Underpainting coloured pencil

When it comes to achieving professional-quality coloured pencil art, one common obstacle is the distracting white flecking effect. 

This issue can detract from the overall appearance of the artwork, making it look amateurish and reducing its visual impact.

But what if you could eliminate this problem and achieve vibrant, rich colours?

By underpainting coloured pencil art with watercolour pencils you can achieve stunning artwork with minimal white flecking.

The surface of paper resembles a landscape of peaks and crevices. When applying coloured pencils, the pigment clings to the peaks but misses the crevices, which causes white specks.

Watercolour pencil pigment, mixed with water, flows into these crevices, effectively eliminating the speckling effect.

NOTE: always check the rules of competitions you plan to enter, as some may not accept mixed media.

Unlike super smooth paper, which limits layering, watercolour pencils allow for rich, detailed artwork..

This method not only colours your paper while preserving its texture but also provides a solid foundation for additional layers, a characteristic of coloured pencil art.

If you're using thick watercolour paper, like Arches, there's another advantage.

When you apply water to the heavily sized-paper it can soften it, creating a bit of extra texture. This comes in handy when you add the dry pencils to your artwork.

I suggest that before you use any watercolour pencil pigment as a wash, you first check the way the pigment dissolves at greater dilutions. Ideally a weak mixture will show up if the pigment is a finely ground material which totally dissolves. More opaque pigment will lie on the paper in a less even manner. 

Because the paper will react to the addition of water, you will need to understand how the surface contract and expands. To avoid you paper buckling you will likely wish to stretch it first if you are going to use large amounts of water. 

In practice, I have found that some brands of aquarelles (watercolour pencils) such as Faber Castell Albrecht Durer and Derwent Watercolour Pencils, do have some more 'traditional' natural watercolour pigments included. These are fine when used on the paper as a dry colour and then wet with a brush, but do not always produce good thin washes.

This is why I tend to use the Staedtler Karat Aquarelle pencils for thin washes, as the colour totally dissolves in liquid. This is probably because the pigments used are generally organic colour substitutes.  They will stain the paper ( so they will be difficult to lift if you put them in the wrong place ), but you do get good even washes to provide a good colour base. Peter used these pencils on his dartmoor landscape tutorial for the underpainting. 

The most controlled way of laying down your first colour to the page is using pigment in watercolour form from the pencil. It is best not to wet the point itself (as explained above), although many textbooks do suggest this method. 

The method I advocate is to use a small china or plastic palette, or to use a piece of strong watercolour or sanded paper as a source of dry pigment and lift the colour with a brush from there. 

Another page which illustrates this method shows a Scottish Hillside scene, but do read the remainder of this page for some techniques which it may help to cover in detail first, such as taking fine shavings of pigment from the long Aquarelle pencil tip and placing them in a small dish or jar.  

The pencil needs a long sharp point from which powdered pigment is removed with a knife
Keep in mind only a small amount of dry colour is required in the dish

Some colours are much stronger than others, so you do need to test the options first. See the results in the following photo on the paper sample below the palette. 

Here you can see that Powder Blue on the left is much weaker than the basic Blue on the right. 

Sky blue in the middle contains a lot of white and hardly makes any impact at all. The basic Blue on the right is a very strong colour and needs care. The original amount of dry colour was about the same in each dish. 

If you are painting with a wider range of colours, use a large white plate and select a suitable range of colours for your subject. These can be mixed in situ, or can be picked off the plate and mixed with more water elsewhere. 

Underpainting coloured pencil demonstration

Let's look at underpainting coloured pencil in an example picture.

The original underpainting (below) was positioned on the paper with plenty of room around it. As a result is was possible to add some more to the scene on the left hand side as the picture developed. I think this improved the overall composition. 

You will see that I removed some of the under painted foliage to the immediate right of the copper beech tree on the right hand side to open out the sky over the field. Putting a cloud in was not entirely successful, but it hardly shows in the original completed picture. This scene does not exist and is entirely constructed from imagination.

Country Lane - the first washes

The final picture had very little extra work done with dry pencils on top of the cottage. This allows it to sit right in the background as a result. 

We can use the traditional 'line and wash' approach of laying down a line or shading of dry colour on the paper direct from the pencils using a limited range of colours. We keep our shading very light so that we have control over the eventual depth/density of colour. After washing in the first layer we can then continue with dry pencil work on top. An example of this approach is shown in the detailed step by step titled Coventry Canal. 

As you can see from the above example, when underpainting coloured pencil you only need a THIN layer of colour. It is better to use two thin layers of colour than one thicker one. The mini step by step below shows this in action. 

Second layers of wash on the paper

With the second layers of wash, concentrate on where the greater depth of colour will be needed. 

Once the washes are dry you can begin to build up the dry pencil to the drawing. 

Darker shades are now added in dry colour. An additional tree was added on the left to balance the composition. 

The sky was added at the top and minimal work done to the cottage by adding windows and shadows.  The right hand greenery was also built up with dry pencil.

After the final adjustments the completed image showing the benefits of underpainting coloured pencil is shown above. 

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