Sharpen Your Skills: 4 Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 in Painting | Comments

Watercolor pencils look the same as regular colored pencils and can be used the same way. The magic happens when water is added, transforming the pencils and and causing them to behave like watercolor paint. Here are a few ideas and techniques you can try with this exciting and versatile medium.

Watercolor Pencils -

Watercolor pencils are an exciting and versatile medium.

Let’s explore techniques you can try with watercolor pencils.

The only difference between watercolor pencils and regular pencils is in the binder used to hold the pigments. There is usually some kind of wax or oil in colored pencils and some kind of water-soluble gum in watercolor pencils.

Technique #1: Color your drawing by layering colors, and then paint over the area with a brush and plain water.

This is the most commonly used way to paint with watercolor pencils. In this technique, you are simply coloring areas of your painting and then brushing over them with plain water. I recommend you brush the lighter areas first, as you don’t want to brush darker pigments into the lighter areas of the painting.

The first thing to consider when using watercolor pencils is that colors will look different after water is added. It’s generally a good idea to make a chart on a piece of watercolor paper to see how the colors will look once wet, as the water will usually make the colors appear much darker and more vibrant.

Watercolor pencils change color once wet.

Watercolor pencils colors appear darker and more intense.

The more pencil you add to your drawing, the more intense the colors will appear once wet. For lighter colors try to color in a “loose” manner. You can even make mixed colors by layering different pencils colors.

Using looser drawing with watercolor pencils to vary intensity

You can control the color intensity by modifying your coloring: A “looser” coloring will produce a lighter color, as you can see in the blue swatches in the image above.

A variation on this technique is to spray water instead of brushing it after your drawing is complete. Check out this post on mixed media painting with watercolor pencils for a step-by-step tutorial on this technique.

Watercolor pencils and mixed media painting

Watercolor pencil and mixed media painting: The water has been sprayed instead of being brushed.

Technique #2: Use watercolor pencils as portable paint.

Watercolor pencils can be used on-the-go as a substitute for watercolor pans. You can either draw a spot of color on an area of your paper, using this as you would use a palette, or directly rub your brush against the tip of the pencil. However, using paper as a palette will give you more control with the intensity of the color.

Using watercolor pencils as a portable palette

Using watercolor pencils as a portable palette.

Lifting paint directly from the watercolor pencil

Artist’s tip: You can also lift up the paint directly from the watercolor pencil with your brush.

Technique #3: Use the pencils dry to add details on a watercolor painting.

Watercolor pencils can be used on top of a watercolor painting to add designs and fine details. I find this technique really useful when painting cityscapes, for example, to create very fine lines like electric wires or buildings details.

Cityscape with details drawn using watercolor pencils

“Early this morning,” watercolor and mixed media by Sandrine Pelissier

Technique #4: Add patterns with watercolor pencils.

Watercolor pencils can also be used to add patterns to a painting, the same way you would use colored pencils.

Some Flowers Bloom in Winter by Sandrine on

“Some Flowers Bloom in Winter” by Sandrine Pelissier

Artist’s Note: In the above painting, the patterns on the right were drawn with watercolor pencil. The lines were drawn with dry pencil, and the flowers were drawn with a pencil dipped in water.

You can use the watercolor pencils dry or dip them in water before drawing to make a darker bolder line. Or, you could even try drawing with the pencils on wet paper, which will produce a soft line.

If you enjoy working with mixed media, you might also be interested in the Craftsy class: Mixed Media: Pen, Ink & Watercolor.

What is your go-to technique when painting or drawing with watercolor pencils?


  1. Love the way these pieces make me feel…