I paint traditionally with acrylics and colored pencil on paper, with a little bit of watercolor for subtle tinting in between. For my acrylics, I enjoy Golden paints that come in three different viscosity levels — heavy body, fluid and high-flow. For colored pencils, I prefer the Prismacolor brand, particularly their Premiere and Verithins, though I’m slowly trying out the Caran d’Ache pencils. For my substrate, I absolutely love painting on 300lb Arches hot press watercolor paper. It’s smooth and there’s barely any buckling that occurs.
Below you’ll find a step-by-step breakdown of how I used the mentioned materials to painted “The Magenta Maiden.” It’s a 9×9″ painting I created for a group exhibition in Hawai’i in 2017.
This is where I do all the prepping before I start applying paint. I refine my sketch into a line drawing, scan, digitally enlarge, print directly onto the watercolor paper, then retrace it with the Verithin pencils.
After the above, I apply the first layer of acrylics. The technique I use is called glazing which is when you dilute the paint pigment with water. Mixing blue and violet paint then diluting it, I get a nice light wash of cerulean blue. Though it’s hard to see in the photo, I overlay the entire paper with 3 washes of this hue. This helps neutralize the natural warm color of the paper while giving it a somewhat bluish tint.
Once the initial glazes are laid, I start blocking in sections with flat color. Again, the pigment is heavily diluted so it’s difficult to get rich, dark values in the first few layers. In order to create value, I overlay glazes on top of multiple glazes (as you can see in the hair). A painting has around 50-80 glazes of paint and pencil. The acrylics are quite permanent, unlike watercolor, so the pigment stays put. Also note that I work on all the sections simultaneously, letting everything culminate at the very end of the painting process.
Once I’ve blocked in most of the color, I switch over to the Verithins to help push the dark values. This includes areas such as the shadow in her hair, the dark creases within the ear lobe, and her nostrils. Verithins are made of a harder lead so it’s great for establishing crisp edges and fine details. They’re also water-soluble so they work immensely well with the acrylic washes.
This is when I switch back to the acrylics to push the areas of dark value even further with glazes of paint. I actually switch back and forth several times between the paints and pencils until I achieve a level of refinement that I’m satisfied with. It’s definitely a slow process for building form, but it’s great if you want soft, subtle gradients.
The last bit is when I apply light layers of the Premiere pencils. These are more opaque than the Verithins and has a thick, waxy texture so be sure to be done with your paints. They’re extremely waxy so it’ll repel all water-based media. The Premieres are meant to finalize details and fix little mistakes like stray paint strokes and minor accidents. I have a tendency to get wet paint on my palm while I work which usually smears itself onto the paper, so the pencils are handy for this kind of dilemma as well as adding last minute details such as wispy hair strands.
Depending on the painting, I’ll sometimes add varnish at the very end to help protect and harmonize its sheen. I’ve been experimenting with quite a few, and my current favorite is the Golden Gloss Polymer Varnish w/UVLS. As for digitization, I prefer having my paintings scanned with a Cruse scanner which is the best when it comes to capturing the nuances of paint pigments without the annoying grainy glares that you often get from scanning works on watercolor paper.