Watercolour pencils are absolutely great and they allow you to use the best elements of both drawing and painting. But, if you’re using them for painting, then they’re obviously a lot less precise (when it comes to small details or patterns) than pencils are.
Whilst a lot of this can be dealt with by adding small details to your painting using waterproof ink and/or coloured pencils, there’s one type of design which is an absolute nightmare if you’re working with watercolours. I am, of course, talking about painting small brightly-coloured patterns (eg: polka dots etc…) against a dark background.
If you try to draw these bright designs with watercolour pencils, then unless you use an extremely fine brush and can handle it with absolute and total precision, the background colour can easily blur into or overwhelm the brightly-coloured parts of your painting.
Now, if you’ve got a lot of art supplies, then you can probably use masking fluid to prevent this. But, to be honest, there’s a much simpler – and quicker- way of making sure that your bright pattern stands out.
Draw your pattern with ordinary coloured pencils and use a lot of pressure. It’s that simple.
Basically, just keep going over the bright areas of the painting with a coloured pencil until the coloured area feels completely smooth and shiny when you touch it (the technical term for this is “burnishing”). Then just paint your dark background in as normal.
Since the surface of the paper on the brightly-coloured areas of your painting is completely shiny and coated with pencil “lead”, the paint can’t get through to the paper and it won’t cover up your pattern. Yes, it will make your pattern look faded and gloomy, but it won’t cover it up completely.
In addition to this, if you use a lot of pressure when you’re using coloured pencils, then you will leave a small impression in the paper which your paintbrush probably can’t reach into when you’re going over your painting with water.
The best coloured pencils I’ve found for doing this are probably Crayola pencils. This is because the “lead” in them seems to have a slightly waxy and almost crayon-like quality to it, which makes them absolutely perfect for this technique.
But, at the same time, you can probably use any type of coloured pencils as long as you make sure that the coloured areas are completely saturated with “lead” before you start painting.
To give you an example of this technique – I used it for the red, yellow, orange and blue pattern on the cavalier’s shirt when I tried to paint a (slightly altered) copy of Franz Hals’ “The Laughing Cavalier” recently. As you can see, it works surprisingly well (especially since I only used a light coating of black paint too):
It might be worth experimenting with this technique (and testing it out, because it isn’t perfect and it causes at least some fading) before you use it in any of your paintings, but it works surprisingly well.
Sorry for yet another short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂