Friday, August 11, 2017

Fruit on the Farm: Colored Pencils vs Watercolors

Colored pencils on the left, watercolors on the right, tiny ink doodles in ink.

A comparison of the same scene, first done in colored pencils, then done in watercolors. Both actually use a limited palette of just four colors:

Colored pencil colors used on top, watercolor colors used on bottom.

For the curious, the materials are:

Caran d'Ache Pablo Color Pencils: ultramarine blue, light olive, scarlet, purple, on a Stillman & Birn Zeta series pocket sketchbook.

Daniel Smith Watercolors: phthalo blue RS, lemon yellow, organic vermilion, quinacridone rose, in a Pentalic pocket Aqua Journal.

The colored pencil was sort-of used as a reference for the watercolors; admittedly the way I use frequently references for non-exact work (e.g., not portraits) is very often to lay down a base sketch (in pencil or neutral colors) of contour without form, and then use memory to paint the rest. Proportions and rendering can differ quite a bit as a result, but there's still enough similarities here to point out some of the differences between colored pencils and watercolors.

After spending a few days with artist-grade colored pencils and their requirement for layering, rather than mixing as you would with paints, I've gotten a better and deeper understanding of color theory. Without color theory (especially complementary colors), you end up actually depending on 72 different color pencils; with color theory, you can get away with far, far fewer pencils.

I still use a colorless blender for my color pencils, but I rather like that it mostly doesn't obliterate the texture inherent in the pencil laydown, rather than melting them all together like solvents would.

I feel that I could have nailed down further details in the watercolor work via the use of a spotter and gouache.

Thus far I've felt better about my Stillman & Birn Zeta (hot-press, smooth) sketchbook, and I feel even better than before with my Pentalic (cold-press) Aqua Journals. Both papers are internally and externally sized, so wet media doesn't tear up the pages. The Zeta sketchbook doubles for both colored pencil and watercolors/ink, and the Aqua Journal does extremely well with wet media.

I feel that I'll want to pair up the Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook with Pentalic Aqua Journals for future work.

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Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.