Wednesday, June 6, 2018

“Licked” Sky Mini-Demo

I tried to take photos for the entire demo while on location, but I discovered that to do that, I need more than two hands. 

Last November I showed a demo of how I use water-soluble colored pencils to sketch on location. Most of those steps are exactly what I have been using all along and still use. With my perpetual desire to streamline my process, however, the one part I found to be cumbersome was painting the sky. I’ve never liked trying to convey sky by applying dry pencil to dry paper and activating that with water. Streaks are difficult to avoid, or the sky takes on an overworked appearance that I don’t care for.

My solution was explained in Steps 6 and 7, where I apply dry pencil pigment to scrap paper, and use a waterbrush to lift that color and apply it to wet paper. I liked the result of that process, but it usually required supporting the scrap paper by putting it on the ground, which meant I had to get down on the ground, too (at least for a bit). One windy day, I had to chase my paper “palette” down the sidewalk, and meanwhile my damp sketchbook page collected all kinds of debris. It wasn’t ideal.

A few weeks ago when I was sketching a house in the ‘hood, I started to get out my scrap paper to paint the sky, and I had one of those V8 moments: Why am I going through all this fuss of putting the pigment on the paper? I can get it straight off the pencil point – by “licking” it!

I typically use the “licking” technique when I want to apply intense color to a small area of a sketch, but it works for something like a diffused sky, too – if I spritz the paper with water first. So here’s the mini-demo of my improved sky technique:

Step 1: Spritz the sky area of the paper, and spread the water evenly with a clean brush. (This step is exactly the same as explained in Step 6 of the previous demo.)

Step 2: Use a waterbrush to “lick” a liberal amount of pigment from the pencil point. For sky blue, I like to use Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle 660 (middle cobalt blue), which seems too dark if you are scribbling with it, but it gets diluted by this method.

Step 2: "Lick" pigment from the pencil tip with the brush.

660 (middle cobalt blue); 508 (Payne's Grey)

Step 3: Apply the pigment to the wet paper with the waterbrush.

Step 3: Apply the pigment to the wet paper.

 If I want a little gray cloudiness instead of blue, I like to use Museum Aquarelle 508 (Payne’s Grey, which is my favorite, all-purpose gray).

A little gray added to the sky.

Mind you, I’m not making a wildly expressive, gorgeously granulated sky that painters like Shari Blaukopf are known for. All I’m doing is indicating that the sky was blue or overcast as expeditiously as possible while still satisfying my minimal esthetic needs. For me, it’s always about striking a balance between what I can easily and quickly accomplish while standing and getting acceptable results. (Striking that balance is the main reason I switched from watercolor paints to watercolor pencils in the first place.)

Once dry, my demo sample is fairly pale, but I like the effects. I'm working on getting more intense hues with this method.

Here’s a closeup detail of the sky I painted over Half Dome at Yosemite a couple of weeks ago. Standing on the trail in Cook’s Meadow, swatting gnats and mosquitoes with my sketchbook, it was so much easier to “lick” the pencil point than to get out my scrap paper, put it on the ground, apply dry pigment and dip into it.

Detail of clouds over Half Dome.


  1. Shari does beautiful skies but your sky looks vivid, too. Ha, I did mention the mosquitoes, didn't I? They are crazy in Yosemite after April.

    1. Yes, you did mention those mosquitoes!! I was eaten alive!


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