My new favorite pineapple

Illustration charcoal watercolor

I like autumn, it’s one of my favorite seasons. Ideas seem to find their way easily, after being bottled up during the warmest months. Every time the temperature drops below 25° I can think again. Summer in Italy is never kind.

A few weeks ago I woke up with the thought of combining watercolors with charcoal pencils. It seemed crazy, but I could imagine the result. My problem at first was almost “ethical”: I was spoiling the cleanest and most transparent medium with the dirtiest thing I could find. A bit like putting pineapple on a pizza! (I strongly advise you against asking for this topping in a real Italian restaurant, it’s a big no-no here.) Though I’m glad I’ve I tried in the end.

I wasn’t confident that I could finish the piece and I choose a paper that was too thin, so with several washes of watercolor it started to buckle and it buckled even more as I fixed the charcoal with a spray. At that point though, I was already sharing progress pictures on my Instagram stories and I couldn't start over, I was in full public embarrassment mode!

Charcoal pencils are messy. I use Conté Pierre Noire which has different degrees of softness, but it's not as brittle as the charcoal sticks you use in art school for figure drawing. The HB and 2B are perfect to add a soft shadow, while the hardest (H) gives some nice lines, if sharpened properly. When the color started shifting too much and I felt uncomfortable, I just fixed everything in place. En grade, Pierre Noire!

The spray I use is called Spectrafix. It’s no gas, casein based and it doesn’t make you want to throw up on the floor every time you open the bottle. The only thing that smells worse than fixative is Cow glue (just in case my first post didn't date me enough.) The down side of Spectrafix are the drops that are not nearly as fine as the ones you’d get with a different type of fixative. Though I never had a problem so far, I just leave them to dry and they don’t alter the charcoal or the watercolor layer below. I could not recommend this product more, it’s a game changer. I buy mine from Jackson's Art (I don't get unicorn points for telling you this, I'm just a happy customer.)

After adding details here and there with an eraser and white gouache, I was done and from start to finish it was an exceptionally fast process. It’s a small and simple piece, but it was only a matter of hours scattered across a lazy Sunday afternoon. Charcoal pushes the darker tones in from the start, while normally I need some time building them up. It also pushes me to leave things be, instead of cleaning up every line as if there’s no room for imperfections. Precision is a good asset, until it becomes your biggest limitation, I speak from experience. I like how watercolors and charcoal have a similar softness and the very dark black seems to bring out the hues by contrast. It’s a weird and unusual combination, but it’s definitely my new favorite kind of pineapple.


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