Above: my last morning sketch from the Sketch Out—made just before our first group meeting. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils used dry and wet on a 9 x 7 inch card of Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. HP Watercolor paper. Notes written with a Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.3.
One great advantage of watersoluble colored pencils over wax-based colored pencils is the way you can use the first to create watercolor washes throughout your drawing. You can dissolve the lines of your sketch and blend colors together as you would with watercolor paint. Or you can leave your lines only partially dissolved for additional texture to your sketch/painting. Or you can simply leave them dry, as originally applied, with the same sort of visual effect you would get using wax-based pencils.
If you have a large area to cover and no time you can also lay in a background of blended color much more quickly with these pencils than with wax-based ones.
In this post I have three examples all made on the Sketch Out trip to this year’s State Fair. For each sketch I simply drew the animal I was observing. Then I scribbled in a background of colored lines, typically using two or three analogous colors in a random order across the background (placing darker colors where I wanted more contrast, but no more thought than that to the placement).
Tip: while scribbling keep in mind not to push hard into the paper and depress the tooth of the paper if you want the most even of washes. Too heavy a hand might show in your resultant wash. Also not all brands of watersoluble pencils will completely dissolve. Keep the characteristics of your brand in mind when deciding how much scribbling you’re actually going to scribble. My scribbles were even, slanted strokes, feathering out at the end, because that happens to be about as loose as I go when working with pencils. Also I tend to scribble no closer than about 1/16 or 1/8 inch to the lines I’m not going to dissolve. I know I can drag dissolved color up to or away from that line with my waterbrush.
After I scribbled in background color I used my Niji waterbrush to dissolve the color and move it where I wanted it.
Left: This chicken is surrounded by a lovely wash of color, courtesy of these pencils. I especially enjoy the way the water pushed the pigment out of the way and created a lovely crinkled hard edge above the chicken’s back.
Watersoluble colored pencils can be used in a variety of ways. Some people touch the lead with their paint brush and apply the pigment to the paper that way (just as they would pick up paint from a palette). Other folks dip the pencils into water and write with them while their tips are wet. Additionally you can write with a dry pencil onto a previously washed, and still wet surface. With each application a different type of line emerges. Experiment to find which works for you.
Despite working with these pencils for years I found in my haste at the State Fair I tried to add more color too soon on the Bantam background. The paper was still too wet. As I rubbed the dull blue pencil across the surface I could tell I had probably damaged the paper (even though the tip was dull and not sharp). This was indeed the case. When I went back in to smooth out the added color the lines remained visible.
Right: A detail from the Bantam sketch showing the head with the gouache paint over the undissolved pencil lines below the chin. Look down by the breast and you can see the ends of the flat lines still visible.
Never fear: since this wasn’t what I was looking for I simply waited until the paper was dry and then painted over the area in gouache. (Note even the gouache layer isn’t perfectly flat.) I could of course have left the lines showing, but because they fell directly below the bird’s beak I found them too distracting, even for a sketch.
Keep paper drying conditions and times, as well as paper durability, in mind when you are using these pencils.
As with any art medium if you want the best results and ease of use you need to buy a quality tool. If you haven’t tried watersoluble colored pencils yet I recommend you start with Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils. They deliver a rich line, wet or dry, and are pigment rich. I also find that the leads of this brand don’t chip and break like several of the others do.
I enjoy the rough and splotchy quality these washes add to my cards. Executed while I was standing in crowded barns these washes delivered added texture with speed. If you crave more control in your background washes know that it is possible to lay even, graduated, and smoothly blended washes with these pencils if that's your goal. You will want to be more deliberate in your application of dry color to your surface (more controlled in your pencil strokes); and then be more controlled in your wet brushstrokes as well. I'd rather paint with paint if I'm going to go after such washes. For me the benefit of the watersoluble colored pencil lies in its ability to deliver color to a large area quickly when sketching.