Lots of Lessons Learned

I’ve mentioned in several previous posts that I’ve been working on a project with watercolor pencils. This is essentially a new medium for me. I’ve owned a set of watercolor pencils for several years, but I never really understood how to use them properly. I suggested to Matt Fussell that we do a watercolor pencil project for a “Live Lesson” series at The Virtual Instructor, and I was delighted when he took that suggestion and turned it into a project.

For the last seven weeks, we have worked patiently on our “Green Bird on a Red Background”. During the lesson one of the participants became curious, did a little ornithology research and reported back that the bird was an emerald toucanet.

Here’s my completed project:


Originally, the idea was to show the branch extending beyond the frame, but I had problems correctly placing my painter’s tape, so I’ve cropped the image down to show it without any frame. In the actual work, the branch does extend on both sides of the frame, but since my tape wasn’t properly placed… well, it didn’t turn out the way it should have.

We worked on this project for seven weeks, five of which were spent with the watercolor pencil application. Our first session was an “introduction” to watercolor pencils. We did a lot of practice exercises on how to apply and how to blend. Our second lesson involved taping the watercolor paper and drawing the bird and the branch.

For me, the next step was interesting, indeed. We covered the bird and the branch with liquid frisket so that we could create the red background. This background was not done with watercolor pencil but with a traditional watercolor wash.

Mine came out quite streaky and uneven, and the photograph I’ve shown here makes it look even worse than it is. Flat wash is a watercolor technique that I’ve never mastered. I was hesitant — let’s just say skeptical — about painting over the bird and branch. I was afraid of using too much water, or too much paint, or well, actually, I was just afraid of doing the wash. It shows.

I was flabbergasted — such a lovely, old-fashioned word — when I removed the frisket and saw that the procedure had actually worked!

As we began applying the watercolor pencil to the bird, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the process. My only previous attempt at using watercolor pencils were the sunflowers I painted recently, and one yellow iris I attempted a few years ago. You can see the iris here, and you can view the sunflowers  here and here, if you want to take a look.

With the toucanet project, I learned a lot more about blending watercolor pencils, about using varying amounts of water to create different color depth, and about patiently working to create detail with brushstrokes. I’m not great at doing it, but it was fascinating to watch Matt, the Virtual Instructor, and see how much detail he was able to add, especially in the branch.

Someday I hope to become more detailed in my drawings and paintings. Simply understanding how to use directional strokes and color variations is a step in the right direction. I did get some detail in the bird’s talons, and a bit of detail in the branch. Maybe I even got a suggestion of feathers on the bird.

By the end of the seven-hour series, Matt had become a fan of watercolor pencils. So have I. Unlike traditional watercolors, pencils allow the artist to have a bit more control. One question that came up during the series is how such an artwork should be classified, for example, as an entry into an art competition. Would this be categorized simply as a watercolor? Or would it be considered a drawing? It has elements of both, and this is a question I’ll bring up when our art clubs begin meeting again.

The biggest lesson I learned, though, was about the materials I used. The watercolor pencils I used for this project are a student-grade set. They are the Derwent Academy watercolor pencils. I purchased them in March 2016, soon after I started this blog. At the time, I was still hesitant about buying “artist-quality” materials. I didn’t see myself as an artist and didn’t feel I had the right to own “professional” art supplies.

At the time, I think the student-grade pencils were far less expensive than the “artist” set, although that doesn’t seem to be true now. The links I’ve provided are both for 24-pencil sets (which is what I have), but sets as large as 72-pencils are available. Prices are comparable between the “student set” and the “artist set”.

The reason I’m mentioning the different grades here is because I felt my colors were slightly weaker and duller than those in Matt’s work. He was using the professional set by Derwent, and we discussed the differences. Certainly, by all means, always buy the best quality materials you can. There are differences. I won’t replace my “student-grade” watercolor pencils right now, but if and when I do purchase a new set, I’ll definitely choose the higher grade.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, there is also a set of similar pencils called “Inktense“. These also come in various sizes, and the 24-pencil set is comparable in price to the others I’ve linked here. I know several of you have the Inktense pencils, and I’d love to know your thoughts on them. They are not the same as watercolor pencils which use a watercolor pigment. As their name suggests, the Inktense pencils have an ink-based pigment.

Now that I’ve had an opportunity to learn more about watercolor pencils and how to properly use them, I’m looking forward to doing more drawings and paintings with them. Of course, I’ll also keep practicing on doing flat washes with traditional watercolors.

Overall, I was pleased with my emerald toucanet. Maybe I didn’t have quite enough patience to work on every little detail, and maybe I made mistakes with my taping and my background wash. Oh, well, it was a good project, and I’m happy with the results I achieved.



      1. I was really nervous about doing the wash. In the past I haven’t had very good results with using liquid frisket, so I was afraid I’d just end up with a real mess! I couldn’t believe the frisket actually worked. 🙂

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    1. Thanks. I really loved learning to use the watercolor pencils. I can’t say much for the flat wash LOL… but I was pleased with the bird. The watercolor pencils are really fun to work with.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Looks great! I am a big fan of the Derwent Watercolour Pencil last, I have had my full set (72) for a week, finally got around to opening it tonight. I did a little pen and wash pansy. The Inktense are a different pencil altogether. Treat them like ink. They are intense.

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    1. I loved learning how to use the watercolor pencils. I have the 24-pencil set in the student grade, and I’m really wishing I’d bought the better quality pencils. And I do want to try the Inktense pencils — someday. Right now my oil painting is keeping me busy, but I keep looking at the Inktense pencils every time I browse art supply websites. One of these days I’ll click on them and buy them. 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I agree that traditional watercolors are much more practical for larger areas. The watercolor pencils were helpful for me since they give me a little more control…thus a little more comfort!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words. You’re right about the colors… very “Gauguinish”. I have never done monotype printing or gelli plate printing, and I really, really want to try it! I watched a YouTube video about monotype printing. I think it would be a lot of fun. I’ve held off on trying it though since I have so many different things going on in the studio already. But one day soon, I will have to give it a try!

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