Friday 26 October 2012

How to Draw with Watercolour Pencils - 10 Tips

Having seen my Inktense sketches on this blog, my Mum said she fancied having a play with watercolour pencils. But she needed advice on where to start, so I wrote her some tips and ideas about how to get the feel for them. Having done it, I realised that some of you guys might also be interested. 

A general bit of advice when trying out a new medium, is to allow yourself some time to 'play' before you try a finished piece of work. You need to build confidence and learn what will happen when you do certain things: with watercolour pencils, that might be establishing how hard to press, how much water you need, what colours look good together, what kind of marks work best etc. 

So, here are some specific ideas to help you play effectively, some general pointers and some things to think about when you're doing your first drawings:

1 - It's best to use the pencils dry first, then brush on water near the end (you'll find the pencil marks are very different when used on damp paper). 

2 - Draw quite boldly with the pencils, rather then 'tickling' the paper, so you get enough colour down: you don't want things to be too wishy-washy, however it's also important to leave some areas of clean white paper here and there, to give contrast.

3 - Experiment with different kinds of line work, like 'hatching' or 'scribbling': shading doesn't always have to be invisibly blended and linear marks can be exciting. 

4 - Try using 2, or even 3 quite different colours together, so you get interesting effects when the water is added. Try laying the different coloured marks side by side, rather than shading them together. The water can be used to blend them, but your eye will help blend them too.

5 - Experiment with a limited palette (I often use only 3 or 4 colours in one sketch). It's usually more important to describe areas of shade and highlight, rather than worry about faithful colour.

6 - Avoid too much 'outlining' or, where you do need to outline, experiment with using different coloured outlines for different parts of the same object.

7 - Put water on in simple strokes with a brush that's not too fine. Don't scrub or keep going back over the same place, or your colours will get muddy and your 'paint' marks fussy. 

8 - When sketching, try drawing instinctively rather than accurately, then using the water to paint up to where the outline should be: this can be a more subtle way of showing the edges of things too.

9 - Try keeping your brush marks visible, so they are not always blended away to nothing: they too can be visually interesting.

10 - Experiment with brushing on water so it overlaps and compliments the drawing marks, rather than just using water to 'fill in'. 

Hopes that helps. I've found my Inktense watercolour pencils a really fun medium and perfect for drawing out and about, when I want bold colour but don't want to carry lots of painting gear. By the way, a waterbrush is another very handy piece of kit, as you really can paint anywhere with no water to carry (about £5):

You can see more examples of my Inktense sketches here (scroll down) and on my website.


dinahmow said...

Hello! Yes, I am still on this planet!
Just a note to add...a few years ago, a friend(she earns her bread as a painter/teacher)showed me one of her plein air tricks. Picking up colour with a damp brush directly from the pencil gives a softer wash effect.
For myself, I prefer the "scribbly" lines softened afterwards(as above), but I'll try anything.

PS It's very,very hot here;not like Buxton at all.

Unknown said...

All great advice, thanks for sharing.

theartofpuro said...

Thanks for advice,very usefull:)

Unknown said...

Thank you. I've just started playing with Inktense after years, and years, of not using pencils.

photo to pencil sketch said...

really helpful tips and beautiful colors, thank you

Timaree said...

Thanks for the tips. I tend to paint the marks out or to shade very smoothly but I love the energy and speed I can see with the way you share using the pencils. I'll be trying it out!
Timaree from Artist's Journal Workshop FB group.

Lynne the Pencil said...

Thanks Timaree.

Yes, it is possibly more usual to smooth the shading more than I do, but that effect is not dissimilar to watercolour or coloured pencil shading. The thing I love about watercolour pencils, is that they can do something which is hard to achieve by another means. By keeping the sketching bold and by being understated with the water, I can make use of the best marks of both a drawing and a painting, all combined in one medium.

Have fun with your experimentation - trying new things it what keeps our sketching alive!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post - very helpful indeed and so clearly explained. You should write a book.

Unknown said...

Lynne mention a minimal "palette" of watercolour pencils..which shades would you advise please? Thanks. Sarah

Lynne the Pencil said...

It really depends on what you are drawing Sarah. I tend to use a navy for my darkest tones. 2 or 3 others is probably enough to begin sketching with, to avoid the 'overworked' look. A warm and a cool colour can be handy, but choose colours which work well together and will blend attractively.

The set of 12 Derwent Inktense pencils is well chosen: the colours blend well together. I often use the Deep Indigo, the Baked Earth and the Leaf Green from that set, when I am sketching people.

Frankie said...

Very helpful information, and I enjoy your sketches so much! They are full of life and joy! Thank you for sharing them with all of us!

Lynne the Pencil said...

You're welcome Frankie. Have fun!

Cathy said...

I just recently bought your book on sketching people and love it! I've been using watercolor but I am very interested in watercolor pencil. Are Dewwent Inktense pencils lightfast, or how to preserve my sketches? You mentioned in your book how you just use a usual set of winsor and newton watercolor paints, would you tell me what they are? Thanks!