There’s No Undo with Traditional Media—But You Can Scan Versions!

May 24, 2017
The final iteration of this sketch. I covered all the water-soluble graphite with watercolor (and a little bit of white gouache). I had my landscape palette out. Under the hair at the light side of the head there is also some magenta water-soluble Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer color pencil. After a little bit of painting I was going to go over it with that pencil. Then I decided that it needed a bit more paint and a little bit of the Pentel Brush pen.

Stressful times send me to the drawing board. We’ve got some family health issues going on right now, so after Dick went to bed last night I stayed up and played with paint for two hours. I was going to do a quick water-soluble graphite portrait sketch from a Sktchy image. But that didn’t satisfy my desire to make marks on paper.

I started on a 6 x 9 inch piece of 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper from Bee Paper Professional Series (here after Bee PSWC). I don’t like most of their papers but I purchased this packet of pre-cut paper to use for studies. So far I’m not totally happy with its working capabilities. But I’ll write about that another day (watercolor).

For this sketch I just applied the graphite pencil. I used Virago’s Art Graf 6B water-soluble graphite pencil.

Ever since I started working with this Art Graf pencil all other water-soluble graphite pencils have seemed too wimpy to me. You might want to check it out. (Of course I got mine at Wet Paint.)

Version 1: Art Graf 6B water-soluble pencil on two types of watercolor paper with washi tape.

Since I started too big and really wanted to get all the wonderful hair in, and leave enough space for the ear, I used washi tape to attach the 6 x 9 inch sheet to an 8 x 10 inch piece of some unknown watercolor paper that has a very linear texture on on side. This was left over from some project and it doesn’t bring up any memories so it must have been something I tested and didn’t care too much about. (If you recognize the larger sheet in the back from the texture, let me know, the reverse side is flat.)

I often attach pieces of paper to other papers with washi tape—I call it my “Piecemeal” style. You can find other examples by using the blog’s search engine.

At first when I finished the sketch I thought that I would just leave it. It took under 10 minutes, had some problems, but was fun to do, and I thought it was time to go to bed. But then I decided I needed more color so I started thinking why not scan the piece and then play around some more. Then I would have the scan at least if everything went horribly awry.

Version 2: the teal background was added in Photoshop.

After scanning the sketch I opened it in Photoshop, used the lasso tool to create a rough selection (I didn’t want to spend that much time on it) and filled the selection with a color I thought might look fun with the tapes I’d put down.

If you read the blog much you know that I’m a huge fan of flat color backgrounds, but mostly I create them with gouache or Montana Acrylic Markers. (Both of which I love using and ended up using before this session ended.) However, when I feel stressed I’m a little “wishy-washy” about color choices starting out so working in Photoshop was the way to go. This was my first color choice and I really liked it, but I did try a couple others and then returned to this one.

The only problem was by this time the problems in the drawing were getting to me. I’d lost the length of the model’s face and I didn’t like the texture of the pencil on the Bee PSWC paper.

Version 3: The water-soluble graphite has been activated with a wet brush.

I decided to activate the water-soluble graphite. You can see that in version 3. Remember the teal color was only added in Photoshop for version 2 so it doesn’t show in version 3.

Getting the values smoothed out with water definitely helped how it was reading, but I just kept staring at the bits that weren’t working out. The Bee PSWC paper isn’t strong enough to really go in and rework the areas that needed reworking. (I’d learned this on another experiment.)

After I blew the blended sketch dry with a heat gun I decided to see if I liked it with the color background better than the white background—why not? I had the selection already made. I  scanned version 3. Then I pasted it into version 2 on a new layer with with darken mode—it took less than 60 seconds. This is one of the reasons I love the computer. I know it gives us lots of options. And I typically work with some sort of plan or outline as well as thumbnail sketches, so that I don’t go down the rabbit hole of endless choices and permutations. But it was fun to just keep moving from drawing board to scanner to computer and not think about anything else!

Version 4: This is with the water-soluble graphite activated into blended values, and the teal background added.

I have to admit that I like version 4. It has the quick pencil sketch, the smooth values, and it has the color background I love so much.

And of course, let’s not forget the washi tape. I just taught a textures class online and in one of lessons I discussed how I like to use washi tape in my art. I remember the day Dick and I shot the videos for that lesson. It started out well, I was gabbing along as usual and then I got to the point where I intended to explain why one would want to use washi tape. I looked up at Dick behind the camera and he gave me a silent, “Don’t look at me.” Look. He has NEVER understood my use of pattern, lined paper, and washi tape. He has some favorite pieces that involve all three, but he still mutters under his breath that he doesn’t understand why I “go there.”

I took a deep breath, laughed, and simply warned the students off, saying if they didn’t understand the pull to washi tape they should just turn and RUN the other way. (Or words to that effect.)

Of course I went on with the lesson. I know why I love using washi tape—it’s the pattern, and it’s the patina that it gives to the piece. It reminds me of my college days when I had a limited art budget and worked on lined papers and stuck things down with tape. Those journals are disintegrating in boxes in the back room right now—non-archival tape is yellowing and pulling off. I love that. I love almost everything about tape.

And I wanted to share this love with my students (and did), but I also don’t want students to randomly start collecting more art supplies that they will never use, so I gave them collage options to work with until they decided whether or not they wanted to try incorporating washi tape into their pieces.

One thing that I always find so fun about teaching is that while you may do something for specific reasons and have specific approaches for using certain tools and media, you can teach all the mechanics of it to your students and they come back to you with WONDEROUS examples of how their minds work with that tool or media. That is always fun to see. The students in the textures class made my year!

Now as for this sketch, on any other day I think I would have stopped with version 4. It was looking good for a quick sketch now that the values were smoothed out and there was color in the background (and added decoration with the tape). But I was only about 40 minutes into it and the problems with the sketch were bothering me more and more. His face wasn’t long enough. The jaw wasn’t right, the tilt was too much. I couldn’t do much about the last item now that I’d gone ahead and smoothed out all the values, but since I had all those other versions digitally captured I was now free to go totally wild.

The first thing I did was start to go into the background with a light blue Montana Acrylic Marker (I like the 15 mm wide tips). But I decided that wasn’t fun enough. I wanted to move paint around.

So I did. I went to get my watercolor palette, which was set up with pigments for landscape painting—I don’t normally use phthalo blue, phthalo green, sap green, and leaf green on faces. I did have two reds, some yellows, some earth tones and some white gouache. That would all do. The paint was fresh and ready to go. I started by using a yellow ochre stroke to correct the length of the lit cheek and to fix the chin in shadow and to mess with a lot of other areas.

I wasn’t thinking about a color plan, I just wanted a bold watercolor stroke. It was lovely. No trace of it remains.

I continued to work with the paint for an hour (spending two very happy hours in total), doing first very little and then deciding if I liked the little I’d done enough to stop or whether I wanted to do more—obviously I wanted to do more. But there were a lot of stops on the way I wish I had photographs or scans of because there were some fun moments, and who knows, on another day I might have stopped there.

I just have to say that when you’re stressed, pushing paint around is one of the most fun things you can do. Riding your bike really fast is another, but I don’t ride at night.

Am I happy with the final painting? Yes, even though there are bits that still bother me. (But my editing eye and I have had a long chat about what to do in the future—like check the proportions and angles before committing to hard lines or value shapes—all my students can chuckle under their breath. This is why I harp on them so much, I know about this first hand! I’m only trying to make their lives better.)

Oh, and he does look a little like the lilac bushes I was painting on the weekend!

Originally I’d hoped to make the light side of the face lighter and blend it more into the background on that light side. But the paint was getting pretty thick there. I could tell that I’d have to really work at it and get more white gouache, to make it happen.

I picked up a magenta Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer water-soluble color pencil and started in outlining the hair near the forehead. I was going to go through the whole face with that pencil in some way I hadn’t yet decided. But then I stopped. I’d become more and more decisive as the fun continued to build.

Instead I reached from my Pentel Brush Pen which can always be counted on to divide things up, and used it to outline the edges of the face, hair, and shirt. (The eyes, eyebrows, and lip are all paint, mixed to a dark neutral.)

And then I was done. There is still a length and angle issue, and probably a whole lot of other issues, but every stroke in the painting was fun, fun, fun. And even though I don’t care for that Bee PSWC paper I know now I can use it for quick paintings or studies. I also know that I really like the way the texture screams out when you dry brush over it with watercolor and a bit of white gouache (chin and top of forehead, which really is too light a stroke but boy it was fun to make).

I went to bed stressless.

If you’re finding things are really tense and stressful find a couple hours, even if you have to stay up a little late, and let yourself play, with NO EXPECTATIONS. (Just scan or photograph your piece as you go along, in case you wish you would have stopped earlier.)

And for everyone who is wondering, and I know you may well be, yes the water-soluble graphite got a little disturbed but the first layer of gouache, but I was still working out a color scheme at that point so there wasn’t a problem. The only place it is still visible is on the light side of the nose and lip. Everything else was covered—it only exists in those earlier scans.

I think technology is keen—not as keen as gouache, but pretty keen.

    • Corky
    • May 25, 2017

    What a GREAT posting!

  1. Reply

    I love this posting, Roz, and the end result is really phantastic. I have to check out this Virago pencil. I have one by Faber Castell, but find it not dark enough.

    1. Reply

      Tanya, all the products from this company like their “tailor’s chalk” black and colors are all very rich when dissolved. I really won’t use any other water-soluble graphite pencil any more. Try them you’ll like them.

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