Watercolor pencils look the same as regular colored pencils, but when you start working with them, you quickly realize that they hold so much more potential. The magic happens when water is added, transforming the pencils and causing them to behave like watercolor paint.
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.
These pencils present really exciting and unique opportunities to create complex, beautiful works of art. Here are a few ideas and techniques you can try with this exciting, versatile medium.
1. Color Your Drawing, then Brush Over it with Water
This is the most common way to paint with watercolor pencils. In this technique, you simply color areas of your work and then brush over them with plain water.
Just know that the colors will look different after water is added. You might want 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.
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.
While all the examples above use just one color, you can absolutely use more than one. Try layering colors or placing colors beside each other. To avoid muddying the painting, it’s best to brush the lighter areas first and move on to darker colors later.
2. Color Your Drawing, then Spray Over it with Water
A variation on the brushing technique is to spray water instead of brushing it after your drawing is complete.
First sketch your composition in pencil, then layer in many colors in watercolor pencil. Aim for smooth transitions between colors, but don’t spend too much time on this stage — the water will blend everything later.
Use a spray bottle filled with water to spray the paper. You want enough moisture that the pigments start to bleed, but not so much that the colors mix completely.
Let everything dry. you’ll see an abstract, ghost version of your drawing. Add more definition to the composition using watercolor, colored pencils, ink pastels — whatever medium you like. Apply the details lightly so you can see the textures of the sprayed watercolor pencils.
Check out this post on mixed media painting with watercolor pencils for a step-by-step tutorial on this technique.
3. Use Watercolor Pencils as Portable Paint
Watercolor pencils can be used on-the-go as a substitute for watercolor pans or tubes. There are two ways to do it.
First, you can draw a spot of color on your paper, using this as you would use a palette. Using paper as a palette gives you more control of the color intensity and allows you to mix hues easily.
Another option is to lift the paint directly from the watercolor pencil with a wet brush.
4. 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. This is a great way to create very fine, controlled lines that match the watercolor aesthetic.
5. 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.
You can use the watercolor pencils dry or dip them in water before drawing to make a darker bolder line, like you see in the floral design on the right. Or, you could even try drawing with the pencils on wet paper, which will produce a soft line.