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How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Why Use Watercolor Pencils?

Watercolor pencils are a unique medium for creating art. They combine drawing with painting in a manner that no other medium can replicate.

Watercolor pencils are a medium that give the artist the best of both worlds of painting and drawing. They are similar to colored pencils but behave differently when water is added. This is because colored pencil pigment is held by a waxy or oil-based binder, while watercolor pencils have a water-soluble binder.

Because the medium is encased inside of a pencil that can be sharpened, the artist can create detailed and delicate marks that may be difficult to achieve with a brush.

How to Use Watercolor Pencils

The manner in which watercolor pencils are used is ultimately up to the artist. But, as with any medium, there are some things that may be helpful to keep in mind. Here are a few suggestions for drawing with watercolor pencils.


Activate Watercolor Pencil Applications with Water

Watercolor pencils are designed to be used with water, which can be applied with a soft brush after making marks with the pencil. This process is called activation. Once the material has been “activated”, it behaves like watercolor.

Typically, water is applied with a brush, but sponges and other tools can be used as well. Nylon brushes work well for this, but natural hair brushes work too. Bristle brushes are typically used for heavier bodied media like oils or acrylics, so it may be best not to use them with watercolor.

Layer and “Mix” Colors”

Watercolor pencils can be mixed, mostly through layering. To mix colors, apply one color and then layer an application of a second color over the top or right next to the first color. Then, activate the area with water. The colors will mix together.

To produce additional depth in the color and additional mixing, allow the first layer to dry completely. Then you can repeat the process with another round of mixed colors over the top of the dried area.

I would suggest layering only a few colors at a time to prevent muddied colors. I would not suggest mixing more than 4 colors at once. You can also have a test sheet of paper on hand to test your mixtures prior to applying them to your finished work.


As is the case with any art medium that you use, experimentation is important. Try applying the pencil directly to an area that is saturated with water to create interesting effects and bold applications of color.

Take Color Directly from the Pencil Tip

You aren’t limited to applying the pencil to the surface. You can also take the pigment directly from the tip of the pencil with a brush loaded with water. You can then apply the color directly to the surface with a brush, just like with traditional watercolors. This technique often results in a lighter and less intense application of color.

Surfaces for Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils should be applied to watercolor paper or a heavy board such as illustration board. As water is applied, thinner papers will buckle or even tear.

Cold press watercolor papers typically have a heavier texture or “tooth”. While some artists will prefer the texture, others may find that smoother surfaces are better suited for their needs. Below is an image of a watercolor pencil drawing on cold press paper from The Watercolor Workshop…

A solution for these artists would be illustration board or hot press watercolor paper (used in the demonstration video above and the step by step below). Illustration board will provide the rigid support that is required while providing a smoother surface for more precise detailing.

Watercolor Pencils – Step by Step

For this demonstration, we’ll work from a photo reference. We’ll make a special effort to alter the colors to create a work of art that isn’t a direct copy of the photo. The reference we’ll use is from pixabay.com. I’ve altered the original image a bit to make the composition a little stronger…

Derwent watercolor pencils are used for this lesson, working from a basic set of 24. We’ll work on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper, which is quite a bit smoother than cold press paper.

We’ll begin by creating a light pencil sketch on hot press watercolor paper with a graphite pencil. Only the contour lines or outlines are drawn with no shading.

We’ll address the background first and then work our way to the sunflowers. Since the sunflower petals are yellow, we’ll create a contrasting background made up of mostly purples. Purple is the complement of yellow so this color should provide high contrast. To add a bit of variety and interest, we’ll include some blues and reds as well.

Next we can activate the colors in the background using a large nylon brush loaded with water. As the colors are activated, they mix and begin to take on the characteristics of traditional watercolor.

After activating the background and waiting for it to dry completely, we can go back with another application of watercolor pencils. This additional application is applied in areas where we want the color to be more intense. In this case, additional applications of blue and purple are added around the edges of the flower petals. Again, these applications are activated with water.

Once the background is complete, we’ll move on to the center portions of the sunflowers. Although these areas are fairly dark, we’ll be sure to add some color here. We’ll patiently layer a series of colors including Crimson Lake (red), Brown Ochre (yellowish-brown), and Copper Beech (brown). This first layer of colors are then activated with a bit of water.

Once this first layer has dried, we’ll apply an additional round of these colors and add Prussian Blue (dark blue) and Ivory Black.

We can continue this same pattern of colors for the other two sunflowers, activating and layering as we go.

Once all of the center portions of the flowers have been addressed, then it’s time to develop the petals. Three yellows are used for the base applications: Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, and Golden Brown. Lemon Yellow is applied in locations where the value is at its lightest, while Cadmium Yellow serves as the midtone. Golden Brown is used for the darker locations.

These colors are then activated with water using a small round brush for added control. While these colors provide a nice base color, we still need to push the colors further and also increase the contrast.

To add a bit of color, Orange Chrome is applied mainly in the areas of medium value. To increase the contrast and make the shadows a bit stronger, Imperial Purple is applied. Purple may seem like a strange choice, but since it is the complement of yellow, it will create a more natural looking shadow. After this second round of colors have been applied, they are activated with water.

After addressing each of the petals on all of the sunflowers, we’ll next develop the stems and the leaves.

Again, we’ll use a basic combination of colors to do so.

We’ll begin with an application of Olive Green. This color will serve as the main color. For the areas of lighter value, we’ll layer a bit of Lemon Yellow and in the shadows, a bit of Prussian Blue.

After these colors are activated, we can see that we need to darken some of the shadows in order to increase the contrast. With a light touch, a bit of Ivory Black is applied in the shadowed areas and activated. As the black is activated, it mixes with the colors underneath, creating a more natural appearance.

Now our drawing (or painting) of sunflowers with watercolor pencils is now complete.

Subjects with Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils can used for any subject that you wish. Since they behave like watercolor after they are activated, any subject that you may choose for a watercolor painting is also suitable for watercolor pencils. Below, you’ll see a watercolor pencil image of a landscape.

The following video features excerpts from 2 one hour recorded live lessons on drawing/painting with watercolor pencils. (Members have access to the entire unedited lessons which can be accessed here.)

As you can see, the completed image is very similar to that of a watercolor painting…

Here’s another example of an image created with watercolor pencils. This one is from The Colored Pencil Course…

In this work, the pencils are used slightly differently. Not all of the applications are activated fully with water. This creates an image that is unique to that of watercolor pencils.

Using Lower Quality Watercolor Pencils

As is the case with any art medium that you use, the quality of the pencil makes a difference. That being said, you can still get fairly good results with lower quality and less expensive watercolor pencils. The same techniques we’ve discussed here apply, but you’re likely to notice that the pigmentation of cheaper pencils isn’t very strong.

The following video is one of the very first I created. It uses lower quality watercolor pencils but also demonstrates how you can get decent results if you know how to use the medium…


Drawing with Watercolor Pencils

Just like we did with the first demonstration, we first apply the watercolor pencils as if we are drawing the image with traditional colored pencils. Instead of applying heavy pressure however, we’ll apply light applications first and then layer after activating.

Activating Watercolor Pencils with Water

Here again, we’ll activate these applications with water applied with a brush. It is advised to slowly build up applications and activate them in layers so that the value and intensity of the color can be fully controlled.

Layering Applications of Watercolor Pencils

As layers dry, additional applications of watercolor pencil can be drawn over layers underneath. This allows us to control the color and adjust the painting gradually.

Areas do not have to be completely dry. Pencils can be applied while areas are still wet, producing interesting effects.

Lifting or Erasing Watercolor Pencils

Areas can be erased or “lifted” using traditional watercolor techniques. Water can be applied to the area that is desired to be removed and a cotton swab, brush, or paper towel can be used to pull color up. Although it may be difficult to remove the color completely, areas can made lighter using this technique.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Watercolor pencils are inexpensive and portable giving them an advantage over traditional watercolors. They can be picked up at any art store. Because they can be sharpened to a fine point, it’s easy to develop details that may be hard to get with traditional watercolor paints. Watercolor pencils can be used alongside traditional watercolor paints as well.

While watercolor pencils provide some advantages, there are some traditional watercolor techniques that may be difficult to duplicate.

5 Watercolor Pencil Techniques for Beginners (That Pros Use Too)

Everyone’s familiar with watercolor paintings, but did you know you can create similar art with pencils? In this guide to watercolor pencils, I’ll give you an overview of this medium and show you how to get started.

What are Watercolor Pencils?

Watercolor pencils look just like regular colored pencils. The difference is that they react to water and can create effects similar to watercolor paints.

The binding in watercolor pencil pigments is water-soluble. When you add water, the binding releases more pigment, resulting in intense colors.

Traditional colored pencils use an oil or wax-based binder, which allows them to stick to a paper’s surface and are better suited for layering and blending.

You can’t blend and layer with watercolor pencils the same way, but you can achieve some interesting effects by adding water.

Watercolor Pencils vs. Paints

So how do watercolor pencils compare to paints? Are they just watercolors in pencil form?

Not exactly. These are two separate but related media.

Mastering watercolor pencils won’t make you a master painter. And even seasoned painters would need to brush up on techniques if they decided to switch to pencils.

However, watercolor pencils and paint complement each other well. You can use pencils to add details to your watercolor painting. Or create a background with paints and draw the main subject with pencils.

Both media teach you to work with pigments and water.

Watercolor painting is notorious for being the most difficult type of painting. Watercolor pencils can be a way to ease into watercolor painting. You’ll learn how water affects pigments, moves paint across a page, and blends colors.

Benefits of Watercolor Pencils

You can sum up the benefits of using watercolor pencils over paints in three points:

A pencil is easier for most people to control than a brush. That alone makes watercolor pencils less intimidating. They also require less water, which is the most unpredictable aspect of watercolor. Having better control over water gives you more control over the pigments on the page.

Pencils also let you include more detail. The sharp point of a watercolor pencil allows you to lay down more visual information than the flexible point of a brush. If you want a particularly crisp line, you don’t even have to add water.

Watercolor pencils are also a convenient way to paint in color. Unlike paints, all you need are the pencils of your choice, a brush, and a small amount of water.

What Materials Do You Need?

  • Watercolor pencils
  • Paper
  • Brush of your choice
  • Graphite pencil (optional)
  • Masking fluid (optional)

Watercolor Pencils

If you’re just starting out, choose a basic set of 12 watercolor pencils. For those on a strict budget, or  just feeling adventurous, you can get by with only the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Black and white can be useful but aren’t necessary.

High quality watercolor pencil sets are available for any skill range from beginner to professional artist. Let’s take a look at a few different options.

Beginner: Derwent Watercolour Pencils

This set of 12 pencils is a great way to get started with the medium. They are affordably priced but still high quality enough that you will get the true feel of working with watercolor pencils. These Derwent pencils are easy to sharpen and are designed to be resistant to breaking. While a set of 12 pencils won’t give the range to color absolutely everything, these pencils are blendable and you can layer them or soften the intensity with water, so you are able to achieve quite a wide range of shades with a relatively small amount of pencils. The pigment in these is not permanent, so you can go back after it has dried and make changes by adding more water and pigment.

Midrange: Caran D’Ache Supracolor Watercolor Pencils

The Supracolors come in a set of 30 pencils, which gives you quite a bit of additional tonal range as compared to the set of 12. The pigment core in these pencils is super soft, which, counterintuitively, means that it is stronger and less prone to breakage than harder more brittle leads.

Advanced: Derwent Inktense Water Soluble Pencils

This set of 72 pencils features bright, intense pigments that are permanent, so once they have dried, they can’t be altered. This minimizes the issue of bleeding, so you can paint one color, let it dry, and then paint another color right up against it and not worry about the colors bleeding into each other.

Professional: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils

These are top-of-the-line watercolor pencils, and the 120 colors included in the set allow you to color essentially anything you could imagine, especially when you consider the blending and layering capabilities. The leads are resistant to breakage and these pencils provide excellent lightfastness, which means that your work won’t fade from exposure to sunlight or other environmental elements.


When choosing paper, you’ll want to use something that’s a little thicker than your average sketching paper. Regular paper will warp and wrinkle when you add water to it. Depending on its quality, watercolor paper can hold a large amount of water without becoming distorted.


Watercolor paper comes in three textures: hot press, cold press, and rough. Many artists use a cold press paper, which has some texture or “tooth” to it. When most people think of watercolor paper, cold press is probably what comes to mind. It’s ideal for creating texture.

Hot press watercolor paper is smooth, like drawing paper. But it’s still thick enough to hold water without warping. Since hot press paper doesn’t absorb color as quickly as cold press, you have more time to manipulate the paint before it dries.

Rough paper is similar to cold press, but it has even more texture.


You’ll see papers marked with a weight such as 90 lb, 140 lb, or 300 lb.

Manufacturers measure watercolor paper by how much 500 sheets weigh. Paper with a heavier weight can hold more water. 140-pound paper is the most commonly used.

You can find high-grade, affordable watercolor paper from companies like Strathmore and Canson, while professionals might choose to go with Arches or Reeves.

Some specific examples of paper from these brands that are excellent for use with watercolor pencils are as follows:

Strathmore Cold Pressed 140-Pound Watercolor Paper – This pad comes with 12 sheets of heavy duty watercolor paper. The cold pressed paper is excellent for creating texture and experimenting with your watercolor pencils. This Strathmore pad is reasonably priced and an appropriate paper for beginners and professionals alike.

Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad – At such a great price, this pad is a steal. It has 30 sheets of 140-pound cold-pressed paper, so it’s durable enough to withstand several layers of washes without warping or disintegrating. The wire binding is convenient because you can flip the cover all the way open and avoid bending the pages.

Arches Rough 140-Pound Watercolor Paper – This Arches pad includes 20 sheets of watercolor paper. The rough paper creates beautiful textural effects in paintings, and each individual piece of Arches paper is inspected for quality. This is a higher end paper that would be best suited to serious or professional artists, as it’s on the more expensive end.

Bellofy Artist Pro Series Sketchpad – This sketchpad comes with lighter weight 98-pound paper, so it’s thinner than some of the other options on our list, but it’s great for use with watercolor pencils, since you will most likely be using less water than with traditional watercolor paints.The 100 sheets in this book will last you longer than any of the other smaller pads we have discussed as well.


You won’t need to put much consideration into choosing a brush for watercolor pencils. A cheap brush will get the job done.

The best quality watercolor brushes are sable, but that quality is also reflected in the price. Today, there are several synthetic brushes and sable-synthetic mix brushes that perform nearly just as well.

What you will want to consider is the brush shape and size. I typically use a round brush, but you can still achieve fine details with a flat brush. Round brushes are flexible, while flats can produce smooth, even backgrounds.

Size 2 and size 4 flat brushesSize 2 and size 4 round brushes

For small watercolor pencil drawings, size 4 is my standard choice, with size 2 for really fine details.

Check a brush sizing chart to see your options. Consider how large you’ll be working and choose a few brushes accordingly. Keep in mind that a larger brush will hold more water, so beginners may want to start small.

A great option for beginners is the Transon Round Brush Set. This set is very reasonably priced and it includes eight differently sized round brushes. The brushes are made from a combination of nylon and goat hair, which means they will hold water well and brush it on smoothly.

For more versatility, consider the Princeton Elite Set, which includes a size 2 round brush for fine details, a size 8 round brush for covering large areas, a half-inch angle shader, and three-quarter inch wash brush. These brushes are made from synthetic Kolinsky sable, and the fine points and sharp edges provide unparalleled detail capabilities.

For a super high quality, authentic sable watercolor brush, consider this da Vinci Watercolor Brush. It’s made from Russian blue squirrel hair which is means it’s a true sable brush, and it has excellent water-holding capabilities. The wood handle and copper wire wrap are sustainable and beautiful as well.

Optional materials

A graphite pencil can come in handy for preliminary sketches. If you have the option, go with a pencil with 2B to 4B lead for sketching.  This Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencil Set provides a wide range of twelve different black and soft leads that are great for everything from sketching to drawing in fine details. The soft (B series) pencils have a thick 3.5 mm core for creating soft, smooth lines.

Another great option for sketching pencils are the Staedtler Lumograph Graphite Drawing and Sketching Pencils, which include six pencils in the set. They give a full, dark color when applied and are excellent for sketching a preliminary drawing.

Masking fluid is another convenient material. You can use this fluid to block out areas of your painting that you want to remain white or a significantly lighter color. Examples might be clouds, the shine on a piece of fruit, or the whites of a person’s eyes. This Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid is an excellent option since it’s colorless and won’t stain. You simply paint it onto the spaces that you want to remain white, let it dry, apply your watercolor pencils and water around it, and then once the paint is dry you can rub off the masking fluid with your finger or a rubber eraser. It will give a crisp negative space which can be otherwise very hard to achieve with watercolor media.

The only difficulty with a clear masking fluid is that it is predictably hard to see as you apply it, so you may not be able to tell if you’ve sufficiently coated the desired area. To make it easier, you can opt for a colored masking fluid, like this Pebeo Drawing Gum. It’s tinted blue for easy visibility

Use a cheap brush to coat those areas in masking fluid, and let it dry. Then you can draw and paint without worrying about getting any color on those sections. When you’re finished, rub the masking fluid gently to remove it, revealing a clean, white surface underneath.

Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Finally, let’s get into some of the techniques you can use with watercolor pencils. While most people know you can add water to a watercolor pencil drawing, there are actually several different ways to use this media. I’ll start with the most common:

Technique 1: Draw First, Add Water Later

Most artists use watercolor pencils to create a drawing and add water afterward or in stages as they draw.

In this method, start by outlining your subject lightly, either with a graphite pencil or the dominant color of your subject. Note any areas that you want to keep white or very light. You can even outline the highlights.

Outline the subject, leaving lightest areas white

Color in your subject lightly with the main color. Add other colors, starting from the lightest and ending on the darks and shading.

Add the lightest colors firstThen layer in the darker tonesFinally, add shading to the drawing

Finally, it’s time to add water! Wet your brush, and dab it on a paper towel to remove excess water. You don’t your brush to be dripping wet on the first stroke.

Time to add water!

Starting with the lightest areas, begin painting water onto your drawing. You’ll notice that the pigments become much brighter after you add water. Rinse and wipe your brush before adding water to a new color. Otherwise, you risk overpowering the new color with the one already on your brush.

Add water to the drawing. Start with the lightest areas.Add a light ground or background to the drawing

Once you fill in your entire subject, you can use the remaining pigment on your brush to create a light ground or background.

Technique 2: Dip Pencils into Water

Get thicker lines by dipping pencils into water

Instead of using a brush, you can also dip your pencils directly into water. The result is a thicker, more vibrant line.

However, you’ll soon realize that the water’s effects don’t last long. In the image above, you can see that the areas with red and brown shading start off strong and then fade into regular pencil shading.

Once you’ve finished using this technique, make sure to dry your pencils with a paper towel to keep them in good condition.

Technique 3: Draw onto Wet Paper

Use dry pencils on wet paper

Watercolor painters use lingo like “wet-on-wet” and “wet-on-dry.” This technique would be dry-on-wet.

You can wet the paper first by brushing down a light, even coat of water. Stick to the area you plan to draw on first, rather than wetting your entire paper. For this technique, you might find it useful to have large flat brush on hand.

Use a dry watercolor pencil to draw on top of the wet area. You’ll find that the result is similar to dipping your pencils into water, but the effects last longer.

You’ll see brighter, more intense color with a textured, grainy look. You don’t have to worry about repeatedly dipping your pencil into water to keep up this effect, but you’ll still need to work quickly before the paper dries.

Technique 4: Wet Pencil on Wet Paper

Wet pencil on wet paperLots of texture and bold colors

This wet-on-wet technique uses even more water. Using a wet pencil on a wet surface causes the colors to run, much like the watercolor painting technique. The lines you draw will look fuzzy and spread across the page.

However, unlike with painting, you’ll see more pigment fragments. This technique produces a lot of texture and very bold color.

Technique 5: Add Detail to a Watercolor Painting

You can also draw on top of an existing watercolor painting. Add details or emphasize the areas of painting. Then either leave your additions as is or add water for a smoother texture.

Bonus: Use Watercolor Pencils as Portable Paints

Okay, this isn’t really a technique, but one really nice benefit of watercolor pencils is that you can use them as on-the-go paints.

Pencil sets are compact and easy to carry. Much more so than paint sets. Just create your desired colors on the page first and mix in water to get your paint effects.

Watercolor pencils can be used as portable paints


About the author

Monica Heilman

Monica Heilman is a Colorado-based writer and artist. She has taught writing for four years, in the US and South Korea, and is a lifelong artist. Her most memorable art experience was painting a life-sized plaster cow. You can view her writing and art on her personal website at monicaheilman.com.

Art and photo credits in this post go to Monica Heilman.

How To Use Watercolour Pencils

How to Use Watercolour Pencils
Watercolour pencils are coloured pencils that are water soluble. These convenient and portable little painting tools are clean and easy to use. Their versatility means you can use a single pencil with many different techniques.
  • Use watercolour pencils dry
  • Use watercolour pencils with a brush
  • Use watercolour pencils on wet paper
  • Dip a watercolour pencil in water
  • Use watercolour pencils as a substitute for watercolour paints
  • Watercolour pencils are a good medium for beginners
  • Watercolour pencils can be combined with other media
  • Use watercolour pencils to add details to a watercolour painting
  • Any combination of all of the above!

Using Watercolour Pencils Dry
Watercolour pencils and watersoluble coloured pencils can be used on their own or with other drawing and painting media. They can be used just like regular coloured pencils, drawn straight on to paper without the use of any water, and generally you would not know the difference between a watercolour pencil and a regular coloured pencil. The only difference is that the binder used in a watersoluble pencil can be dissolved in water and is not wax-based. When dry they can be easily blended with non-watersoluble pencils.

Using Watercolour Pencils with a Brush
Watercolour pencils are fantastically versatile and can be used in a number of different ways, and it is always worth experimenting! They can be drawn on dry and then worked over with a brush that has been dipped in clean water – you will see the colours applied to the paper become alive – the pigment appear a lot more luminous and vibrant as the grain of the pencil marks is replaced by the fluid colour that fills even the smallest of hollows of the paper being worked on. You can also drag your brush away from the marks that were initially made by the pencil to achieve more translucent and watery marks, and you can blend blocks of colour together, blurring the solid lines between shapes by literally dissolving them in water.

Applying colour dry to paper and then working over the top will require more foresight – you will need to think about what effects the water will have on the work you have made with the pencil. This way of working with watercolour pencils may be well suited to someone who has experience in drawing but wishes to move into watercolour painting techniques.

If you would like to have the kind of effects that replicate pen and ink, i.e. bold intense colour, our recommendation would be the Derwent Inktense Pencil range, which can also be used with the Inktense Blocks, which enable you to make even broader, bolder drawing marks in colour. If you are interested in using watercolour pencils in this way but would like more gentle, watercolour-like effects, then we would suggest trying the beautiful Faber Castell Albrecht Duerer pencils, which have an extensive colour range. Try experimenting with the amount of colour you apply to the paper by varying the amount of pressure you use when drawing. You will be amazed by the variety of colours, tones and marks you will be able to achieve.

Which brush should I use with watercolour pencils?

If you are not a regular painter in watercolours the main characteristics you will be seeking in a brush are value for money, durability and a brush-head which keeps its shape. Jackson’s Studio Synthetic Watercolour Brushes score very highly on all of these counts. If you are seeking to blend colour using lots of water, or to apply a wash over a large area, then the Jackson’s Raven Synthetic Mop would be a better bet.

Dipping the Watercolour Pencil in water
For the boldest possible marks with watercolour pencils, try dipping the pencil straight into water before drawing. The water breaks down the pigment and then crumbles on to the paper you are working on, allowing you to deposit the greatest possible amount of pigment and achieving bold, expressive marks. These can then be diluted or stained across the paper surface by dragging a brush over the top of them, however remember that watercolour pencil colour is surprisingly permanent and will not dilute in water once it has dried to the paper – this is because the watersoluble binder will have already been broken down by the water, and there will be nothing left to break down further. The Cretacolor Aquamonolith pencils are particularly good for making striking marks with, if you use these on their side rather than on the point of the pencil you will achieve some lovely sweeping broad marks. Some watercolour painters like to make use of watercolour pencils when adding very fine details and accents to a painting made in conventional watercolour paint – for these applications we recommend the Cretacolor Marino Pencils, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer or the Supracolor pencils by Caran D’Ache, as they appear to be the most pigmented and smoothest in consistency.

Using Watercolour Pencils as a substitute to Watercolour Paints
The finest watercolour pencils can be used just like watercolour pans, and I promise no one would know the difference (I speak from experience!) Lift colour from the lead of your watercolour pencil by dragging your brush dipped in water over the lead of the pencil until sufficient colour is loaded on to the brush, and then paint as normal. It is a really practical way of painting in watercolours when travelling as you do not have to pack a number of tubes, and especially so if you enjoy working in both watercolour paint and pencils anyway. Our favourite ranges to work with in this way are the Faber Castell Albrecht Durer and the Supracolor pencils by Caran D’Ache. The woodless pencils, such as the Cretacolor Aquamonolith pencils are wonderfully economical as you can also use the shavings as you would a pan – break the shavings down with a wet brush and then apply the colour to paper – because there is pure colour and binder and no wood in the shavings nothing need go to waste!

A Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Watercolour Pencil.

Watercolour Pencils for Beginners
Watercolour pencils are often a way into the world of making visual art, and are often used in schools and colleges. Although the majority of our watercolour pencils are professional grade and have excellent lightfastness ratings, we do have ranges by Reeves that would suit someone who would like to try watercolour pencils out for the first time.

Watercolour Pencils with other media
Derwent Inktense Pencils can be used on silk to make silk paintings, and they also have a non watersoluble outliner pencil within their range which would be used as an alternative to a silk Gutta outliner, as well as being used for a similar purpose on paper. Oil painters and acrylic painters have been known to use watersoluble pencils to draw out a composition on to a canvas prior before starting to paint – this is a good idea as the pencil marks break down when they come into contact with solvents and water, and the interaction between pencil marks and paint when left to exist side by side can also be visually interesting.

Different types of Watercolour Pencils – Which should I use?

Click on the underlined links to go to the materials on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.

Julie Caves

Julie was the editor of the Jackson’s Art Blog for 10 years and now writes for the blog part time. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of art materials (majoring in oils and acrylics), she loves researching and writing pieces for the blog as she learns something new each time. Julie is also a professional artist who studied on the Turps Studio Painting Programme and Camberwell College of Art.

Watercolor Pencil vs Paint – Artsydee

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Watercolor pencil vs paint – what’s the difference?

Recently, one of my students asked me what the differences are between watercolor pencil and watercolor paint. I think this is something many of us wonder about. Are they the same thing? Or is one better than the other?

Both watercolor pencil and watercolor paint are great mediums to work with. Both offer a range of opportunities to achieve different effects in an art work and are incredibly satisfying to use.

That being said, watercolor pencil vs paint offer quite different experiences for the artist. You use them in different ways, and although they both are water soluble; the finished effect can be quite different.

When using watercolor paint, the artist has less control over the flow of the water and pigment and so often a higher level of skill is necessary.

Many established and academic artists will say that watercolor is the most difficult painting medium to use.

You need to master how you control the bleed of your paint on the paper. ‘Bleed’ is a term used to describe how the paint pigment flows and moves through the water on the surface.

However, that is not to say that watercolor pencil is any less specialized or less ‘professional’ than watercolor paint, but one does seem to have more control of the color in a watercolor pencil artwork.

Ok, so let’s compare the two mediums.

Watercolor Pencil vs Paint

Watercolor pencils are a form of colored pencil where the core of the pencil contains a water-soluble binder. This means that if the colored core meets water it will color the water – very much like watercolor paint.

Watercolor paint comes in several forms used with a paintbrush. It can come in the form of a tube, with a toothpaste-like consistency, or in a dry block form (often found in a tray).

What are watercolor pencils good for?

Watercolor pencils are a good medium to use when you want to draw detailed art. You can easily control the pencil and, with a sharp tip, you can draw very fine lines and patterns.

This is not the case with watercolor paint. It is more difficult to get fine lines and details. Watercolor paint is more suited to larger, ‘floating’ areas of color.

Watercolor pencils can be used to create texture. By drawing with the side of your pencil, or using repetitive line, you can create a textured effect that you can’t get with watercolor paint.

Watercolor paint is known for its ability to bleed into other colors and create soft washes.

Watercolor pencil still allows you to create a wash like effect. Just like watercolor paint, you can add water to your watercolor pencil marks and allow it to bleed.

Watercolor pencils are really good for artists who enjoy working with a pencil. Watercolor pencil often allows you to have more direct control over your color choices, proportions, and patterns.

Watercolor paint would be better suited to an artist who wants to use a brush and paint, and who doesn’t want a texture or pencil mark evidence on the page. Watercolor is known for its luminescence and the way the color sits on the surface of the paper.

Can you paint with watercolor pencils?

Yes, you can paint with watercolor pencils. There are various ways to go about this.

The easiest way to start painting with watercolor pencils is by drawing the subject matter, coloring it with the watercolor pencils, and the applying water on the surface of the pigment and blending the color.

You can also paint with watercolor pencils by dipping them into water and drawing or painting with them. You don’t hold them in the same way as a paintbrush (in the traditional sense).

We call this method ‘wet-on-dry’ painting. Essentially you are putting a wet pencil onto a dry paper surface. This same term is used when you apply watercolor paint to a dry surface.

‘Wet-on-wet’ is a term we use to describe painting with watercolor. It’s a method whereby you paint water on the paper surface and then pick-up pigment on your brush and bleed it into the watered surface.

Can watercolor pencils be used without water?

Yes. Watercolor pencils are very much like colored pencils. Usually, watercolor pencils are not as bright or intense as colored pencils.

Watercolor pencils often don’t blend as easily as standard colored pencils. This is because their purpose differs – they are made to be used with water to create blends of color.

That being said, I recommend Derwent Inktense pencils, as watercolor pencils that can be used as both watercolor and standard colored pencils. They blend beautifully with water and without, and their colors remain vibrant. They also have less of a waxy surface than standard colored pencils.

Can you sharpen watercolor pencils?

I am sure we all know that frustrating feeling when sharpening a pencil and the core keeps breaking off. Watercolor pencils often have a very soft core and if you knock or drop them that core may be easily broken.

The best way to sharpen any pencil-like medium is by using a craft knife to shave off the sides of the pencil. This is a technique that takes a bit of time to get used to, but ultimately helps you get the most use out of your pencils. Your pencil core is better supported and does not break as easily. Have a look at this helpful video on how to sharpen your pencil with a craft knife.

**This page may contain affiliate links to products I have used or recommend. If you purchase something from this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.**

Which watercolor pencils are the best?

There are a huge amount of watercolor pencil brands on the market. I have listed just tried to simplify things and added a few of my recommendations for beginners and more advanced pencil watercolorists.

Lyra Graduate Aquarell Pencils (Set of 24)

These pencils are really good to start with. They have a very smooth finish on the paper and blend well. This set also comes with a brush so you can start testing out the watercolor effect immediately.

Staedtler Triangular Watercolor Pencils (Set of 24)

These are also a good starter set of watercolor pencils. There is a good range of bright colors and with the pencils having a triangular grip they are really easy to hold and control. Staedtler is known for its durable pencil core – these don’t break easily.

KOH-I-NOOR Mondeluz Aquarelles (Set of 24)

The core of these watercolor pencils are made up of pure white clay mixed with pigment. This makes them really smooth on paper and the colors are incredibly vibrant. They tend to be a bit crumbly when a lot of pressure is applied, but when water is applied to the pencil mark, they dissolve well.

Caran D’Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle Pencil (set of 18)

These are fantastic luxury quality watercolor pencils to use. They are considered professional pencils and are more on the pricey side. They blend superbly and the core is quite strong so they won’t break easily.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils (Set of 24)

Derwent is known for its vibrant colors and high-quality pencils. These are really lovely to work with especially when you want to layer your colors.

Derwent Intense Pencils (Set of 24)

These are my favorite watercolor pencil to use for art journaling and other art projects. They have a different feel to the Derwent Watercolor Pencils in that they are chunkier to hold. They also have deeper colors, a harder, waxier lay down, and they are permanent when used on fabric. This means they offer the artist a huge range of possibilities when working on different surfaces.

Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils (Set of 120)

These pencils are just fabulous to work with. They are incredibly smooth on the paper and blend perfectly. They are really one of the top-quality watercolor pencils out there. If you want to splash out, this is what you should go for!

Lemons by Jenni Mabin-Krige in Watercolor PaintFigs by Jenni Mabin-Krige in Watercolor Pencil

What paper do you use for watercolor pencils?

You want to use paper that is thick enough to hold the water when you mix your watercolor pencils with water. I would recommend using a students’ quality watercolor paper to start with if you are a beginner. Something like Strathmore Paper 300 Series would work well.

If you are more advanced, you want to look out for an Artists’ quality watercolor paper to work on. The Arteza 9×12″ Expert Watercolor Pad is a good pad of watercolor paper to use. It is 140lb/300gsm, cold-pressed, acid-free paper, which is ideal for professional watercolor techniques.

Can you use watercolor pencils on canvas?

It’s generally not recommended to work on canvas with watercolor pencils or watercolor paint as it is just not absorbent enough. The watercolor pigment doesn’t ‘hold’ on the surface of the canvas. Acrylic paint or oil paint is better suited to canvas painting.

If you are desperate to do a watercolor pencil drawing (or watercolor painting) on a canvas there are ways around it.

You can use an acrylic primer or gesso to cover the surface of the canvas before you use your watercolor pencils. You can use a watercolor ground like, QoR Watercolor Grounds, to cover the surface of the canvas.

How can I protect my watercolour pencil drawing or watercolor painting without glass?

Your watercolor pencil drawing may get damaged over time and so it’s a good idea to find ways to protect it long term. If framing the watercolor paper behind glass is not an option for you, you can use aerosol Archival Varnish. Two coats of this is usually enough to seal and adhere the pigments to the paper.


Watercolor pencils offer more control for detail, pattern, and texture. They certainly help to create an interesting surface as often it can be quite attractive to have an art piece with both watercolor and pencil marks on the surface.

Watercolor paint in itself is a beautiful, flowing, medium which you can use to create light and color- filled artworks.

Watercolor pencils vs paint – which is better?
Even though there is an overlap in the watercolor effect created by these two mediums, they are actually quite different. You need to determine what kind of effect you are looking for before you make a decision about which medium suits you best. The best way to go about this is by experimenting. I recommend spending time exploring both these mediums before you decide what suits you best.

I would really love it if you shared this post! 🙂

Painting Cheek Art with Watercolor Pencils and Paint Crayons

If you’ll be painting cheek art this Halloween season for a school party, carnival, or costume (or possibly in the future) this is a one tip you’ll want to remember!  I recently learned that you can use non-toxic Crayola watercolor pencils to draw cheek art.   I never would have thought to use watercolor pencils, I didn’t even know they made them, but they do and they really work. 

How to Use (non-toxic) Watercolor Pencils to Draw Cheek Art

  1. Dip the watercolor pencil into a glass of water (or onto a wet sponge).
  2. Wait just a few seconds for the water to soften the paint.
  3. Draw the design.
*We made sure to keep the watercolors away from the kids eyes and kept it strictly on cheeks and hands to keep it safe.  Watercolor pencils are not made for the purpose of painting on skin. My oldest daughter is the real artist in the family, but since she was at school when I was taking photos for the post, I did my best to draw a little ghost to show you how the watercolor looks. 🙂  Whether you’re painting on a hand or a cheek, it seems to work the same. 

I bought the watercolor pencils at Wal-mart in the office supply section.  I think I paid less then $3 for them.

I also tried face paint crayons for the first time.   I was told by my daughter who used them to paint cheek art at a church carnival this week that they worked great too.  I bought them at JoAnn’s in the kids crafts section and used a 50% off coupon, so I paid $2.50 for them.  (Reg. price $4.99)  I don’t know how well they would work if you were to paint an entire face because we didn’t try it, but they worked well for small shapes.

I used baby wet wipes to remove both the watercolor paint and the paint from the crayons after the paint had been left on for a couple of hours.  They both came right off.  I didn’t see any staining on the skin but you may want to test an area first before you go all out on a whole face design or if you will be leaving it on for a long period of time.

This is all new to me and is the first time I’ve bought products to use for painting cheek art.  Have you tried watercolor pencils or face paint crayons before?  Do you have any great tips for face painting/cheek art?  Please share!

Today’s Fabulous Find. ..Painting Cheek Art with Watercolor Pencils

Top Tips on Using Watercolor Pencils by Over 15 Artists

Using watercolor pencils is a game-changer for people who love watercolor. It is a combination of using watercolors and colored pencils in one. You can create some easy watercolor pencil drawings, especially by reading the insights shared by these artists. 

Watercolor pencils react and adjust to the water, which allows you to create very similar effects and patterns you can get with traditional watercolor. 

When you’re using watercolor pencils it feels like you’re painting and drawing at the same time. You will get the flow, unique response, transparency, and all the other characteristics of watercolor painting, and you’ll be able to add a level of detail you could never achieve in traditional watercolor painting.

You can get this next-level type of detail by using a watercolor pencil because you can sharpen it to a fine point like a colored pencil.   

I got the chance to speak with artists that love using watercolors, and I’m going to share their top tips in using watercolor pencils. There are common themes in all these responses, and I’ve grouped them accordingly.  

You can click on any of the below categories to go to that section. 


These tips for using watercolor pencils are centered around the paper you use. Whether it’s choosing the right paper or the way you use the paper you choose.  


Hey there! I’d say, do not add too much water to it. Depending on the result you want ofc. They definitely behave differently. The good thing about them is that you don’t necessarily need watercolor paper to use them. 

They can go in any paper as long as you use little water. I like using pentel brushes to have better control. 😸

Pelican’s Art

I like to use regular drawing paper instead of watercolor paper.  To keep it flat between layers after getting wet, I press it with the back of another pad and books or something similar on top.


Layer and use the right paper xD


The way you use watercolor pencils is just as important as the tools you use to create your art, and these watercolor pencil tips cover how to make watercolor pencils part of your process.   

Joaquin Herrera

It’s hard to decide which one is the number one tip! But I think that I would recommend using water brushes, for practicality. 

For anyone who doesn’t know about them, they’re brushes with a plastic container that can hold water and keeps the bristles moist. 

Wet media is usually very messy and it’s a pain in the butt to clean up. However, I like using water brushes combined with watercolor pencils because you don’t need a water pot, you don’t have to load the brush every few strokes and you also don’t need that much space. 

So, they are both less messy, and much easier to clean and put away than traditional watercolors. I think they’re amazing for that only! And because they’re so handy and easy to use, I like having them loaded in my pencil case.  

So, if you’re an avid sketcher, I would recommend putting your sketchbook and these materials in your backpack. That way, you can easily sketch with watercolor anywhere!

Rachel Raisin

My top tip to using watercolor pencils is to experiment with different methods to find what you like. They can do a lot, from detail work to vibrant color addition to outlining. 

Experimenting with how much water you use, the amount of pressure and the number of layers will help you find your groove and learn what works best with your style.


Don’t try to make it perfect, watercolor does what they want, and that’s why I love them so much! Each time you get a different effect.

Dank in Normie’s Clothing

My tip would be: patience. The thing is that with watercolors and sometimes watercolor pencils (which I mostly use) you shouldn’t expect to obtain a certain result right away. Of course, this is also true for basically all drawing/painting techniques.  

Experience has taught me that using watercolors, in particular, requires the application of many, MANY layers of paint (side tip: starting with lighter shades is easier 😉 ), sometimes even ones that might seem ‘useless’. 

You might not see the drawing as you pictured it for a long time. The key is to just, and I can’t stress this enough, KEEP DRAWING! Your hard work will pay off in the end.


I would say my tip is don’t use too much water. When I tried colored pencils for the first time I used way too much water, it really dilutes the color and can be hard to control. I now use just a slightly damp brush when working with watercolor pencils. =)


One of the most breathtaking aspects of using watercolors is the colors. These tips all deal with choosing the right colors, the way you use colors, and more when it comes to using watercolor pencils.

Nneda Art

Don’t be afraid to mix and layer different or bright colors, it creates magic ✨.

Antigone Damigou

I mostly paint with watercolors and more rarely with watercolor pencils, but some obvious tips for watercolor pencils that unfortunately I didn’t have in mind when I first started using them, are:

#1 It’s always better to make a sample chart to be sure how a colour looks in both cases (dry and wet), because watercolour pencils usually look very different and more intense after adding water.

#2 watercolour pencils need for sure a quite heavy paper (even better if it’s a watercolour one). We add water, so we have to be careful not to ruin our painting.

#3 Also obvious, but worth mentioning, we should always start adding water (with a brush) from light to dark colours.

Drawings Wonder

My tip is that you should always take the time to blend all the colors together. Then the colors look softer and not so rough.

Joanne Chen

My #1 watercolor pencil tip is to layer colors! The great thing about watercolor is that it’s transparent.  

You can create more depth in your pieces by incorporating complementary colors. But be careful when the bottom layer isn’t completely dry because the pencils can scratch and damage the paper!


I think my top tip would be to always blend from lighter to darker colors and add layers if you want it to be more intense!

Sumaira Khan

So basically what I do with watercolor pencils is that I first colour the drawing using many different watercolor pencils, and then I apply water on top of all the colours using a brush to blend them all together. It gives the drawing a very beautiful, natural, and realistic effect.

Tania Daymond

My top tip is based on my botanical art style but will be different for every artist and their unique style. 

Firstly, you should apply the pencil color/pigment with all the control and precision you need to enhance your work. This will be the foundation of your color so it needs all the care and attention you can give it.  

Secondly, when applying the water the process is quite the opposite ‘ Go with the Flow’! Let the water application be loose and liquid … let go of the control and this will add character to your work.

Watercolor pencils are so much fun to work with and can give spontaneity to your work if you let it. 

Happy watercolor penciling!!!


This section covers how you use a watercolor pencil. The way in which you use your watercolor pencil will help you create easy watercolor pencil drawings. 

Rimjhim Dewangan

My top #1 tip would be to check each pencil of how much you have used it on the paper for the exact color outcome for your painting then start applying it.

Kamalpreet Aulakh

Work with patients. And Don’t give pressure on the pencil when you use it.work in layers to get a more realistic touch.

Gustavo Racca

For me, the first and essential tip I can give you for using colored watercolor pencils is to be aware that they are not like conventional watercolors and that is a good thing. The pigment will behave differently.  

Dissolving in a different way it is possible to explore textures and traces that watercolor cannot give. That way, I always think it’s a good idea to explore the association between the two techniques.


This tip highlights the manner in which you create lines using your watercolor pencils. Your linework is really important and will help you with how to make watercolor pencils stand out. 

Natalia Tomas Segovia

Start using soft lines to give structure to the visage, and start overlapping them so that you can achieve contrast and solidity of shapes. Combining watercolour pencils with gouache or white tube watercolour offers the chance of obtaining interesting textures when mixing them.

Other Topics Related to Watercolor:



If you’re a newbie to using watercolor pencils or if you’ve used them for a long time, I hope these tips from other watercolor artists help you create easy watercolor pencil drawings.  

If you love the look of watercolor or the effects you can achieve with watercolor, but maybe hesitant to dive into watercolor painting then I encourage you to try using watercolor pencils. 

I want to thank all the artists featured in this post. Each one of them was extremely cool to collaborate with and gracious with their time. 

I recommend clicking on their names to visit their Instagram accounts and engage with their work! They have shared so much wisdom that will surely help you in using watercolor pencils!

Question of the Day: What is your favorite tip in using watercolor pencils? Comment below.

How To Use Watercolor Pencils: 5 Simple Painting Tutorials

Want to start using watercolor pencils, but don’t know where to begin?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered …

Read on to know the ins and outs of painting with watercolor pencils.

In this post, you will find out the essentials of watercolor pencil painting. You will learn what supplies to buy, how to get started, and the techniques to use. To make things ultra-easy, I have also included a quick review of a tutorial I found super helpful.

Let’s get started…

What are Watercolor Pencils?

Watercolor pencils look, feel, and draw like regular colored pencils. There’s a fundamental difference, though. Add a bit of water and watch the pigment gently spread. For me, it was like magic.

Let me explain how this works.

At their core, crayons, colored pencils, and watercolor pencils are colored pigments held together with a binding material.

In crayons, the binder is wax. Regular colored pencils have an oil-based binder. The oil or wax binder makes the pigment sticky. They do not spread.

Watercolor pencils use a water-soluble binder to hold the pigment together.

The binder dissolves in water allowing the pigment to diffuse and spread.

You can always leave your watercolor pencil drawing as is – dry – but then it will be just a beautiful color pencil art. It won’t be a watercolor painting! Add water, and the colors swirl, merge, ebb and flow.

Image by Author

Why Use Watercolor Pencils?

Let’s begin by comparing watercolor paint to pencils. Are they similar?

Both media use water-soluble pigments. So, yes, they are similar in nature. Yet, the techniques differ! With a pencil, you apply dry color to paper. It remains dry until activated with water. With paint, you directly apply wet color with a brush.

Traditional watercolor techniques are beautiful and have stood the test of time. This painting by Albrecht Dürer, stands proof.

Timeless art – “Wing of a Blue Roller” by Albrecht Dürer, circa 1500 or 1512 (Photo: Public Domain)

However, with proper technique, right supplies, and loads of practice, you can work wonders with watercolor pencils too.

Pencils vs Paints: What are the benefits of watercolor pencils?

  • Easy-to-use: I find pencils more predictable, easy-to-use, and familiar. The firm tip of a dry pencil ensures your strokes come out as predicted. The flexible, moist tipped brush can throw some unpleasant surprises. The chances of your lines going wrong are plenty.
  • Portable: Pencils are easy to carry, take little space, and are definitely less messy. You don’t need a palette, multiple brushes, or lots of water to rinse your brushes.
  • Exciting: Activation can be done using a brush, sponge, Q-tip, toothbrush, or a fine nozzle spray. Lots of scope for experimentation and having fun.
Sponge Activating: Watercolor pencil activation using a wet sponge
  • Versatile: Supports several techniques, such as you can draw on dry paper and then activate, draw with a pencil dipped in water, etc.
  • Excellent for mixed-media art: Watercolor pencils are valuable assets in mix-media compositions. You can use sharp-tipped pencils to add those edges and finer details that cannot be done with a brush.

Source: www.jetpens.com

Here’s a mixed-media art – a beautiful painting using watercolors, watercolor pencils, and pan pastels. 

  • Two-in-one experience: Watercolor pencils combine the best of two media – pencils and paint! With this medium you are drawing and painting simultaneously.
  • Pencils dry faster than paint and aren’t suitable for complex layered watercolor techniques.
  • Pencils do not lend favorably to big-sized artwork – difficult to fill large expanse of paper with pencil strokes.

What Watercolor Pencil Supplies Do I Need?

Whether a novice or a professional, you must stock up with the right supplies. Quality matters!

The market is teeming with art provisions with prices ranging from super cheap to skyrocketing. To make it easy for you, I have suggested products that you could check out.

Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paintings need thick textured paper of a certain weight – different from your regular sketchbook sheets. Remember the paper should not buckle under water, so to say.


Let’s go a bit deeper…

What are the different varieties of textured watercolor paper available?

In the market, you will get three basic types: Hot-pressed (smoothest to touch), Cold-pressed (relatively rougher), and Rough (roughest to touch).

What you need to know is – smoother the watercolor paper, slower is the drying process. So, hot-pressed paper, being the smoothest, absorbs water slowly, giving you more time to manipulate the paint. Whereas, with rough paper, you will have to work quickly before the paint dries. The cold-pressed paper falls in-between.

Further, on smooth paper, your pencil glides smoothly. So, if you want to add a cool textured touch to your work, go for rough paper. In the end, it’s all about your personal preference.

Apart from the texture, artists also consider the weight of the paper. Textured paper is available in the following three weights: 90 lb per ream (190 Gsm), 140 lb per ream (300 Gsm), and 300 lb per ream (640 Gsm) – where a ream is 500 sheets.

Thicker the paper, more is the weight, and greater is its water holding capacity. Thin paper, like the 90 lb (190 Gsm), warps fast creating peaks and troughs, making it difficult for you to control the flow of color. Anything below 140 lb (300 Gsm) has to be mounted on a board.

Source: jacksonart.com

Most artists prefer to tread the middle line and opt for the 140 lb (300 Gsm) cold-pressed paper.

Please visit my review of different watercolor paper for in-depth information on the topic.

Here’s my top 3 recommendations:

Brush or Water Brush

Water brushes are often used to activate watercolor pencil strokes. The traditional, pen-like design with a detachable water container, makes them easy to carry and use. I’d suggest a water brush for quick, on-the-spot paintings.


If you are painting an intricate sketch, go for a conventional brush. You can buy natural hair, nylon, or mixed natural-haired cum synthetic brushes. Again, it’s a matter of preference and budget.

Personally, I like the fine-pointed round brushes sizes 8 and 10. Please read my blog on my favorite watercolor brushes for more information. It will help you to make an informed decision.

Art brushes – varied sizes and shapes

I’d recommend:


Pencils and sharpeners go hand-in-hand. Watercolor pencils, however, have notoriously soft cores and break easily. You will need a gadget that will sharpen gently and evenly, with minimum breakage, ensuring your pencils last long.

I’d recommend the Sonic Ratchetta Capsule Pencil Sharpener. The unique ratchet mechanism makes it easy to use, gives a long sharp point, and is total value for money.

Graphite Pencils

Always have a couple of graphite pencils at hand. They come handy for laying down the outline.

Graphite pencils are graded as:

9B  8B  7B  6B  5B  4B  3B  2B  HB  H  2H  3H  4H  5H  6H  7H  8H  9H  F

A hard ‘H’ pencil draws light lines and a soft ‘B’ pencil draws darker lines and wears off faster. I prefer 2B, 4B, and 6B – easily sharpened and the lead isn’t too soft. 

I would suggest …

The Faber-Castell Graphite Pencil Set of 6 sketch pencils (2H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, 6B) is an excellent option for all artists.

Faber-Castell Pencil Set of Six Sketch Pencils

Water, Paper Towels and Masking Tape

Your art kit will be incomplete without the following:

  • Water – You’ll need clean water for the activation and for rinsing your brushes – lesser quantity compared to when using paints.
  • Paper towels – May seem miscellaneous, but you’ll need them to pat dry over-wet paper and brush. Believe me, it happens more often than you think.
  • Masking tape – This is an absolute must. Not only will it fix the paper to your work surface, but also keep the picture margins color-free. Try the Scotch Masking Tape.
  • Masking fluid – This is optional. Artists use it to prevent the color from spreading to areas that need to remain white or color-free. I use the Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid.

An excellent use of masking fluid

What Watercolor Pencils Should I Use?

Watercolor pencils come in a wide range of shades. But they are expensive. So, I would suggest that you begin with a set of 12 basic colors and add other shades as you progress. With time, as you learn how to use watercolor pencils, you’ll know your preferences better.

If you have a tight budget, start with a blue, red, yellow, and black pencil. You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve with these primary colors.

Blending primary colors

Tip: Look for brands that sell individual pencils, else you’ll end up with a bunch of rarely used shades.

Please visit my review of the Top 10 Best Watercolor Pencils for more information.

For the time being, here’s a quick recommendation:

Pros: Vibrant colors; soft, creamy core that resists breakage while sharpening; easy to blend and mix; provides most value for money.

Cons: Prone to drying up fast; low on lightfastness.

Pros: Beautiful hues; extremely lightfast; sturdy and versatile – can be used dry or wet, and on black and toned paper; rich, soft pigments ideal for blending and layering; easy to sharpen.

Cons: Price is the only constrain. But totally worth it in my opinion.

Getting Started

Okay, you are now kitted up and ready to go.

In this section you’ll get to know your pencils and start using them for watercoloring.

Image by Author

Know your pencils: Create a sample chart

Pick a pencil and draw a few strokes. Mark the color. Now activate with water. You’ll notice that the color looks different when activated. Create a sample color chart, showing each shade in its dry and activated state. This knowledge will allow you to use your pencils intelligently.

Sample color chart: dry and wet shades

Prepare your paper: mositen and mount

The recommended 140 lb (300 Gsm) cold-pressed paper doesn’t easily buckle.

However, for best results, it’s always advisable to stretch it.

  • Soak paper in cold water. The 140 lb and 90 lb paper need about 8 and 3 minutes of soaking respectively. Note, the 300 lb paper needs no preparation.

Tip: To ensure that the paper is not over or under soaked, keep checking by gently bending (avoid creasing) a corner of the paper. If the bend holds in place, you are done soaking and the paper can be removed. If the paper flops down, it’s over soaked. If the paper springs back, it needs more soaking.

  • Place the soaked paper on the work surface and gently remove excess water with a sponge or paper towel. Make sure the paper is not dripping.
  • Use strips of masking tape or wet adhesive tape to fix the paper.
  • Leave the entire set-up in a horizontal position and allow to dry.

I found this ‘Susan Harrison Tustain’s Stretching Watercolor Paper Update’ video very useful.

Make the preliminary sketch

Use a graphite pencil to outline your picture with light lines – avoid making grooves. Take a few minutes to plan which color will go where and the shading that you wish to work in.

Source: mfa.org

Add color: apply first layer of color

Fill-in the base colors. Remember, eventually the color will spread on application of water. Add color accordingly, leaving areas that are to be lightly shaded blank.

Tip: Since pencil lines never blend totally, make sure your pencil strokes are regular and smooth.  Haphazardly applied lines look clumsy, if not blended well.

Source: mfa.org

Activate the color: Apply water with a round brush

Use a wet brush (not overloaded with water) to gently activate the pigments. Move your brush in the same direction as the pencil lines. This blends the color to give a paint-like finish.

Tip: If you have applied more water than required and one color lynches into another (say the green from a leaf spreads into the red-colored flower), use a paper towel to gently soak up the color before it dries.

Source: mfa.org

Add details: apply second layer of color

Allow the base colors to dry and your picture is ready for detailing. Now deepen the base color or add different hues and shades as needed. Activate the pigments.

Source: mfa.org

Highlight outlines

Use sharpened colored pencils to add highlight edges. You can also dampen the tip of the pencil to add details to the colored areas. Dampening delivers intense, vivid hues.

Source: mfa.org

Watercolor Pencil Techniques for Beginners

In this section I’ll tell you the different ways to activate the pigment in watercolor pencils.

You can use these methods individually or in combination to come up with amazingly creative paintings.

1.   Draw on dry paper, then activate

This is the commonly used technique, where you draw with dry pencil on dry paper. The pigments are activated by brushing water on the pencil strokes.


2.   Draw on wet paper

This technique involves drawing directly on wet paper.

Use a flat brush to apply a layer of water to a section of the paper. Draw on the wet portion with

  • a dry (dry-on-wet), or
  • a wet (wet-on-wet) pencil.

This method of activation delivers hues that are more intense than the previous technique. However, the lines may be wobbly – kind of fuzzy – since you are drawing on wet paper.

Tip: Apply an adequate amount of water and draw fast before the water dries.

Try variations, such as scraping the pencil tip on to the wet surface with a knife or a sandpaper.

3.   Draw with pencil dipped in water

In this third technique you dip the pencil in water and draw on dry paper. This method transfers a big amount of pigment, the colors look vivid and intense.

However, this method, I think, has two drawbacks: doing an entire picture this way is cumbersome, and once dry, the drawing ends up looking more like a pencil drawing than a watercolor painting.

Tip:  Use this technique for drawing the darker lines and details in your picture.

4.   Use brush to pick color from pencil

This technique uses a wet brush to pick color directly from the pencil tip. If you wish to avoid pencil strokes, this method is for you. No pencil application, you pick and apply color using a brush.


Tip: Try using a wet flat brush with two colors applied to the brush head – It gives a lovely gradient.


5.   Create a paper palette

I simply love this technique, where you virtually create a paper palette. It is almost like painting with paints. Another excellent way to avoid those pesky pencil strokes that sometimes just don’t completely blend.

Take a watercolor paper and thickly apply square or round shaped patches of the colors you will need – and your palette is ready for use. Now pick up the color with a wet brush and start painting.

These paper color swatches are very convenient to carry around. And the best part is that you can easily replenish a color with a few pencil strokes. Besides, no pencil lines in your drawing.

Advanced Techniques

It’s time to blend colors. The beauty of watercolor paintings lies in translucent overlapping layers of colors. So let’s take a look at two advanced techniques of creating gradients.

Flat wash: gradients with one color

This flat wash technique creates a gradient with a single hue. In one area, apply a few dense strokes of a pigment of your choice. Now, simply use a brush to activate and gently spread the color. Add some more water until you are satisfied with the translucency achieved.

Tip: More water means more blending and less visible pencil lines. Use enough water and gently work the pigments with a brush, lifting them to mingle and spread. Do not overdo or you might fray the paper.

Blending: gradients with two or more colors

Start with two analogous colors (hues next to each other on the color wheel). Apply the colors side-by-side using smooth firm strokes. Once done, gently apply water to blend the colors and see them mix and change.

Tip: Before applying brush to color, always check it for surplus water. Excess water can ruin your drawing, especially when working in small, delicate areas of it.

Now try blending complementary colors (hues on opposite sides of the color wheel) for a dramatic effect! You might just come up with some unusual, quirky shades. Have fun experimenting and practising.

Want Further Learning? Wondering What Are The Best Watercolor Pencils Tutorials?

I’ve always believed a proper, structured course is the best way of getting a hands-on learning experience. You get to learn much more than by just following a 5-minute crash course.

There is an umpteen number of online watercolor pencil courses available. I learned my basics from the online course “Intro to colored pencils: Watercolor pencil techniques” by Kate Amedeo on Skillshare

Skillshare.com offers some interesting watercolor pencil tutorials. The Kate’s Intro to Watercolor pencil techniques is one of the more popular, premium courses. Kate is an artist, illustrator, and a great teacher.

This course is ideal for beginners. The curriculum is 1 hour 40 minutes long with 17 lessons.

  • Lessons 2 to 4 walks you through the various art supplies needed.
  • Lessons 5 to 14 is all about how to use your watercolor pencils. Kate walks you through the salient aspects of this medium. You will learn the various techniques and how to create highlights.
  • Lessons 15 teaches you to create a color wheel. I really like this video on color schemes.
  • Lessons 16 and 17 are projects – creating a sphere and a butterfly.

Kate is an excellent teacher – clear and lucid. She uses several helpful examples to get the idea across – making it easy to follow her instructions. Finally, the two projects provide a hands-on experience of creating shadows, adding highlights, and blending. All in all, an excellent place to kick start your journey of creating masterpieces with watercolor pencils.

If this sounds perfect for you, Art Ignition readers can get 30% Off a Skillshare Annual Membership with coupon: annual30aff.


Time to Get Started

Now that I have demystified watercolor pencils, I am sure you will agree that it is an amazing medium – worth mastering.

You have a better understanding of the pros and cons of watercolor pencils compared to paints and colored pencils. The supplies are at hand – paper, pencils, brushes, eraser, etc. I have walked you through the basic steps of using watercolor pencils, and you know enough of the various watercolor pencil techniques to get started.

But, if you want to learn in more detail and do a couple of guided projects, check out the Intro to colored pencils: Watercolor pencil techniques course – it’s a good starting point. And by clicking that link you’ll get the first 14 days of Skillshare free.

Happy sketching, painting, and getting creative!


Professional water pencils A.Durer Art and creative boutique CHERKOV

Shop in the studio (14 Sde Boker street, Givatayim) is mainly used by students of workshops, and not all products presented on the site are on the site. If you are interested in the arrival and purchase of a specific product or quantity of a specific product – it is recommended to check with us in advance.

Contact phone: 03-7329544 | Opening hours: Sunday evening 19: 00-22: 00, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday morning 9: 30-12: 30.

Home delivery – 35 | For purchases over NIS 350 Home delivery is free.

  • Delivery time: Up to 10 business days (up to 12 business days for remote settlements).

  • Place of delivery: Address of recipient

  • Delivery method: Home delivery is carried out by courier on behalf of the courier company. Yisgav Express. to another Processing and preparation of the order The parcel will be delivered to the courier company, and the courier company will contact you to update the information on receiving the parcel in the system and agree on the delivery.The processing time for an order before it is delivered to the courier company is up to 5 business days (excluding Friday, Saturday, public holidays, business days and holidays). The delivery time of the parcel from the moment of delivery to the courier company is up to 5 working days (to remote settlements up to 7 working days). Total up to 10 business days (up to 12 business days for remote settlements).

Free shipping for purchases over X does not apply to overseas deliveries. Overseas delivery will be carried out by Israel Post registered or fast delivery EMS.The amount of the cost of delivery abroad depends on the country in which the delivery is carried out, the type of delivery and the total weight of the order – the cost and delivery options will be displayed when you enter the delivery address on the account page. Mail in the customer country.

Others Order processing and preparation The package will be sent and you will receive a message with a tracking number. You can track the delivery status on Israel Post Tracking.

Thick water pencils A.Durer Faber Castell Art and creative boutique CHERKOV

Shop in the studio (14 Sde Boker street, Givatayim) is mainly used by students of workshops, and not all products presented on the site are on the site.If you are interested in the arrival and purchase of a specific product or quantity of a specific product – it is recommended to check with us in advance.

Contact phone: 03-7329544 | Opening hours: Sunday evening 19: 00-22: 00, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday morning 9: 30-12: 30.

Home delivery – 35 | For purchases over NIS 350 Home delivery is free.

  • Delivery time: Up to 10 business days (up to 12 business days for remote settlements).

  • Place of delivery: Address of recipient

  • Delivery method: Home delivery is carried out by courier on behalf of the courier company. Yisgav Express. to another Processing and preparation of the order The parcel will be delivered to the courier company, and the courier company will contact you to update the information on receiving the parcel in the system and agree on the delivery. The processing time for an order before it is delivered to the courier company is up to 5 business days (excluding Friday, Saturday, public holidays, business days and holidays).The delivery time of the parcel from the moment of delivery to the courier company is up to 5 working days (to remote settlements up to 7 working days). Total up to 10 business days (up to 12 business days for remote settlements).

Free shipping for purchases over X does not apply to overseas deliveries. Overseas delivery will be carried out by Israel Post registered or fast delivery EMS. The amount of the cost of delivery abroad depends on the country in which the delivery is carried out, the type of delivery and the total weight of the order – the cost and delivery options will be displayed when you enter the delivery address on the account page.Mail in the customer country.

Others Order processing and preparation The package will be sent and you will receive a message with a tracking number. You can track the delivery status on Israel Post Tracking.

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