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STEP BY STEP EXERCISES 6 : Venice Grand Canal
VENICE GRAND CANAL The Rialto Fish Market SECTION 2 Colour SKY and Main Building
NEWS AND DIARY NEWS AND DIARY The SKY Area  First we will look at the choice of colour for the blue of the sky and then We will look at techniques suitable for showing blue sky with watercolour pencils.  FIRST I must remind you that a totally blue sky is not the same blue all over ! The next chance you get, look at a blue sky and compare the blue as you look to the horizon with the blue that you see directly overhead. The Sky overhead is a stronger blue than the much paler version seen horizontally. There are also differences in the blue of a sky in the tropics and blue of the sky in Northern climates.  This is nothing to get excited about, and not a problem. For our tutorial we will probably only be showing a small amount of blue in a cloudy sky So the actual blue isn’t critical  FIRST OF ALL,   The Colour Blue DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE WHICH BRAND OF PENCIL I USE  AND WHICH BLUE ? IN A WORD,  YES    ! …..   BUT…. …… use whatever you have available.  If you use a different brand to mine, it will have different variations of colour and softness - your picture will look different, but the principles of working will be the same and your end result will be YOUR version of the picture.
I think it will be useful at this point to repeat some basics about watercolour pencils before we put colour to paper Different manufacturers have different ideas about how much pigment to put in the pencils - and also different ideas about exactly what Ultramarine Blue looks like ( and any other named colour for that matter) Have a quick look at this chart which includes more than Ultramarine, but you will get the idea.  I will go into the individual samples in a minute but this is just an overall view of the chart. The first line of each sample is the colour worked dry with first a light shading on to the paper and then a heavier shading ( which applies more pigment ).  The second line of each sample shows the impact of a damp brush with clean water first thing you should notice is how different the wet and the dry samples are and how much stronger the colour is when it has been dissolved.   Some brands are much more pigmented and therefore the differences between dry and wet is more pronounced.  Often the darker colours go much stronger when wet (they have more pigment in them) This is the TRAP that catches all those who try out watercolour pencils for the first time. Before you start on a picture, you should have tested the colours on a piece of the paper you will be using. This will alert you to any major shift in colour intensity and guide you over the amount of dry pigment to apply to the paper
I have included an extra blue in the first set (Derwent Oriental Blue) and the Inktense sample is Sea Blue which is the nearest to Ultramarine in that set.  Inktense is a strong and permanent colour and more difficult to use for beginners so I do not recommend it for this tutorial What colour should we use for the sky ? I usually go for Ultramarine Blue ( Care though, as can see, this varies by manufacturer ) WHY?   Ultramarine is a strong blue so we only need a little. Ultramarine is on the purple/red side of the blue range and suits a sky seen between cloud edges.  Ultramarine Blue is a cold blue. Derwent have another option, the Oriental Blue, which tends to the green side of the blues. It is softer and warmer.  This is also a strongly pigmented blue.  Try to avoid pale blues as they usually contain a higher level of filler and are more difficult to work for this technique.
Working SKIES with watercolour pencils This is a challenging area for watercolour pencils as they are designed to produce a line rather than a smooth even layer of colour.  In our case we are also using a rougher paper than would be ideal, so the suggestions I offer should, in fact, cover you in a wide range of situations. First,   What sort of a sky do we want ? The reference photo shows a cloudy white/grey sky.  If we opt for full cloud, then we don’t really need to worry about painting the sky as the paper will serve left dry and white.  On a bright cloudy day, the sky is still the brightest part of the scene and I often take a view and leave the sky area untouched with colour.  In the case of the tutorial that would be running away from the challenge. So, we will go for ‘some’ blue sky which gives us an excuse to use stronger shadows - as if the sky had gaps in the cloud cover letting strong sunlight through. WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS, THOUGH ? THE TRADITIONAL WATERCOLOUR OPTION If we stretch our paper it will open up a huge range of watercolour choices, as the paper can be seriously wetted and will not buckle. Once paper is evenly damp, it will accept pigment and allow it to flow and spread smoothly.   If you know all about 1/ stretching paper and 2/ doing watercolour washes for skies, you may decide to take that route.   If you don’t know about 1 and 2, then we need to look at how we can get even colour down on to dryish paper with a surface grain and make the sky look realistic. My own preferred route is to avoid trying to make all the sky area blue, and treat it as if the sky has white cloud cover with some patches of blue sky showing.  This can be very effective. THE ALL DRY OPTION WITH WATERCOLOUR PENCILS ( this technique can be used for wax pencils too ) We can take the ‘100%’ dry route and use a piece of thick white felt to pick up pigment from a palette of strong blue pencil material and rub it gently into the paper.  This will work best with a smooth paper like a hot pressed one.  It will not be so successful with a cold pressed grained surface paper, but it is worth a test with your paper and your pencils.   To use this method , you will need a fairly strong blue. I usually go for Ultramarine ( a reddish blue ) but in Derwent you could also look at Oriental Blue which is a more green blue.  You will need to trial the method first on the paper surface of choice. The procedure which is explained fully on the Pencil Topics page on Clouds and Skies   The fully dry method with felt is described under the first section which covers wax type pencils.    You can erase the edges of the blue  to manage the clouds.   This will give you a grainy result which can be very effective.  DO NOT be tempted to add any water to this blue sky area… it will ruin the effect and the area which has been wetted will come up a very much stronger blue and spoil the balance WE MUST BEAR IN MIND that the sky is only a minor feature in this picture.  We could easily work the picture with white paper for the sky and no one would query it.  If we add colour, the colour needs to lie back and avoid attention. It just needs a small bit part in the production.   I think we need a very subdued and modest addition of colour. I have two suggested options which make use of watercolour pencil techniques rather than pure watercolour ones. 1/ involves the working of a small patch of strong blue sky surrounded by white cloud 2/ involves the working of a small area of VERY pale blue such as would be seen through thin cloud 1/ some small areas of strong blue into the sky area You will remember that I decided that I would not stretch my paper, but add some modest areas of blue to enliven the white area that is sky.  If you have opted to stretch your paper first, then you will be able to do a traditional wash sky.  There are several examples in the Topics website showing this, so I will not repeat the method here.  If you want to review my previous notes they are linked here :   Skies  and  here:  Wash example There is an example of the ‘area of blue’ technique shown in the Coventry Canal Step by Step here :  Coventry Canal 1  and the finish of the picture. So that you can see how to develop this method I have done a couple of practice sky portions below.  The bits and pieces all need to be readily to hand so that you can work quickly. and it will be easier for you as you won’t need to have a camera in the other hand at the same time !
This first example shows a blue patch of sky showing between clouds. Firstly wet a small area of paper where you are going to place your bluepatch of sky. ensure the paper is glistening damp While the paper is still damp, transfer a very small amount of colour lifted from a paper palette of blue W/C pencil pigment. This can be quite strong colour - but we are going to manage it and it will get paler. Here you see the result of fiddling with that small blob of blue colour and with a pad of kitchen paper, we can fade out the edges to indicate cloud (below) it will look different every time !
2/  Working an area of very pale blue as might be seen through a thin layer of cloud
This would normally be a problem area for pencils.  Stronger colours have purer pigments, paler colours usually have the pigment mixed with a lot of filler which is white and does not respond as well to handling.  We therefore need to find a way to apply a VERY small amount of pigment to the paper in an EVEN way.    Another problem is that we have selected a grained surface paper.  It is much easier to get light layers of pale pigment on to a smooth paper surface.    Once more, there are two options here First we can apply the colour in a very thin wash.  However the paper should not be allowed to buckle with too much water.  If we do not stretch our paper first this can be a difficulty.    There is a second approach which works and uses the benefits and normal techniques for watercolour pencils ( dry pigment on paper and damp brush applied ).  For this we must use some means of removing most of the pigment that the pencil will naturally apply BEFORE we add water. This sounds mad, I know, but I will show you how it works. We use the aid of a blob of either blue/white Tac ,  a white kneadable eraser,  or a piece of tacky tape
What we are aiming for is this sample below Not the sample on the right
Firstly in this example, I have applied a VERY light shading of Ultramarine (Derwent)  across the whole of the bottom of the paper area. I have then dabbed the right hand half and lifted colour from the paper surface on the tacky blob. This both lifts colour and also presses some into the paper surface. The camera hardly shows any colour present on the right I can now take a damp brush and soften the very small amount of blue pigment left, washing it out over a small area And to demonstrate the effectiveness of this process, I have now damped down the pure colour on the left which was untouched b the lifting process. You can see how much paler our colour has become When working areas of your sky with this method, keep a pad of kitchen paper handy to ensure all your edges of blue are blotted out to avoid any hard edges
WARNING The area of colour shown on the piece of paper below is approx 10 inches wide by 5 inches high This is about one third of the actual paper surface. We would not normally need to apply water to an area this great in regular W/C pencil techniques without the paper being stretched first. In this case I didn’t stretch the paper.   24 hours after the test, the paper has dried out thoroughly and there is a slight curve to the paper where the area was treated.    In retrospect, I think it would have been better to have taped down the edges of the paper to hold it flat before applying water - no matter how little - to the paper surface.  If you use this method and you are using paper supplied in block form, you should be fine. If you are using loose sheets, or paper on a spiral bound pad, I suggest that you secure the edges of your paper to a board whilst you do the sky. I still don’t think stretching is absolutely necessary as we are using only a little water, but it is easier to take care, than worry about curing a problem later
As you can see there is only a slightly random pale blue effect.
These techniques should give you some options for your tutorial sky.   Your sky will be unique and practice before hand will give you a better chance of a successful result.
COLOUR CHOICE and The small area of buildings on the left I have selected this area to start because it is out of the way, it is relatively unimportant to the picture and it gives us a
Theses are two of my skies. You will need to practice if you haven’t done them before. I usually get one out of two suitable for developing into the picture ! You may not do as well at first !!!!! WE WILL NOW MOVE ON TO SOME BUILDINGS
chance to consider one or two of the basic techniques and not risk making a total mess of the exercise.  It is a sort of ‘warming up’ step ! First of all, our drawing does not include all the fine detail. That would have been pointless as we can easily draw in the detail we need with reference to the photo.  Yes, the pen version does make some shapes unchangeable, but most of you will have drawn out the picture using either Graphite or Watercolour pencil and anything which is in the wrong place can be erased.  Our drawing simply ensures that most of the picture is in the right proportion and in the right place. The picture in this area is a minor player in the overall scene, so we don’t need to have strong colours and hard contrasts.  We can stay with lighter colours, certainly for the first steps.   Look at the main building, it has mainly light terracotta walls and creamy white pillar decoration to the walls and round the windows. The roof is a darker terracotta and the eaves with the block decoration are in shadow.  There is a diagonal shadow across the wall to the left hand archway, and the darkest areas are the lower window openings and the archways themselves.  The market stall covers are as light as we are going to see, so we can leave these the white of the paper. Moving to the right, there is a collection of buildings also in red terracotta, but these are much warmer red, in different shades of red and the windows show up as dark slots.   Just in case you wondered, the dark shape on the right of this area is a bronze statue on a plinth on the corner of the Fish Market building, I don’t know, but I would guess it is of a Sea God. I didn’t include it in my drawing but you can add it as you go if you wish To the right, here, I include another photo of the far left corner of the main building which might clarify what you are seeing. This bottom reference is a photo taken from much further to the left so it doesn’t actually fit with your scene. You might wish to include the boat though if you are looking for an extra one .
This is what you will have in your drawing
What colours do you have available in your pencil set ? The chances are you don’t have the correct colour THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM WE NEED TO HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING THAT THIS PICTURE CAN BE WORKED IN MANY WAYS And no single way is ‘CORRECT’ To demonstrate this, for my original tutorial I used the full 120 set of Albrecht Durer from Faber-Castell on the Arches paper  ( No 1 ) The set of 72 Derwent watercolour pencils on the Clairfontaine pencil drawing   ( No 2 ) And a half box of the Staedtler ( 36 pencils ) on the pen and wash version  ( No 3 ) You should be somewhere in that mix but frankly it doesn’t matter if you are working with just 6 colours, provided that the colours you have, give you a wide range of mixtures and you understand something about the way a colour wheel works. If you don’t understand the colour wheel and mixing colours, then I will quickly explain When Caran d’Ache launched their Museum brand watercolour pencils back in 2013 they sold an introductory pack comprising just 6 pencils.  The colours included are shown below, and the competition for artwork using just those 6 colours resulted in some superb work
The colours in this set were: 350  Purplish Red              ( on the blue side of red ) 560  Light Cadmium Red   ( on the orange side of red ) 530  Gold Cadmium Yellow   ( an orange yellow ) 240  Lemon yellow   ( carrying plenty of green in it ) 670  Permanent Blue  ( also carrying green in it ) 640  Dark Ultramarine  ( with some purple in it ) Effectively two reds, two blues and two yellows This enables you to find good greens, oranges and purples by mixing the colours carrying the most related hues.  It also enables the mixing of dark greens, oranges and purples by mixing the opposites of the twins. You can do this with any similar 6 colours from any brand - see the small trio of samples to the right of the mixing wheel. They show some examples of dark mixtures.
When we do our main work with Aquarelle pencils we aim to apply the dry colour to the paper, and then mix and blend colours on the paper with a Damp brush ( just enough water to soften and mix ). If we use two colours on the paper which have an affinity - for example the lemon yellow and the greenish blue, we have two colours containing green.  We would therefore expect to be able to get a good bright green from the mixture. If we were to take the orange yellow, it has very little green content. Then mix it with the blue green and we have some green but not a bright green.  The amount of green content is low. If we mix the orange yellow together with the blue with purple content, we have very little green - if any at all - so our mixture will be quite dull and earthy.   By taking colours which are not neighbours on the wheel, we can get a wide combination of hues which give us many of the colours we will be looking for in this picture……   Though getting the right bright red for those blinds to the market arches is going to involve some entertainment, I think !!!!!
The six colours selected from the Derwent set produce a wide range of mixes The colours selected here were A Ultramarine 29 ( a reddish blue ) : B Spectrum Blue 32 ( a greenish blue ) :   C Primrose Yellow 4 ( some green content but low pigment strength ) :  D Cadmium Yellow Deep 6 ( orange Yellow ) : E Deep Vermillion Red ( with orange content ) and F Madder Carmine 19 ( a purple red).   As you can see from the mixtures shown we get a very good purple in the second box and some interesting darker greens when we mix the orange red with the Ultramarine in the fourth box.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN ? You need to understand the colours you are using.  Having 120 colours is all very well, but you need to know how the colour you have selected is going to mix with the second - or third - colour in your blend.  How strong is it, is it easily overpowered by other colours ?      A test sheet of similar paper to your working paper, is essential because your dry colour mixture may look good, but adding water may produce a wrong effect. ALWAYS USE LESS DRY COLOUR THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED IT IS EASIER TO ADD THAN TO TAKE AWAY There is no problem applying four layers of pale colour to build what you want It is a problem taking away colour that is too strong to try and get the exact shade
WHEN I COMPLETED THE TRIO OF PICTURES, some of the stages concentrated on the techniques for a particular area using another of the three brands. This makes explaining the Derwent verson more difficult as there are some gaps in the explanation when another brand was discussed. However, the images below may give you some guide and there is a method detailed based on the Steadtler pencils.
I have first gone into my 36 box of Staedtler Karat Aquarelles for this demonstration. This restricted set of colours should give me the colours I need and those of you working with larger sets of pencils should find similar - or even better - colours in your collection.   I need two basic colours here. A light pink for the walls and a darker brown for the roof tiles. The buildings to the right are more red and orange, but I have still used the same pink as a foundation and will add a further layer in a moment or two. I have done  small test ( Left here ) to check the wet strength of the pencils I have chosen.  The Pink ( Peach 43 ) is fine as it is a low strength colour.  The brown ( Fawn 49 ) is much stronger. I have also used the Fawn as a foundation for the much darker area where the market stalls are.  This warm brown will disappear under a further layer of dry colour shortly With a pad of clean tissue available to remove excess colour, I am now ready to add a little water from a DAMP brush to the pigment.  I am using a No 4 brush, but you could equally use a No 2 as we need to keep some areas in the ‘pink’ building white where there are white pillars on the fascia.  If you are working over a graphite drawing, don’t worry about the grey/black lines. We will aim to remove those shortly once the first layer of colour is thoroughly dry. Make sure that you even out the wet paint on the paper surface - that is unless you want areas of darker and lighter colour. I have used hardly any water at all here finally, Most of the graphite has now been erased - the rough paper means that some will be left behind, but mostly that will be absorbed into the scene.  The eraser will also lift a little of the colour, but as we now adding more, that doesn’t matter. I  am now going to sharpen up my pencils, add a grey and a dark brown and do some dry work to that left hand corner.  This additional colour can be touched in with a damp brush as required, though I suspect it won’t need a lot.
So we have tried out our basic skills on this small area of the picture. Some of the colour is dry on top of the underlayer, some has been drawn in with the damp brush ( the shadowed area of the market ) We can come back later and refine this  when we see how it fits into the overall scene.   There are a number of possibilities for refinement - one of which is to bring a fineliner pen into play.  We will see ! You will note I have included that dark coloured statue on the corner of the main building.  Once again we don’t need detail, just a suggestion. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO BEAR IN MIND is the fact that we are currently working a foundation for the picture. We will come back and apply more layers of colour later and also - with a fine point on the pencil - define detail much better.
For the next section, the notes relate entirely to the Derwent exercise I am using the Derwent Watercolour Pencils on the Clairfontaine Etival 300gsm CP paper, and you may recall the working of the sky on this paper. For this step I have put out some of the colours used last time and also some similar but paler colours, as some of the new step is in stronger sunlight.    We do have the benefit of a colour called Venetian Red in the Derwent set, so I have put that out to use.  I think it will do well as a good base for the bridge and shadowed buildings behind the bridge. The colours are shown here…………….…………………. I may add one or two more as I go along. Note how the yellow / brown / orange colours  make a leap in strength when wet, but the Pink Madder lake, which I want to use for the sunlit Blinds, stays very much a pale colour.  This may prove a problem. When working colours paler, it is always best to test out the strength on similar paper to the one being worked on. Some of those selected colours have been applied here in dry state. I am keeping the amount of dry colour in a thin layer for the moment - until I pluck up courage to apply a brush.  It will be wise to have a clean pad of kitchen paper handy when I do this, to remove any over excited colour as quickly as possible before it dries and sets into the paper.
One or two important points here As you can see, I have first applied a relatively dry brush to the most sunlit part of the Brickwork and the lightest part of the sunlit blinds ( shadow will darken the blind tops quite a bit ).  By using a barely damp brush, I leave a lot of white paper showing and this will enable me to leave that as brickwork without having to add further dry colour.   It is always best to work from light to dark with the brush, otherwise you tend to get too much colour pushed ahead of the brush and the picture gets too dark where it should stay light.    I call this a ‘snowplough effect’ - it has its uses, but not here  where we need tones to stay light. And here I have worked from the roof edge which the light is catching and working down into the darker shadow under the roof eaves. The colour in the area at the top of the wall which is in light shadow is possibly too strong now water has brought up the tone.  I will see if I can reduce the strength of this colour with a brush of clean water and a dry pad of kitchen paper.  If that doesn’t work, I will have to rely on the dry colour layer to calm it down. When applying water to the bridge, GO CAREFUL and leave the line of white stone along the top of the bridge and where the bridge name plate is situated
the colour on the bridge evened out nicely with the clean water and the pad of kitchen paper to lift off excess colour.  The next step here is to add some dry colour to bring that brickwork shadow into line and put in the shadows over the blinds.  I can then concentrate on putting in the boat and the two men.  I want them in position before I do any finishing off of that side of the building. Not terribly happy with the shape of that boat.   The front  should be a little higher from the water.  I might take a scalpel blade to the rear line of the boat against the quay to remove some dark colour and balance it better, once the paper is fully dry.  I have used the Derwent Blue Grey for the shadow on the brickwork, the far distant windows and  the shadow on the water under the bridge ( I couldn’t resist adding a bit of blue !!!!! ).
Carefully using the flat edge of a sharp blade removes a layer of colour from the paper ( the 300gsm paper will take quite a bit of this treatment) and then a layer of white pencil over the top of the damaged area will seal down the paper surface again.  This looks a lot better and the outline of the back of the  boat can be redrawn. A final group of dry pencil ‘tidying up’ actions and we are nearly there. The picture belowis where I am stopping for now. It isn’t looking too bad when you stand back and see it as a complete picture
Working on 300gsm  CP watercolour paper, we can correct many things that go wrong but we may find that it is not necessary. If we are aiming for photo realism, then we would be working on hot pressed paper and taking a lot of time and a lot of care to get every bit of the picture, ‘just right’. We are not aiming for Photo Realism, though. We are working a tutorial picture with the aim of exploring ways of doing things.  The paper is a very tolerant 300gsm cold pressed paper , and most papers of this type and weight will take a lot of ill treatment with knives, sandpaper etc etc.  We don’t need to do any correcting until the later stages of the picture. LET ME TALK FOR A MOMENT ABOUT CONTRAST The focal point of any picture is where the lightest light meets the darkest dark. That is where the eye goes when you first look at a picture.   The composition of a well designed picture will position that focal point at one of the golden section points - approx one third across (either way) and one third up (or down ).  That is not cast in stone, but a general guide to good practice.  There is a topic in the website about composition so I will not go into it more here, save that to say contrast can be tonal ( dark against light ) or colour contrast  ( think red washing on a line in a green landscaped garden scene.    So the highest point of contrast attracts the eye.    When we are working on a picture, there are going to be areas that have high contrast, but possibly only for a short time.  Consider the matter of the small boat moored against the quay that we have been looking at in the notes above.  The position of the boat is not a critical matter.  When we look at it in isolation with the black of the boat hull contrasted against the white of the paper, the position may look totally wrong.   When we complete the water around the boat and include some shadow in the water and against the quay wall, the boat hull will suddenly be a minor contrasting factor within the picture, and the eye will look elsewhere for something more important to worry about.   YES, we can correct the position of the boat by removing some colour from the paper using a scalpel and then seal down the scratched surface with white pencil.  This may not be necessary, though. Our aim in working this tutorial is to cover a wide range of techniques for watercolour pencils and to discuss and support your learning. SO WHAT IF THINGS GO WRONG ? It doesn’t matter Treat the mistake as a tool to learn and explore how to put it right. You may well find that it doesn’t need correcting.  What you felt was a major disaster at the time slides away into obscurity with all the other activity going on in your picture.  Just make sure that as you come to the final stages of working your picture, you bear in mind the need for contrast as a feature of your composition, and make sure that the area of highest contrast is correct and is the feature of the picture that you want to be most important. Bon Voyage !!
You may find it useful to read a note on CONTRAST which I wrote when I did the original tutrial with the students who were working along with me