Sunday, 20 November 2011

Elephant No. 49: Watercolour Pastels

Today I decided to play with one of my favourite things: watercolour pastels. Technically, I suppose these are watercolour pencils, but they have the consistency of Conté crayon rather than a coloured pencil, so I prefer to call them watercolour pastels.

A watercolour pastel contains the same material as any dry watercolour paint, compressed into pencil form. The watercolour material is usually encased in wood like a regular pencil, although you can also get watercolour pastels in stick form.

You draw with watercolour pastels just as you would with any other dry pastel or pencil. The difference is that, when you add water, the pigment is released to create a watercolour effect. This gives you the control of a pencil or pastel, with the added potential of paint.

In my experience, not all watercolours in pencil or pastel form are created equal. With this particular medium, you definitely get what you pay for. My favourites are the Derwent Inktense watercolour pastels, but they're pricey at about three dollars a pencil. I've got several other sets of watercolour pencils, but the Derwent Inktense ones have the most saturated colour, if that's what you're looking for.

There's something about drawing with a pencil, then turning it into paint, that pleases the kid in me. When I was little, I used to get a Rupert the Bear Annual every Christmas, and the first thing I turned to was the centre section. Back then, the centre section contained "magic painting" pages, which looked like black-and-white line drawings filled with tiny dots. The magic part was that, when you painted over the dots with a wet brush, coloured paint would appear. Even more magic was the fact that different parts of the drawing produced different colours.

Working with watercolour pastels obviously isn't exactly the same, but to me there's still a bit of magic in making pencil lines turn into paint.

For today's elephant, I decided to use bright colours rather than anything too realistic.

One of the drawbacks to working with watercolour pastels is that, as with any other watercolour, you can't really sketch anything in pencil first. If you do, the pencil will show through any paint you lay over top, which is a look I usually don't like. Instead, I sketched an outline in watercolour pastel.

In retrospect, I probably should have sketched it in pencil, then gone over the lines with the pastel when I was happy with it. Once you've sketched something with watercolour pastel, it's difficult to remove completely, as you can see in the front tusk.

Using white pastel over top in an attempt to erase the mistake does nothing, by the way.  I tried, but it's a pointless exercise. I actually don't know what the white pastel is for, unless solely to create a coloured pencil or dry pastel effect.

I started by staying fairly close to the sketch lines, just to get a feel for how I might create some modelling and dimension.

After the first three or four colours, I started covering larger areas with light swathes of pastel, then began blending them with water.

Because the pencil lines were light and fairly far apart, many of them didn't completely disappear  when I painted over the area. Although you can rework areas to a certain extent, some lines will remain unless you really saturate the area with water.

One of the things I like about watercolour pastels is that you can keep some of the pencil lines more or less intact if you like. This is fairly early on in the process, but it gives you an idea of the effect you can create.

This was one of the first times I've used watercolour pastels without really laying in a lot of pigment. When you use a lot of pencil, it creates a sort of watercolour pan, which allows you to produce more painterly effects.

Because I was working fairly light, the final result has the feel of a sketch overlaid with washes of paint. I wasn't sure I liked it at first, but it's grown on me. The combination of lines and paint is surprisingly pleasing in real life. It's not a realistic sort of drawing, but it's got a cheery kids-illustration feel that I rather like.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Not having fingers, and lacking the necessary dexterity in their trunks, elephants cannot create art with watercolour pastels.

Like horses, elephants essentially walk on tiptoe. Although elephants have five toes, these are buried inside the fleshy part of the foot, and only some of the toes end in toenails. In general, African elephants have four toenails on the front feet and three on the back. Asian elephants have five toenails on the front feet, and four on the back.

An elephant's toes are encased in a much larger area of spongy tissue.

Elephant pedicures are an important part of elephant care in zoos and circuses. In the wild, the keratinized layer on the sole and toes of an elephant's feet will naturally wear down. In captivity, however, elephant keepers take care to trim an elephant's cuticles, file off overgrown toenails, remove any foreign objects embedded in the sole, and moisturize the foot.


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