Friday, December 4, 2015

Pencil Tips: Would that you go woodless

Since my coloring book came out, a lot of folks have asked for technique tips and my thoughts on various materials. So I'm kicking off series of blog posts called "Pencil Tips." I am far from all-knowledgeable and there are as many different ways to color and paint as there are artists. So, what I offer is to be read and used or dismissed as you see fit. Let me know if I've said something particularly helpful, or there are topics you'd be curious to hear my opinion on. I'll also disclose I'm using Amazon affiliate links, which give me a small kick-back if you click and buy. It won't change your price. Feel free to shop around, too, if you are inspired to buy things. Amazon is usually great to work with, but Dick Blick, Jerry's, Michaels, and your local art supply store may actually have better deals. If you have Ad-Block on, it won't show the links.

Today's topic is woodless watercolor pencils, specifically this set by Cretacolor called Aqua Monoliths. Woodless pencils are pretty cool - they are solid lead, in this case water-soluble, so you can paint with water over them to get watercolor effects. You can use them dry too, if you like. The casing is painted and lacquered, so you don't get your fingers all dirty while you use them. They come in a spiffy tin that will keep them from breaking and display them in an order that will make your shading and blending easier. As an engineer, I must point out the one logic flaw with the design, or at least the advertising. They brag about the percent more lead you get with a woodless design, but seriously how often do you let your pencil get dull enough that you are using the outer few millimeters? It might as well be cheaper wood out there since it will just get cut off with the sharpener. (Maybe if you're using them to color giant background areas?) They are still a good deal.

The original painting for Mandala #17 in Peace of Art, painted in Cretacolors

Cretacolors makes 72 shades in this line. I always get the biggest pencil set if I can, unless the line is "open stock" which means you can pick them up one at a time. Your color printer can make beautiful pictures with only four colors of ink or toner, but it's easier when coloring by hand to get predictable colors and shading using a fuller palette. The bigger set means more colors to choose from, which is important because the first thing I do is set aside about two thirds of the colors to keep the palette tight. This painting was done with the muted colors in the set - maybe 25 shades.

These pencils are nice to work with. The shades are all distinct with no obvious gaps in the rainbow. The lead is HARD but goes onto the paper smoothly.  I've painted about 10 mandalas with this set and I don't think I've had to sharpen a single one, Nor have any of them broken, or had so much as a tip chip off. Meaning this set will last a loooooong time before I have to worry about replacing a favorite color. There are a few places where the painted color of the pencil outside doesn't really match the color of the lead, and an occasional color where adding water seemed to unexpectedly brighten or dull the color rather than just spread it around. That is why you might want to have a little test area to play in. They blend really well, as you can see.

Important test for watercolor pencils, and these pass, is whether the lead dissolves easily with the water. You want the lead to feel like it melts away without having to scrub at it to remove pencil marks. This lets you blend colors together in areas to create a gradient. You can see the effect above. This particular watercolor paper I used has a really pronounced grain which causes pigment particles, whether from pencils or tube watercolors, to settle into the valleys and give a faint stripey look.

The cardstock I've used to print the Peace of Art books can be watercolor painted if you're careful to not use too much water. You'll want to take the sheet out so you don't dampen the one underneath. You will get a little rippling, If this bothers you, then use spray adhesive to mount it on a mat board before you start or just use dry media. Some folks also use a coat or three of clear Gesso, drying after each, to create a thicker and water-colorable paper.

A nice tin of pencils is a great gift idea for an artist in your life. And who is to say you don't deserve a gift as well?

Have fun coloring,

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