Watercolor pencils are a unique medium in that they combine the fun part of each medium–drawing with a pencil and painting with a brush. If you have used colored pencils but have always wanted to try painting, this may be the perfect transition for you. It’s frankly easier than traditional watercolor painting.
I have written a more basic introduction article to watercolor pencils “How to Use Watercolor Pencils” if you’d like to check that out first. I also give tips on needed supplies in that article as well.
The techniques I describe in my intro blog post will be expanded upon further in this post. I will explain these fun and easy-to-learn watercolor pencil techniques in more detail. Before long, you’ll be wielding those pencils and paintbrushes like nobody’s business!
[If you’d like to check out an article written by Best colored pencil.com comparing regular colored pencils to watercolor pencils, click here].
1. Draw and “Activate”
Because watercolor pencil stays dry until water is added, many call wetting the pigment “activating” it. So here’s how you do it:
Just use the pencil to draw the pigment dry on your watercolor paper. You can go heavier for darker color and lighter for lighter color. Then wet a water brush or a regular brush and brush over the pigment you laid down to activate it.
From there you can simply paint as the pigment dissolves – so cool! You can add other layers to mix colors, but please wait for the layers to dry in between.
Tip: Use a hair dryer on low speed to hurry up the drying :). Yes, it’s fine, I do it all the time!
With this technique, you can also color-mix first by layering the colors you want dry, then activating them with a wet brush to achieve the desired color.
This is what I did on the flower – laid down yellow overlapped with orange then overlapped again with red.
Layers can continue to be applied dry and wetted each time. But if you do this, three things: 1. Wait till it’s dry, 2. Not too many layers, and 3. Be sure to just activate, brush a little and move on. Do not linger in one spot brushing and brushing. This will remove underneath layers, and you’ll be cursing at me!!
OK enough of Draw and Activate – on to making a palette of colors.
2. Palette of Color Swatches
This is one of my favorite techniques, because I’m a bit of a control freak and like the control I get from this. I can see just the result I’m going to get. Here’s what you do.
On a separate piece of watercolor paper you can make like a “pan color” sheet or palette but drawing swatches. Then, just like you would do on a palette, you would bring down some color from one, then another and mix on your palette.
You will see exactly the color you have so there’s no guessing, and simply transfer it to your art paper and paint away! Easy peasy.
The only drawback to this is you have to work quickly. The colors dry quickly being on a paper palette once they are wet.
3. Brush to Pencil Tip
Also, a favorite, is using your wet brush to pick up the color right from the tip of the pencil. This and technique # 2 feel more like regular painting as you are simply picking up color and painting with it.
I really love using this technique because of the control and I can really load up my brush for more intense color. Fine detail is very achievable with this technique as well.
As you may imagine, you can also grab from two different pencils to mix a color right on the brush.
And don’t worry if one color gets onto the wood of the other color pencil. After the pencils dry, you can sharpen away the other color to make the color pristine again.
4. Make Puddles!
You can mix up washes for backgrounds and large areas by using a watercolor painting palette. Even a coated paper plate will work as shown here. Put a small amount of clear water on the palette. Then with a soaking wet brush, “brush” off color from a pencil into the water making your color puddle. Works really well.
Then you can paint the wash wherever you wish to have a less intense watery “wash” of color.
Of course, you can just mix some watercolor paint into the water but assuming you don’t own traditional watercolor paints, this is how you can add color with your pencils.
Again, after the pencil dries out, you can sharpen to refresh the color and point.
5. Wet the Pencil Point
If you would like intense color that you can’t get with either dry application or wetting dry color, then wet the pencil point first. How you do it is just place the point down into a small cup of water for about 15-20 seconds to soften the point.
Then go ahead and draw with it. The color will be much more intense and you may have to continue dipping it into water as you draw.
You can still take a brush to it, but keep in mind this method makes it harder to blend, so I advise this technique be used toward the end if you are trying for smaller details.
6. Start With Wet Paper
Your paper can be wet first for any of the above techniques already listed. You simply brush clear water onto the paper.
But if you then draw into the wet area, it will immediately activate your pigment as you are drawing it on, and this kind of anchors it where you place it. So, it will be harder to blend in. However, the lines will be intense and look like paint, not pencil. And that can be interesting as well!
In reality, this technique of wetting the paper first probably works best with techniques #2–making a palette of swatches of color. Just remember, the painted color is likely to end up lighter if you wet the paper first since you have the additional layer of water on the paper.
7. Mix Dry with Painted
One application of this I can think of is having an underpainting of, then adding fine lines with the pencil, like these starburst flowers here.
This is the beauty of watercolor pencils. You can draw and paint with them. Obviously, you should wait till the painted area is dry before you draw on it.
1. Do your underdrawing in watercolor pencils, not graphite.
This is another true advantage of watercolor pencils. Instead of using graphite for your underdrawing which will show through lighter colors (even if you lighten the graphite before painting), draw with the color you need in the area. Of course, when you paint it, the line drawing will just blend in.
2. Use Watercolor Pencils with Traditional Watercolor Paints
Yes, you can use watercolor pencils with regular paints. No problem. Again the watercolor pencils, will give you all the advantages of the techniques explained in this article. And since you can have a very fine point on the pencil, this can go where the brush cannot.
3. Test Your Colors Dry and Wet
You will want to become familiar with how the colors in your set look both before and after activation. I recommend making a reference sheet with patches of each color dry and wet. This will avoid unexpected surprises as you work.
4. Limit Layers
It is best to not have too many layers. The paper will accept only so much pigment and working of an area. Plan well and limit the number of layers you put down. Again, I recommend testing how many layers is fine to use with your set and your paper.
Give These A Try
Well, there you have it–7 fun and easy watercolor pencil techniques you can master in no time – really! Certainly hope you will give them a try.
If during your fun, you discover other ways to use them, please let us know in the comments section below. Remember, your email will never be shared–honest!
The pencils I used in this article were Derwent Watercolor Pencils. ==>Go here next to read about them.<==
Thanks for reading and have a colorful day!