The technique of watercolor over pencil or graphite is a great way to get fine detail in botanical style painting. The finer points of a flower or leaf can be tricky requiring a good bit of practice to perfect accurate brush strokes. Basic drawing skills are somewhat necessary but patience is not. Patience is a valuable trait in an artist. Not everybody has it. When looking for a way to cut through hours of practice consider using the watercolor over pencil technique. Many hours of frustration can be avoided. Plus you’ll fool lots of people with your eye for detail!
A wonderful book, Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project outlines this technique in an easy to follow instruction with several examples. According to the examples, a detailed drawing of a plant is made including all shading. A beautiful finished drawing will provide the best base for watercolor to be laid over. One of the biggest considerations is the use of the proper pencil.
Knowing which pencil is which is one of the best tips for the watercolor over pencil technique. As Kevin Hayler of the Wildlife Art Store says, “Choosing the wrong pencil for an underdrawing will ruin your watercolor painting.” He has a great article on different pencils that is well worth a read here. Knowing your pencils can make the difference in a successful painting or one that looks like mud!
It was very discouraging, when first looking at this technique without knowing how vital the pencil issue was. My first effort, this delicate peach colored rose, resulted in particles of graphite coming up in the paint. The beautiful color was lost. Back to the drawing board. It looked like a total failure but instead of giving up, a pencil study was in order. And it was revealing. One of the biggest things I discovered was the use of H pencils instead of the standard drawing pencils in the B’s.
The H pencils are more commonly found in mechanical and architectural drawing. In art and office stores, that’s where the widest range can be found. Drawing supply areas in stores will usually just go up as far as 2H or 4H. The higher the number, the lighter the pencil. My experiments led me to stick with 6H up to 9H for most of the drawing. 2-4H pencils were better for the darker details. This technique has become the only one I use for botanical painting. Experiments are ongoing so that could change!
Until then, enjoy this video on watercolor over pencil. Happy Painting!
Here’s the book: https://www.amazon.com/Botanical-Illustration-Course-Eden-Project/dp/0713490748?crid=15XN3ZBEJODUF&keywords=botanical+illustration+course+with+the+eden+project&qid=1685996672&sprefix=eden+project+botanical%2Caps%2C98&sr=8-1&linkCode=li2&tag=marygwynsart-20&linkId=268cf1671e7e422b5f486504f2df5c73&language=en_US&ref_=as_li_ss_il" target="_blank">Eden Project
Learn more about The Eden Project