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Venice Grand Canal SBS

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Fish Market Step by Step


Getting a convincing water surface


The reason for this is to work with the largest choice of suitable colours.  That will be the easiest to do and we can come back to the Staedtler pen and wash challenge later !    

You will note that I have moved on to the water in this version without completing the line of buildings at the back of the picture.  This is purely a matter of time as I have a lot of other things happening at the moment and I can only fit in so much time with a camera and the right light available to take good enough photos for you.  The various pictures will all be completed….. Promise !!!!

Before we start on the picture, let us have a close look at the water in the two references we have - The full view and the gondolier picture

The water in our main reference shows up as a brownish green , it is rippled but fairly even.  We can see some reflected colours from the red blinds on the market.  The grey/green is not as attractive as the blue green reflections in the water in the gondolier reference below it,  and whilst I want to use both - that lower one is the one I am going to use most.

I will be trying to get that swirling effect with lights and darks and splashes of colour where the buildings are picked up.  Hopefully I can do this with a good layer of dry colour on the paper and a very small brush.

We will see.

The first step is to go into the Albrecht Durer colour set and bring out a collection of likely colours on to the work surface.

See the image below…..

I have picked out pale greens and greys, pale blues and some reds and browns ( which will have sparing use ). This selection is not a definitive one, your colours will be your choice from what you have.

Note I have also selected a small watercolour brush.

The size number has worn off but I think it is either a 1 or a 2 and it has a good long set of nylon type bristles.

And before any one shouts at me, I know the points of the pencils are not needle sharp, but for shading purposes, they are fine.

So let us have a look at the first stage of dry colour being added to the picture.

You will see that I am shading in a horizontal manner and layering the colours lightly so that I get a mix of colours which will eventually ( I hope ) form a suitable foundation.

There is a second image of a different area below.

Keep the central area from the bridge downwards, light,

to show reflected sky

Both of these photos have been enhanced so that you can see the colour and the method of application.

The actual amount of colour is quite light

and remember we are using pale colours as well

Once we have a reasonable covering of horizontally layered colour we can start to work the water on to the paper.  Once again, we are working with a small brush, and because the brush is small we may need to use it quite wet to make any impact on the dry pigment.

Our aim at the moment

is to put down a FIRST LAYER of colour as a foundation, and we keep the central area below the bridge quite light to show to reflected light through the gap in the buildings

These photos have been enhanced to bring up the colour and is distorted from getting the camera up close to show the effect, but you should be able to see how the small horizontal brushstrokes have picked up and merged the colours.  I will leave this to dry thoroughly before adding any more dry colour.

 Don’t worry about areas where the brush has missed. This will get picked up next time around.

The next step will be to add more dry colour, and then progressively work the colour in horizontal and nearly horizontal strokes to develop that swirling water effect and bring up the many colours seen in the reflections on the water surface.

This is after working the right hand side water.  I have probably got the colour a bit too green here and my intention now is to tone it down a bit with greys and cold browns.

The colour range in the Faber Castell Albrecht Durer is not ideal even though we have 120 colours in the set.  I am not finding it as straightforward as the Staedtler version which is using  their 36 colour set.

Final stage. I have opened out that lighter area of water centre right by lifting some of the colour with a clean brush and clean water.  I think the colour doesn’t look so vibrant now.  With the right hand side buildings complete and the Gondola complete, the whole shape of the picture is much better.  I am not so sure about the vibrant green in the foliage on the extreme right. I might come back to in a few days and tone it down and darken the shadow at the base.

I think we can call this version almost complete.

 I am not entirely happy with it, I must say.

I had expected to have got a much truer impression of the scene colourwise with such a wide range of colours in the Faber Castell 120 set.

I am not a great lover of these pencils which seem drier than many brands and less easy to dissolve and blend.

The Staedtler Karat      Pen and Wash version

Using the 36 colour set.

You may recall that this is where we were up to with the Staedtler version where the overall drawing had been completed in pen at the outset.  We then completed the buildings on the right hand side , taking us to the picture below

I have been able to use the rather limited range of colours in the small box from Steadtler to achieve a much better colour balance for the water.  It is currently at the foundation stage but it has a look about it which is truer to the Grand Canal - even in the sun !

I have come in closer on that water in the picture above so you can see how the colours have blended well and the paper surface is aiding the effect of ripples.

Unfortunately it is not always possible to have light good enough for photography and I sometimes work these pictures away from home so writing notes is not possible on to the computer at the time.  The Staedtler picture has been completed to my satisfaction and some photos are shown below of the complete picture and some of the details.  I like these watercolour pencils. They may be inexpensive, but they dissolve well, produce a fine point,  and the results are acceptable.

ABOVE :  Last stage before darkening water

FINISHED  - Water darkened.   A nearly dry but stiff brush has been used to merge those water colours and in some areas a piece of kitchen roll has been used to lift out a small amount of wet colour.

See detail below

I am happy with this version !

The Derwent Watercolour Pencil version.  Continued.

After many weeks break away from Watercolour pencils ( working with pastels and pastel pencils),   I really have to get this tutorial wrapped up.  It is many weeks also since I looked at the Derwent picture ( I think it was back in February ) and it is a bit of a struggle to recall exactly where I was up to !.

I have made a start by getting out a collection of suitable colours from the Derwent set.

Let us have a look at the starting point for this stage

This is the previous record of the picture, and since that time ( the end of January ) I had taken it to a working session of our local art society to make some further progress and then discovered that I had left the reference picture at home.  Rather than waste the 2 hours available, I worked the right hand side buildings from memory - and the drawing on the page.  As a result the colours will be only an approximation of the ones used in the other pictures.  Sorry !

As a result of my unprepared state, no photo was taken of that end result, and the picture was then filed away.

I started again on the picture today ( April 5th) and spent two hours on it before taking a photo. Not very helpful.

Sorry again!    But at least you can see the progress.

All the added colour is dry pigment and is waiting a brush and some water

Let us ignore those right hand side buildings for the moment and concentrate on the dry colour in the bottom half of the picture.

For the gondola, I have used a Gunmetal Grey with some black added for the darkest areas ( waterline and top edge ).  I have also introduced the same bright green used in the right hand bushes, which provides a colour link across the picture.  I have selected a darker red for the right hand boat and matched it to a Delft Blue to keep the colour tones less strident on the extreme edge of the picture. I may have to darken them again, but we will see.   Putting in the dry colour for the posts is not a good idea as it is easier to work the water and then put the posts in afterwards and get a good clean edge to them.  Alas!    I have done it now !

For the water, I have selected a range of very suitable pastel colours from the Derwent set.

And I show here a close up of the water area with the first layer of dry colour laid down

As you will see, there is no firm plan at this stage, merely a selection of colours….  but carefully avoiding the area of reflected highlight in the water in the centre area of the picture

After a few days pause to gather my thoughts, I have now come back to the Derwent version in an attempt to complete it.  I suppose the water is the most daunting part of the whole enterprise and there is an even chance that it won’t go as intended - it rarely does when adding water to pencil is involved !    I have worked through the background buildings with a small brush to smooth down the dry pencil leaving the bottom of the mooring posts and the two boats on the right to finish off at the end.

Firstly I have laid down several layers of those 6 pastel coloured pencils shown above.  There is a fair amount of white in the mixtures as will become more apparent when we get round to applying the brush

I have deliberately left the bottom of the posts and the gondola at the moment as I will need to do these after the water is completed to avoid smearing dark colour over light.   The dry pigment is quick thick but will quickly bed in when we add water with the brush.  I am keeping a pad of kitchen roll available as I will want to lift out some areas where the colour is too strong.  I am also using a bristle brush as can be seen below in the photo.

Keeping the brush fairly dry ( but wet enough to dissolve the dry colour ), I have blended the colours of the water area using horizontal strokes.  I have also picked out some areas with a paper pad - again keeping movements horizontal.

Once the paper has dried from this step, I will be able to add more of the 6 colours, but being more precise where I put them.

I want to keep the water darker nearer the viewer so that there is a balance for the strongly coloured buildings.  As a matter of good practice, It is always a good plan to build in a foundation of shadow or darker tones at the bottom of the picture to form a good base for the scene to ‘sit’ on.

Now that the paper has dried off, I can go back and add a further series of horizontal lines with a selection of my pastel colours, keeping the lines so that they start to show the swirling water and the shadows of the small waves in the water.

I then apply a small flat damp brush and work those little waves - again horizontally.  I have taken the opportunity to put more shadow below the right hand boats and also brush in the bottoms of the mooring posts and drag some of the dark brown into the water as reflections.  There is now a little Smalt blue and Cedar green in the water colours to add a little more strength. These are darker tones of the colours previously used.    I will now work the same treatment on the left hand side and review how much darker I want the colours to go.  An advantage of the watercolour pencils over traditional watercolour is the ability to use a wide range of separate but toning colours and being selective over how they are mixed on the paper.

The colours are going down much better than the Faber Castell ones.

Now I have more dry colour down on both areas of water and I have added some black to the gondola and I have added colour to the Gondolier.  Next step is to add water to this in short horizontal strokes so that the colours do not merge too much.

The dark brown colour marking the edge of the quay in front of the open market area and along in front of the Fish Market building will be dragged down into the water with a barely damp brush to show the reflected shadow.

You will see I have added green (Cedar Green) to the shadowed water below the gondola and the right hand boats.

There is still some detail to be added after I have resolved the water area - the Gondolier’s pole  and the heads of the passengers  as well as the red back of their seat.  I guess I will have a fair bit of fiddling to do, but let us see what brushing in water brings to the picture for the last time

First a quick look at where I have used a clean wet brush to soften the colour in areas of water and then lift out immediately with a piece of clean kitchen roll.  This has given me light points in the water to indicate where the sky is reflected in the ripples

So we now have the bulk of the picture complete.

Later on today, I will sharpen up some pencils to a good point and go round adding bits of detail and finishing off areas like the Gondola and Gondolier and also some detail on the right hand side boats.

I must say I have a sense of relief at this point.  It will be nice to settle down to something fast and loose for a change……  but you can be sure it won’t be watercolour pencils for at least a week !

I have called this ‘ Possibly the final version’ of the Derwent picture.

Additions in dry pencil are around the Gondola, The edges of the red blinds on the Fish Market, The front of the facing buildings, the foliage on the right ( added shadow ) and the right hand boats.  You can always find something to fiddle with, but when working on such a rough surfaced paper there are limits to how much accuracy you can achieve.

I think I did what I set out to do,

namely see how watercolour pencil could be used on a cold pressed paper (unstretched) to get a reasonable image down.   When you compare the three versions, it is surprising how well the limited range of colours from the 36 Steadtler box stand up against the full range of colours from Derwent and Faber Castell.  It just shows that with watercolour pencils, colours ‘in between’ can be easily mixed on the paper.

Thanks for following the exercise.


36 colours available

Cold pressed paper

Clairfontaine Etival 300 gsm

Finished size  20ins x 11 ins

Drawn in Pen and colour added


72 colours available

Cold pressed paper

Clairfontaine Etival 300 gsm

Finished size 16ins x 10ins

Drawn in pencil & colour added


120 colours available

Cold pressed paper

Clairfontaine Etival 300 gsm

Finished size  16 ins x 10ins

Drawn in pencil & colour added