Thursday, October 25, 2012

Playing With Watercolour Pencils

Hello again!  Thank you all for your lovely, supportive comments on my last post about printmaking and my hand coloured prints. There were some really great questions and suggestions which I want to respond to in a moment.  But first I want to share the fun I've been having with my Derwent Inktense watercolour pencils!

Like my busy, brightly coloured table cloth...?  : )  My workspace is the dining room table, and this is my art making table cloth - paint spills won't show much on a busy patterned surface like this!  And I love how cheery and colourful it is - it helps inspire me.

First I decided to just do something "fun" to test out the Inktense pencils...

I love how bright and intense they are when washed with water.  My other "regular" watercolour pencils look so much more pale and washed out than these ones do.

That was so much fun I decided to try something else.....

In my minds eye the "Hearts can mend" piece was supposed to look much lighter and brighter, but somehow it ended up looking somber, dark and heavy.  But at least it demonstrated that the Inktense pencils can create some lovely rich colours.  : )

I surfed the internet to see how other artists are using watercolour pencils, and came across an online workshop by Dion Dior.  Her preference is to use Inktense pencils.  So I'm trying some of the exercises she suggests in her workshop.  One exercise involved blending colours using the image of a cherry.  Here's my version of her cherry illustration...

There are several layers of pencil 'washes' built up on this cherry to achieve the final image.  Once I was satisfied with the colours and shading, I went around the outside of the cherry, stem and leaf with a 0.03 fine tipped black Micron pen.  While I'm pleased with how it turned out, it made me want to try pencil-painting a "real" cherry.  There are cherry trees in the backyard where I live, so I found a photo from the spring and started my own cherry picture.

I love the soft look of the underpainting of the cherry (fuchsia pink blended with deep yellow)...

When the green cherries on the backyard trees were beginning to ripen in the spring they went through a phase of being a soft yellowy pink similar to the colours in this underpainting.  But today my intention was to pencil-paint a ripe cherry... so more layers of pencil were added and washed with water - layers of warm orange red, cool blue red, and a deep wine red.

And there you have it... a ripe cherry hanging from the branch!

I signed my artwork with every intention of it being a finished little piece... but the more I looked at it the more I felt like something was missing.  So I decided maybe it needed a little background colour. Out came the sky blue pencil...

The colour wash is really pale (and hard to see in the photo above!) but I think it finishes the piece quite nicely.  (Since you can't really see it, you'll just have to trust me on this... lol...)

One thing I like about using the watercolour pencils is that when you wash water over the pencil it doesn't completely dissolve the pencil marks.  I deliberately used that feature when laying down the blue pencil in the background - I don't know if you can see in the photo below (particularly the lower left corner) that I stroked the pencil in a bit of an arc.

I tried to stroke the pencil in curves and swirls over the entire background and even after it was washed with water you can still see faint traces of the original blue pencil strokes. I think this adds some nice texture and motion to the background.

Oh, almost forgot to say... one nice feature of the Inktense pencils is that once you've washed them with water and the paper has dried, the ink is fixed to the paper.  Subsequent washes of water will not lift or smear previous layers of pencil-paint. What a lovely feature of these pencils!  Makes glazing layers of colour so much easier than with traditional watercolour paints. : )

So there you have it... the fun I've had playing with watercolour pencils! 

Ok, now I'd like to respond to some of the comments from my last post on printmaking.  Hollace asked, "I am curious about the over-printing. Is that necessary?" In this instance it was necessary because the inks we were using to print with were water based inks.  Using water media over top of the inked lines created smeared ink.  : (  Not a good look.  There are waterproof inks available - oil based I believe - and if they were used a person could apply watercolour paint over them without any  problem at all.  But oil based inks require clean-up with chemical paint cleaning agents, etc, and the workshop instructor preferred to use the less toxic water-based inks.  So how do you use water-based inks and still over paint them with watercolours?  The instructor had come up with a method of printing her first image in a very pale colour of ink. For my prints I chose a pale grey so that if some of it smudged when I applied my watercolour paint it wouldn't be so noticeable. I did experience a little bit of smudging/smearing - applying your  paints with a single, light stroke is definitely preferable. 

Hollace also commented, "I think I would just try to 'color inside the lines' if the print were compromised by the wash."  You know, I never thought about just using watercolour 'inside the lines' but that could work nicely, too.  : )  "The blocks I've done were lino on a wood block. What you are using seems softer, like a rubber eraser. Did you like the product? The linocuts were hard and it was easy to lose control with force." Ah, yes... I remember the tough-to-cut lino from high school and yes, the vinyl material I used feels a lot like a rubber eraser!    This product is MUCH easier to use.  The instructor recommended a vinyl product called "Saf-t-kut".  It was quite soft and very easy to carve without a lot of pressure which gave me good control over the cutting tools.  Speedball makes a pink coloured material that seems similarly soft - it wasn't the instructor's preferred material so I haven't tried it yet and can't tell you much about it.  If anyone out there has worked with the Speedball product I'd love to hear how it's worked for you.

Suzi suggested, "I wonder what adding a little inktense pencil over them would look like."  Great suggestion Suzi! I'd not thought about doing that but I think it would work well.  The pencil stroke marks that show even after you've washed them with water would create more texture. That would have worked especially well in the foreground area of my print - the area that was to represent grass and vegetation.  I'll have to play around with colouring prints with Inktense pencils.  : )

As for the input on which print people liked best - it's a tie.  Between comments on the blog and comments on Facebook, it would seem that the first (blue greens) and third (all blue) prints tied for most popular and the second (warm sunset colours) print was many peoples' second favourite.  Thank you all for taking time to give me your input!

Not sure what project I'll be working on next.  I might play around with mixing traditional watercolours with the Inktense watercolour pencils... but then again... I guess you'll have to check back next week to see where the creative muse led!
-- Fern  : )


  1. Fern, what a lovely long post! I do like your cherries. It's a little early here, but they are always around at Christmas. I have drawn cherries in pastels and painted them in watercolour and oils, but with your inspiration, I might try them in pencil. Thanks for sharing the technical side of the inktense pencils. The fact that they dry allowing a wash to go over sounds interesting. I am so glad you like my suggestion, I've never done that before on a blog! You put such a lot of detail into your work, so the soft background wash, works well. I wonder what you'll be up to next!

  2. Fern, I love your work! Such lovely layers. Thanks for showing all the steps and explaining your process. I haven't played much with watercolor pencils (I like the watercolor crayons a lot), but you've inspired me to play today. Happy creating!

  3. This was a wonderful post, Fern, and I so appreciate your answers to my questions. Your answers make me much more eager to try block printing again--I really love the look. Yours are so beautiful. I wonder if acrylic ink would solve the "doesn't smear/ water soluble" dilemma. I don't think I have the stamina for over-printing. Too nerve-wracking!
    The cherry is beautiful. Your use of the Inktense pencils takes away some "fear of watercolor"! It is so helpful to get tips on products and brands that artists are liking. And a step by step tutorial is sharing the benefit of your learning and experience. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I think I'll shop for some Saf-t-kut.
    On another note, I see that you are in Victoria where we have had the best 2 mini-vacations in the past 2 years. We are already booked for a full week next September!

    Ah, well, the rainy season gives us more time in the studio, right?

  4. That cherry looks good enough to eat!