Watercolour Pencil Tutorial - Italian Street Scene

This watercolour pencil tutorial shows Malcesine, Lake Garda and was worked in Caran d'Ache Supracolour Soft pencils. The finished drawing size is 9 inches by 12 inches.

Original photo copyright 2006 - Peter Weatherill

Points for consideration before we start

  1. Ideally we should have some human interest in the picture. Just because there was no one in the photo, doesn’t mean we can’t put a figure in.  If we do, where should we put the person or persons ?
  2. There will be considerations of light and shadow if we do.  Also the height and placing of the person (or persons) in relation to the buildings.  I have some reference photos, but what do you think ?
  3. The areas of shadow are quite deep on the nearby right hand side, and in the doorway of the left hand side cafe. Do we need them in deep shadow or shall we aim for a lighter overall scene ?
  4. Those chairs outside the cafe have very thin legs. How will we work them in pencil ?
  5. Should we include the Italian Flag ?   If we do, how can we balance the colour ?
  6. Thinking of the overall painting process, what will be the steps we need to follow and what do we need to watch out for at each stage ?
  7. Is there anything we could, or should, omit ?

Lets look a Peter's thoughts on the above questions..

I think we are all agreed that there needs to be a little more human interest in this watercolour pencil tutorial.  R.E. has sent me a broadly similar photo of the same place with quite a bit of pedestrian traffic, which I show below.

Human interest - male
Human interest - female

Do we need more human interest?  Answer yes.

Where should we place the interest?  I suggest just outside the cafe so that the figure partly hides the rather boring corner of the cafe building.

How light should the shadow areas be?  I think I will go for a lighter appearance to the cafe doorway and the right hand side foreground. If I need to, I can always go darker later, it is less easy to go lighter.

Those chair legs?  We could use impressed line with a wax based pencil before we get too far advanced. This should provide some protection and keep the light chair legs free from aquarelle colour.

The flag? Yes, I think we need the flag, but we will need to include some other bright red on the left of the picture to provide a balance.  Those flowers on the balcony are red, but in shadow. If the shadow is taken lighter, then the reds will shine out and provide that balance.

The painting process..... As I am going to use watercolour pencils ( mostly ),  I will first use a wash process in colour to establish the picture base.  I will then remove any surplus pencil lines and deepen those wash colours as necessary, and then apply dry colour to the dried wash surface. 

This dry watercolour pencil can be settled into the paper with a damp brush and added to as necessary to build up colour depth.  The final steps may well be wax type pencil, but we will see how we go.

Should we omit anything?  I will omit the white blind on the far left which cuts across the cafe front.

Otherwise I will go with what we have.

Getting set up for the watercolour pencil tutorial

Below are images of the white plate used for the wash colours, along with a palette formed from a piece of white card with further touches of colour that may be used. 

The pigment is scraped from the pencil onto the plate and then mixed with water to create the washes. 

A wet brush is used to pick up pigment from the card palette for smaller areas. 

White plate as palette
White card as palette

It is not vital that your colours are the same, as much will depend on the hues in your brand of pencils.

There is an Olive Green, a yellow orange (an ochre would do), a blue,  a medium cold grey, Venetian red, a purplish red, and Paynes Grey on the plate. The additional colours provide some further hues to get the full range. 

Initial washes

The image above shows the first watercolour pencil washes. Remember, this step of putting down a wash of water soluble colour is only to establish the tints and contrasts in the picture and once the wash is dry, we can remove the graphite that made up the original drawing.

We now have the shapes more or less in position and we can do the rest of the picture in detail, freehand, using either the dry watercolour pencils or wax pencils..

The sky will be fine as it is (that saves all the hassle of trying to get an even sky with dry pencils).

The only wet process remaining (or so I thought at the time) was developing the tree foliage and the balcony and window boxes. These areas of green leaves and flowers are easier to do with dry Aquarelle pencil and a damp brush.  We will look at that process next.

Using watercolour pencils directly on the paper

Dry pencil for foliage

Let start with the tree in the upper left segment of the picture.  This first image shows the dry watercolour pencil laid down in successive ‘scribble’ strokes.  I used a selection of Greens, Ochre and Browns with some Sepia (a dark cold brown) to darken where required. You can do this same process more than once, so don’t worry if your first stab at it doesn’t look as good as the one here. My recommendation is to do a couple of trial exercises on a piece of scrap paper before attempting the full watercolour pencil tutorial.

Leave some gaps in the green to show the holes in the tree cover.

Also consider where your light is coming from. Keep light Greens and Ochres to that side nearest the sun and the darker tones on the side of the foliage furthest away from the light source.  

There will be areas of dark green within the tree cover also.

Adding water to the foliage

Then, taking a DAMP brush, with springy bristle, a nylon/prolene  watercolour brush is much better for this than an expensive sable brush, work the dry pigment in similar scribble strokes to the original pencil strokes.  

Push colour about, making areas of thin tint and areas of thicker colour.  See what I did in the image to the left, where the brushwork has been completed on the upper part of the tree cover.

Completed tree foliage

Here you will see the tree foliage has been virtually completed with brushwork - I will most probably come back at a later stage of the watercolour pencil tutorial and add more dry colour to the leaves , but this will do for now.

I have now started work with the roof line and the upper windows with dry pencil.

I am using the Caran d’Ache Supracolor, but you could equally well use any wax type pencil for these later stages as once all the green leaf areas are complete, water will not come into the process.

I am building up the wall and roof edge colour with shades of warm Grey and light Red with some dark Ochre to balance the effect of the wall in shadow.

I have decided to bring some of the bright red to the balcony flowers to balance the flag in the upper right corner of the picture, but the red elements of the walls on the left - which are possibly greater than in the original photo - are also helping with providing a unity of colours.

The lettering on the wall will be developed as we progress

Completing the window shutters

Having said that only the Green elements will need a brush of water to them, I have now decided to use a damp brush to establish a nice even colour on the closed lower left window shutters.  You can see how the addition of water to the left part of the dry colour has removed those speckles of white and given us a nice even finish to build more colour on to.

This is one of the big advantages in working this watercolour pencil tutorial.

The pencils can be used as dry colour pencils and also used as soluble ones, so we keep our options open at all stages.

Adding the window box foliage

Here we have the flowers on the balcony completed in much the same way as the tree foliage. The red of the flowers was put in first to preserve the red placement and then they were damped down to enhance the colour, much as the window above. 

The leaf area was then completed and finally Red re-introduced to bring up the strong flower colour even more.

I have also worked along the windows on the upper right to put in the shadows which show the sunlight.

As I so frequently say, ‘the darker and sharper the shadows, the brighter the sunlight'.

After working the window box

The important points to note here are the fact that I have done some general sharpening up of shadows with a dark grey pencil on the left hand side of the picture.   I have darkened down the shadowed wall facing us and then erased out a light fitting and a menu board (that doesn’t actually exist). The dry colour has come out, leaving us with the base wash tint.

I have decided to work round the legs of the white chairs with dry pencil in shades of grey starting with a light tone  (and a sharp point) rather than indent the paper with white pencil to preserve the white.  I am able to erase the dry colour back to near white using a battery powered eraser.  I can develop darker tones in the cobbles as needed and lift out dry colour where it is not wanted

I have applied some more dry colour to the walking figure, and also applied small flat circular shapes in grey to the cobbled area on the left.  I have then erased out some highlights with the battery eraser which you can see in the detail image below.  

Close up of cobblestones
Developing the road surface

As you can probably see, I have been developing the road surface and the cobbles which are grey with an underlying purple.  

To try to get the right colour, I have first applied a series of circular shadings with an indigo pencil which has laid down a fresh base on top of the previous layers of colour.

I have taken this right across the road surface and also applied the same colour shading in the shadows on the right hand side buildings.  This is then followed by further circular shading with a cold grey which kills some of that purple.  You can see the detail in the smaller image below where the grey shading has been partly completed.

I have also further developed that darker shading on the buildings as I need to get the extremes of shadows in position to show up the bright sunlight.

I have also used the darker grey to darken the shading around the left hand chairs and define the chair legs better.

The whole shading exercise takes quite a lot of time as the colour goes down in very light layers.

Close up of road

You can see in the full sized image of our watercolour pencil tutorial below, that a number of small areas of concern have been completed to pull the picture together.

These are:

The bit of roof in the extreme top right corner has been added - it wasn’t in the reference, but I think the picture needs it.

A small piece of green has been inserted in the distance to outline the building at the far end of the street.

The small lights have been added to the building on the near right outside the restaurants

Our progress so far

More work has been done on the various doorways down the street and the edge of the buildings at pavement level have been defined.

Where necessary, colour has been lifted out using a battery eraser which removes  up to 75% of the original wash colour and virtually all the dry colour added since. We don’t get back to white paper, but we are very close to it and once the darker layers go down, the near white will read as white.

The shadowed area in the Cafe front on the left has been further darkened.  

I am reaching the point where I have to decide whether to continue using watercolour pencils in their dry form, or change over to the wax pencil equivalent (Pablo) which will handle better as more and more colour goes down.   

Doing the picture in steps like this, I can get all the right shapes in position whilst the colours are still fairly light, and colour can still be removed if required.  

Switching to Pablo pencils

So why am I switching pencils in this watercolour pencil tutorial?

Firstly, I don't need to! I can continue with the Aquarelles. They are a soft watercolour pencil and work quite well as a dry pencil.

However, the matching set of Pablo, non-soluble pencils has identical colours to the Supracolour.. They contain the same pigments set in a smooth oil based carrier and these tend to go down better over other layers of the dry Supracolour. They tend to be more transparent and will sharpen to a finer point for detail work. 

The scan above shows three hours work with the Pablos, building up colour depth and defining areas of shadow on top of the watercolour pencil layers. 

Starting at the top left, here is what has been done...

The tree: Approximately 5 layers of transparent Pablo in four colours (Olive Grey, Spring Green, Grass Green, Olive Black and Sepia) have been added. I started with Sepia to define the extreme darks. 

I have also taken the opportunity to separate the tree from the window box, to which I added a few red flowers to match the lower one. I have shown a close up of the tree foliage here so you can see more easily. 

While we are looking at detail, the walls have approx 4 layers of ochres and warm, light reds to enhance the effect of the shade (Ochre, English Red, Hazel and Brownish Orange). 


The final layer has been a light warm grey (Beige or Ash Grey, but Ivory or Cream would also do) which has burnished the surface of the paper and evened out the pigment. I wouldn't want to use white here to burnish as it is an opaque colour and would kill the effect of the warm underlayers. A blender pencil would seal the surface and I might need to go back and do a little more in the final touches. 

I used Ivory Black to pick out the shadow under the shutter. 

With the sharp point available on the Pablo, I am able to define the exact corner of the wall to the overhanging roof and then darken down the wall below to show the shadow. Once again, I am using light reds from the box together with a grey/red. I am avoiding actual greys or blacks as these will be inclined to dirty the colour rather than darken it. 

I have defined the near corner of the building by darkening down the wall that faces us (to the left) using a very sharp point on the pencil.

The shutters have also had fine lines of black added to define the shadow under them.



NOTE: All the smaller, detailed images shown are around 50% larger than actual size.

More areas of sepia have been added to the foliage on the balcony and a dark green applied on top.  

Black fine point has been used on the railings and the wall filled in behind.

Grey and light red have been used on the wall below the right hand side of the blind to pick out the shadow, and black has been used to define the lower scalloped edge of the blind against the shadowed doorway. 

Note the way the door and window frames below the blind have been darkened at the top and left lighter lower down to show the effect of the shadow

The upper window on the right has been sharpened up, as has the window at street level behind the pedestrian.

Working on down the left hand side of the picture, we now come to the cafe doorway, the chairs and tables and the pedestrian walking away from us.

Once again, the fine point on the Pablo pencils enables us to get in and define all those chair legs and darken the cobbled pavement underneath them.

We can pick out the chair arms now and provide a slight colour to the backs.  A shading of warm grey has been applied to the cobbles under the chairs to enhance the chair legs and also to blend the cobble stones with one or two small black marks to show up areas of deeper shadow.

Using the transparent Pablos, the walker has had more colour applied and darker areas to the clothing to provide shape.  The paving around this area has had a little more dark shading to highlight the walker.  You can’t see it in the detail, but a series of horizontal shading strokes have also been applied to the centre dark strip in the road so that the purple shade is cut back.

Let us look now at the top centre and the right hand roof line.

See how the fine pointed Pablo coloured pencils enable the good detail to be punched into the areas of shadow, and the shutters and windows at the upper level can be defined.  Whilst working in this area, I have improved the perspective of that little bit of roof shown at the extreme top of the image above.  The shadow on the walls was originally quite purple from the early stages of our watercolour pencil tutorial. This is the time it can be changed with a light layering of Venetian Red. This gives a truer impression of the cold light of the shadow on the light brown wall.

I have also spent a little time making sense of the blind over the doorway on the bottom right of the picture. This has involved a little power erasing of the previously painted wall, so that the scalloped bottom of the blind edge is level all along its length.  I have also added some shading to the small piece of blind showing in the bottom corner.

It remains to deal with the road surface, the remaining doors and openings on the right hand side, and then deal with the distant view at the far end of the street.

This needs to have as much light and definition of detail as we can get in, to draw to eye down the street.  It may mean that I need to show the road surface near the end of the street as much darker than it is in the reference.

Above is a larger version of the same image before we started using the Pablos to work further on our watercolour pencil tutorial. This is to enable you to make a close comparison with the fully finished picture shown below these final notes. 

The different level of daylight in the finished version (a flat, cloudy, bright day) has given us pretty accurate colour. There is nearly three hours work between the two images, and some of the finishing touches have been completed using the softer wax-based Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils. 

Italian Street Scene in Malcesine, Lake Garda Italy.  Picture from a  photo reference © 2006 Peter Weatherill

Worked with Caran d’Ache Supracolor Soft watercolour pencils on Hot Pressed watercolour paper, Followed by detail worked with Caran d’Ache Pablo and Luminance Coloured Pencils.

Artwork and notes © 2012 Peter Weatherill

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