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STEP BY STEP EXERCISES 6 : Venice Grand Canal
This was an on line tutorial completed by several members of the Topics Talk Group on Faceook. It was completed in the early part of 2017. The scene is of the Rialto Fish Market in Venice. Three examples of this picture were worked in different brands of Watercolour Pencils on Cold Pressed W/C paper. The exercise notes include one or two examples of the student’s work. This is an edited version of the full Tutorial which is stored and still available on the www.colouredpenciltopics.co.uk archived site
VENICE GRAND CANAL The Rialto Fish Market As noted above, three examples of this study were worked on-line using Clairfontaine Etival 300gsm cold pressed watercolour paper and three different brands of watercolour pencils. This was a monumental exercise and is unlikely to be repeated any time soon !!. To make this study of the process more compact and understandable, I have chosen just the one version to show this tutorial in detail This is the version using the set of 72 Derwent Watercolour pencils
ABOVE Firstly, here is the main reference photo which is a construct from more than one photo source. There were three photos used for the background row of buildings and the fish market, and a separate photo of a gondolier. Putting the photos together involved some manipulation as they were taken from different places in the middle of the grand canal. I do not have a source for the gondolier photo which came, I believe, from the Internet some time ago. If anyone knows the source, I will be happy to credit it. BELOW are the three finished pictures completed in the on-line tutorial. details are given below each image. We are going to look closely at the Derwent Watercolour pencil version, but there are one or two comments with the other pictures about the end result.
This picture was completed with just 36 pencils from a Steadtler karat watercolour pencil set costing less than £35. These are a good student quality aquarelle pencil which respond well to water. The colours blend well and it was therefore quite easy to fill in the gaps for colours only available in the larger sets. The colours came up vibrant and quite true to the reference. I was very happy with the performance of these modestly priced pencils
Venice Rialto Fish Market. Staedtler karat aquarelles on Clairfontaine Etival 300gsm cold pressed watercolour paper
This version of the picture was completed with colours selected as required from the 72 size full set of Derwent Watercolour pencils. The paper was the same as the Staedtler image above and I was very happy with the result on what is quite a grainy surface which made fine detail difficult. This is the version discussed in detail below
Venice Rialto Fish Market. Derwent watercolour pencils on Clairfontaine Etival 300gsm cold pressed watercolour paper
This is the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer aquarelle version of the Rialto reference. Here we had a choice from 120 colours in the full set. The same paper as in the two examples above but a fairly similar result. The Faber-Castell pencils have a drier feel to them when compared to the other two brands discussed in this exercise. Whilst not a scientific test, I felt that I preferred the handling of the Derwent pencils, and also the end result from Derwent. The Staedtler were excellent value and the result creditable
Venice Rialto Fish Market. Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer aquarelle pencils on Clairfontaine Etival 300gsm cold pressed watercolour paper
Note : The exercises were completed over several months and the actual approach to each picture will have been different with the passage of time. Some errors were made and this will also have had some impact on the appearance of the final pictures seen above. All three pictures are worthy of a frame.
As noted above, the full Venice project extends to over 8 long pages and includes the working of the picture using three different ranges of watercolour pencils. In early 2019, following several requests from readers, an edited version of the full tutorial was assembled here to show the working of the Derwent Watercolour Pencil version of the picture You can read the full tutorial covering all three pencil ranges on www.colouredpenciltopics linked here http://www.colouredpenciltopics.co.uk/page228.html
DERWENT WATERCOLOUR PENCILS The range of pencils used were the most up to date formula from Derwent. These are the ones with the dark blue barrels. They are softer than the previous Turquise barrelled pencils and some colours have different formulas. Either will work for this project, but I suggest you do not use the old grey barrelled Derwent watercolour pencils as these are quite hard and do not dissolve so well
This is the scene we are going to be undertaking.  
The scene is an amalgamation of two photographs which are shown below
Because the viewpoint produces different perspectives into the camera for each of the images,
we will need to solve the problem of the distortion before we start.  This is easy enough to do, but we must be aware of the need and sort it out first
We may add some more traditional boats to the scene….
That could be more interesting !
This is an earlier sketch for a pastel of the same area.
I included more boats and also more figures which add interest You don’t have to put in everything that the photo shows and you are free to add extra elements
This reference picture has been reduced in height by cropping the lower edge.  
We will probably include more of the nearest part of the right hand boat and an additional reference will be available for that.
This is the amalgamation of the two main reference photos above in the larger reference below
Any well known artist brand of watercolour pencils.
There are top quality brands which will be easier to work and which will release good quality pigment on to the paper.
There are cheaper brands which have less pigment and will not be as easy to use.
Among the top brands you will find:
Artist Quality
Derwent  Watercolour pencils
Caran d’Ache Supracolor
Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles
( the most expensive and very good)
Castell Albrecht Durer Aquarelles  ( an older formula )
Good Student quality and therefore not as expensive
Staedtler Karat
If you are buying these, go for the full set of 60 via the Internet
They are reasonably priced and will be all you need
I do not advise Derwent Inktense as they are very strongly pigmented and also permanent when they have been wet -
not ideal for beginner techniques
I did not advise ‘own brand’ watercolour pencils or low cost imports from the far east in early 2017, but in the last two years a number of good low cost brands have appeared. These can be equally good, when you are starting out. My suggestion is to go by price as a measure of quality and avoid any pencil brand marketed at under 75p per pencil ( some brands are available at half that price )
The last time we did one of these exercises, virtually everyone was in the UK, so we were able to specify a paper which was readily available.  This time the prospective members of the group are spread Worldwide and different papers will be selected depending on where you live and what is available.
I have avoided a hot pressed paper for my selection as this is too smooth to give a ‘watercolour’ effect and using a cold pressed watercolour paper allows for some grain to show and gives some benefits ( and one or two challenges ).
You need a 300gsm (140lb) watercolour paper with some surface grain , but not too much.  My early thought was to use Bockingford but this does have a bit more surface pattern than we need.  
Select one that is internally and externally sized, if you can.
 If you don’t know about papers, then look for a good make ( Canson, Daler Rowney, Strathmore, Fabriano and Clairfontaine are all good)
I will be working on Clairfontaine Etival cold pressed 300gsm which has a different surface on each side. I shall use the smoother side.
Here is an indication of the grain on the Etival paper compared with  Bockingford Cold Pressed
You can work from a pad ( sealed around the edges) which will be convenient to buy and to use.  This will give you more than one sheet ( in case of disasters ! ) But limit you to using what the manufacturers regard as the ‘top’ surface of the paper.  Many papers have different patterns on the two sides, so using an individual sheet of paper gives you twice the options.
The picture I first started to work on, in preparation for this exercise was about 18 inches x 12 inches,   so that needed to be on a sheet of paper fixed to a board.  
That size enabled me to photograph detail well for the notes.
The most practical size for you to work will be slightly smaller and on a standard sized sheet or pad around 16 inches x 12 inches. I will give you a reference photo sized to this paper.
The base (smaller) reference is on a PDF file and is sized to an A4 sheet.  In order to give you a larger reference available to be printed out, the larger size will be on two PDF files and this is also available by download below.
I do like the colour of that green/blue water with the red of the blinds in the archways
When I drafted my first trial of this tutorial
I first drew the sketch image out entirely freehand
and with a ruler in fineliner black ink.
The result was quite appealing
You can see something of it here
 and on the next page (working page 1).
We will discuss this option before we get under way,
as it will be quite possible to develop the new picture
as a pen and wash exercise rather than as a purely watercolour pencil one.  
In that case the ink lines will be applied after the pencil sketch has been finalised
and then all the graphite pencil  lines removed
before we launch into colour.
I favour going forward in the ‘traditional’ way
having no ink involved,
but that doesn’t mean you can’t take
the pen and wash route if you wish
It will make no difference to the techniques
Just to the final effect
this is in NO WAY a finished example !
There are a collection of reference illustrations which are available as linked downloadable PDF files as listed below
In the introduction to this tutorial, I covered the brands of watercolour pencils that I suggested and also talked a little about paper choices.  We need now to go into more detail about the paper and our approach to working on it.
Hot Pressed paper has a smooth surface -
ideal for detail and photographic effect.   Cold pressed paper has a grain on the surface which gives high points to engage with the pencil or brush point and valleys in the grain which can leave white flecks typical of a watercolour style.    If we work dry pencil pigment along the paper surface we can leave a pattern of colour and white paper which differs according to the paper manufacturer’s design.   Papers made in a Cold Pressed style will often have two sides that differ -
a smoother and a rougher side.  The rougher the paper surface, the more difficult it will be to get detail, but then we don’t always want fine detail -
sometimes we are looking for an artistic effect.
Watercolour pencils enable us to lay down the pigment on the paper and then manage it with a damp brush.  We will see the several different techniques for this as we progress through the tutorial.  Suffice it to say that if we lay down dry colour on a cold pressed paper and then lightly wash in the colour to obtain an evenly coloured surface, we can go back once the paper is thoroughly dry and apply more colour in a light layer over colour number 1.  This produces a wonderful effect that you can’t obtain any other way.  I show below some thumbnails of a pen and watercolour pencil trial done on cold pressed paper in preparation for this tutorial
Some of the colour areas shown above are entirely dry pigment,
some washed with dry pigment on top.  
and some with multiple layers
So, having looked at why we might choose to use a cold pressed paper, we should now consider the weight of the paper we are going to use.  Paper comes described in either Grammes per square metre ( GSM ) or as pounds per 500 sheets of the paper sized 25 x 38 inches.   Don’t get too hung up over this -
a sheet of art paper described as 300 GSM compares almost directly with a sheet described as 140lb and this is the way you will see it described on a pad of art paper.  The heavier the paper, the more stable it will be when wet (and the more expensive).  
What we are looking for is a paper that will accept colour well (  a paper made with gelatine size to stabilise the wet pigment ), be heavy enough to accept alterations without damage, and be strong enough not to buckle when it expands with the addition of water.   Because we are using very little water compared with someone painting in traditional watercolours, we don’t have to worry too much about preparing the paper before we start.   When ever I commence a watercolour pencil work which I expect to frame and hopefully sell, I always stretch the paper on a special board before I start.  This leaves me with all the options still open as to how I proceed.
I have suggested that you use a heavyweight ( 300 GSM/140lb ) paper, don’t stretch it,
and avoid using much water.
If you know all about paper stretching and are familiar with the process, then by all means stretch your paper before you start.
I am going to leave my paper unstretched.
The sky area will benefit from a thin layer of even blue colour to indicate a spring day and enable us to play with shadows.
This is relatively simple with watercolour washes on stretched paper.  Fluffy clouds against a blue sky can also be very successful with watercolour techniques.  This is the straightforward approach and is the one most frequently used.
HOWEVER Because this tutorial is designed to look at techniques, I think it would be good to look at alternative ways of doing a sky which can be done on an unstretched heavyweight paper ( even when it is cold pressed ).  
You will be the judge over how successful we will be !
People get very excited over what is the best brand to use and exactly which colour they should be using at any point.
I am a firm believer in the fact that it doesn’t really matter which brand or which colour so long as it is working easily on the paper and that you understand that colours don’t need to be ‘exact’.
A whole range of different brands will be used across the group. Each person will apply their pigment to the paper with different pressure and there will be many slight differences in the way the colour will be treated.  This means that the final picture will vary a great deal in the end colours and tonal range.    I will give some idea of alternative colours in other brands to the one that I am using ( which will be mostly Derwent Watercolour pencils).  I have most brands here, but the low cost brand I will refer to most often will probably be the Staedtler Karat aquarelles which sell at under £1 a pencil in the UK on the Internet.  The 60 box is ideal as it contains a good range of workable colours.  If you are planning to use a brand other than
Faber Castel
(Albrecht Durer),
Caran d’Ache
(Supracolour Soft, or Museum ), let me know and I will advise.
I always suggest a set of colours containing 60 or more so that you have a good selection to call on.
You should have a good sharpener (a spiral cutter preferably but if not, then one with a new blade in it)
And two or three low priced watercolour brushes -
you don’t need sable or fancy expensive ones -
simply ones that come to a good point and have a good ‘spring’ to the bristle. I generally use the nylon type costing just a few pounds.  They only have to carry a small amount of water across TO the paper and then work the colour ON the paper.
A supply of kitchen paper is useful and we will discuss a wonderful collection of other bits and pieces of mainly household stuff as we go along ( you will be surprised what we can use to work the colour on the paper )
The next few blocks of text are taken straight from the original project and give a guide on what will be required for new artists in this medium. They cover all the ranges of pencils and there is no reason why you should not be able to complete the project whatever watercolour pencils you have. If you use an alternative, your result will be slightly different in looks, but then two artists doing the same picture with the same pencils will also finish up with different results . The pressure you apply in putting down colour, the dryness or dampness of the paper surface, the sharpness of your penci point etc ,will all affect the final result. There are 72 available colours in the Derwent set. We did the same picture equally well with 36 Staedtler Karat Aquarelle pencils. It just had a different look from the slightly different colours chosen. ( see the result above ). The notes below refer to particular brands, but any brand of watercolour pencil ( Aquarelle) could be used. Low cost and old formula pencils will be more difficult to use, modern good quality pencils will give you a more reliable result for your work
You will also be able to buy tracing paper to the same size and it is useful to have a trace if you need to start again and avoid all the trauma of re-
drawing from scratch.
This is the full working reference shown in the PDF file list above
WE WILL BE USING WATERCOLOUR PENCILS What is so different about this art medium ? I have met many people who have a box of unused watercolour pencils tucked away in a cupboard. They either bought to set or were given it, and after a short experimental tryout decided that they were going to be too complicated to use.  YES, they are different to the traditional wax type of coloured pencils and they need understanding.  They are not really difficult and they do have a lot of advantages once you understand them. Firstly,  Aquarelles are simply watercolour pencils - some manufacturers use the French term some use the English language term 1.  Colour becomes more intense when water is added Water washes the pigment into the paper surface and eliminates those specks of white.  The pigment also shows up better against the white paper - it is a part of it, not just a layer of material placed on top of the paper 2.  A drawn line on the paper will often remain after water is added When we press the pencil point on to the paper, we embed some of the pigment down into the paper surface and washing a brush over the top still leaves some of the line behind.  If we wish to have an even colour on the paper we need to SHADE the colour with the side of the pencil point 3.  Some brands have some darker colours that can change the tint of the colour when they are wetted It is a question of getting to know your colours.  Some brands have little variation between wet and dry colour, some have quite major shifts in some darker colours 4.  Because we are dealing with water, we need to understand how paper reacts to water Paper expands when it is wet and contracts when it dries. If we do not take this into account and prepare for it, we can get a distorted paper surface which will spoil the end picture SO WHAT ARE THE GOOD POINTS ? 1.  There is virtually no limit to the amount of colour we can apply to the paper ( unlike wax type pencils) Each layer of colour can be bedded down into the paper and as a result we can get very strong colours quite easily 2.  We can use the solubility of the pencils to easily achieve effects which would be difficult with dry pencils Because we add the dry pigment to the paper and then manage the colours ON the paper, we can blend and adjust the colour with a damp brush.   NOTE THAT WORD….. ‘DAMP’.    When we work the colour on paper, the brush is just moist to the feel on the back of your hand.  We can use more water when it is needed, but mostly we use only a very little water and a low cost brush with a good point, which is our working tool 3. We can still use the coloured pencils dry in exactly the same way as wax type pencils Or even use wax type coloured pencils on the top 4.  We can speed up the whole art making process using watercolour pencils to work the foundation of our picture either as a simple underpainting to tint the paper or as a major part of the artwork BUT  we do need to be cautious in using watercolour pencils if we intend to exhibit the finished picture in a coloured pencil society exhibition which designates anything with watercolour pencils as Mixed Media. HOWEVER   If we are working to commission, or for our own enjoyment, or possibly for sale at a local art society show, rules that relate to competitive entry for exhibitions do not always apply. I will not repeat here the topics that go into the handling of watercolour pencils as they are already carefully written out in the topics earlier in this section of the website.  If you haven’t read them, I suggest that you spend a little time looking at the earlier pages linked here: Aquarelles/Watercolour Pencils  Introduction Ways of using Aquarelles A brush with W/C pencils Foliage with W/C pencils By the time you have scanned these pages, you should have a better idea what we are talking about
For the benefit of new watercolour pencil users, who have not read the rest of the Topics website, You may find the next block of text useful. After this we will look at the transfer of the image to the paper, and then in this section, the choices for doing the sky area
MATERIALS For this exercise we will be using the following Any good brand of watercolour pencils a set of 60 or more would be ideal. They don’t have to be all the same make or variety. Some are more suitable for this exercise than others…… I will be using Derwent Watercolour Pencils and possibly dip into some of the other sets I have here, but we will not be working with a huge range of colours.  The lower cost brands may have low pigment levels and be harder to get strong colour from.  The main brands dissolve well with water. Given a choice, I would go for any of the following…..      Derwent Watercolour -  Caran d’Ache Supracolor 2 soft or the newer Museum brand ( more expensive)      Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour pencils - Staedtler Karat aquarelles . Most of these pencils fall into the price range of £1.75 to £2.50 a pencil Alternative brands imported and labelled up for art suppy companies can be priced around 75p to £1.25 a pencil most of these will be adequate ( and one or two are quite good. I suggest you avoid the really cheap brands selling 100 or more pencils for £30 or so. Pigment levels may be low and the core pigment may be dry and scratchy or over soft… you need a reeliable point on the pencil. Either a sharp bladed knife for sharpening, a sharpener with a spiral cutter, or an old fashioned bladed sharpener with a new blade in it. A low priced brush  I have three synthetic bristled brushes on my  worktop  all with good points. There is a No 2, a No 4 and a No 6.  The No 4 is probably the most useful.   I doubt if we will use anything bigger Cold pressed watercolour paper with a moderate grain ( i.e. not too rough) I will be using Clairfontaine Etival fine grain cold pressed paper, 300gsm (140lb) This is not as rough as many brands, but any good brand of Cold Pressed paper will work      A number of the working group will be using Arches Cold Pressed 300gsm paper Your paper needs to be with a fine grained surface for watercolour but not smooth. An HB graphite pencil and eraser ( for drawing out our sketch ) A smooth board for fixing the paper to and working on, unless you are working from a pad of watercolour paper, which ideally should be sold secured on all four sides to a backing board. If you are using paper on a sealed down block rather than a loose paper pad, I suggest you remove the top sheet before you start so that you can use it for testing and experimentation.     CARE   mark that spare top sheet you have removed with a small pencil ‘T’ on the top side so you know which side is the same as the sheet you are working on. Paper sides differ. OUR FIRST STEP IS TO GET THE DRAWN IMAGE DOWN ON THE PAPER
LET’S LOOK AT A SELECTION OF METHODS we can use to get our image down on to the drawing surface. There are many, many, options and some may be well known to you. 1. Free hand drawing   It is quick and flexible, but prone to distortion and the need for lots of correction This is best attempted by those who are very comfortable with their drawing skills When I did the trial for this exercise, I did a quick pen sketch freehand (with the aid of a ruler), and ran into a number of problems with errors in distances allowed for the building widths. Because I was using fineliner pen, I had little opportunity to correct errors, so just went with the flow.  The result was OK, but not good enough for our purpose. 2. Grid system A familiar method that I will not elaborate on, save than to say that it depends on drawing a fine line grid over the reference and an identical grid - lightly - on the working surface. The contents of ‘box A1’ on the reference can then be drawn into ‘box A1’ on the working surface.  After the basic details have been transferred, the grid needs to be erased. 3. Flag system Same as the grid. Except that guidelines are drawn from a centre point like rays of the sun, taking the first lines from corner to corner and the second set vertical and horizontal through the plotted centre point. Further lines are plotted as needed and then the details are transferred across area by area.  The ‘flag still needs to be erased afterwards. I know a number of artists who use this system, but I could never see any advantage over the traditional grid 4.  Mechanical - Light box or projection etc A light box can be useful provided the working paper is not too dense (heavy) and you can see the reference located under the working paper and follow the details with reasonable accuracy. If the weather is bright and you have a suitable window, it is sometimes possible to tape the reference to the window and then the working paper on top, so that the scene on the reference shows through. Drawing the outlines can be difficult when the work is vertical. Projection is an alternative, but I found that my drawing hand obscured the projected image and the whole business got very complicated.  I sold the projector. 5.  Tracing A simple system that depends on using thin tracing paper to carry a copy of the image across. I find tracing invaluable for taking a final copy of the sketch drawing as a record to go back to should things go astray with the artwork. There are variations of the system.  One is to apply an even layer of graphite or soft colour pencil  (or even pastel pencil) to the back of the trace and re-draw over the top to press the image into the working paper below.  However, Too much pressure can result in an indented line in the working paper which can cause problems later when dry colour is worked over the top of the indent. An alternative to this is to re-draw the reversed image on the back of the trace using a pastel pencil or very soft watercolour pencil.  We than fix the trace on top of the working surface and apply a ‘bone’ tool or back of a spoon handle etc to pressure the line under the trace on to the working surface.  You need to practice this technique, but it works well and many of my students use this method. It does not produce an indented line.  You do need a soft but sharp pencil line to transfer well.  This system also has the advantage that if you are working a watercolour pencil picture , a watercolour pencil transferred line disappears into you picture and doesn’t need erasing 6.  Plotting points This system relies on measurement and angles. The reference should be either the same size as your worked picture or a simple arithmetic variation ( twice the size - half the size - etc ).   You draw a frame of the correct size on your working surface,  You measure a point where a main feature crosses the reference frame and make a suitable mark on your working frame. By measuring angles and distances you can transfer enough detail across to enable you to do a satisfactory freehand drawing between the plotted points 7. Sketched Points This is a quick method which involves transfer of a same size reference to a working surface below. The reference is printed on to thin paper The two paper surfaces are clipped or temporarily secured together with the reference uppermost. with a strong light in front of you, and a pencil in hand, mark the position of a prime point of the design with your free hand finger and fold back the reference so that you can see the shadow of the pencil point on the working surface. mark a point below in the position you require. Keep on plotting basic points to identify the sizes and position of elements of your picture. You only need essential marks and keep your pencil marks light so that they can be erased easily. Remove the reference, and working with that as your source, freehand draw the picture using the points as a guide. This is a very quick method and produces a freehand version of the picture which is probably more accurate than doing it straight to the working surface with no prior marks Which ever method you use, the PDF files provided give you a choice of sources
This set if images gives you a clue about the last method descibed ( 7, Sketched points )
Where we are dealing with a picture like this with a letterbox shape, we need to take care with our perspectives - especially those that are from the horizontal such as the roof lines and the arch tops.  As you can see there can also be vertical distortions seen by the camera. For our picture, I believe, we should ensure that all verticals are truly vertical otherwise our picture will look ‘wrong’. We may need to correct some of those camera lines before we go too far. The perspectives in the drawn references have all been adjusted, but you may wish to see what I am talking about ……….
Look at the photo image above.   Look at the guide lines I have drawn over it on screen and see how the width of view and combination of photos has given us some major distortions of lines that should all be vertical
This is what I suggest will be our picture in the drawing above, you can see where I finished up. I wanted to test out my idea of including the gondolier on the left foreground and also to include some older style boats at the rear centre.    Working on the sketch in this way we can refine the composition by including items and possibly even excluding items seen in the original photo. For the purpose of explaining the process, I have cropped this image .  I think we need more water and more sky in our picture and the eventual picture will then fit more readily into a standard frame shape WHEN LAYING OUT YOUR DRAWING YOU WILL HAVE SEVERAL OPTIONS TO INCLUDE AND EXCLUDE ITEMS IN YOUR REFERENCE One factor that needs consideration is the boat I have moored up against the side of the Main Fish Market building. This does not appear in the reference photographs and the way you include it is very much up to you. One of my original drawings had the boat placed in wrong perspective with the front ( nearest ) part of the boat too low down and the stern of the boat too high.  If you are going to include it, you should make sure that your drawing has the boat with the waterline in line with the quay. in the PDF files you will see an option for the centre area which has the new boat in a different position. I chose to go with the boat moored against the quay but you might feel the alternative in the ‘centre’PDF is better
IT IS NOW TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT COLOUR The logical place to start work on the picture is the SKY area as this requires a very small amount of colour as it is the lightest part of the picture. The coloured pencil is not at it’s best when covering large areas of even colour but using watercolour pencils we do have the option of avoiding lines in the sky by applying light colour from a brush. For this we need to know how to do a watercolour wash. I go on to cover this in detail on the next page