First Lessons with Pencil & Paint

You will need:


Watercolour paper

Tissue paper – white and/or coloured

PVA glue or a glue stick

Coloured inks: yellow, red, blue, black (and any other colours you have), or liquid acrylics such as Magic Color or Chromacolour (use transparent colours).

Whenever I mention mixed media in student painter circles, one of two things happens. Either some look deeply shocked and talk about maintaining the purity of a particular medium, or others appear disturbed and declare they would rather master one medium at a time. Both are half right. One does have to respect the character of a medium and one does need to know the rudiments of a particular medium. However I would challenge the premise that one should never consider other ways of problem-solving and never explore further.

Not to do that would be never to develop as an artist, never have the chance to enrich your experience, never to take risks. Whatever your experience – whether you are a student, experienced amateur, semi-professional or professional painter – you are still an artist and you owe it to yourself to explore your world as creatively as you can.

I would like to offer you ways of integrating other media with watercolour using flowers as a motif. The following techniques will also work with any subject where you would normally use watercolour. I have chosen to work with flowers because they can be so many things – colourful, alive, boldly shaped, yet delicate and subtle. Also, they can be easily obtained and can be worked on in the studio.

An initial drawing in pencil made on the spot to familiarise myself with the subject – 11.5” x 8.25”.

Try using coloured pencils to add texture to your watercolour. They will lift any flatness. They are also invaluable for adding fine detail, such as stems and stamens. The opaque ones can be used to subdue strong tones.

Be discreet in their use so that the integrity of the watercolour is not lost – the painting still needs to look like a watercolour. I use dry watercolour pencils because they seem to have a slightly softer texture than coloured pencils and you can choose whether you moisten them or not. Make sure your painting is dry before using pencils and keep them well sharpened.

Watercolour pencils used dry on top of a watercolour. These were used discreetly to make colour more resonant (leaves and stems) and to darken the tones behind the leaves to produce more contrast. Texture was added with coloured pencils on the buff-coloured rocks behind the group. 6” x 4.25”

Oil or chalk pastel can be used on top of watercolour very successfully. However, you have to be aware that the character of the watercolour will be lost and that the result will be a pastel painting.

Oil pastel used on top of a watercolour ‘key’, 11.5” x 8.25” (shown in first stage on left side of the picture) If, like me, you tend to be a little heavy-handed with pastel, a watercolour key is invaluable for starting off the painting. It prevents the cloggy build-up of colour that sometimes occurs when using pastels on their own.

Snowdrops. Tissue and inks over watercolour 9.25” x 6.75”. White tissue was used throughout, together with blue, yellow and brown ink. This has produced a more subtle result in keeping with the subject.

Cover the surface

Anemones. Watercolour original 10” x 6.75”, used as the subject for the subsequent tissue and ink collage. I chose it for its rich colour.

A technique using tissue and inks is exciting, creative and will give you another way to enrich your work. Tissues and ink are used on top of watercolour and will change its character, but the results will be richer. This is an especially useful technique if you feel that your watercolour has failed. Instead of throwing it away, consider using the following method:

Start painting in watercolours, understanding the darks. This will lay in the foundation of your picture. Allow to dry. Tear pieces of white or coloured tissue, relevant to the subject, and stick them with glue all over the picture, overlapping pieces where necessary to cover the whole of the surface area.

The start of the collage, 8” x 6”. The picture has been drawn out on Bockingford watercolour paper, simplifying the shapes. Watercolour was used to make a ‘key’ for the layer of tissue and ink. On the left side of the picture I have started to glue tissue shapes approximating to the areas beneath. Make sure your tissue covers the surface of the paper before adding ink.

Brush with inks, using them neat or diluted. Neat colour will be very strong. Use your lightest colours first (for example, yellow) then lay on other colours as you need them. Use colour either relevant to the subject or to change the original colour.

As you brush on the inks they work their way into the tissue, causing it to wrinkle slightly and spread the colour in little threads, which begin to form an exciting texture on the surface. Allow each colour to dry before laying the next. Use a hairdryer if necessary.

Be prepared for fortunate accidents. Ink may not always go where you intend it to and it sometimes causes the picture to veer off in a new direction.

When you have laid all your coloured inks and the surface is dry, you can use pen and ink to redefine form on the picture. Do not press too hard on the surface as the tissue will clog the nib. Felt tips can be used to give a more definite line and increase the design element. If you are using inks, the picture will have a rich, slightly shiny surface as though varnished, though it is best to frame it under glass.

The completed collage, 6.5” x 4.5”, which produces wonderfully rich colour and texture. Note the texturing on the right side of the vase. This happened accidentally – make sure you retain accidents where appropriate! I used coloured tissue: orange, pink, blue, green and turquoise. Inks used were: vermilion, yellow, blue, purple and black.

The results of working with tissue and inks are almost always a surprise. This can be a bonus, especially if the underneath watercolour was about to be abandoned as a failure. Perhaps our motto as artists should be nil desperandum.