My latest illustration for coloring, the Lion, Hare & Moon, was a learning lesson once I starting filling it with color, so I thought it might be useful to share my mistakes with those of you who use (or want to try) watercolor pencils in conjunction with regular colored pencils.
The illustration itself was inspired by wondering about our perceptions of strength and weakness, the fierce and the tame. And do we always know which is which?
After the illustration was complete (drawn on my iPadPro using the Procreate app and an Apple pencil) I printed it on Georgia-Pacific “Image Plus” 110 card stock and pulled out my pencils. I started with the moon using a Derwent Turquoise Blue watercolor pencil to lay down a base layer. I often do this for larger spaces and use Pentel and Sakura Koi water brushes to blend the watercolor pencils. So far so good.
I wasn’t thinking ahead about doing a blog post about this piece until I was nearly done, but I usually try to snap a few pics of my work in progress. The lighting is a little off in the pic above (my apologies) but you can see how pale the first layer is on the moon.
I also used watercolor pencil for a base layer on the lion (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Bistre), then once it dried, started working it over with colored pencils (mostly Polychromos Bistre , Burnt Ochre and Sepia, plus Prismacolor Premier Black, Light Umber, and Pumpkin Orange, Sienna Brown, then Polychromos Dark Chrome and Naples Yellow.
Once the basic colors were down in a few light layers, I used Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils (Brown Ochre and Yellow Ochre) to blend in the body. For the mane, I used one of my favorite pencils, a Derwent Studio (Rexel Cumberland) Burnt Carmine, which has deep wine undertones. I also used a Luminance Buff Titanium pencil to work in highlights under the eyes and cheeks. I then used a Crimson Irojiten pencil (which I order individually as needed through Blick) to work in the reds I put down in the mane and the sun ray lines with Prismacolor Tuscan Red and the Derwent Burnt Carmine (see below). I probably grabbed a few other similar colors during this process as well.
The colored pencils went down quite smoothly over the Faber-Castell Bistre watercolor once it dried. Per usual, it gave my colored pencils a nice “tooth” to grab onto.
Next: the grass. No watercolor pencils, but a variety of Prismacolor (Kelp, Prussian, Artichoke, Moss and Olive), Luminance (Moss, Olive Yellow and Olive Brown 50%) and Polychromos (Permanent Green Olive and Chromium Green Opaque) were used in multiple layers and then I burnished the colors using Irojitens (Cactus, Lettuce, Verdi and Forest).
Because the Irojitens are harder than other pencils, they work well for burnishing since they push the pigments around and, depending on how hard you press, deeper into the fiber of the paper. This helps to get rid of the small white dots that can appear in the coloring.
I try to work in small circle to avoid streaks, but sometimes my fingers get cramped and I get anxious and more concerned about finishing an area than making sure my colors are smooth. I am sure this happens to a lot of colorists. Sometimes time is running out and you just want to finish. Or move on to the next thing.
I also get a little sloppy (especially with watercolor layers) but that’s okay. I am constantly going back to areas that need a little more work and yep, sometimes I need a break from the larger, more monotonous parts of a page (like when I was coloring the grass).
Here’s when one of the biggest issues came in with this piece. Once I started working on the moon with regular colored pencils, I noticed that the turquoise Derwent watercolor pencil started flaking off in spots. It was most noticeable with the darker blues. The painted pigment would come up and leave small white flecks that were really difficult to color over, blend back in, and burnish.
My fix? I used small dabs of watercolor to help fill in the white spots in the dark areas, and I also realized that once I added my gel pen embellishments at the very end, the white flecks probably wouldn’t stand out as much. And I figured small dabs of ink would work too, so I tried not to panic and overwork those darker areas. With all of the pressure I had already used, I didn’t want to risk damaging the paper.
I used Titanium Buff again (Luminance) to work in the highlighted areas and blend my lighter blues and greens together. The flaking was not as noticeable with the lighter colors, thankfully.
The lesson here is that it really does pay to test out your ideas and tools before working on a final piece–especially if you are using a brand or color combo you haven’t tried before.
In this case, I used my Derwent Watercolour which is a fairly old pencil (15 years?) and got unexpected results. It could be the age of the pencil, or it could be the pigment in this particular pencil that doesn’t like being colored over with regular colored pencils. Hard to say. I have used lots of Derwents and have not noticed this issue until now. I have an even older collection of Staedtler Aquarelle pencils that all seem to behave beautifully.
But again, the point it … unless you are certain you’ll get the results you want with whichever tools you are using (paper included), try it out first on a scrap page of the same paper. There have been many times a design colored beautifully on one type of paper, but then total crud on another.
As I was working on the moon, I decided to try something a little new (for me, at least). I didn’t want the the rays coming off the moon to be a solid color, or just use a gradient, so I grabbed an Indigo Irojiten and drew a paisley-like pattern in that space after very lightly coloring a layer of Prismacolor Black and Indigo closest to the edge of the moon.
I then used Holbein Ice Green (aren’t they just the most dreamy pencils!?!) to add small dabs of color to the shapes I drew. I didn’t take my time drawing the paisley shapes or coloring them in perfectly because I thought that if everything went as planned, it really wouldn’t matter….
Here’s where the fun part comes in–blending these simple little lines and shapes with the Luminance Buff Titanium pencil. I colored with lots of small, fairly hard, circular strokes to push the color around and soften up the paisley lines and shapes. I also followed up with Irojiten Eggshell and Cascade (a light aqua hue) for more blending and burnishing after this pic was taken to smooth things out even more. The overall effect looks like fabric or even batik in spots.
My wheels are turning and I’d like to experiment with this technique even more in the future.
Here’s where we are at so far (below and about 6 or 7 hours into it). I also added some rainbow colors to the rays, and somewhere along the way I colored in the hare. I forgot to mention that little guy! Same pencil brands, same technique using the Irojitens to burnish.
Here I go again saving the background for last! A few colorists on Facebook and Instagram have been chatting about this dilemma, and I really don’t know what the answer is. Sometimes I can picture the color scheme of the entire piece in my mind when I start–other times I just grab pencils and start working on a focal point.
I considered a black background for the contrast it would provide, but then thought that would be too harsh and might even obscure the lion’s mane and tips of the grass if it was too dark. So I settled on a combination of Black, Indigo and Grey. The Prismacolor Black was used in the U-shapes closest to the moon. Just a few light layers but progressively darker as I worked toward the center…
Then I added a few layers of Prismacolor Indigo (again layering progressively deeper toward the center and blending into the Black).
The layers started looking a little streaky as my fingers were cramping up again and I just wanted to get all of the blue filled. I am sure many of you can relate!
To avoid streaks, it does help to keep turning your paper so that you are not always coloring in the same direction. For this piece, though, I planned to burnish these areas and go back over them a few times so I didn’t worry about the streaks too much.
And that’s what I did–first with the Irojiten Indigo pencil pushing the Black and Indigo Prismacolor layers around and blending them together …
… and then with Irojiten Taupe. I also went over all the sky areas yet again with Pigeon Grey, which is a little lighter than Taupe, toward the outside areas.
Using Irojiten shades close to the original layers of colored pencil you put down can provide rich saturation levels and also slightly change the tint of your original layers depending on what you choose.
The Pigeon Grey gives the Indigo a nice smokey look, for example, while using Eggshell will inject a slight yellow tint into your original colors. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this if you decide to use the Irojitens the way I do. And remember that I am not a colored pencil expert–I am still learning as I go and still making mistakes!
Here is a quick video of blending and burnishing with the grey Irojiten over part of the sky. You can see how it really adds depth to the existing light layer of Indigo:
Once I finished the sky, I was left with the mostly blank white circle inside the moon shape. Another dilemma. I settled on trying out the soft paisley-effect again, but with a few slightly different colors including Faber-Castell Permanent Green Olive. I kept the tip of my Luminance Buff Titanium pencil fairly blunt, but again, used lots and lots of circular blending as you can see in the video below:
I did a few touch-ups in spots, but once all the colored pencil work was complete, I added a bunch of dots using Sakura Souffle gel pens (and a darker Turquoise Moolight pen). It can be tricky to work with these pens because they take a few minutes to dry and can smudge easily until then, so I usually work on a small few sections at a time and let it dry under my hot little Halogen desk lamp before moving on.
And here you go … the finished piece! Except that I just realized I never colored the stars … hmmm. For another day! I think they should be dark Indigo, yes?
If you would like to try this design on your own, I offer a downloadable, printable PDF through the RubyCharmColors Etsy shop as well as a bunch of other downloadable single and “bundle and save” designs, and have copies of the Artist’s Edition of my spiral-bound book if you don’t have access to a printer.
Feel free to share your questions or comments about this post and give me a follow (if you don’t already) and find some of my posts helpful.
As always, happy coloring!