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Learn about working with water-soluble pencils from Kristy Ann Kutch, author of Drawing and Painting With Colored Pencil (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York).
by Kristy Ann Kutch
Water-soluble colored drawing products include: 1) watercolor pencils and woodless pencils, which have cores of watercolor pigment blended with binders 2) water-soluble ink-type pencils, which are used like watercolor pencils but which are more permanent and staining and 3) watercolor crayons or water-soluble waxy stick-type products. Each of these products allows the artist to create a drawing in dry form, then apply water to dissolve the pigment for aqueous effects.
When sharpening a water-soluble colored pencil, always dust off the pencil tip before using. Sawdust from the pencil casing can appear as tiny fragments that appear grainy in a washed area and keep it from looking pure and smooth. Some excellent pencils are just a little too large in diameter for an electric sharpener, but these leads are well worth the labor of hand-sharpening.
Dried watercolor pencil can often be lifted and erased, depending on the nature of the pigment and how staining it is. To erase such pigment, allow the surface to dry completely. (This is the biggest challenge for an eager, impatient artist!) Then use a white vinyl eraser— a battery-powered or electric eraser is ideal for this—and erase the area to be lifted. Be certain to whisk away the eraser crumbs and to not try this when there is any wet area on the art. Eraser crumbs fly in every direction and can cling to and ruin a smooth, wet wash, making it look grainy.
If a pencil tip should break while sharpening, clean off the sawdust and save the tip in a sealed sandwich bag. It can be placed into a tiny container, like a plastic milk-jug lid, and used for painting from the point. Simply add a few drops of water to wet the point and use it like a cake or pan of watercolor. This works well with a fine brush for painting details.
shows the grated pencil
technique on the petals of
the lilies and in the
deep violet particles in
Pigmentation in water-soluble pencils is very important. Buy quality products, which have more pigment and less “filler” ingredients. It is better to buy a small set of quality pencils and blend colors than to buy a large, cheaply-made set. The quality is evident once the drawing is washed with a damp brush. Poor quality pencils yield washed-out, faded-looking colors and quality products give rich, densely-hued results that stay vivid. Look for brands that are available in open stock so it is easy to purchase duplicates of favorite colors.
To custom-blend colors, make a homemade watercolor pencil palette. Using scrap material, densely scribble the dry colors onto the surface. (Textured surfaces that grab the pigment work very well for this purpose: Ampersand Aquabord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Paper, or Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper.) Add a few drops of water from a brush and wet and swirl the colors until dissolved and blended. Simply paint small areas (such as petals and leaves) right from this homemade palette. This wash can be diluted, too, for a lighter, more subtle wash, such as for shadows.
Watercolor pencil pigment can be applied over wax-based pencil for fine details and smooth, fluid-looking shadows. Simply prepare a puddle of wash in a shadow color and brush it over the wax-penciled layer. The wax-based pencil does not cause a wax-resist, as might be expected.
For a densely-speckled effect, wet the area (e.g., a flower petal) with a brush first. Then take the desired shades of watercolor pencils and a strip of sandpaper and grate the tip of the watercolor pencil over the dampened surface. The watercolor pencil dust falls onto the surface, is dissolved, and clings to the desired area. Simply blow away the excess pigment-dust; it only clings to the area that has been dampened. This is an excellent technique for rendering “freckles” on lilies or moss on tree trunks.
illustrates a spattered
background completed with
watercolor pencils and
Very fine details can be painted with watercolor pencil and a fine brush. Either prepare and wet a homemade palette of the desired color or paint right from the tip of the watercolor pencil. An excellent brush for such fine details is a No. 2 Lizard Lick brush from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. It looks ragged and wispy when dry but comes to a fine, precise point when wetted. It also holds a surprising amount of liquid.
Spattering is easy with water-soluble colored pencils. Simply wet a soft, adult-size toothbrush with plain water and brush the watercolor pencil tip across the damp bristles until the bristles are heavily loaded with pigment. Dab the brush four or five times against a tissue to absorb the excess liquid; this also gives a better-controlled, more finely-misted spatter. If a droplet that has landed on the surface seems too large, take a corner of the tissue and let the tissue wick up the droplet. Do not blot.
See my book Drawing and Painting with Colored Pencil (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York) for illustrations and examples of many of the hints.