Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

Today, I’m going to share some basic brushing techniques for water soluble colored pencil, as well as a few basic ways to put water soluble color onto drawing paper.

The brushing techniques I’ll describe are pretty basic to watercolor painting. These brushing techniques are methods I’ve used on the few occasions I’ve used either watercolor or water soluble colored pencil in my work. They’re easy to learn, but are extremely versatile.

Before we look at them, though, let’s look at four different ways to get color on the paper.

Dry on Dry

This is probably the most familiar way to put color on paper, even with water soluble pencils. Draw on dry paper with a dry pencil, then brush water over the color to activate it and blend color. It’s ideal for covering large areas quickly with even color that does not fill up the tooth of the paper.

You can also blend two or more colors together as I’ve done in this illustration, or layer colors to create a new color.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Dry on Dry

Dry on Wet

To draw dry on wet, dampen the paper first, then draw into it with a dry pencil. The moisture on the paper “melts” the water soluble pigment, so you get better color saturation, but it doesn’t melt it  so much that the strokes blend together.

The darker strokes in this illustration are on wet paper. The lighter strokes show where I continued drawing onto dry paper.

This method is perfect if you want to draw a small accent or detail with water soluble pencil.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Dry on Wet

Wet on Dry

When you draw wet on dry, you put wet media on dry paper.

In this sample, I’ve dipped the pencil into water, then drawn with it. The strokes on the left are with wet pigment. With each stroke, the pencil gets drier, so that the strokes on the right are drawn with dry pigment.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Wet on Dry

Another way to do wet into dry is to use a damp brush to pick up color from a palette, then brush it onto dry paper. The results are much the same as using the pencil, but the strokes are more fluid and less defined.

Wet on Wet

Most watercolor painters dampen their paper, then brush wet color into the wetness. The color flows and blends randomly to create interesting color gradations and shapes.

You can do the same thing with water soluble colored pencil by wetting your paper, then using a large brush to pick up color from your palette and stroke it onto the wet paper.

One Thing To Remember

Water and oil do not mix. Neither do water and wax.

You can layer wax-based or oil-based colored pencil over water soluble color with great results and the drawing is still archival.

But if you put water soluble colored pencils over either wax- or oil-based pencil, it may not stick if you use water.

So if you plan to use water soluble pencils, always do that work first!

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

Following are a few brushing techniques I’ve used, and how I’ve used them.

Washes Before Drawing

A wash is a broad application of color on wet paper. You use a large, soft brush that allows you to cover large areas with a minimum of strokes. Strokes usually cover all of the area you want to paint. Specially designed “wash brushes” are available in many sizes and shapes.

“Drawing” takes place in two steps.

First you wet the paper either by misting it with a spray bottle or by brushing the paper with a wet brush. The wetter the paper, the more easily colors will blend. Also, the wetter the paper, the more likely random effects become.

Second, dampen your brush and pick up color, then stroke it onto the wet paper.

This plein aire drawing was done with a wash. The colors in the sky blended together the moment I put them on the paper. The paper was very wet, so the color shows no brush strokes.

It’s also possible to get very interesting results, such as the area on the right, where blue and pink have formed a blurred line.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Wet Wash

For more broken color, let your paper dry a little before adding color.

Washes After Drawing

You can also do a wash after applying dry pigment. In this little landscape, I drew the sky with dry pencils, then used a medium-sized soft brush to create a wash.

The result isn’t quite as smooth as doing a wet-into-wet wash, but it allows you to work around areas you want to preserve, such as the clouds.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Adding Water to Dry Pigment


When you “stipple,” you tap your brush or pencil against the paper without actually moving it across the paper.

You can also stroke slightly to make more elongated marks.

I painted these trees with a stippling stroke, and a round sable brush that no longer holds its shape properly. As a result, no two strokes look exactly alike.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Stipple Stroke

TIP: To prevent patterns from developing, turn the brush after each stroke or two.

Directional Strokes

Directional strokes are strokes that mimic whatever you’re drawing. If you’re drawing grass, stroke upward from the bottom and curve the strokes in different directions and to different degrees.

If you’re drawing hair, stroke “from the skin” outward.

Overlap strokes to create light and dark values.

This illustration shows directional strokes stroked onto wet paper. The same type of stroke on dry paper produces bolder strokes.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Vertical Strokes Wet into Wet

“Dry” Brushing

With dry brushing, you use a damp brush loaded with color to stroke color onto dry paper. Color will stick mostly to the tooth of the paper, leaving paper holes showing through. The drier the brush, and the toothier the paper, the more paper is likely to show through.


These basic strokes work equally well with water soluble colored pencil or water color. Water soluble colored pencil work makes for great under drawings, and you can lay down a lot of color quickly.

But you can also do complete drawings with water soluble colored pencils.

You might also want to read How to Use Traditional and Water Soluble Colored Pencil 8 Must Read Articles on this blog or a pair of two-part tutorials written for EmptyEasel. How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Water Soluble Colored Pencils begins here and How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils begins here. Each tutorial shows you step-by-step my methods of using water soluble colored pencils.

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