About denisejhoward

I'm an artist in Santa Clara, California. I work primarily with colored pencil and graphite. I'm a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America and the United Kingdom Colored Pencil Society, and have Master Pencil Artist Status with the Pencil Art Society.

Two big awards to start 2018!

It’s only February 1 and already my work has won two significant awards for 2018!

My Faith’s End was awarded First Place in the 2017 UART Paper Online Colored Pencil Competition. (Yes, 2017–the announcement was delayed until after the first of the year 2018.) Entries for this show needed to be created on UART paper, which is a sanded paper favored by pastel artists that is also becoming popular with colored pencil artists. It comes in several “grits”, from 240 (which is very rough), to 800 (which is almost satiny). I was already a fan of this paper and have done several pieces on it, so it was a no-brainer for me to enter something in the biennial competition. I just didn’t expect to win the top award! Faith’s End holds a double meaning with a powerful message, which I think the juror, CPSA founder Vera Curnow, totally got.

Faith's End

Faith’s End, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil on UART 600 paper

The First Place award package (and what a package it was, on my doorstep!) included $700, a full set of 150 Prismacolors, a $75 gift card for Blick Art Materials, four packages of UART paper, a six month subscription to Colored Pencil Magazine, a T-shirt, and a bibbed apron.

My Ready for Winter was awarded the Chartpak Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Colored Pencil Society of America’s Explore This! 14. Entries for this show needed to be primarily colored pencil, but include other media, or be done on a non-traditional surface, or otherwise have some aspect that makes it ineligible for the CPSA International Exhibition. The show is online from February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018. See all the outstanding award winners here. The accepted pieces and award winners were selected by juror Mar Hollingsworth, Visual Arts Curator of the California African American Museum, from over 260 entries. See the whole show here. It seems to me to be a very strong show, so I’m humbled to have been selected.


Ready for Winter, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil, ink, and gouache on Stonehenge paper.

Last year, I didn’t even get into this show! There’s a different juror every year, so it goes to show that you shouldn’t let rejection deter you from entering a show again.

The award is for $600 of Chartpak products. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble using it up, since Chartpak is the company that owns the brands Koh-I-Noor, Schmincke, Higgins, and Grumbacher.

It’s an exciting start to the year!



Wrapping up 2017

Here it is, the first day of 2018!  What an art year 2017 was for me:

  • Exhibited work in 9 juried shows
  • Won 6 awards
  • Sold 5 originals (all commissioned portraits)
  • Finished 9 new drawings
  • Taught 4 workshops (Palo Alto, CA, St. Augustine, FL, Long Beach, CA, and on a cruise to Alaska)
  • Gave 1 presentation
  • Published in 2 new books: I have a 14-step tutorial in DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil from Ann Kullberg, and have a piece included in CP Treasures, Vol. V from Ann Kullberg.
  • Authored a new book 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, published by Walter Foster Publishing

All that while still working at a full-time job. Whew!


By far, the biggest time commitment of the year was authoring the book, 101 Textures in Colored Pencil. It consumed almost eight months. I had six deadlines, three weeks apart, in which I had to average one texture example per day. Each example was four iterations of drawing and scanning, and then I had to succinctly describe the details of each step. They took anywhere from 90 minutes to 6.5 hours. Then there was the writing of the introductory chapter on materials and techniques. Every drawing and word in the 128-page book is mine! I’m glad I did it–such an opportunity doesn’t knock twice, and it’s been very gratifying to see it so well-received among colored pencil artists and beginners, and to see folks actually work through some of the textures and post their results on Facebook. So far, it has ranked as high as #6 in its category on Amazon.com.


The front and back cover of my book!

Because of the book time commitment, I chose not to enter as many shows that would’ve required me to ship or transport my work, since those take time for preparation, packaging, transport to the shipper, retrieval, unpacking and inspection.

I don’t receive any royalties on the copies sold, but I used my author fee to buy a new Mac computer and an oversized Epson flatbed scanner, both of which will pay for themselves by saving me time. The new Mac responds much faster to everything than my old 2009 Mac, and the Epson scanner will mean less scanning artwork in pieces and stitching them together in Photoshop.

2018 is already stacking up! I have three workshops scheduled in Febrary, March, and a two-day one in April, and I have a presentation scheduled in May. I already have my first two juried show acceptances for the year, one of which will require me to ship two artworks to Minnesota in January.

What are my goals for 2018? To make more time for creating art, to play with some new materials, to gain representation with an additional gallery, and to get better at pacing myself. And oh yeah, to keep improving my skills!

May your 2018 be creative, productive, progressive, and enjoyable!


2018 workshops scheduled

2017 isn’t quite over yet, but I already have three workshops scheduled for 2018!

On Sunday, February 4 I’ll teach a new one-day workshop, “Colored Pencil on Translucent Drafting Film”. We will be using Dura-Lar, a translucent polyester film which very readily accepts colored pencil and allows for rich color and sharp details with little effort. Because of its translucency, you can work on both sides for richer effect or even stack layers for an atmospheric effect. The workshop will be at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, CA. Click here for more information and to register through their website; scroll to the end of the page to see it.

On Sunday, March 4 I’ll teach another one-day workshop, “Monarch Butterfly in Colored Pencil”. We will focus on how to create a soft, blurry background, the roughness of tree bark, the furriness of moss, and the delicate features of a monarch butterfly’s wings that you may not have noticed before. The workshop will be at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, CA. Click here for more information and to register through their website; scroll to the end of the page to see it.

April 14-15 will be a two-day workshop, “Textures Galore with Colored Pencil”, hosted by the Colored Pencil Society of America District Chapter 210 San Jose. We’ll learn how to create a variety of believable textures with colored pencils, from the roughness of tree bark, to the sheen of metal, to the wispiness of a spiderweb, and many more! I’ll share lessons from my book, 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, including my knowledge of tools and color selection, to help you conquer textures that may have baffled you before. The workshop will be at the Milpitas Police Building Community Room in Milpitas, CA. As I write this, registration information isn’t yet available, but check back at the DC210 website in a few weeks.

And looking all the way ahead to May 12, I’ll be giving my presentation “Colored Pencil as a Fine Art Medium” to the Society of Western Artists, San Francisco Chapter, in San Bruno, CA. I’m told that in their entire history, which dates to 1939, they’ve never had a presentation about colored pencil, so I’m looking forward to introducing them to it!

UPDATE: Here is the link to more information and to register for my April 14-15 “Textures Galore in Colored Pencil” workshop.

“101 Textures in Colored Pencil” is out!


My book, 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, from Walter Foster Publishing, started shipping a little over a week ago! Those who had pre-ordered it on Amazon got theirs and started talking about it on the colored pencil groups on Facebook, and that sparked a wave of new orders on both Amazon and my website. The publisher told me that overall demand has already exceeded the first printing, so they’ve scheduled a second printing in January. Target, Michael’s, and Barnes & Noble are perhaps the largest chains that will stock it.

Each of Amazon’s book listing pages has a sales rank section, which has been entertaining to track. So far, my book has topped out at #18 in Books->Arts & Photography -> Drawing -> Colored Pencil, #42 in Books -> Arts & Photography -> Drawing -> Pencil, and #18,398 in Books. Considering that Amazon sells hundreds of thousands of books and mine is not a crime novel or bodice-ripper, I’m happy with that.

And its very first review on Amazon was five stars! “Excellent book!
The writing is concise, very informative, and easy to understand. The color coded sections make it so easy to find the desired texture, and each of the 101 illustrated step-by-steps are easy to understand and follow. I already know this is quickly going to become one off my favorite color pencil resources. I’ve already tried several of the tutorials and excited to do more.

It’s available to purchase from my website, too: at no additional cost, I sign these copies!

You know how there are those little moments in life that you will never forget? Like the first time you successfully parallel-parked a car, or the first time you heard your name called over a loudspeaker, or your first kiss, or when you cashed your first paycheck? For me, I now add to those the first time someone asked me to sign their copy of my book. I heard the “plunk” sound next to me, turned my head, and there on the desk was my book with one of my co-workers standing over it, smiling with a pen.

It is already leading to some new opportunities, too. I will be teaching a two-day workshop “Textures Galore in Colored Pencil” April 14-15 in Milpitas, CA, sponsored by the Colored Pencil Society of America District Chapter 210 San Jose. In it, we’ll be doing several of the textures from the book.

This whole experience has been surreal. If someone had told me 7.5 years ago when I picked my pencils up again in earnest that a big publisher would approach me and I would write a whole book about colored pencil techniques and people would buy it and like it, I’d have said they were crazy.

My teacher has died

In the afternoon on Sept. 25, I was shocked to learn that my high school art teacher, Donna (Lewis) Billington, died that morning. She apparently had a massive heart attack two days earlier, from which she never revived. I started crying.

Many people probably barely remember their high school teachers and would think “What’s the big deal? That was a long time ago. Teachers get older and they die.” So let me tell you about why her passing matters so much to me.

When I started high school, I’d had no art training, but I loved to draw. This was long before the internet, and private instruction was not available in my rural area. I persuaded the guidance counselor to let me take Fundamentals of Art even though freshmen weren’t supposed to be able to take “electives”. So I was the only freshman in the class, and Donna–Miss Lewis as we all knew her–became my very first art teacher. For the first time, I had to apply myself and really learn art-making. When I finished my first project in the class, a black-and-white tempera painting, I hesitantly asked her if it was okay, and I was surprised when she said enthusiastically “It’s beautiful!”

Donna insisted that everyone turn in five sketches per week. It didn’t matter what they were of, or whether they were from life or a photo, only that you tried. This had an immediate impact on my skills,  because now I had a reason to draw (it’s homework!) and a reason to get better at it (I need to get a good grade!).

Over the next four years, I learned from her graphite drawing, pen and ink drawing, acrylic painting, oil painting, art history, color theory, composition, crafts, how to make a hinged mat, and how to enter a competitive exhibit. Within two years, people around town started asking me to draw portrait commissions; she accepted them as some of my weekly five sketches. She told me about a week-long summer art camp at the university taught by one of her teachers, and helped convince my parents to let me attend it. She learned of an evening watercolor workshop at the university and persuaded my parents to let me attend it with her.  By then I was sure I wanted to study art in college, so during my senior year she contacted a professor friend at the university and arranged for me to meet him so he could photograph my best pieces for a portfolio. She wrote a recommendation for me, which helped me win acceptance into the prestigious Washington University School of Art. (I was unable to attend due to finances, but that’s another story.)

Along the way there were other events. There was the time when I was carving wood in  class, and I forgot for just one moment to keep my bracing hand behind the carving tool. The tool slipped and cut the side of my thumb wide open, and as I bled over the sink, she ran in heels to the school office to get the first-aid kit, then did her best to stop the bleeding. I still have that scar. There was the time when some kids were especially mean with words, so she kept me after class to ask if I was okay, and told me that if they were ever too much, to let her know and she’d put a stop to it. There were the Art Club field trips she arranged, to Kansas City for a tour of the Hallmark Cards factory and the Kansas City Art Institute, and to St. Louis for a tour of the Old Cathedral and the Washington University School of Art. When boys acted up in class, she never lost her temper–a piercing glare and a few words in a low voice was all it took to bring them in line.

Donna was knowledgeable, patient, calm, dignified, and encouraging.  She was the kind of teacher and person that you want to continue to make proud the rest of your life. She made all the difference for me and the beginning of my art, and for that I will be forever grateful. I’m so glad we’d been in touch again in recent years, so I got to tell her how much she meant to me. I’ve kept every wonderful, articulate, handwritten card she sent me, so I can re-read them whenever I need a boost of confidence about my art.

And I finally got the opportunity to give a little something back, by drawing a portrait for her.


“Little Donna”, 2011 – Portrait of Donna (Lewis) Billington as a girl, from a photo she provided

I’ll always think of her whenever my work is accepted into a prestigious exhibit or wins an award, and wish I could share the news with her. I’d want her to know that I’m still trying to get better.

Thank you, Donna. RIP.

Book progress III

It’s been awhile since I posted an update on my book progress. I wrapped up the big introductory chapter on materials and techniques on August 14. Two weeks later, my editor sent me a “proof” of the entire book, all 128 pages of 101 Textures in Colored Pencil laid out and edited, for my final review. I responded with my suggestions and corrections. The latest news from last week is that it’s now being printed! I hope to have an advance copy in my hands by mid October. I’m trying to imagine what that will be like, seeing all my work and all my writing as a complete book in my hands with my name on the cover. Surreal, I think. I’ve noticed that it has started showing up on booksellers’ websites besides Amazon, such as Barnes & Noble.

So, what have I been doing since I finished? I took about a week “off”, worked regular hours, slept decent hours, and binge-watched episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”. Then I got back on the stick. I was invited by Ann Kullberg to write a tutorial chapter for her next book (which I’m not allowed to describe here yet), so I’m currently on step 10 of 14 of that project. I’ve entered a three or four shows and won awards in two of them so far (the others haven’t announced their acceptances yet). My submission for Strokes of Genius 10 from North Light Books was not selected, but I can’t complain too much about that since I not only had pieces chosen for Strokes of Genius 7 and 8, they were used in print ads for the series and the entire back cover, respectively.

As soon as I finish the chapter for Ann Kullberg’s book, I have three commissions lined up! That should just about finish out the year.