Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Learn how to take your artwork to the next level with these watercolor pencil techniques!

Having watercolor in a pencil provides flexibility for you to use pencil drawing techniques that are not available with standard watercolor paints. Having more tools at your disposal is a good thing.

For the best results I recommend using artist grade pencils as they are of a higher quality. For more information read my quick reviews on some of the best watercolor pencils.

Creating the illustrations for this article has honed and sharpened some skills that I have not used for some time and I am sure it will do the same for you.

Table of Contents

Basic Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Learning the basics of watercolor pencils is a must for beginning artists but also serves as a refresher for professionals.

1. Single Color

example of watercolor pencil dry versus water activated

 

DRY WATERCOLOR PENCIL / ACTIVATED WITH WATER

When working with watercolor pencils dry you may find it somewhat difficult to get the color evenly applied to the paper. Keeping a light pressure and working with small circular strokes can help with this.

Notice how much of the paper that is visible with the single layer of color on the dry example. Watercolor paper is not flat and smooth and can require several layers to get a good saturation of color.

2. Loose and Tight Strokes

 

Watercolor pencil strokes techniques

 

DRY WATERCOLOR PENCIL / ACTIVATED WATERCOLOR PENCIL

I used straight pencil strokes in the above illustration but there are many other types of strokes you can try.

  • Long strokes
  • Curvy strokes
  • Long and Curvy strokes
  • Short strokes
  • Circular strokes

This technique is used to create many textures such as wood grain, tree bark, hair, fur and grass. Plus much more.

This is one of the quickest and easiest techniques to use for texture and shading. By keeping each stroke close together you can give the appearance of shadow and looser pencil strokes will accent your light source.

3. Pencil Pressure

 

Varying pencil pressure watercolor pencil technique

Changing your pencil pressure is a good way to show the variety of dark, mid and lighter tones that can be achieved with a single color.

Try working from the left with heavy pressure while slowly lightening the pressure as you move to the right. Just remember not to press too hard so you don’t break the lead.

This technique will also help you to create depth on objects as well as entire scenery’s and landscapes.

4. Mixing Colors

 

Mixing yellow and blue watercolor pencil technique

When mixing the yellow and blue you should get green but I noticed they did not mix very well until activated by the water. You could try using a white pencil to see if that would help mix the colors when using watercolor pencils dry. 

Mixing yellow and blue watercolor pencils dry vs activated with water                                                DRY WATERCOLOR PENCIL VS WATER ACTIVATED

Watercolor pencils are designed for activating with water and give a more vibrant color. I have noticed they do not blend as well when used dry.

5. Color The Brush

 

Color the brush watercolor pencil technique

Painting the pigment directly on the brush works just like watercolor paints. A good benefit to this technique is being able to create a quick wash for a sky or background.

By coloring multiple colors on a wide flat brush you can achieve a nice effect to produce rainbows quickly.

One of the best subjects to use this technique on is trees. You can achieve a shaded tree limb and trunk practically with one stroke of the brush.

6. Color Swatch Palette

 

Watercolor pencil color palette on paper

You can use a color palette that has a texture on the surface or for more portability a sheet of watercolor paper for this technique.

Apply the colors you plan on using to the surface then use a wet brush to pull the pigment from the surface and paint as usual.

One of the main benefits to using watercolor paper for your color swatches is you can now take it with you along with a water brush or a spray bottle and paint anywhere. Allowing you to leave your pencils at home. Just be sure to have larger swatches so you do not run out of color.

This is another cool way to create a wash to establish tonal values in the field. You can then finish the painting at your leisure from the comforts of home.

7. Wet The Surface First

 

Watercolor pencil strokes on wet paper

By painting the water on your paper before adding color gives a bold vibrant effect to your pencil strokes.

Be careful to not let the water dry before application of the color as this may cause you to have to start over. If you are using a brush you can’t re-wet the paper without smearing your pencil strokes. Using a spray bottle can fix this problem.

Due to the surface being wet you will find that your watercolor pencil tips will become flat very quick, I don’t know of any practical uses for this technique with the exception of creating a bold outline. Maybe you can think of some:)

Advanced Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Try some of these more in depth techniques to give your artwork some extra pop.

8. Under Painting and Layering

 

First layer of watercolor pencil

 

UNDER-PAINTING / BASE COAT

Base coat activated with water on a fine brush
Activate with water using a fine brush.
 

Adding Details with dry watercolor pencils

Add fine details with a sharp and dry watercolor pencil.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep your pencil sharp to get the most detail. This also helps to get the pigment into the tooth of the paper for better color saturation.

You need to work in stages when using this watercolor pencil technique.

  1. Draw in your darker tones. 
  2. Wet brush then activate the color
  3. Let dry 20 – 30 minutes
  4. With a dry pencil and somewhat firm pressure apply the lighter colors for details and highlights
  5. Layering (optional) Repeat this process to achieve even more color saturation

9. Masking

 

Masking watercolor pencil technique step 1

 

DRY WATERCOLOR PENCIL / BLUE MASKING FLUID

Masking with watercolor pencils technique finished

 

WATER ACTIVATED / MASKING REMOVED

For this technique you will need a masking pen. This allows you to draw out the areas you don’t want color on.

After the masking is on and dry it is easy to add your colors because you don’t have to worry about the color getting in the wrong place.

3 steps is all that is needed.

  1. Draw the tree with the masking pen and let dry.
  2. Color in your colors and activate with water. Let dry.
  3. Remove the masking by rubbing gently with your fingertips.

10. Scraping The Pencil or Flecking

 

B;ack and white watercolor pencil flecking technique

 

MASKING AND FLECKING TECHNIQUE USED TOGETHER

Tools used for this watercolor pencil technique:

  • Masking Pen / Fluid
  • Black and white watercolor pencils
  • Spray bottle
  • Water
  • Brush
  • Sharp knife or razor blabe

Steps used:

  1. I first used the mask technique to draw out my larger stars and let it dry for around 30 minutes. 
  2. Then I added the black rather heavily and activated it with water. 
  3. Let dry for another 30 minutes then remove the masking with your finger tips.
  4. Wet with water using a spray bottle.
  5. Then I shaved some of the lead off of the white watercolor pencil. This created all the smaller flecks of stars.

Final Thoughts

I hope you have enjoyed these watercolor pencil techniques as much as I did creating the illustrations.

Watercolor pencils can be used with other mediums such as standard colored pencil and watercolor paints.

Check out my how to draw with colored pencils tutorial where I use watercolor pencils for my under painting and colored pencils for layering in the details of a bluebird for a more in depth analysis.

There are many other ways of using watercolor pencils. Through experimenting anything is possible.

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