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AQUARELLES - Watercolour Pencils

These are the soluble ones which are sometimes referred to as Watercolour Pencils. They can be used Dry, just like wax type pencils, or the pigment can be dissolved and blended with water, on the paper. Once you understand how they work, they are the most useful coloured pencil
AQUARELLE PENCIL TECHNIQUES  - 1 - SUMMARY Watercolour pencils can be used dry or ‘wet’ – which is to say that the pencil pigment can be moistened with water in several ways or simply used in the same way as a wax type pencil. The point of the pencil can also be sharpened in different ways to achieve different results. Many pencil pigments used in water soluble pencils are totally permanent once dry,  and, as a general rule, colour will become intensified once water is applied, so be cautious about the amount of colour you apply to the paper if you plan to wet the pigment later. Do check your colours dry and wet before you start using them (see below) DRY Techniques    Used ‘dry’ there is little difference between Watercolour pencils and Dry Point (Oil or Wax) Coloured Pencils. The pigments are identical, and the levels of lightfastness compare with those of traditional watercolours. Used dry, you may find that watercolour pencils feel dry when applied to paper. This is down to the fact that the binder holding the pigment is water soluble and less ‘slippy’ than those used in wax and oil based pencils WET Techniques The main benefits of Watercolour pencils is their versatility and the ability to use them ‘wet’ in one of several ways (see below and in the following section, ‘Ways of using’ ). Lightfastness - the aquarelles sometimes show a lower lightfastness grade compared to the same colour as wax type pencils from the same maker. This is because the finished moistened colour will usually sit in a thinner layer on the paper than dry pigment in a wax carrier, so Aquarelles are  more susceptible than dry coloured pencil to fading in strong light . The pencil binder in Aquarelles is slightly different from wax pencils as it needs to dissolve with water rather than thinners, and this can lead to different handling (even within different brands from the same manufacturer).   Once you moisten dry W/C pencil pigment on paper, you will see an immediate gain in colour intensity.   There will be a sharp increase in colour contrast.  If you are inexperienced with the pencils you may well be surprised. I suggest the need to practice first on plain watercolour paper and see the effect of adding water to each dry colour in your collection.   The darker colours in your collection will have a higher level of pigment in their make up. The paler colours will have more filler and less actual pigment,  so generally, you will see less colour gain with the paler colours and particularly light yellows and pastel colours, but you will tend to see major gains in the intensity of the stronger and darker colours, reds, oranges, blues and greens. Different brands vary, but the better brands will convert the colour to an almost completely fluid watercolour wash.   Keep in mind that an area where the colour has been ‘shaded in’ will lift and spread more easily with a brush than a drawn ‘line’, which will tend to lift only a percentage and leave a mark bedded into the paper.   Keep your colour layers lightly applied. In addition to the smoothness with which they dissolve, you may wish to compare the comparative opacity of the colour in different brands.  Some brands have virtually all transparent pigments whilst others use some traditionally opaque earth colours.   If you mix too many opaque colours together you will get the infamous ‘mud’ discovered by many new watercolourists Earth based colours (Sienna, Umber, Ochre) will not dissolve completely and mixtures of colours may well separate out into granular washes. Some manufacturrs will produce their dark reds and browns from chemically derived pigments and these ‘Hues’ will most likely be transparent. WARNING Watercolour Pencils give us the opportunity to use pencil pigment dry or wet.   This is not to say that we should wet the pencil at any time. Because the pigment core of the pencil - the ‘lead’ - is designed to dissolve.  If you add water, that is what it will do. There are art teachers and books that suggest that you should - or could - take the brush to the pencil point and either wet and use the point on the paper for greater intensity of colour, or take off the colour with the brush from the point and use the brush to paint with. You CAN do all of these things just as you CAN run naked up the High street But you SHOULDN’T If the pencil core is made wet, it starts to break down and lose its’ internal strength, you then cannot easily use it in its dry pencil form without sharpening away the damp portion to get back to dry pigment.   That reduces the pencil into the waste bin, and you have to buy a new pencil much sooner.   Good for the manufacturer but bad for you. If you want to use pigment from the brush, sharpen the point carefully into a dish - avoiding any wood - and then wet the pigment material and use it from there just like watercolour.  Alternatively, you can make a pocket Palette on a piece of cold pressed watercolour paper (Bockingford is good for this, but any paper with a fairly rough surface will do ), make sure that you get a good block of colour down on the paper and then use it like a paint box to lift off colour as required. I have listed various alternative ways of using your Watercolour Pencils on the second page of this section.  For completeness, some of the points are repeated from the points made above -    sorry if it becomes tedious  but it is very important ! COLOUR SHIFT Some brands suffer more with this than others.   When you compare the colour applied to the paper dry with the colour after water has been applied,  you may see a difference in colour TINT as well as intensity . Often dark colours are the ones most likely to change and the lower priced brands are also the most likely to suffer.   For this reason, I always suggest preparing a colour chart for every box of Aquarelle pencils immediately you open the new box.  Take a clean sheet of watercolour paper (cold pressed is fine ) and prepare a series of small blocks of colour in rows - a trio of each colour side by side with a name and reference number (as appropriate) in biro.   Leave the first block of each set ‘dry’.  Moisten the second block of each set with a drop of clean water, and take a clean wet brush to the third block and ‘pull’ the colour out as a wash, getting fainter and fainter. This will show you any danger areas where moistened colour differs from dry colour in actual tint. It will also show you where good thin wash colours are, and note any opaque colours.   I still refer to my charts after using some CP colours for years BELOW is a scan of the chart for Caran d’Ache Supracolor Aquarelles. You will see how the colours have been laid out, how I have added the lightfast rating ( the stars indicate 3 stars for best lightfastness - 1 star for the most vulnerable colours) and how the final row shows how the colour washes out. Supracolor pencils have very little colour shift between the original dry pigment and the same pigment after wetting
Sample showing the effect of adding water to Staedtler Karat 125-2 - Red,  on watercolour paper On the left. A shaded area has had water added and the colour has intensified but also where the brush has been used to drag a wash down from the dry shaded area, the original shading has been completely removed On the Right.  Two lines have been drawn, the lower one more firmly than the upper one. Water applied across the lines produces a wash but will not entirely remove the lines
Here we have Staedtler Karat no 125 - 73 Burnt Sienna In the dry it is quite a dark rich orange brown. In the wet state, it becomes a rich orange If you were relying on the colour to stay as the dry shade, you might have a shock ! Compare this with the Staedtler 125- 38 Sea Green shown below The tint here remains exactly the same though the colour becomes much more intense The colour shift we are talking about is not huge, and in some brands and some colours it is greater than others.  It is sufficient, though, to be needing care and pre-knowledge of how the pencils behave
The effect on the paper, using water with watercolour pencils This subject is more completely covered in the topic on stretching paper in  surfaces which you may wish to read through. Paper is a superb surface to use with pencils, and an excellent one for watercolour pencils, but some care is needed if you are adding water to the paper.  Watercolourists will know all about how paper stretches when it is wet, and then contracts as it dries.   If you add a lot of water to the paper, the material will curl and distort if it is not pre-stretched and firmly held down .  For this reason I spend some time on the site discussing stretching paper. If you are only adding modest amounts of water and merely damping the paper surface to soften the watercolour pencil pigment, or add a light ( just damp ) underpainting wash to small areas, you may not need to worry about stretching paper, particularly if the paper is a fairly strong one.   Water will still make the paper bulge where the expanded area is trapped within a larger dry area, but it should return to flatness once it dries. I tend to always use a 300gsm weight (140Lb) hot pressed watercolour paper which will not easily distort. The reason for this is more fully explained in the Surfaces section. There is a simple technique to help control the paper movement and ensure it returns to flatness, and this is discussed at the end of the paper stretching topic.  What you don’t want to happen is for the paper to distort and then not return to a flat state as this will cause more trouble than it is worth. Don’t be put off …….  Just be aware and consider all the options first.
SOME NOTES ON THE WORKING WITH AQUARELLE PIGMENT May also be of interest, as these cover the more direct application of watercolour from the pencils.     See these notes in the ‘Why Underpainting’  topic, which covers the methods in detail If you are based outside the UK and have an interest in another view of watercolour pencil brands and techniques, Rob Sloan has some US based information on not only dry point pencil brands ( including several not seen in Europe)  and also Aquarelle Brands seen in the USA and a page of information on Techniques.        All good reading              Dry Point Pencil Brands Aquarelle brands Dry Point techniques