Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a versatile and unique medium that combine the precision of colored pencils with the fluidity and transparency of watercolors. These pencils are perfect for artists of all levels, from beginners to advanced painters. In this comprehensive guide, I will take you through everything you need to know about watercolor pencils and how to use them to create stunning artwork.

Watercolor pencils by Artist Loft
Watercolor pencils by Artist Loft

Let’s get started on How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are essentially colored pencils with a water-soluble pigment core. The pigment is bound together with a water-soluble binder, which allows the colors to dissolve when water is added. This gives you the ability to create beautiful watercolor effects by simply adding water to your pencil lines or washes.

Differences between watercolor pencils and traditional watercolor paints

While traditional watercolor paints are applied with a brush, watercolor pencils offer a unique approach. With watercolor pencils, you have more control over your artwork. You can use them dry, like regular colored pencils, for detailed and precise lines. Or you can apply water to your pencil lines to create beautiful washes and gradients. This versatility allows you to achieve both intricate details and vibrant, fluid effects in your artwork.

Tools needed for watercolor pencil painting
Image by pvproductions on Freepik

Tools and materials needed for watercolor pencil painting

To get started with watercolor pencils, you will need a few basic tools and watercolor materials. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  1. Watercolor pencils: Look for a quality set of watercolor pencils with a wide range of colors. This will give you more options when it comes to creating your artwork.
  2. Watercolor paper: Watercolor paper is specially designed to handle the water and pigment of watercolor pencils. Look for a heavyweight paper with a rough or textured surface.
  3. Brushes: You’ll need a variety of brushes for applying water to your pencil lines and creating different textures. Invest in a good set of synthetic watercolor brushes in various sizes.
  4. Water: A container of clean water is essential for activating the water-soluble pigment in your pencils. You can use a small jar or a watercolor palette with separate wells for each color.
  5. Masking tape: This will help you secure your paper to a drawing board or easel, preventing it from wrinkling or moving while you work.
  6. Pencil sharpener: Keep your watercolor pencils sharp for precise lines and details. Use a sharpener specifically designed for colored pencils to avoid breakage.

Where to purchase Watercolor Pencils?

The top two reliable recourses are Blick art and Amazon. I recommend Blick Art if you live in the USA. I’ve used them for over a decade and never had any issues with orders and returns.

Purchase Watercolor Pencils at Blick

Purchase Watercolor Pencils at Amazon


Techniques for using watercolor pencils

There are several techniques you can use to create different effects with watercolor pencils. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Dry pencil: This technique involves using the watercolor pencils dry, without adding any water. Apply the pencils to the paper with varying pressure to create different shades and intensities of color.
  2. Wet on dry: Apply water to your pencil lines using a brush after you have laid down your colors. This technique allows you to create crisp, defined lines and details.
  3. Wet on wet: Wet the paper with water before applying your watercolor pencils. Then, apply the pencils to the wet surface. This technique creates soft, blended washes and gradients.
  4. Layering: Build up layers of color by applying multiple layers of watercolor pencil. Start with light colors and gradually add darker shades to create depth and dimension.
  5. Blending: Use a wet brush to blend and soften the colors on your paper. This technique allows you to create smooth transitions and gradients.
How to use watercolor pencils
How to use watercolor pencils

Step-by-step guide on how to use watercolor pencils

Now that you have an understanding of the basics, let’s dive into a step-by-step guide on how to use watercolor pencils to create a beautiful artwork:

Step 1: Gather your materials and set up your workspace. Make sure you have all the tools and materials listed earlier.

Step 2: Start by sketching your subject lightly with a regular graphite pencil. Keep the lines loose and simple.

Step 3: Begin applying the watercolor pencils to your sketch. Use light pressure for lighter shades and build up the intensity with more pressure for darker areas.

Step 4: Once you have applied the pencils, start activating the colors with water. Dip your brush in water and gently brush over the pencil lines. Watch as the colors come to life!

Step 5: Continue adding water and blending the colors until you are satisfied with the result. Experiment with different brush strokes and techniques to create different effects.

Step 6: Let your artwork dry completely before adding any additional details or layers. This will prevent the colors from bleeding or smudging.

Step 7: Once your artwork is dry, you can add any final details or highlights using the watercolor pencils or a white gel pen.

Step 8: When you are happy with your artwork, remove any masking tape and sign your name in the corner.

Tips and tricks for watercolor pencils
Tips and tricks for watercolor pencils – Source

Tips and tricks for achieving beautiful watercolor effects

  • Experiment with different paper surfaces to see which one works best for your style. Rough or textured paper can create interesting textures and effects.
  • Use a light touch when applying the watercolor pencils. This will allow you to build up layers and intensities gradually.
  • Practice blending and layering techniques on a separate sheet of paper before applying them to your artwork.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix colors on the paper. The pigments will blend together beautifully when water is added.
  • Clean your brushes thoroughly between colors to avoid muddying the colors on your paper.
  • Have fun and experiment! Watercolor pencils offer endless possibilities, so don’t be afraid to try new techniques and explore different styles.

Common mistakes to avoid when using watercolor pencils

  1. Using too much water: Be careful not to over-saturate your paper with water. This can cause the colors to bleed and lose their vibrancy.
  2. Applying too much pressure: Watercolor pencils are soft and delicate, so avoid pressing too hard. Applying too much pressure can break the pencil tip or damage the paper.
  3. Not using the right paper: Regular drawing paper or printer paper may not be able to handle the water and pigment of watercolor pencils. Invest in a good quality watercolor paper for the best results.
  4. Rushing the drying process: Allow your artwork to dry completely between layers or before adding any additional details. Rushing the drying process can cause the colors to smudge or bleed.
Loose watercolor landscape by Robert Joyner
Loose watercolor landscape by Robert Joyner

Inspiration and ideas for creating watercolor pencil artwork

If you’re looking for inspiration for your watercolor pencil artwork, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Landscapes: Capture the beauty of nature with vibrant landscapes. Experiment with different color palettes to create different moods and atmospheres.
  • Portraits: Use watercolor pencils to create stunning portraits. Play with light and shadow to bring your subjects to life.
  • Still life: Arrange objects in an interesting composition and use watercolor pencils to capture the texture and details.
  • Animals and wildlife: Bring your favorite animals to life with watercolor pencils. Experiment with different techniques to capture fur, feathers, and scales.
  • Abstract art: Let your creativity run wild with abstract watercolor pencil art. Explore different shapes, colors, and textures to create unique and expressive artwork.

Conclusion: The versatility and beauty of watercolor pencils

Watercolor pencils are a fantastic medium for artists who want to explore the world of watercolor painting with more control and precision. With the techniques and tips outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of watercolor pencils.

So grab your pencils, brushes, and paper, and let your creativity flow! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, watercolor pencils offer endless possibilities for creating stunning and unique artwork.