Spectra Pens, Quick Sketching

Spectra Pens, Quick Sketching
My previous posts and plans have not gone the way I hoped. I haven’t managed to find a sealant or glue gun sticks for my crayons. However, this Friday was okay for that as we were going to the aquarium. One of the perfect places to help with primary observation and improving my use of the Spectra Pens.


I don’t know about you, but the lighting in all the aquariums makes it really hard to use my SLR. I tried to use my phone’s camera for the majority (as my SLR is a Nikon D40 and rather old) but sadly most of the photos came out blurry, so it was kind of handy that I had my cases with me. I brought with me the cases I featured on What’s in my Pencil Cases blog post, as I wasn’t sure on the lighting and whether there would even be a good spot to sketch. Thankfully I did find a bench at the end tank and decided to use my Spectra Pens due to the lack of space. Originally I had planned on using water colours but since there were a LOT of little kids running around I didn’t want to risk and unwanted spillage or something; especially since it was a dark room anyways.

Sketching and Spectra Pens

So I’ve had the pens for a good month or two now, and there’s two things I’ve learnt from using them. 1. NEVER put down pencil or pen first, they bleed a lot and the pencil gets stuck to the tip of the pen, ruining the colour and sketch as it makes a grey smudge. 2. Layer from light to dark. Now the second thing I’ve learnt does favour me greatly, as I naturally do that anyways when working with acrylic and charcoal. So keeping these things in mind, I wanted to do a primary and secondary observation. This is so I can get a feel for the pens in the moment. Sort of going for a instinct thing on how to work with the pens. As well as this I also wanted to actually spend time building colours up, seeing how they work with each other, and the only proper way to do that (in my opinion) is secondary observation.

Primary Observation

I first did the sketch of the tank. Now since the fish were hectically moving everywhere and I didn’t have much time anyways, I didn’t swatch the pens. I don’t usually do that anyways as I like the experiment and I’m not an organised person (art wise and life wise). I do feel like a grid swatch of these pens would work well of their individual colours. So working on a time limit I started with the most still thing there, the reef. I picked one that had a variety of colour, but not so overwhelming it took the colours away from each other. I later realised that doing the backdrop first made it very difficult to plot the fish in with their colours, but this was the point of this challenge. Once the colours had been layered, I then added the fish as best as I could. At this point is when I contemplated blocking in a water colour blue background. After much contemplation, I decided not too because it could end up too overcrowded and take away from some of the colours I worked so hard on building up. After I added the fish and the final bits of colour, I then outlined it and took the picture, as I really wanted a shot in front of the tank.


For the room being dark and giving it a good go, I actually really like how it came out. Definitely want to work on drawing that sort of thing more.

Secondary Observation

So when we got back from the aquarium I had a look through my photos from my phone and SLR. I decided to go for this one (below) as it had a great anemone with a good variety of colour and gradients to challenge me.

Anemone photo edit

Since there were so many lines involved in this, I got lost within my own drawing several times. However, in this one I did swatch the colours, as I only wanted a select colour scheme to achieve the vertical yellow – purple and the horizontal light – darker tones. Once blocking in the colours and blending them with the number 0 Spectra pen. I then went in with a 0.05 fine liners and traced the outline of all the details and adding slight shading. When nearing completion of the drawing though, Ross did point out that without the reference photo or any small detailing in the background it would be hard to determine what it would be. So with that in mind, as well as the plan not to overcrowd ink drawings, I used the same 0.05 to create a simplistic minimal background with cross hatching. I think this worked out very well as it added the context needed with minimal distraction from the main subject.

final piece 2 observation

Final Thoughts?

Overall, this challenge went much better than expected. I’ve finally started getting the hang of layering the pens and how they work. The primary one went well, however I’m not sure how to quickly sketch with the pens which I think was why I didn’t add as much fish as I wanted. The secondary went very well, but I think I need to work into blending a lot more.

Until Next Time.



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