage 1: Underdrawing

Material: Graphic B Pencil

I drew out Odette onto Inktense Watercolour paper with the B pencil that comes with this set, focusing on the negative spaces created by her arms, the sweep of her body. I drew in the tutu quite loosely. 


Stage 2: Background First Layer

Materials: Mars Orange, Sanguine, Venetian Red, Sepia paints

The background was painted in two stages: using the warmer tones for the first stage and then adding a mix of cool and warm stronger layers on top, to give depth to the shadowy background and a hint of the stage lighting. NB: I did not use masking fluid to protect the arms as I was happy for the warmer tones to seep onto the skin to give some of the edges a softer feel and add to the movement. 

My technique to achieve this was to wet the background with water first. I then dropped the warmer tones of Sanguine and Mars Orange all over the background, then dropped the stronger tones of Venetian Red and Autumn Brown in a few places at the top. I then left this to dry completely.


Stage 3: Background Stronger Second Layer

Materials: Sanguine, Venetian Red, Sepia, Sepia Ink, Burnt Embers, Black paints

When this was dry, I wet the background again and dropped the darker and cooler tones of Sepia Ink and Burnt Embers in places. I dropped Black on the areas just above the tutu and near her arms to bring them out. I then dropped a stronger mix of Venetian Red and Sanguine again to add to the variety. I allowed areas of the warmer tones to come through to give depth and movement, so the ballerina does not look like a cut out against a solid black background. It’s important to give movement by varying the background and the edges so they are both soft and hard. I made sure that I did not overlap the wet colours myself or they would become muddy but instead allowed the beautiful tones to mix on the wet surface naturally. It is extremely important to work quickly for each layer when it is still wet or you will get the dreaded cabbages and unsightly marks! Luckily the Inktense Paper retains the wetness of paint for a while, so it is easy to work with but if the paper starts to lose its shine, stop. It is becoming too dry and you will get unwanted streaks. 


Stage 4: Skin and Hair

Materials: Mars Orange, Graphite Grey, Burnt Embers and Burnt Earth paint

I used a wash of Mars Orange for a soft medium tone in the ballerina’s skin, then dropped some Graphite Grey in the shadow areas on the right while it was still damp. I painted the hair using Burnt Embers and Burnt Earth using the wet in wet technique, leaving out the highlights on the parting and the crown. I also put in her eyelashes with a small amount of Burnt Earth. I also use the white of the paper for highlights. 


Stage 5: Tutu

Materials: Graphite Grey and White paints, Onyx pencil and Terracotta pencil

I used the Terracotta Drawing pencil and Onyx pencil to add a few defining edges on the neckline, feathers and textures in the ballerina’s headdress, hair and edge of her costume. I then used the White paint on the tutu, specifically overlapping the edges to give it a diaphanous feel, but also to add definition to the feathers on the headdress and edge of the neckline. I finally used a watered-down Storm Grey and for darker mid-tones, Graphite Grey, to add a loose feathery effect to the tutu and headdress. 




Thank you to Zoe James-Williams for providing us with this blog. Discover more of Zoe’s work on her website and Instagram.