Resist: Using Colored Pencils to Repel Watercolor

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My Sea Lions illustration for coloring was completed using a simple “resist” technique for parts of the background and for the fish and sea lions.

In Volume 2 of the RCC Adult Coloring Art Journal (which should be on Amazon before too long), I wrote a bit about experimenting with a resist technique so I wanted to share more information (and photos) in conjunction with the upcoming book. I used the Sea Lions circle design on page 107 from Volume 1 of the RCC Art Journal which is available on Amazon now so I could take some photos for this tutorial. Since I tend to be a little long-winded, I’ll try to break this all down to the most basic steps. More pics, less talk. 😉

Feel free to post questions in the comments below if you need to know more—I am always happy to help!

Basic materials I used: Winsor & Newton watercolors, Caran d’Ache Neocolor II pastels, a mix of colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, a Kurtake waterbrush, gel pens (Sakura Souffle and Moonlight), a plastic clipboard inserted under the page I was working on, and coffee. And a design to color. You may not have the same watercolor or pencil brands, but that’s okay.

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A shot of my messy desk and (nearly finished) work in progress

For starters, using the wax/oil resist technique can help you add more interest to your backgrounds and add unique patterns to your subjects. You can cover a lot of ground fairly quickly when using watercolors in conjunction with pencils, and add more depth and richness to your coloring overall.

I would recommend copying the illustrations you plan to use watercolors with onto thicker card stock if you can. If water is used sparingly, though, it can be used in a book like I did. Of course, one of the best benefits of making a copy is that you always have a clean image to go back to and copy again if needed.

I did have a little bleed through on page 108, but since it is a worksheet / journal page for the accompanying full Sea Lions illustration (Plate 21) on page 109, I wasn’t too worried. I can still test colors on this page and play around if I want (though I won’t use watercolors or markers on it now that I colored the circle image on the other side).

I used a clear clipboard underneath the page I was working on to make sure nothing bled through to Plate 21, but also so that I had a nice hard surface to work on and could fold the rest of the book under it.

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A little bleed-through on page 108

Which pencils work best for the resist technique? All colored pencils have a mix of waxes and oils in them, but some work better than others when it comes to resisting water. Here’s my first quick and messy test with the pencils I have on hand:

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Prismacolor won by a long shot with the Pablo, Bruynzeel and Luminance coming in a close second. I do not have a white Holbein pencil, but based on my test using a yellow Holbein, they seem to do quite well, too. I used fairly firm pressure when applying each pencil stroke. The tip of the Bruynzell pencil snapped when I was writing the “N” and it was pretty crumbly overall. A little disappointing, but it could just be my pencil. They still seem to perform fairly well for resisting water. I used Winsor & Newton watercolors and worked on fairly thin but tough paper in the RCC Art Journal so there is a little wave where the water was applied.

My guess is that if you don’t have Prismacolors or one of the other brands that did well in my test, you can still make this technique work by going over your “resist” areas a few times.  Here is another swatch I made using one of the color charts (included in the back of my book) using a few colors in addition to white. I could have done more color combinations, but you get the idea … the sky is the limit when it comes to the variety of colored pencils and watercolor hues you can use. Test them out first, though. Some of the colors I thought might look nice just didn’t produce the results I wanted:

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Color chart from the RCC Art Journal testing various colored pencils with Winsor & Newton pan watercolors

I also tried a Caran d’Ache Blender Bright (the scrap I tested it on disappeared, sorry) and decided to use it for the first sea lion by drawing small circles for the resist. It was difficult to see where I was drawing, so I angled my small goose-neck desk lamp around until I could see the shine of the waxy pencil against the more matte surface of the paper:

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Adding white (clear) circles

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Adding a little Holbein Sky Blue for the resist

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After adding blue circles, I used my Kurtake water brush to lightly wash some paint over the surface. I got a little sloppy, but after I work over these areas with pencil, they shouldn’t be too noticeable. While that dried, I added spots to the fish scales with Holbein Cream and Salmon Pink—again, pressing fairly hard with the pencils:

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After the spots were added, I washed over the fish with a mix of red and yellow watercolors. You can see the how the wash over the pencils really adds nice depth and texture to the fish scales once the resist works its magic. If I had tried to shade each one of these little scales with just pencils, it would have taken me weeks!

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Watercolor over Holbein spots on the fish

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All the fishies with watercolor wash

After completing the scales on all the fish, the second sea lion got a few stripes with  Prismacolor Sky Blue Light. I went over my squiggle lines twice to make sure the wax from the pencil really coated the paper. I also used a small dry brush to whisk away the crumbs:

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And then the second sea lion got a wash of blue. I tried to work fairly quickly and smoothly, but watercolors can pool and streak a little. I picked a small section at a time and kept my brush moving with just enough water to blend.

The nice thing about going over watercolor (once it’s dried) with colored pencil is that most of those weird streaks and spots can be smoothed out. Of course sometimes they can be pretty interesting, so be sure to look at your work carefully first to see what can stay and what might need a little blending. In this pic, the Sea Lion is still a little blotchy because it is wet.

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Still wet and blotchy but it will dry just fine

Here’s a shot of my clip-board set up. I tucked it under my page snugged up to the spine, tucked the left side of the book underneath, and clipped the top of the page under the bar. Once I folder the rest of the book under the clip board, it was a lot easier to rotate the book around at different angles so I could reach areas of my art without smudging it or getting my hand full of blue paint.

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Next I added some white squiggles in the center of the circle on the back of the first sea lion. Not the best picture of the squiggles, sorry! The sun was coming in and out of the clouds while working in my studio and playing all sorts of havoc with my lighting. No complaints, though—the sun can shine all it wants.

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After I painted over the squiggles in the circle, I snapped a pic right away to show you something important. Can you see the dark blobs from the page behind it showing through? If this happens to you (especially if you are working in this or another coloring book) don’t freak out. Let it thoroughly dry and those dark blobs should disappear.

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Circles with a white Prismacolor on Sea Lion 2:

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And pulling back a little to see where we are so far. The paper in the RCC Art Journal is a little wavy (but it will flatten out once you start coloring on it with your pencils):

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I grabbed my coveted Luminance Raw Ochre and Raw Sienna to use on the fish …

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And a mix of pencils to start giving the fish on the left a little more depth and definition. Notice how the circle on the top sea lion has dried out? Those weird dark blobs are gone now though the paint is a little streaky. I’ll smooth that out shortly.

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I then started working on the first sea lion again with a few different turquoise blues (Polychromos and Prisma) …

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… and used my Luminance Buff Titanium and white to start blending, then Irojiten Indigo and King Fisher to start sharpening and defining some of the lines.

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Lots of layers to blend my colors together  ….

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… and once I got the first sea lion where I wanted it, I used Sakura gel pens to add some dots:

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For the background, I used Turquoise and Green Oxide Neocolor II pastels by Caran d’Ache as my watercolor layer over the white stripes I drew with the Blender Bright pencil. Once handy thing about using wax resist on backgrounds is that it sections them off nicely to separate your colors if you want.

Important: instead of drawing with the Neocolor pastels directly on the paper, I used my water brush to get the blunt or flat end of the pastel wet and picked up color there to apply to the paper. Drawing with watercolor pastels or pencils over the lines and shapes you want to resist water can mess them up a bit, so it’s best to get your pigments wet first and apply them with a brush. You can even shave off a little of the pastel and mix it with water in a small cup, yogurt lid, or watercolor pan if you have one. A little shaving of the pastel goes a long way.

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More of the green background stripes:

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And an overall shot of where I am so far:

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I used Crimson Aubergine, Crimson Alzarin and Yellow Ochre Luminance to start building color on the swirls coming off the fish fins, and burnished a bit with a Verithin Tuscan Red pencil (nice and sharp). Next, I grabbed the Cactus Green Irojiten pencil to lightly scribble in little circular shapes over the dried brighter green watercolor areas to give it some texture:

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Since I move back and forth between different areas of the coloring quite a bit, I try to keep the pencils I am using grouped together in a few rectangular tins I picked up at Michaels. They keep my pencils from rolling off my desk and help keep me organized. In the pic below, I was working on the green areas around the moon shape with Luminance Olive Yellow and blending with Buff Titanium, then a little Irojiten Turquoise for burnishing and Midnight to add a little definition around the cheek area. (A little too much waxy reflection going on this this photo, my apologies).

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More refining with Irojiten Midnight around the circle on the bottom sea lion and a little Mulberry around the circle on the top sea lion …

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A little more Tuscan Red to define the fish …

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And after finishing up the rest of the fish faces and fins with a mix of pencils (lots of blanding and burnishing), I used Irojiten Hummingbird, Jay Blue, Verdigris and Sage green pencils to smooth out some of the splotchy areas of the blue/green background. I worked very lightly in these areas so that the texture and translucence of the watercolor still had plenty of presence. I added a few more embellishments and dots with the Sakura gel pens, then used a dark turquoise Sakura Moonlight gel pen to draw tiny circles around the entire large circle.

Knowing me, I might go back to it again to add a little something more, but for now it is done.

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I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If there is another tutorial you would like to see, please let me know in the comments below, and subscribe to the blog if you would like. I won’t spam you with needless junk, promise—just notifications when I post something new to the blog every few weeks.

Happy coloring, and keep your eyes open for the release of the Ruby Charm Colors Adult Coloring Art Journal Volume 2!

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