Thursday, April 15, 2021

Forsythia - Watercolor Pencils with Grisaille, Part 3


4/11/21 Our backyard, Maple Leaf neighborhood

It’s that time of year when the forsythia in our backyard blazes in the early-afternoon sunshine. Almost exactly a year ago, I sketched it out of “sheltering-in-place” desperation. This year I looked forward to its brilliant yellow blossoms and waited for the right day. It was a bit too breezy for comfort on Sunday, but the light was perfect, so I sketched it through the window in our back door.

Carrying my bag out to the kitchen to make this sketch, I was still thinking about my recent grisaille experiments. Although practicing concepts with tomatoes is a useful way to experiment, ultimately my intention is always to learn techniques that I can use on location. Those experiments had already shown me that I’m not inclined to use a grisaille if I must wait for it to dry, one layer at a time, before moving on with the rest of the sketch. But what if I didn’t have to wait at all? What if I used wax- or oil-based (not water-soluble) colored pencils for the grisaille and watercolor pencils for the finishing layers – basically turning the Hollender method on its ear? The proverbial light bulb switched on above my head.

I ran upstairs to look for a hue that would complement that dazzling forsythia yellow: Caran d’Ache Luminance Violet Brown (129), which is neutral enough that it’s a nice shading color. Squinting to see the forsythia’s pale shadows, I used the Violet Brown as the grisaille. Then, with no waiting at all, I went in with two yellow Museum Aquarelle pencils to color the blossoms. I spritzed as usual to activate the yellows, enabling those watercolor pencils to do what they do best – burst forth with pigment. Using a non-soluble pencil as the grisaille prevented muddying, which can sometimes occur when I inadvertently over-spritz.

As I worked on this sketch, I remembered that years ago, I had tried using non-soluble pencils and watercolor pencils together on location with the intention of reserving the non-soluble ones for areas that I didn’t want to get blurred by spritzing (such as utility poles or houses behind foliage). But carrying a range of both types of pencils in the field became too much, so the phase was short-lived. But if I limited the non-soluble pencils to hues suitable for a grisaille and nothing more, I wouldn’t need more than two or three – easily carried on location.

The plot thickens! This deserves further experimentation, especially with more than one tone for the grisaille.


  1. Great idea! Love to see what you are going to do with it!

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I'm not quite sure what I'll do with it ;-) , but I enjoy experimenting! :-)

  2. Looks like you figured how to work the grisalle with the two kinds of pencils. This was a worthy experiment. Can't wait to see some further experiments. I tried to comment on this yesterday but Blogger wasn't being cooperative. Did you see the YouTube post by James Gurney doing the forsythia in gouache? It was great!

    1. No, I haven't see the Gurney video! I'll check it out! Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...