Coloured pencil or Watercolour for a botanical art subject?

In actual fact, I’m cheating a little, as I was going to write this blog this evening having spent a couple of days off from writing my botanical art online course, to sketch some Fritillaries in preparation for a commission in watercolour. But, I also got a query from a lady this evening, about the use of coloured pencils and how I choose whether to use watercolour or coloured pencil for a subject.

My answer to her and anyone else who asks ( as I do get the question fairly regularly), is that I have no idea. I just have a feeling that I want to do one or the other.

But, when I did my last RHS exhibit in 2014, I deliberately chose to do it in coloured pencil to show that solid subjects (crabapples), dainty subjects (blossom) and delicate detail (dissections), could be done in coloured pencil. The judges said they didn’t realise I had used CP and thought it was in watercolour!

Back to the commission; I had bought some Fritillaria meleagris at the local garden centre and Fritillaria Michailovskyi at Chelsea Physic Garden when I was there at the beginning of the month. I think we are innate plant hoarders! So this week I have been doing a series of small sketches in my sketchbooks.

Without thinking too much, I started out in a Stillman & Bern Epsilon sketchbook, realised what I had done (as the Zeta is better for watercolour), but continued in it, deciding to do my colour samples in coloured pencil. Although you can’t compare CP and watercolour by the names, or know how one colour mixes with another, I know the two mediums well enough to be able to convert fairly happily.

I’m afraid the following photo is not brilliant as I took it on my easel this evening, but I think you get a reasonably good idea of the results on the page.

Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.
Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.

By the time I had finished these, the one dark flower I had was looking a bit faded as it was being subjected to being in the warmth of the shed during the day and outside during the cold night. I needed to concentrate on the foliage as it was a bluish green, except near the base, but felt I really should do this in watercolour.

I changed to the Stillman & Bern Zeta sketchbook. Shame they aren’t all in the same one – but never mind! I had hacked (dissected) the one flower to pieces and done one or two small sketches, so decided to draw a portrait of the bulbs. In the end, all of the sketches on the 2nd page are watercolour over graphite. The bulb is from the Fritillaria meleagris, but you also see the Fritillaria Michailovskyi. I have taken a photo of that one halfway through so you can see the amount of graphite shading I actually did. Before adding colour, I did a wash of clear water to ‘set’ the graphite so it wouldn’t discolour the colours I was going to use.

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4 thoughts on “Coloured pencil or Watercolour for a botanical art subject?

  1. Thank you very much for this very interesting article and photo! Now I’m sure I have an answer! I will try CP!
    Your FB friend Tonya Shesteryakova.

    1. Hei Tonya, i am so glad that it all helped you with your decision making. I do love CP – but I love watercolour too. But one of the main differences with CP is that you can use most of those lovely colours you have bought and have them in your layers of colour creating such a depth of colour. With watercolour, it is much better to try and limit the colours, so that your work forms a visual whole.

      But of course, you still have to try create a whole with CP, it is just different.

      Good luck with them and play with the colours to start off with so you get the feel of them and find out what they can do for you.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing! I didn’t know you could paint watercolour over graphite, I have only seen it done with ink – and as I love graphite drawing, you have opened a new window to me, now to some experimenting!

    1. I’m glad to be of help. But who said there were any rules about what you could and couldn’t do. It’s the result that counts. Unless of course you are painting a botanical picture as a purist:)

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