How to Use Watercolor Pencils

How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a great way for artists to explore the possibilities of watercolor. You can create watercolor artwork with them or use them just like regular colored pencils. For this very reason, they are also the perfect tool for transitioning from drawing to painting. They are worth the purchase if you’d like to try watercolor painting but aren’t sure if you are going to enjoy it long-term.

In this article, I share with you techniques, my experience, and some tips on how to paint beautiful paintings with watercolor pencils.

Techniques: How to Use Watercolor Pencils?

When using watercolor pencils in combination with water, it’s best to use watercolor paper to take full advantage of the pencils’ strengths and avoid paper warping or curling. If we want to use the watercolor pencils like colored pencils, regular drawing paper is good enough.

Draw Dry and Paint with Water

Draw with the pencils first and then use a brush to apply clear water over the areas. This will dissolve the color pigments and allow you to guide them with the brush.

Painting over Watercolor Pencils with Water

Drawing with a Dry Pencil on Wet Paper

This technique does not produce the soft gradient of color pigments typical for watercolor paintings. Depending on the painting, however, the technique can still be very useful.

First, you wet the paper with clear water and then draw over it with a dry pencil. The color pigments come off the pencil in high concentration. If you press the pencil stronger on the paper, you can even see the stroke.

Depending on the paper, the structure can become visible with this technique. To avoid this, it’s best to use watercolor paper with a smooth surface.

Watercolor Pencils: Dry Pencil on Wet Paper

Dipping the Pencil Tip into Water

Briefly dipping the pencil tip in water will soften it and allow for high-concentration color application. On dry paper, the pigments do not dissolve, which is why this technique is reminiscent of the dry-on-dry technique of watercolor painting with a brush.

However, this technique can quickly wear down the pencil lead, as the pencil can’t hold water like a brush and needs to be dipped into the water again and again.

Dipping the Watercolor Pencil in Water

Using Watercolor Pencils as Colored Pencils

The pigments of watercolor pencils stand out more in combination with water, but they can still be used just like regular colored pencils.

The advantage is that you can always work on the drawing with water again at a later time.

Likewise, when drawing with watercolor pencils, you have to be all the more careful not to accidentally spill any liquid over it.

Use Watercolor Pencils like Colored Pencils

More Tips for Painting with Watercolor Pencils

  • Make the initial sketch disappear: If you pre-draw your sketch with watercolor pencils in matching colors, you can make it disappear entirely while painting.
  • Working out details: It’s not easy to paint details with a brush, so you can use a watercolor pencil and work in the details with a damp but sharpened pencil tip.

Recommendation for Watercolor Pencils

My recommendation for watercolor pencils goes out to those from Faber-Castell. I already loved working with them as a child and still do so today. They are particularly practical when traveling, but I also like to use them as colored pencils when dry. For example, the Sailor Moon drawings were all drawn with Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

They are particularly practical when traveling because, with only a few pencils in your luggage, you can still paint or draw various great artwork.


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