*This post contains affiliate links. I receive small commissions for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. These commissions help me keep this site up and running, in order for me to keep providing helpful and inspiring art content. :)
Is there a specific process to follow when using watercolor pencils? What things should I do to ensure a better outcome when using this medium? What are some good watercolor pencil options for beginners just getting started?
In this blog post, I'll be providing five key tips that will help make the learning process less frustrating and enable you to create amazing artwork as soon as possible. In the video included here, I'll also be sharing how I personally use watercolor pencils by painting a yellow rose.
Watercolor pencils are not only an extremely versatile art medium, as they are simultaneously a drawing and a painting tool, but their practicality makes them ideal for many beginners that are short on time and space.
They also allow for much more control when compared to regular watercolor paint and can help us start getting a feel for what it's like to work with watercolors without having to master water control.
Watercolor pencils are basically watercolor pigment that has been encased in wood, in the form of a pencil.
They can and can be used either with or without water to create different effects, which can range from a heavily-textured colored pencil look, to a smooth and painterly watercolor paint look.
To create marks and colored pencil textures, we simply use them right on our paper, which can be completely bone dry or pre-wetted with clean water.
Of course, the type of paper used has a great impact on the amount of texture created. Smoother paper will lead to smoother effects, while rougher paper will create more texturized effects, as the pigment isn't evenly distributed throughout the tooth of the paper.
On the other hand, to create painterly effects, we lay down our color on our paper just as if we were using regular colored pencils and then smooth it out by going in with a dampened paintbrush. There's no need to use heaps of water for this. *You can also use the impromptu paint mixing palette method I demonstrate in the video included below.
When using quality watercolor pencils, water really activates the pigment and makes the color look a lot brighter and bolder.
These techniques can be used alone or in combination. For example, if you were painting a landscape, you could use more painterly techniques for your background, and more textured/detailing techniques for layers in your foreground.
There is no specific process to follow when using this medium. It's use is going to depend on the specific style and effects you are personally going for with the piece on hand, which is why it's important to give thought to the overall look you want to create before starting.
All this said, many of the regular watercolor "rules" (if they can even be called rules) apply.
In the following video you'll see how, even though my general method is different to what I would do when I paint with regular watercolor paint, I still protect my highlights throughout the process, work from light and translucent to dark and saturated, and allow my paper to dry in between layers.
In this past blog post/YouTube video, I do a comparison between regular watercolor paint and watercolor pencils, and share a complete demo in which I paint the same apple using both mediums. They are very similar, but very different at the same time!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for art tips, drawing/painting tutorials and encouragement for aspiring artists. New videos, every-single-week!
Watercolor Pencil Tips for Beginners
2. Create your preliminary sketch lightly
One of the main characteristics that sets watercolors apart from other painting mediums such as acrylics, oils and gouache, is its translucency.
Because of this, if we create a preliminary sketch prior to starting with our painting process that's not very light, it will likely show through our paint.
There are lots of watercolor artists out there who like their line work to show through their paint, but if you don't want this to happen, it's important to make sure that you're outline sketch is created lightly. I usually use an HB pencil for this phase of the process and make sure I'm not exerting much pressure at all.
Being light-handed when creating your preliminary sketch will also help ensure that the graphite left behind on your watercolor paper won't dirty up the colors you start placing on top. You want your colors vibrant and fresh.
Something you can also do, is use a light colored watercolor pencil to create your preliminary sketch. This way, once you start using water, your line work will disappear completely as you go!
3. Plan the colors you'll be using before starting to paint
It's incredibly important for people starting on their painting journeys, to look into the color wheel and Color Theory.
Color is an Element of Art that not only plays a huge role in making an artwork look harmonious and cohesive, but knowledge about the color wheel enables us to create color mixtures effectively throughout the art-making process.
Over at my Patreon site, I offer sequential classes that cover all must-know Art Fundamentals. You can also get immediate access to my Drawing and Watercolor for the Total Beginner Mini-Courses by becoming an art email insider here (the third class in the watercolor course is all about color).
Instead of randomly picking colors throughout the painting process, take five minutes to observe your reference picture and pick out the specific watercolor pencil colors you'll be using. Take them out of your package and place them beside you as you prepare for your new piece.
Don't only think about the colors of the subject in and of itself (ex. if I'm painting a gray cat I'm not only looking for different grays), but also think about what colors you'll be adding in to create your darkest values, cast shadows and background colors.
Take time to swatch your colors on a scrap piece of watercolor paper, as they really tend to look different once they are applied vs. the color shown on the pencil. Test any color mixtures you're planning on using.
Keep things limited and as simple as possible.
I promise, it'll make a huge difference in terms of both your organization during the process, as well as the outcome.
4. Use a good reference photo
If you're looking to create higher levels of realism, make sure you're stemming from a good reference photo (or have your subject in front of you in good lighting).
Not only will a good reference photo enable you to see details and the tiny nuances that will make your drawing or painting more realistic, but it will also provide you much needed information in terms of light behavior and locations of highlights, midtones and darks.
Remember, it's these different values (highlights, midtones and darks), that make drawings and paintings look three-dimensional. If you're unable to locate them in a photo reference, you'll have lots of trouble trying to recreate them.
Always make sure your reference photos have a great resolution that will enable you to see details and zoom in (if necessary), and that they show good lighting.
You'll know a photo has good lighting if it shows a good play between lights and darks. *Photos taken with flash are usually washed out and make everything look very flat, which makes the drawing and painting process a lot harder.
If you don't have a good reference to work from, you're basically guessing at what things look like and have to make your own conclusions in regards to where highlights, midtones and darks are located.
Unless you've been drawing or painting a specific subject for years, you're drawing or painting it the way you think that subject looks like, and not what it actually looks like in real life.
Learning to observe and learn all we can about the subjects we're interested in improving at by actually taking in all sorts of references (photos, life subjects, videos, etc.), is so important, as artists!
And, remember, just because you're using a reference, it doesn't mean you can't bring in your own creativity into your work.
5. Give thought to what kinds of effects you want to use in each area of your painting
Because watercolor pencils allow for so many different types of techniques, it can be very easy to get lost during the process and end up with effects we weren't intending to create.
Give thought to the specific techniques you'll be using, as well as when and where you'll be using each, throughout the painting process. This will make it much more likely that you'll end up with an outcome you'll love.
Think of how you can combine different techniques to create impactful and contrasting effects in your different layers (foreground, middleground, background), as well as how you can use them to bring more attention to your focal point.
There are so many ways you can go with watercolor pencils!
Explore, have fun and don't forget to bring in a bit of yourself into everything that you create. :)
Great watercolor pencil options for beginners:
Links To Useful Sites
My Artwork For Sale
Painting With Oils
Student Art Shows
is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites
to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
is a participant in the Shareasale.com Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Shareasale.com partner companies.