How to use watercolor with pencil (Explained)

Welcome to my beginner's guide on how to use watercolor with pencil.

This guide aims to provide you with an easy-to-understand, step-by-step tutorial on using watercolor pencils. We'll explore essential materials and tools, basic and advanced techniques, and tips for developing your skills.

What are watercolor pencils?

Watercolor pencils are a unique and versatile medium that combines the best of both worlds – the precision and control of colored pencils with the beautiful, painterly effects of watercolors.

When used dry, they behave like regular colored pencils.

But add a touch of water, and the pigments magically transform into stunning watercolor paints. This makes watercolor pencils perfect for artists who want to experiment with different techniques and styles.

Advantages of using watercolor with pencils

There are several benefits to using watercolor pencils in your artwork:

  1. Portability: Watercolor pencil sets are compact and easy to carry around, making them perfect for on-the-go painting sessions.
  2. Control: Since they're used like regular pencils, you'll have more control over your strokes and lines compared to traditional watercolors.
  3. Versatility: Watercolor pencils allow for a wide range of techniques, from delicate washes to bold, saturated strokes.
  4. Easy to blend: The unique properties of watercolor pencils make blending colors a breeze, resulting in smooth gradients and seamless transitions.
  5. Perfect for mixed media: They can be combined with other mediums, such as traditional colored pencils, ink, or acrylics, to create stunning mixed-media pieces.

Materials and Tools

Before we start exploring the world of watercolor with pencil, let's gather all the essential materials and tools to set you up for success.

Types of watercolor pencils

There are many different brands and types of watercolor pencils available, and choosing the right one can significantly impact your experience with this medium.

As a beginner, you might want to start with a good quality but affordable set, such as Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artists' Watercolor Pencils or Derwent Watercolor Pencils. As you gain more experience and confidence, you can expand your collection with additional colors and brands.

Choosing the right paper

When working with watercolor pencils, it's crucial to select the appropriate paper.

Watercolor paper is designed to withstand the moisture and buckling that can occur when using water-based media.

Look for paper with a weight of at least 140lb (300gsm) and a slight texture, which will help the pigments adhere to the surface.

Cold-pressed watercolor paper is an excellent choice for beginners, as it offers a good balance between texture and absorbency.

Brushes and other tools

To make the most of your watercolor with pencil experience, you'll need a few additional tools:

  1. Brushes: A couple of round watercolor brushes in different sizes (e.g., #4 and #8) will allow you to apply water and blend colors effectively. Synthetic or natural hair brushes both work well with watercolor pencils.
  2. Water container: You'll need a container for clean water to wet your brushes and activate the pencil pigments.
  3. Paper towel or cloth: Keep a paper towel or cloth handy to clean and dry your brushes between colors.
  4. Pencil sharpener: A good-quality sharpener is essential for maintaining your watercolor pencils and ensuring precise lines and details.

Preparing the workspace

Now that you have all the necessary materials and tools, it's time to set up your workspace.

Find a comfortable, well-lit area where you can spread out your supplies and have easy access to water for your brushes.

Make sure your work surface is stable and protected, as watercolor can sometimes be messy. You might also want to have a scrap piece of watercolor paper nearby to test colors and practice techniques before applying them to your main artwork.

Basic Techniques for Beginners

Now that you have your materials and workspace ready, let's explore some basic techniques that will help you get started with watercolor with pencil.

Drawing on dry paper and activating with water

Begin by drawing on dry watercolor paper with your watercolor pencils. You can create outlines, shading, or even fully colored areas.

Once you're satisfied with your drawing, dip a round brush in clean water, gently wipe the excess water on the rim of your water container, and apply it to the pencil lines on the paper. Use smooth strokes, following the shape and direction of the pencil strokes to activate the pigments and create a watercolor effect.

Drawing on wet paper

For this technique, wet the paper first by applying a thin layer of water with a large, flat brush.

While the paper is still damp, draw on it with your watercolor pencils. The moisture on the paper will cause the pigments to spread and blend, creating unique and spontaneous effects.

Drawing with a pencil dipped in water

Dip the tip of your watercolor pencil directly into water before drawing on the paper. This technique will create an intense, immediate watercolor effect as you draw, producing bold and vibrant colors.

Using a brush to pick up color from the pencil

Instead of drawing directly on the paper, wet a brush and use it to pick up pigment from the tip of the watercolor pencil.

Then, paint onto the paper with the brush, creating a watercolor effect. This technique allows for greater control over the intensity and application of color and can be useful for creating delicate washes or adding details to your artwork.

Creating a paper palette

To make blending and mixing colors easier, create a paper palette by drawing swatches of your desired colors on a separate piece of watercolor paper. Wet your brush, pick up the color from the swatches, and transfer it to your main artwork. This technique allows you to experiment with color combinations and blending before applying them to your final piece.

Advanced Techniques and Tips

As you become more comfortable with watercolor with pencil, you can start exploring some advanced techniques and tips that will elevate your artwork and help you achieve a more professional look.

Layering and blending colors

Layering and blending colors is a crucial skill to master when working with watercolor pencils.

Start by applying light pressure with the pencil to create soft, less saturated colors.

Add additional layers of color to build up intensity and depth. To blend colors seamlessly, experiment with overlapping two or more colors before activating the pigments with water.

Using a light wash of water from your brush, gently blend the colors together to create smooth gradients and transitions.

Creating gradients with flat washes

A flat wash is a technique used to create smooth, even gradients with a single color.

Start by drawing a series of parallel lines with your watercolor pencil, gradually increasing the pressure to create darker lines towards one end.

Next, use a flat brush dipped in water to activate the pigments, working from the lighter end towards the darker end.

Be sure to clean your brush between strokes to prevent muddying the lighter areas.

Achieving various textures and effects

Experimenting with different textures and effects can add visual interest to your watercolor pencil artwork.

Try using a dry brush technique to create textured strokes, or apply water in a stippling motion to achieve a speckled effect. You can also use household items, such as plastic wrap, salt, or a sponge, to create unique textures and patterns in your artwork.

Tips for controlling water usage

Controlling the amount of water you use is essential for achieving the desired effects with watercolor pencils. Too much water can cause your colors to spread too thin or damage the paper. Here are some tips to help you manage your water usage:

  1. Use a damp, not soaking wet, brush to activate the pencil pigments.
  2. Gently blot your brush on a paper towel or cloth to remove excess water before applying it to the paper.
  3. Follow the direction of your pencil strokes when applying water to prevent unwanted color mixing.
  4. Work in small sections, allowing areas to dry before applying additional layers or colors.

By mastering these advanced techniques and tips, you'll be well on your way to creating stunning watercolor pencil artwork that stands out.

Practicing and Developing Skills

To truly excel with watercolor with pencil, it's essential to practice regularly and continually develop your skills.

Here are some suggestions for honing your abilities:

Experimenting with different pressures and strokes

The pressure you apply when using watercolor pencils greatly impacts the intensity and appearance of your colors.

Practice using different levels of pressure and a variety of strokes to create a range of effects, from delicate washes to bold, saturated hues.

Experimenting with various stroke techniques, such as hatching, cross-hatching, and stippling, can help you create texture and depth in your artwork.

Exploring various styles and subjects

Experiment with different styles and subjects to discover your unique artistic voice.

Try your hand at landscapes, portraits, still life, or abstract art to see which resonates with you most.

Additionally, explore different styles, such as realism, impressionism, or expressionism, to expand your creative repertoire and challenge yourself.

Finding inspiration and learning from other artists

Take time to study the work of other artists, particularly those who excel in watercolor with pencil.

Observe their techniques, color choices, and compositions to gain insight into their creative process. You can also learn from instructional books, online tutorials, and workshops to further develop your skills and understanding of the medium.

Challenging yourself with new techniques

As you grow more comfortable with the basics, push yourself to try more advanced techniques and experiment with new ideas.

Seek out new challenges, such as working with a limited color palette or incorporating mixed media elements into your artwork.

Continually pushing your boundaries and trying new things will help you develop as an artist and keep your work fresh and engaging.

By practicing and developing your skills with watercolor pencils, you'll gain confidence in your abilities and unlock your full creative potential.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

As you work with watercolor with pencil, you may encounter some common issues.

Here are some helpful tips for troubleshooting these challenges and ensuring your artwork looks its best:

Fixing mistakes in watercolor pencil artwork

Mistakes can happen, but they don't have to ruin your artwork.

If you notice a mistake before activating the pencil pigments with water, you can often erase it gently with a kneaded eraser or a white vinyl eraser.

If you've already applied water, wait for the area to dry completely before trying to make corrections. You can use a clean, damp brush to lift some of the color or try layering more colors on top to adjust the appearance.

Preventing paper damage

Using too much water or applying excessive pressure with your pencils can damage the paper.

To prevent this, follow these tips:

  1. Choose high-quality watercolor paper that can withstand the moisture and pressure.
  2. Use a damp brush instead of a soaking wet one when activating pigments.
  3. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing the paper too hard with your brush or pencil.
  4. Allow wet areas to dry completely before working on them further.

Addressing color saturation and consistency issues

If you're struggling with color saturation or consistency in your watercolor pencil artwork, consider these suggestions:

  1. Apply more pressure when drawing with your pencils to create richer, more saturated colors.
  2. Experiment with layering colors to achieve the desired intensity and depth.
  3. Use a smaller brush or less water to activate the pigments for more control over color consistency.
  4. Practice your blending technique to create smoother transitions between colors.

By troubleshooting these common issues, you can improve the quality of your watercolor with pencil artwork and continue to grow as an artist.

Can you use watercolor with pencil?

Yes, you can use watercolor with pencil. Watercolor pencils are a versatile medium that combines the qualities of traditional colored pencils and watercolor paints, allowing artists to create beautiful watercolor effects with the precision and control of a pencil.

How do you make watercolor with pencil color?

To create watercolor effects with pencil color, you'll need watercolor pencils. Start by drawing on your paper with the watercolor pencils, then use a damp brush to activate and spread the pigment, creating a watercolor-like effect. Different techniques, such as drawing on dry or wet paper, dipping the pencil in water, or using a brush to pick up color from the pencil, can help achieve various results.

Do you have to dip watercolor pencils in water?

No, you don't have to dip watercolor pencils in water. You can apply them to dry paper and then use a damp brush to activate the pigments. However, dipping the pencil in water before drawing can create more vibrant and intense colors, adding an interesting effect to your artwork.

Does pencil bleed with watercolor?

Regular graphite pencil can sometimes bleed or smear when used with watercolors, especially if the pencil lines are heavy or the watercolor is applied directly over the pencil. To avoid this issue, you can use a lighter touch with your pencil or choose a water-soluble graphite pencil that will dissolve and blend seamlessly with your watercolors.

What is the golden rule of watercolor?

The golden rule of watercolor is to work from light to dark. Start with the lightest colors and work your way towards the darker hues, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. This approach helps you maintain control over the transparency and depth of your watercolor artwork.

What pencil lead to use for watercolor?

For watercolor artwork, it's best to use a lighter pencil lead, such as an H or 2H pencil, to create initial sketches or outlines. These lighter leads are less likely to smear or bleed when watercolor is applied over them.

What pencil to use before watercolor?

Before applying watercolor, use a light graphite pencil (like an H or 2H) or a water-soluble graphite pencil to create your initial sketch or outline. These pencils will be less likely to bleed or smear when you apply your watercolors.

How do you transfer pencil drawings to watercolor paper?

To transfer pencil drawings to watercolor paper, you can use tracing or graphite transfer paper. Place the tracing or graphite transfer paper between your original drawing and the watercolor paper, and then carefully trace the lines of your drawing with a pencil or stylus. This will transfer the image onto your watercolor paper, allowing you to paint over it with watercolors.

What are the cons of watercolor pencils?

Watercolor pencils have limitations: limited color range, less control in color mixing, difficulty in creating smooth washes, and visible pencil marks. However, they offer greater control and precision in application.

How do you paint with watercolor pencils for beginners?

Experiment with watercolor pencils using these techniques: activate pigments with water, paint on wet paper, dip the pencil in water for vibrant colors, apply color with a brush, create a paper palette, and explore layering and textures. Practice various styles and subjects to develop your skills and artistic voice.