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When we've finished working through the Step by Step tutorials, our finished image will look like this! This is the illustration for the Christmas card my friends on Patreon will receive.
Before this step:
Check out my tutorial on how to plan your watercolor illustration (link)!
What is Penciling?
If you paint using the methods I demonstrate, you start with water soluble printed bluelines. Penciling or inking over these bluelines ensures that your image will stay visible while you work, even after the bluelines wash away.
Penciling is simply the act of going over these bluelines with your pencil. I recommend using a harder lead, as softer leads will smear when you stretch your watercolor paper.
Why Pencils over Inks?
Mainly this is an aesthetic choice- I find that inks have their place, but tend to distract from illustration as a watercolor piece. In my instance, this is also a time-based decision- I need to allow inks to 'cure' for 24 hours before adding water, with pencils I can begin right away.
Materials Used in this Tutorial:
HB lead or harder, I'm using 2H
Step 1: Print Your Bluelines
You're going to want to use an inkjet desktop printer to print your bluelines, as those consumer grade printers use waterbased inks that will dissolve once you stretch your image. I used a large format Canon Pixma Pro 9000 to print my bluelines onto Canson's Moulin du Roy watercolor paper. This is a mould made, cotton rag watercolor paper that is wonderful for larger illustrations.
Step 2: Pencil Foreground Figures
As with sketching and inking, I start with my characters in the foreground, and work my way back in the picture plane. Be careful of smudging- if necessary, work with a clean sheet of paper under your hand. Always work with clean hands- oils from your skin can effect how watercolor and water takes to the paper.
When penciling a watercolor illustration, I'm not overly concerned with lineweight, as I intend on using the watercolor to better describe the forms. The pencils are intended only as a guide for my eyes.
Step 3: Pencil in Background Details
Working backwards in the picture plane, pencil in your background elements. Depending on how comfortable you are with adding detail at the watercolor stage, you can leave some elements only lightly sketched in.
Coming Up Next: Stretching Your Watercolor Paper
If you need to make any correction to your sketch, now is a great time to do it! You can still erase your pencil at this stage- the pencil only becomes semi-permanent after you've stretched your watercolor paper. I recommend using a white vinyl eraser for corrections.
If you have a heavily rendered style, you don't really need to worry about lineweight, but if you have a simple style, or if you want your pencil lines to be more apparent, you'll need to spend time making sure they have lineweight.