Wednesday, February 23

When & How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Pickets Painted Using Watercolor Pencil
I often forget about using watercolor pencils because: 1) recently I’ve been painting more in acrylic than watercolor and 2) even in watercolor I forget to use them instead of a brush. Watercolor pencil is often the best solution and one of the best tricks of the trade.

It’s only when that proverbial light bulb turns on in my brain that I remember watercolor pencils, “Oh yeah, I could use watercolor pencil for that.”

I just had this experience again when finishing my latest watercolor, and so, wanted to blog about it.

You should not forget about watercolor pencils either. Assuming you’re not going to draw/paint your whole painting using watercolor pencil as the medium—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s another whole blog--here’s when to use them:
  • When you need fine detail for whatever reason in your painting
  • When either your paintbrush is not able to produce the fine line you want and/or you, the painter, are not able to render the fine line you want with said brush
  • When you need just the very, very, ever so slight bit of shading on a small object.
There are other times, I’m sure, that call for watercolor pencil, but I think these cover most of them.

As in life, knowing (and remembering) when to do something is usually easier than actually doing it. However, in my attempt to forward knowledge on the subject, here are a few tips I’ve learned when using watercolor pencils:
  • When you need a fine line, keep the pencil sharp, sharp, sharp at all times, even if you have to sharpen it after each stroke or line.
  • Do not press down when applying color with the pencil—the “lead” will break and/or you will apply too much color.
  • Most artists don’t think about this, but you can apply more than one color of pencil on top of or adjacent to one another to achieve the color you want, just as if you were mixing them on a palette or tray.
  • There are two ways to apply the watercolor pencil. You can first draw with pencil and then apply water on the mark, which will dissolve and momentarily brighten the color. Or you can dampen (note, I said dampen, not saturate) the paper and then draw onto the wet part. I prefer the former because I have more control, or at least my brain and hand think I have.
  • And, if you're painting with acrylic on paper, you can use watercolor pencil, too. After it dries, it  blends right in (this assumes you will frame the painting under Plexiglas or glass since the watercolor is soluable).
 If any of you have more or better suggestions, please leave them in a comment.

Today’s Image is a small, cropped portion of my latest watercolor that’s almost finished, but I wanted to show you where I used watercolor pencil. In this motif, there is a wooden fence on the beach in the distance. There was no way I could paint the receding, narrow pickets other than to use a sharp watercolor pencil. You may have more skill, or a one-hair brush, but I don’t.

Happy Painting!

Until next blog…



  1. I use light water color pencil on canvas to draw in my picture, and then when I paint over it, the water color disappears into the painting, without causing a lot of yuckiness--this works best if I use a very light color like yellow or light orange.

    I also have recently used watercolor pencil to transfer an image. It was too dark of an image to use tracing paper. I drew on top of an acrylic painting with the water color pencil. I got a piece of paper wet and pressed it into the part of the painting I had traced over. When I lifted the paper it had taken up the image. I carefully wiped off the watercolor from the painting! I only needed a small area transfered, but I imagine you could use this in a variety of ways.

  2. What great tips. Thanks so much for sharing--I never thought of using watercolor pencil for transferring an image, but what a great idea.

  3. I've just discovered watercolour pencils for more crafty/creative purposes then artistic ones but found your post really useful in expanding my current technique ideas. I shall definitely give the pencil on watercolour technique a go. Currently I've been carrying the pencils around with a Pentel water brush so I can 'paint' in any situation. They're also great for creating spontaneous journal pages as you can just scribble down colours and shapes and then blend to create some really interesting backgrounds. I've just started exploring drawing illustrations with two different colours and then blending those together. They're great.