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AQUARELLES - Watercolour Pencils

One of the major difficulties for new pencil artists is the obtaining of a nice smooth background to their pictures using a medium ( a pencil) designed to produce a clear line on the paper surface. There are a number of techniques for applying dry colour  to obtain a smooth background, using a pad and picking up pigment from a palette of laid down dry pencil media.  The quickest and - I believe - easiest, is to use watercolour ( aquarelle) pencils and use them in their various ways. The topic is explained in a detailed step by step shown below, which was prepared for the sole purpose of showing the way to work a background. The picture was produced entirely with watercolour pencils and whilst the final result was not worth framing, it does serve as a working ‘how to do it’ example The picture does not have a reference. The composition is entirely invented and was developed as is discussed below.  The method of  putting such a picture together may also be of interest to readers.
I started this exercise as a short demonstration at the Knuston Hall Coloured Pencil course in March 2014. We had been discussing backgrounds and  I had some stretched paper available, so I set out to show how the colours were obtained and developed. Because this was started in the course environment, I don’t have pictures of the clean paper I started with, but I do have a photo of the results of the short demo, and I will explain how that was produced. And go on to show how the picture was taken onwards.
The very thin layers of colour wash are laid down on to dampened stretched paper so that colour flows smoothly over the paper surface.  The actual colour is very thin and it can take several layers of colour to start to make an impression.   Remember that watercolour goes on to the paper darker than it is when dry. Without any real plan of campaign, I have painted in some hills and the line of what could be a road or stream has been left as the clean paper. The sky has two layers of very pale blue from an ultramarine source ( i.e. a darker purplish blue ).
I have tried to rescue a detailed image of part of that first step from the photo file, but it isn’t very good ! As you can see, the layers of colour may be thin, but each layer adds to the previous ones and the effect is graded colour under total control
This is a case of decision making ‘as we go along’.   I have added some shadow along the road/stream edge.  Still not sure what the overall subject will be.  What might have been just general hillsides will now, I think, take on a Scottish air and have more golden colours in the foreground.
A couple of further washes of ochre shades have now been added to the green and I have put away the wash brush and the bowls of thin colour and looked afresh at the picture to decide where to go next. You will see that I have drawn in some Highland Cattle on the right and also added some trees in the middle distance.  Some darker shading has been applied to the left hand side high ground in the distance which will give a focal point of dark against the light of the sky.   I have now decided that the road in the foreground will have more ‘life’ if it is a stream. It may well become narrower as the picture progresses, but we will see. All the later colour additions after the ochre washes are still dry watercolour pencil shading
A damp brush has been applied to those areas of dry pencil with the result that colours have ‘bounced’ up in strength. I have added further layers of green shading to the areas where the cattle are grazing and in the distant lower ground, but I think that is a mistake.  I will correct this as soon as I decide on the next action
I did spend some time thinking about where to take this exercise, and decided to add some trees on either side.   Not a good idea ! The additions obscured the delicate hills on the right and changed the whole balance of the picture.  Some effort was then taken to correct this and finally the picture was abandoned.  It serves the original purpose, though, in showing the use of underpainting. The ‘disaster’ in composition was of my own making !
The moral of the story is clear …. It is better to work from a reference which starts out being a reasonable composition. You can always change it, but working entirely without a guide sometimes leads to something less than good. The exercise, does, though, show the technique of using thin washes to build up misty backgrounds When this site was re-built in 2017, a number of topics were omitted as statistics showed no readership in the previous 12 months. There is a Topic on using an airbrush with Derwent Inktense watercolour pencil to develop a background, which has met this fate. If you are interested in this technique, the topic still exists in it’s original form in the archived version of the old site which should be accessible at www.colouredpenciltopics.co.uk from early January 2018 onwards.
SCOTTISH HILLSIDE SCENE A step by step demonstration of working a background in watercolour pencils Traditionally, a step by step demonstration starts off with a picture reference. This one started with a clean piece of stretched Fabriano Classico 5  Hot pressed paper in a Keba Artmate frame, a palette of a row of small bowls containing clean water, a small sheet of rough paper to make up a source of pigment, a  nylon No 6 brush and a watercolour wash brush.  Of course a set of aquarelle pencils was also required and for this exercise I used Caran d’Ache Supracolour as they contain the colour choices I need for a Scottish landscape. The first step is to moisten the individual areas of pigment on the paper and transfer a small amount of colour from each area of the paper palette to each of the bowls making a VERY thin colour wash.  Make up much more than you think you will need…. You will use very little pencil pigment and it is better to make up more than enough, than try and duplicate a colour later
Page Revised February 2019