Watercolor Techniques

How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are adaptable and engaging instruments that combine the accuracy of colored pencils with the fluid beauty of watercolors. Watercolor pencils offer a distinctive and pleasurable approach to expressing your artistic vision, regardless of your level of experience or where you are in your creative path.

This guide will explain what watercolor pencils are and show you how to use them skillfully to produce gorgeous watercolor-like effects.

What are Watercolor Pencils?

A specific kind of colored pencil called a watercolor pencil turns into watercolor-like washes when coupled with water. They are made by enclosing water-soluble pigments in a hardwood barrel, much like standard colored pencils. These pigments dissolve when water is applied, allowing you to create a wide range of effects, from delicate washes to bold, vibrant colors.

Compared to conventional watercolors, watercolor pencils provide more control and accuracy, making them a perfect option for artists who wish to create precise details while still utilizing the expressive properties of water-based media.

What are some techniques for using watercolor pencils?

Here are some techniques for using watercolor pencils:

  • Dry Use: Watercolor pencils can be used dry, like regular colored pencils, to create detailed drawings.
  • Wet Use: They can be activated with water to create a watercolor effect. This can be done by making marks with the pencil and then applying water with a soft brush. Once the material has been “activated”, it behaves like watercolor.
  • Wet on Wet: This technique involves wetting the paper with water before applying the watercolor pencil. The pencil marks will spread and blend with the water on the paper, creating a soft, blended effect.
  • Wet on Dry: This technique involves applying the watercolor pencil to dry paper and then adding water with a brush. This creates a more defined, detailed effect.
  • Layering: Watercolor pencils can be layered to create depth and texture. This involves applying multiple layers of color, either dry or wet, to build up the intensity of the color.

Overall, watercolor pencils are fantastically versatile and can be used in a number of different ways[1]. They can be used alone or with other media, and are clean and easy to use. It is always worth experimenting with different techniques to see what works best for you.

What are some tips for layering watercolor pencils?

  • Start Light: Begin with a light layer of color and gradually build up the intensity of the color with additional layers. This will help you avoid applying too much pigment too quickly and creating a muddy appearance.
  • Use Different Colors: Layering different colors on top of each other can create depth and texture in your artwork. Experiment with different color combinations to see what works best for your piece.
  • Use Different Pressure: Varying the pressure you apply to the pencil can create different effects. Applying more pressure will release more pigment and create a darker color while applying less pressure will create a lighter color.
  • Allow Layers to Dry: Let each layer dry completely before adding another layer. This will prevent the colors from blending together and creating a muddy appearance.
  • Use Water Sparingly: When layering watercolor pencils, use water sparingly to avoid diluting the colors too much. You can always add more water later if needed.
  • Test Colors: Before applying a layer of color, test the color on a scrap piece of paper to see how it will look when layered with other colors.
  • Use Different Techniques: Experiment with different layering techniques, such as wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry, to create different effects.

By following these tips, you can create beautiful and vibrant artwork with watercolor pencils. Remember to be patient and take your time, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and color combinations.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when using watercolor pencils?

  • Using the Wrong Paper: Watercolor pencils work best on watercolor paper or heavy-weight paper that can handle water and pigment. Using regular sketch paper or thin paper may cause the paper to warp or not hold the pigment properly.
  • Not Testing Colors: Before applying water to your watercolor pencil marks, it’s important to test the colors on a scrap piece of paper. This will help you see how the colors will look when activated and prevent any unwanted surprises.
  • Using Too Much Water: Adding too much water to your watercolor pencil marks can cause the colors to become diluted and lose their vibrancy. Start with a small amount of water and gradually add more as needed.
  • Not Cleaning the Brush: If you’re using a brush to activate the watercolor pencil marks, make sure to clean the brush between colors to avoid muddying the colors. Use a separate container of water for rinsing the brush.
  • Overworking the Paper: Overworking the paper by repeatedly layering and blending the colors can lead to a muddy and dull appearance. It’s important to know when to stop and let the layers dry before adding more.
  • Not Using a Light Touch: Watercolor pencils are versatile and can produce both light and dark shades. Start with a light touch and gradually build up the intensity of the color. Pressing too hard can make it difficult to blend and activate the pigment with water.
  • Not Using a Sharp Pencil: Keeping your watercolor pencils sharp allows for more precise and detailed work. A sharp point can create crisp lines and fine details that may be harder to achieve with a dull pencil.
  • Not Sealing the Artwork: Once your watercolor pencil artwork is complete and dry, it’s important to seal it with a fixative or a spray varnish to protect it from smudging or fading over time.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can enhance your experience with watercolor pencils and create beautiful and vibrant artwork.

Materials You’ll Need:

Before we dive into the steps, let’s gather the necessary materials:

  1. Watercolor pencils
  2. Watercolor paper or heavy-weight mixed media paper
  3. Paintbrushes (various sizes)
  4. Water container
  5. Paper towel or sponge
  6. Optional: masking tape, eraser, and pencil for sketching

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Sketch Your Design: To begin, use a standard pencil or watercolor pencil to softly sketch your design onto the watercolor paper. Making a light drawing will guarantee that the pencil lines blend in with the water.
  2. Color Application: Start adding color to your design with watercolor pencils. For deeper hues, apply more layers. The magic happens when water is applied, so don’t worry about blending at this time.
  3. Adding Water: Begin blending the colored pencil strokes using a paintbrush dipped in water. The pigments will become activated by the water and transform into washes that resemble watercolors. Try varying your water usage for various results; use more water for subtle washes and less water for vivid hues.
  4. Layering and Blending: Add further layers of watercolor pencil and, as necessary, mix with water. Different hues can be blended together for smooth transitions and layered to create depth.
  5. Detail Work: Watercolor pencils can be used without water for finer details. This enables your artwork to have fine lines and rich details.
  6. Dry or Wet-on-Dry: You can either put watercolor pencils to dry paper and then blend with water (wet-on-dry) to achieve the impression you’re going for, or you can do the opposite (wet-on-wet) for a more fluid appearance.
  7. Drying and Final Touches: Before adding any finishing touches, let your artwork completely dry. If further details are required after drying, use dry watercolor pencils.
  8. Sealing the Artwork: To prevent smudging, you can, if you’d like, seal your finished artwork with a fixative spray.


  1. Can you use regular colored pencils with water? Since regular colored pencils are not water-soluble, applying water won’t cause them to act similarly to watercolor pencils. Specific pigments made for dissolving in water are used in watercolor pencils.
  2. Do I need to be an experienced artist to use watercolor pencils? No, watercolor pencils are appropriate for painters of all levels of experience. They are a fantastic option for beginning and advanced painters alike since they provide both control and spontaneity.
  3. Can I use any type of paper with watercolor pencils? While standard drawing paper can be used, it is advised to utilize watercolor paper or heavy-weight mixed media paper instead. These papers are made to withstand water while avoiding warping.
  4. What’s the difference between watercolor pencils and watercolors? Comparatively speaking, watercolor pencils provide more control and accuracy than conventional watercolors. While watercolors are renowned for their more flowing and loose looks, watercolor pencils are ideal for intricate work.
  5. Can I erase watercolor pencil marks? Yes, you can partially erase watercolor pencil traces, however, it’s best to erase gently to prevent tearing the paper’s surface.

Final Thoughts

You are now prepared to use watercolor pencils to explore your creativity after reading these instructions and advice. Always remember that experimentation is the key, therefore don’t be afraid to give new methods a shot and see what interesting results you may get.

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