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Painting with Watercolor Pencils...
First of all, watercolor pencils are not really watercolor because the binder is different. The exact recipe seems to be a well kept secret, but the binder in the pencils dissolves when it is wet. The behavior of the pigment also differs from watercolor, so I am going to refer to these as water-soluble pencils instead. They are their own medium.
And they are a fabulous medium with which you can create beautiful sketches and paintings if you know how to use them. They travel well and come in a vast range of colors.
You can use them dry like you would any colored pencil, but the result will not be as pleasing. There is no wax or oil in the binder, so dry blending is sub par - washed out and weak. If you want to do colored pencil work, don’t choose water soluble pencils.
Applying them dry and wet blending them is the best way to use them. I won’t pretend to be able to explain this in a newsletter, but I have a great and very inexpensive online class that will teach you everything you need to know, and I will put that at the end of this post. The class is also on Skillshare if you are a member.
Water soluble pencils should be used with watercolor or mixed media paper just like watercolor is, but less moisture is involved, so they can also work on lesser weight papers. I first learned to paint with them on the horrible clay coated pages in Moleskine Sketchbooks (which hate watercolor).
Water soluble pencils will NOT create a smooth wash over a large area like a sky. You just have to know that going in - so you don’t try that first and throw all your pencils away because of the result. Skies and such should be created with actual watercolor first, and the pencils can then be used to create the foreground. Do not try to do a watercolor wash after you do the pencil work because the pencil color will reactivate if hit accidentally with moisture. Not as badly as real watercolor, but bad enough.
Some people dunk the pencils in water and make marks on paper. I find that to be a bit of a problem because those marks resist blending, and the pencils do not make the kind of bold lines you can get with water soluble crayons that are more suitable to that kind of style. Also, this consumes the pencils in short order, as they need constant sharpening to regain the point, and to remove the skin that forms on the leads after they are wet.
What are the best brands of “watercolor” pencils?
The photo above shows how well watercolor pencils can mimic watercolor and gouache when you know how to use them.
I am often asked about the best brands of pencils, and here is a short and direct answer: Any pencils meant for artists are ok, but I have to except Prismacolor. Although they have long made very good regular colored pencils, I find their watercolor pencils to be at the bottom of my list (leads too hard, too little pigment, hard to blend.)
Kid brands have hard binders and light pigment content and will not give you good results when trying to make paintings like my vegetables above. They are good for kids - not for you.
Derwent makes good water soluble pencils that perform well. Golden Brown (#59) and Smalt Blue (#30) are my favorites.
Caran d'ache Supracolor II and Faber Castell Albrecht Durer water soluble pencils are top tier. My favorite has always been Supracolor II because they are more brilliant and a bit creamier. The FB-AD are more earthy colors, and I use them when my subject demands it. Both are excellent. Both are creamy to apply and they blend beautifully.
Then came Caran d'ache Museum Aquarelle - the Rolls Royce of water soluble pencils. Since they were the expensive big brother of my favorite Supracolor, I had to buy and try. I knew something was different and better, but it took awhile to figure out what that something was. Luminance.
These pencils have a transparency that others don't. The binder must be formulated differently than that of other pencils.
If you look carefully at this photo, you will see that the Artichoke has a semi-opaque look - a bit like gouache. But look carefully at the Asparagus. You can see the white of the paper shining through - which is much closer to the transparency of watercolor. Which is awesome. I also find the blending to be sublime.
These pencils are worth every cent. Although they come in only 72 colors currently, and other brands offer 120. I have the whole set and they cover all the bases, but I will always buy more if they make them.
A Word about Derwent Inktense Pencils
These are dye based water soluble pencils, so when activated, the colors are super intense (hence the name). They are a bit over the top for me and I am not crazy about two things. They lay down too much pigment which makes subtlety in blending hard to do, because you feel like you are moving too much paint around. And, Derwent markets them as water-resistant or even waterproof after drying, which I have found to be seriously not true - even if you have managed to wet ALL the pigment and let it dry, they will bleed if moisture gets near them. Many people love these pencils and I am happy for them, but I consider Inktense to be special use. I have them, but I rarely get them out.
My Class . . . How to Paint with Watercolor Pencils
Available on Skillshare AND now on my Website where you don’t have to join anything ($25). With the private version, you can also download and keep the video lessons, and online access to the class will last as long as I do (grin).
One of my most popular classes on Skillshare is my “How to Paint with Watercolor Pencils”. Students say in reviews that it has all they needed to get going, and know what they are doing with the medium. I agree. And it is a really fun class because we create a picture (painted) chart together in which we not only learn how to paint with the pencils, but figure out a nice set of colors to start with and travel with, that will cover most things we need to sketch or paint. And, like all my classes, I sneak in some tips for drawing, color choices etc. I call it my sneaky art school. Don’t tell anybody.
Here is the link to the class on my site:
And if you are a Skillshare member, you can find the class here:
Gotta go . . . time to feed three hungry Huskies. They don’t take waiting well.
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