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How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor Pencils appear at first to be normal colored pencils, but when water is added to them, they give the beautiful look of watercolors. They might seem tricky to use at first, but when used correctly, the end result is wonderful!


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    Draw a pencil sketch of your subject. It does not need to be too detailed, but do include major lines and points. Do not shade the picture.
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    Create a chart of colors. With each of the colors of pencils that you will be using, shade a small square and paint over it with water. This will allow you to see how your colors will look, as some colors look completely different once water has been added.
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    Layer some colors over each other and add water. Blending colors in this method can produce beautiful effects and add dimension to your picture.
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    Using your base color(s), LIGHTLY and evenly color your subject. Do not worry about shading yet.
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    With your base color, make a second layer over your picture. This time, leave blank the areas of highlight and shade in your shadowed areas.
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    Using your shadow color (Black, or a darker shade of your base color), further shade your dark areas. Using more than one color to shade your picture will give it dimension.
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    With your highlight color (White, or a lighter shade of your base color), lightly color the highlights and surrounding areas of your picture.
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    Finish off your pencil sketch.
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    Using a medium to small soft paintbrush, paint water over your picture. Make sure that your brush strokes go with the contours of your subject. Start out with a little bit of water, and add more to produce a more washed out effect. The more water is added, the lighter the color will become and the less you will see your pencil lines. However, if too much water is used, the colors will run. Use a smaller brush for detailed ares.
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    Once your initial layer of water has dried, you can dip the pencils themselves into the water to add areas of intense color or details. Doing this provides a very strong color, and it is difficult to hide mistakes.
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    If you wish to, you can go back over your picture now with another layer of shading colors. You may or may not want to add water to this layer.


  • When painting with water, move from lighter areas to darker areas. The brush will carry the darker colors into the light areas if you do not do this.
  • If you plan to add a background, you should do that first.
  • If you notice an area is too dark before adding water, use a kneaded eraser to lighten it. Squeeze the eraser and press it flat against the area to be lightened. Peel it off, stretch and roll it, repeat till it's lightened. This is gentle enough that it won't damage the paper surface the way rubbing with other types of erasers will.
  • Don't add pencil to wet areas; it creates a darker colour that won't change.
  • You may be able to remove small errors by adding more water and blotting it with the paper towel. This is particularly good for lightening small areas if you've lost a highlight. Once it's dried, it may still work depending on the brand of watercolor pencil. Derwent Inktense and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils do not re-wet and can't be lightened once dry, but Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils, Derwent Graphitint, any graphite Sketch and Wash, Derwent Watercolour and many other brands do "reactivate" if you dampen them again. Paint the highlight with clean water and gently blot to lift color. Repeat as needed unless it starts to damage the paper surface.
  • Your pencil marks and brush strokes should go with the contours of your subject.
  • Shade lightly and evenly, deep marks may remain or groove the paper in places where you don't want them.
  • Test unexpected color combinations on a side sheet of watercolor paper or a multi media sketchbook. Try mixing complementary colors like orange and blue or yellow and violet. See whether mixing two dark colors like Indigo and Dark Brown may make a richer black than the black pencil. Sometimes layering the very bright colors in the right order and the right combination can give richer browns and grays than using the brown and gray pencils.
  • Try a waterbrush - a nylon watercolor brush with a plastic handle that has a water receptacle in it providing a steady flow of water to the tip. These are available from Niji, Derwent, Sakura and several other manufacturers. Immensely convenient for watercolor pencils, you clean them just by swiping them on a cloth till it runs clear again before changing to a different color area.
  • Sometimes it can even be useful, if you are going to blend many large patches of colour for a background, to paint the whole sheet lightly with water. Before it dries, add the pencil layers on top and then yet another watery layer for a wishy- washy effect.


  • Errors are difficult to undo.

Things You'll Need

  • A pencil.
  • A set of WATERCOLOR pencils. Regular colored pencils will not work.
  • A cup of water.
  • An eraser, especially a kneaded eraser but also a white vinyl eraser or art gum eraser may be useful. Try each type of eraser on colored pencils to understand its effects.
  • Different sizes of paintbrushes or a waterbrush.
  • Drawing or watercolor paper.

Article Info

Categories: Watercolors