Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Game Changer

4/14/17 water-soluble colored pencils, 140 lb. paper (detail)
Learning to use multiple dry/wet/dry/wet layers of water-soluble colored pencils has become something of a game changer for me. These pencils that I love so much (though previously for mostly irrational reasons) have suddenly become much friendlier and more forgiving. I have more time to think or change my mind.

The first sketch I made from life with watercolor pencils after learning that basic technique was the lightship moored outside MOHAI last Friday with Urban Sketchers (detail at right). Although I had tested the red pencil I used on the ship before applying it, I didn’t like the garish pinkish tone it took on when I wet it. So after that dried, I went over it again with a brick red pencil and applied water again, and I liked the result better. In the past, I would’ve assumed I was simply stuck with that initial garish color. I’m not sure why it had never occurred to me to try adding more layers, but sometimes incorrect beliefs get planted firmly and have to be weeded out severely!

4/15/17 water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
The next day I tried sketching the over-ripe red Bartlett with multiple layers of dry/wet/dry/wet (at left). Once I got the hues the way I wanted, I applied additional dry pencil to some areas and then dabbed the waterbrush to get the mottled skin. Except the stem, the result looks more like pure watercolor, and in this case, I like the painterly look. I left the pear’s shadow dry to contrast with the fruit. I’m not sure whether I like it, but its texture definitely contrasts with the fruit.

On Monday I attempted a red bell pepper (much more challenging than an apple or pear!). In my first attempt at applying water to the pepper’s shadow (below, top) made of a blend of red and green, I didn’t move the brush fast enough, so I got an annoying line where the water started to dry. This is the kind of thing that happens to me a lot with watercolor paints, and as far as I know, there’s no way to fix it (and attempts to do so usually end up looking worse than before).

With the pepper’s shadow, however, I thought I’d see what would happen if I tried again: After it was completely dry, I reapplied light layers of the same red and green pencils. Then, remembering to move the waterbrush more quickly and consistently, I washed over the shadow, and I managed to obscure most of the previous attempt’s telltale drying line (below, bottom). Much more forgiving than pure watercolor paints – and also more forgiving than I ever knew water-soluble colored pencils could be!

4/17/17 water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
(First attempt at shadow)
4/17/17 (Second attempt at shadow)


  1. That is one handsome pepper! I enjoy reading about your forays into drawing. Also thank you for the colored pencil reviews :)

    1. Thank you! I see you write a stationery blog. . . I will trot over and see what you're up to. ;-)

      - Tina


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