How to Draw Whiskers over Watercolor Pencil

Today’s question comes from Hendrik, who wants to know how to draw whiskers over watercolor pencil.

Anyone who draws animals has to draw whiskers sooner or later. They’re such a small part of most animal art, but believe it or not, they can make or break a piece. It’s important to get them correct.

Here’s Hendrik’s question.

Hi Carrie,

I work with Carand’ache Supracolor soft pencils ( water-soluble ) mostly on Canson mi-teintes paper.

I like  to draw animals. But animals have whiskers, and there is my problem.

What is the best material to use on top of those Supracolor soft -pencils to get a nice, clear and very white whisker.

I’ve tried so many different methods (white metal paint, very sharp pencils, Aquarelle paint, gel pen …) but none of them seem to work really well. 

Thanks for your help. Best regards.

Before I go any further, thank you for the question and for the details you included. Those extra details help me provide a specific answer instead of something more generic. Given the number of methods you’ve already tried, generic is the last thing you want, right?

How to Draw Whiskers over Watercolor Pencil

I also need to let you know that although I’m familiar with Caran d’Ache’s watercolor pencils, I’ve never used them. Derwent Watercolor pencils are the only artist quality watercolor pencils I’ve used. As good as they are, they’re probably not quite in the same league with Supracolor.

But I think I can share a couple of ideas that might help you draw whiskers more realistically.

Having said all that, let me now answer the questions as you’ve presented them.

The Best Way to Draw Whiskers over Watercolor Pencil

In my opinion, the absolute best way to create any light colors over colored pencil is with Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative and Titanium White. Most of the demos I’ve seen have been over traditional colored pencils, but I see no reason it wouldn’t also work over watercolor pencils. Especially if you used traditional pencils over the watercolor pencils.

However, the Brush & Pencil produces require a non-absorbent surface that’s also fairly thick and sturdy. 140 pound watercolor paper would be acceptable if you gessoed it first. Canson Mi-Teintes paper mounted on a rigid backing would also work if you gessoed it first.

(If you want to work on a toned surface—which is why you’re probably using the Mi-Teintes in the first place—tint the gesso with acrylic paint before gessoing the paper.)

That probably sounds like a lot of work to you. It does to me. So you might also consider working on a sanded art paper on a rigid backing. The texture of sanded art papers is perfect for the Brush & Pencil products.

Texture Fixative and Titanium White are good for what you want to do because they’re brushable. Apply them with a small brush to “paint” whiskers, fine hairs, and other details over your drawing. If that looks too white, shade or tint them with colored pencil.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know if you can work directly on watercolor pencil with these products, but Alyona Nickelsen, the artist who developed these products, will be able to answer your questions.

Drawing Whiskers by Preserving Whites

The next best way to draw whiskers is by preserving the white of the paper. Outline larger shapes and work around them when you layer color.

That’s going to be difficult with whiskers, though, so you might try standard watercolorist methods of applying frisket.

Frisket is a fluid substance you can brush onto paper, then let dry. Once it’s dry, it’s impervious to water. You can do several layers of watercolor pencil washes over it and it keeps the paper clean and dry.

It ruins brushes, but inexpensive craft brushes allow you to paint potentially fine lines before you do any color work.

Masking film is another alternative, but it’s going to be very difficult to cut into whisker shapes and put on the paper unless you have a very steady hand and a good eye for that sort of thing.

Neither frisket fluid nor masking film should remain on your paper for more than a day or two. If left too long, they may damage the paper when you remove them.

Drawing Whiskers by Etching

I offer you this suggestion because I don’t know how you’re using your watercolor pencils. Logic suggests you use them wet (which is why most of us use watercolor pencils.) If you are painting with watercolor pencils, then etching will probably not yield the results you’re looking for.

Etching probably also will be limited in usefulness if you don’t put a lot of color on the paper.

The fact of the matter is that etching works best if you have contrasting colors in layers. Dark colors over light or light colors over dark. But it’s very easy to do.

Use a sharp tool like an X-Acto knife or Slice ceramic knife to scratch color off the paper. The thicker the color, the more effective this method is. But even with a moderate number of layers, you may be able to etch out enough whiskers for them to show.

Retouch Varnish, Then Draw Whiskers

The final suggestion has probably the least chance of working, but it has been useful to me in the past, so I offer it now to you.

When the drawing is ready for whiskers, spray it lightly with a retouch varnish made for colored pencils (if you can find one.) Retouch varnish made for dry media would probably also be acceptable.

Spray the drawing once with a light coat of fixative, let it dry, and spray it again. When it’s dry this time, you may be able to draw whiskers with a sharp pencil.

How to Draw Whiskers over Watercolor Pencils - Retouch Varnish

Retouch varnish has made it possible for me to add a couple more layers of color or details to some drawings. It’s usefulness is limited, but it may be worth a try.

If you do decide to use it, test it on a sample first. You want to make sure it doesn’t discolor your work before you use it on a finished or nearly finished drawing.

Sometime ago, I described how to varnish a finished drawing. The demo for that article involved final finish, but you can use the same method for retouch varnish.

Those are my best suggestions on how to draw whiskers over watercolor pencil.

I wish I had better council for you, but I don’t use watercolor pencils very often, and mostly only for landscapes and backgrounds. Consequently, I just haven’t had much opportunity to draw whiskers over watercolor pencil!

I hope you got some good ideas, though. Let us know how things work out, whether they go well or not.

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