Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pencil and watercolor wash

Here's a drawing I did of dappled summer light on a farmhouse, done in graphite pencil and gray watercolor wash. 

This is a very traditional way to sketch, a tried and true technique. And it's a technique that I would recommend for beginners who want to ease into water media, or anyone who doesn't want to carry a lot of stuff. All you need is a little jar of water, a rag or paper towel, a paintbrush, and a couple of graphite pencils, maybe an HB and a 2B, and an eraser. 

There are many ways to approach pencil and wash, but I like to use the wash for tones up to about a 40% gray where I need flatness of tone, such as a sky or the shadow side of a building. The parts of the building that you leave white really pop this way. 

With the regular graphite pencils, you should be able to add the washes over the pencil without disturbing it, so you can do the pencil drawing first. But I tend to do a light but accurate layin and then add the washes, and when they're dry, I add the darker and softer pencil strokes.

Rendering of a proposed dining room by Otto Eggers from Guptill's book.
As for the surface, drawing (or cartridge) paper tends to buckle if you add anything more than a few light washes. If your washes are large or wet, you might want to use Bristol board or a watercolor sketchbook.

The best book on pencil drawing is Drawing and Sketching in Pencil by Arthur Guptill. He also did a book called Color in Sketching and Renderingfrom 1935 which goes more into watercolor and wash.


mdmattin said...

Very nice! The subtle play of light and shadow on the clapboard walls really sings.
Where do you get the wash color? Do you carry separate watercolor cakes, or pre-mix it in the jar?


Aljosa said...

Derwent Watersoluble Sketching, or Watersoluble Graphitone graphite pencils also work well for this.

Terry Banderas said...

Nice sketches.

Tyler J said...

Nice post, as usual.

I have two questions for you, one of which Matthew already asked, regarding the wash. Can you talk a bit more about this step, perhaps in a future post? Maybe another classic time-lapsed video with Gurney Lego-Time-Clock-Vision™ =)

Secondly, I notice the top sketch is from 2001. Do you look back on your earlier work with a critical eye, noticing errors or omissions the younger you made? (I don't notice any on your pieces, but I do find much of my older work unsatisfactory)

This type of tonal exercise seems such an important skill for setting up more finished works, but each one stands on its own as art.

James Gurney said...

Matthew, the wash color is just lampblack cake watercolor thinned down with water. At the time I think I premixed a tone and took it around in a little plastic jar.

Aljoša, thanks for mentioning Derwent's line, which works great for giving pencil that watercolor look.

Thanks, Terry,

Tyler, I think I added the wash midway in the picture, after I had established the basic framework. As for earlier sketches, they're a mixed lot, some better than others, but what strikes me is that I go through personal fads for certain technical tools. So everything from one period might be pencil, and from another period watercolor pencil, and then gouache.

Steve Kohr Fine Art said...

I'll have to try this method...I typically do a very basic graphite sketch before I do my oil paintings (not using washes). I like what you've mentioned here, thanks for the post!

Unknown said...

This reminds me of something I recently found out about. You could also use turpenoid to melt graphite and it turns it into a waterproof wash. Sometimes I make a pencil tonal drawing and then use turpenoid to melt the graphite into liquid washes. Then when it's dry and waterproof I cover it with transparent acrylic washes of color and the graphite doesn't mix with the acrylic. It's kind of an easy way to make a colored painting.

Kaylyn Munro said...

The two Guptill books mentioned are the very core of my drawing library. I learned from them as a child hanging out in my father's architectural studio. Still have them all these years later and still learn something every time I open one of them. Rendering with Pen and Ink is also a good one!!

For those interested in either water soluble graphite or using OMS with graphite, try ArtGraf water soluble graphite. It's delicious!!

Ted Gordon said...

I'm new to this method and have a few questions about your process on True North. 1) What did you use for the darkest lines (around the chickens and under the roof, for example)? 2) You mentioned carrying water and a pre-mixed tone. Did you lay down multiple washes over the same shadowed areas to get darker values or did you mix your premixed tone with different amounts of water on a palette to get value onto the paper in roughly one go? 3) Do you lay down the lightest wash tones first?


James Gurney said...

Good questions. I think I used a soft pencil for the dark lines--maybe 2B. They look darker in the photo. I believe I had two values of gray tone premixed, plus water. I probably laid down the lighter tones first, then the darker ones.

Ted Gordon said...

I really liked the look of this and tried this method out for myself. The idea of the addition of living creatures in the foreground I owe to your drawing of True North Farm.

I hope it is ok to share my stab at this, but if that's uncouth, please go ahead and delete it: My stab at this method

Thank you for the information and inspiration! :)


Ted Gordon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Gurney said...

Hi, Ted,
Nice sample of the method. BTW, it's ok to post a link to your site. I only remove unrelated spam (sofas, Dubai vacations and stuff like that). Glad that technique is working for you.

momus1 said...

OK, it took me 7 years to see this, but for me, that's not so bad. I've restarted my art career after a 30 year layoff, and have been struggling with getting the drawings to work. Looking at the Impressionists, Homer, Hopper, etc got me on the right track (less is more if every line is in the right place), but I was still having trouble with the larger areas. A wash is exactly what I wanted, only I didn't know it until I saw your beautiful example here. Thank you very much for the inspiration. Now all I need is a muse. The neighbor suggested I could use her chicken, but it's just not the same :)