What is the best way of mixing watercolor pencils and colored pencils?
I don’t use watercolors and colored pencils very often, but I have used water soluble colored pencils. When I do, I use a couple of different methods, depending on the requirements of each drawing.
One of those methods also works with watercolor, so in this post, I’ll describe two ways to use water soluble colored pencils in your drawings and followup with a suggestion for using watercolor with regular colored pencils.
Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils
There are two basic ways for mixing watercolor pencils and colored pencils. (Actually, there are three, but one of them involves drawing with them just like traditional colored pencils and not using water. That’s what I did for my plein air challenge drawing from week seven.)
It’s perfectly fine to use water soluble pencils this way, so don’t think you have to add water in order to draw with water soluble colored pencils.
But since this article is all about adding water, here are the other two ways you can use water soluble colored pencils.
Draw First, Then Add Water
Most of the time, I draw with them just like I do with traditional colored pencils, then use a damp brush to activate the color. When the color dries, it can be drawn over again.
This is usually best done at the beginning of the drawing process. This method as a great way to do a quick under drawing or to create even areas of color for skies or similar areas.
Below is a sample. I drew with water soluble colored pencil first, then brushed part of it with a wet brush.
Of course, you may continue drawing with water soluble colored pencils and you can also continue activating them with water, layer after layer. Every time you dampen the paper, however, you will blend all of the colors; not just the ones you added most recently. If you do more than one wash with water, keep in mind how the different colors will affect each other (if you used more than one color).
You can also go over water soluble colored pencils with traditional pencils.
Add Water First, Then Draw
Another way of mixing water color colored pencils with regular colored pencils is by dampening the pencil point, then drawing. This is very easy. Simply dip the tip of a water soluble colored pencil in clear water, then draw with it. You will get a very bold mark that way, but you’ll have to dip the pencil frequently.
In this illustration, I dipped a pencil in clean water, then began drawing. The first marks (on the left) are nice and dark with no paper showing through. As I continued to draw, the pencil dried and the marks became lighter and less sharp. The marks on the right are with the dry pencil. I didn’t lift the pencil at all in drawing from left to right.
This is especially good for adding accents where you want vibrant or dark color. It works best in very small areas or for details. It’s not very efficient for drawing large areas of color.
Again, mixing water color colored pencils and regular colored pencils with this method is possible. Just make sure to test any new method on a piece of scrap paper first.
Watercolor And Colored Pencils
Watercolors and colored pencils do mix, but you’re likely to find the watercolor a little more limited in usefulness. Water soluble colored pencils are made to work with traditional colored pencils. Watercolor is not.
Even so, you have one proven method and one method that may or may not work.
Watercolor Under Painting
The best way to use watercolors with colored pencils is to tone papers with washes of color first. If you’re going to draw a landscape, for example, use watercolor to block in the major elements. Sky. Grass. Buildings. You’re not looking for a lot of detail here. Indeed, you probably won’t be looking for any detail at all.
If you’re using a standard drawing paper (one not made for watercolor), you will have to be careful not to get the paper or board too wet or it may buckle or warp.
You can use watercolor papers, but you will have a more difficult time drawing detail with colored pencil due to the tooth of the paper. The drawing shown here was drawn on watercolor paper. The watercolor under painting is shown above. Below is the finished drawing.
Once the under painting was dry, I used normal drawing methods to build color and value, add details, and finish the drawing. For this drawing, the watercolor under painting saved a lot of time and filled the tooth of the paper better than I could have done using colored pencils alone.
Watercolor Over Colored Pencil
I have used watercolor over wax pencil, but with mixed results. The watercolor did stick to the layers of colored pencils (a big surprise!), but I couldn’t add more colored pencil over the watercolor.
The following drawing made use of watercolor over colored pencil and while the drawing itself turned out fairly well, I don’t recommend this method without a trial run. Test it first for yourself, then decide whether it suits you or not.
All of the methods I’ve described here involve using wax-based colored pencils. I have no reason to think oil-based colored pencils would respond any differently, but I don’t know for sure. So if you want to use oil-based pencils with these methods, do a small test drawing first.
If you use oil-based colored pencils with water soluble colored pencils or watercolors, let us know what has worked for you.
Want more information on mixing water media and colored pencils? I’ve written some articles for EmptyEasel that might be helpful.