Courtster, Colored Pencil, 16x20Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

This drawing, Portrait of Courtster, is 16×20—a standard portrait size for me.

Even though the background is soft-focus and doesn’t have much detail, it took over 70 hours to complete the portrait. That’s a lot of time!

Portrait of Courtster is 100% colored pencil and 100% dry. I don’t think I used any solvents to blend color. Solvents are one way to save time with colored pencil.

But there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over water soluble colored pencils is one of them.

That’s also our topic today.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth and heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

My purpose with this drawing was to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Preparing a Palette

There are several ways to create color washes with water soluble colored pencils.

To create strong color, draw the color onto the paper dry, then dampen a soft brush with clean water and wet the color. Colors will “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

You can also dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas.

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil with the dampened brush to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce color such as shown below.

Palette of Water Soluble Colored PencilIf you plan to use water soluble colored pencils for most of the drawing, it’s often helpful to first create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper. One of my palettes is shown at the right.

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by relayering the colors.

Toning the Background

I marked off the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to allow me to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

I then created the pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and the yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet into wet into part of the yellow.

Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Toning the Background

Toning the Subject

Next, I made an emerald green (163) wash over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, I used a small, round sable. The smaller brush made darker color, which I used break the mane into hair masses.

To get the stronger color, I wetted the brush, then blotted it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color was less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you’ll dilute the color. For the mane especially, where I needed well defined shapes, I limited myself to one stroke and worked with whatever I got. Not always an easy thing to do for someone who likes to fiddle and fine-tune!

Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Toning the Subject

Adding Highlights

After the previous work was dry, I added a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. I also tinted the upper right corner of the background to eliminate the stark whiteness of that area.

Most of the yellow wash on the horse was applied with a larger brush. I loaded the brush with water, then tinted it by touching it to the sharpened pencil. But I also wanted brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane. To get that, I switched to a smaller brush and used a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolved slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affected the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color—whether it’s traditional watercolor or water soluble colored pencil—requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Adding Highlights

Parting Thoughts

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use water soluble colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength), or any other medium that can be thinned with water in used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use water soluble colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusive colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

If you have questions, leave a comment below. You probably won’t be the only one who has a question.