Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

In this post, I’ll show you how to add traditional dry color to the under drawing.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

Once I start adding dry color, I use the same methods of choosing colors that I use for any other technique. I start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer. By the way, unless I note otherwise, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Thick Lead colors.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

Water Soluble Demo 05

Next, I layered Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear.

On the horse’s head and neck, I used a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer. In the mane, I stroked with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

I used light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, I used light to medium-light pressure.

I began drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

Water Soluble Demo 07

With the base color in place, I began developing values and colors.  Colors used were Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values.  I added a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows.

I’m still working around the brightest highlights.

Water Soluble Demo 08

Most of the colors I’ll use to draw this chestnut have already been used. Now, it’s a matter of adding more layers until I get the color and saturation (no paper holes) I want.

For each round of work, I add more of each color.

I also increase the pressure with each round of work. The second layer is applied with light to medium-light pressure, the third round with medium pressure, and so on.

Water Soluble Demo 09

When the drawing nears completion, I begin working on the highlights. Some of the highlights are left alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, I added Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, I used Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

No reflected sky light is included on this drawing, but had there been, I would have used Non-Photo Blue burnished with Sky Blue Light.

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

Water Soluble Demo 10

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

What about you? Have you tried mixing water soluble colored pencils with dry? Did you like that combination?


How to Create a Line Drawing for a Large Painting


Creating a Landscaped Drawing using the Umber Under Drawing Method


  1. kerry hubick

    Yes I recently used watercolor as an underpainting but I applied alot of water and watercolor paint.For the background I used watercolor from a Windsor and Newton pan set and the subject I used watercolor pencil and then prisma colored pencil.I used arches 140 pad paper and because Ive never done this before I did get some buckling of the paper as I used alot of water and paint a wet into wet background wash.However by experimenting and patience I lucked out and achieved a very rich and colorful picture and really enjoyed the experience and just had alot of fun with it. The use of watercolor saved alot of time and alowed me to enjoy the process while achieving a painting that is very color rich. Have you ever used derwent I nktense as an underpainting and if you want to enter contests for color pencil do they let you use inktense pencils and blocks and also watercolor from the pans?I think if they allow color pencil artists to use solvents in contests(do they?) then they should allow some other means such as watercolor to achieve the painterly look.Regardless, I such enjoyed the process of this mixed media approach and it is a welcome break from spending hours and hours using just color pencil alone, bringing out a kind of spontaneous creativity and freedom.Thanks!

    • Kerry,

      It sounds like you had success with watercolors. I’ve done a little bit of that, but mostly just playing around. No “serious” subjects that were also finished.

      I haven’t used Inktense for anything, but I think they would probably make a good under drawing. My understanding that the color is very intense, though, so they might be difficult to cover.

      A lot of groups doing colored pencil are very selective in what they will and won’t allow. The CPSA (Colored Pencil Society of America) will not allow any medium except colored pencil in the annual international exhibit. I’m not sure if that holds true for regional or local exhibits. The key word is “medium”. My understanding is that solvents are allowed to a certain extent, but they aren’t considered a medium, so the resulting drawing would not be considered a mixed media drawing.

      The good news is that the CPSA also has an annual exhibit called Explore This! Anything goes for that. As a matter of fact, I think that show just opened. If you want to see some fabulous art that combines colored pencil and other mediums, check this out. I didn’t see anything with Inktense, but I did see some amazing things.

      Thanks for reporting on your mixed media drawing, Kerry. I may have to get some of the paper you used and try it again.

      • kerry hubick

        Hi, thanks for the reply back and explaining about what the color pencil socity allows etc.I always wondered about the solvent and now I know, thanks.I will check out the link to see the mixed media art.I forgot to mention I used the hot pressed arches 140.Im waiting on an order for fabriano hot pressed140 extra white sheet paper and its supposed to be very smooth with a hint of texture so might be good to get detail and hold the water of course not as good as 300 pound paper but Im going to experiment with the 140 and inktense and just have fun with it as I had lost that creativity for awhile now and I found by allowing myself with the last mixed media picture to experiment and just have fun so what if it didn’t turn out kind of attitude, it brought a sense of delight and fullfillment and that I hadn’t had for awhile.I guess there are issues with the inktense lightfastness and two youtube artists that I watch are going to to do their own lightfast tests with uv spray and protective glass etc but will only sell prints of there work for now..Derwent is supposedly trying to come up with ways to make them more lightfast and its a realitivly new medium but I havent tried them yet but you can mix colors to tone down their brightness also dilute them but they appeal to me as you can layer over them like acrylics and oils so you don’t disturbe the paint underneath like you do with watercolor as they are permanent when dry anyways Im just going to have fun .Thanks again!

        • Kerry,

          You’re welcome.

          Thank you for the additional information on the watercolor paper. One of my issues with using watercolor is the texture of the paper. But I’ve always tried cold pressed. I’ll have give hot pressed paper a try.

          Let us know what you think of the Inktense pencils.


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