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AQUARELLES -Watercolour Pencils

A BRUSH WITH AQUARELLES You will have realised from the previous topic that Watercolour Pencils ( Aquarelles) come into their own when used with water. They can be used as dry pencils just like wax pencils, but they also add back the fun into watercolour Here we look at brushes and brush techniques
When you paint with traditional watercolours, you are advised to use a brush with some – or all – natural fibre in it, as this ‘holds’ water better and if you have a sable hair content in the brush, it also ‘points’ well and enables you to work with the best possible tool. This is because when you are painting in traditional watercolour, you are using the brush for transferring a water based pigment to the paper and want to be able to hold the best balance of the pigment in the brush and lay it down accurately.    Your watercolour brush will be soft to the feel, but come to a fine point It will probably also be expensive Using a brush with watercolour pencils can involve entirely different techniques and therefore also require different types of brush. Yes, you can use watercolour pencil washes,  and for this you will need exactly the same type of brush as you would for the process described above.  The only difference in the wash is that it is produced from the pencil pigment – usually by scraping off some of the dry pencil point into a dish and adding water.  The wash is virtually indistinguishable from one made with watercolour out of a tube or pan.    It therefore needs a similar brush. The main W/C pencil technique, for me, is the softening of dry pigment which has been applied dry to the paper from the pencil point.  This needs a brush which is fairly firm but which comes to a good point.  For this, an inexpensive nylon watercolour brush is perfectly adequate, and I rarely pay more than £2.50 for mine.   You need your brush to Moisten, Move, Blend and Lift. These all have a ‘scrubbing’ effect with the brush tip and therefore a quality brush will soon be ruined.  Once your brush starts to lose the point, throw it away. I will insert a WARNING here before I go any further.  Some watercolour pencils are designed to act like Artists quality watercolours ( e.g. Faber Castell Albrechet Durer ), Some will behave like Student Quality watercolours (e.g. Staedtler Karat ) and some will have different behaviours ( e.g. Derwent Inktense ).  The Inktense pencil is designed to respond to water once only.  It is designed to be permanent on the paper once dry, and therefore acts more like an ink. You do not get a chance to re-work it. The techniques, then, are as follows: Pigment :  You need a layer of dry pigment built up on the paper surface.  There may be a single colour or a combination of layers of soluble colour.  The method works best with several colours being blended and manipulated on the paper Moisten :   make sure that the brush is just wet.  Avoid transferring too much water. Your brush should feel only damp when you wipe it across the back of your hand.   This will apply enough water to the pigment to dissolve it and lock it into the paper surface.   Your colour will now intensify as it merges with the paper. Move  :    using a pushing motion, it is quite possible to move your soft pigment around on the paper.   I always suggest that if you have different levels of tone in your dry colour, that you work from the lighter tone to the darker tone. This keeps the lighter edges light, as the brush tends to ‘snowplough’ pigment in front of it.  The damp pigment will darken as it moves ahead of the brush tip One exception here would be if you were – for example – shading colour in a flower petal from a laid down coloured edge of the petal into the white paper of the centre ( or moving colour out from a dark centre ). In this case I would pull the pigment out rather than push it with the brush. Blend   :   When you have a number of colours or shades laid down dry on the paper, it is easy to work them with a moist brush to manipulate the coloured surface, blending and shaping the way the colour lies.   For this, a firm brush is essential  ( see below for an example ) And finally   Lift  :   because you will probably have much more pigment on the paper than you would with traditional W/C painting, the pigment doesn’t all lock down into the paper.  It often sits up like an acrylic layer. The difference from acrylic though, is that your W/C pencil pigment can be re-worked and lifted ( but not Inktense - see above). Again you will need a firm brush for this – and probably one with a good point to it.  Make sure that you have some kitchen roll to hand before you start to be able to remove the surplus lifted colour So, DON’T use expensive sable brushes for Watercolour pencil manipulation And DO throw the cheap ones away when they lose their point
In the close up above, you can see the cobbles to the right have been brushed in to achieve the shape of the stones in the road.  The pigment on the left hand side of the upper picture is still untouched
I have blown the scale of this image up so that you can see the detail. The under painting of the cobbles uses a range of colours - mainly blues and purples to give a good base to the brown added later and you can see the dry colour on the left hand side where it has not been touched by the brush - the pigment has a granular look. HOWEVER, you can also see where the damp brush has been used to moisten the pigment and move it into a cobble shape with light at the bottom ( where the wet pigment is thin ) and darker colour at the top ( where the pigment has been ‘snowploughed’ up by the springy nylon  watercolour brush )
What you do have to watch out for is the jump in vibrancy when you add water to dry pigment.  Some pencils are noted for the high strength of colour ( Derwent Inktense for one ).  Inktense are designed to give strong vibrant and permanent colour once the have been wet. The lower cost student colours can also give shocks as they often use chemical based pigments which are permanent. The example shown here is of a Robin worked in Staedtler Karat Aquarelles - a very good student quality brand and good value for money. Note the upper image is of the dry colour The lower one is of the colour moistened with a damp brush.  The pigment fills the dips in the paper grain and becomes much stronger