Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Today, I want to answer the question, can you add watercolor over wax-based colored pencil?

Remember my experimental drawing? The one that began as a green under drawing in which I experimented with drawing distance using nothing but stroke quality and pressure and which has since become the means of trying new methods?

The drawing soon turned into a series of articles on various topics. If you missed any of them, here are the links to show you how to:

If you recall, the last time I posted about this experimental drawing, it looked like this.

Colored Pencil Landscape with Far and Middle Distance Completed

It now looks like this.

You’re no doubt wondering how I got from the first image to this one. That’s what this post is all about.

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Since this drawing has been one big experiment, I decided to take it one step further by adding watercolor over wax-based colored pencil. Just to see if it worked. Here’s what I did.

Finishing Colored Pencil Work

For the rest of the grass, most of the steps were pretty much the same as when I did in the middle distance and far distance. There weren’t many form shadows in the foreground, so I alternated olive green, limepeel, chartreuse, and yellow ochre to draw the grass. I used light to medium pressure and vertical strokes with all those colors. As I drew forward in the composition (toward the bottom of the paper), I increased the length of the strokes.

In the middle distance, I glazed the lightest highlights with a light yellow, but left the highlights white in the foreground.

In the cast shadow under the big trees, I layered dark green, indigo blue, and dark brown in random order. I still used a vertical stroke, but increased the pressure to medium or a little heavier.

I should have photographed or scanned the drawing at that point, but was too eager to try watercolor washes. Pausing even for a moment to take pictures went clean out of my mind!

Adding Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

To be honest, I didn’t expect the watercolor to stick. The paper is fairly smooth (regular surface Bristol) and I had a lot of color on the paper already. Wax-based color.

But this drawing has been experimental from the start, so I went ahead.

Using a small round sable, I washed a mixture of light blue and light brown over the grass and trees in the middle distance. Over the more distant group of trees, I simply washed color and let it dry. Over the nearer group, I washed color, but also added details with a stippling stroke, lightly tapping the paper around the edges of the trees to create the look of leaves.

Then I mixed a dark green and dark brown for a darker value and washed or stippled that into the shadows on the nearer trees. You can see the stippling around the edges on the upper right side of each tree and within the darker shadows.

I repeated the same processes in the group of larger trees on the left side of the drawing. First a light blue-green wash, followed by a yellow-green wash on the lighted side, and finally, a dark green wash in the shadows. For the dark green, I mixed green and brown with touches of dark blue.

Each color was also stippled around the edges of the tree. Within the shadows, I stippled darker values.

Finally, I added trunks and branches with a few strokes of brown mixed with dark blue or dark green.

Finishing Touches

As I mentioned above, I didn’t expect the watercolor to stick to the colored pencil. Especially since it beaded over some of the heavier applications of colored pencil.

But it did stick! I let it dry for a day, then tried to scratch off color and couldn’t do it.

So that proved to be a feasible way to create color washes over colored pencil.

Can you add more colored pencil over the watercolor?

The short answer is no. I couldn’t make a mark on any area that had watercolor on it. So I sprayed the drawing with retouch varnish twice, waiting 30 minutes between sprays. That was only marginally successful.

So I did more watercolor work and added shadows among the highlights with washes of medium and dark greens. I stippled darker values in the shadows and even tried spattering (see along the lower right side of the large tree). That might have worked had I a mask on the drawing, but most of that color beaded on the surface.

About all I could do at this point was cool down areas with blue washes, as I did in the middle distance below, or warm them up with yellow washes, as I did in front of the cast shadow (above).

The Finished Drawing

I’m not at all pleased with the appearance of the drawing when viewed up close, but seen as a whole, it’s not bad.

For an experiment.

Is it finished? I rather think it is, but not because I’m satisfied with the results. The reason I think it’s finished is that I simply don’t know what else to do with it!

But I can say that there are some things I want to try in the future. Just maybe in a different order.

Have you ever mixed your colored pencils with other mediums? What did you do and how did it turn out?


  1. John Ursillo cpsa

    Hi, Carrie!

    I use dissolved watercolor pencil (not tube or pan which are non-cpsa compliant) extensively to do my underpainting and as a final color/value adjustment. A few drops of 90% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) takes care of any tendency to bead up regardless of what is already on the drawing surface, including workable fixative or final varnish. I love the freedom to make adjustments at any point in the process.


    1. I’ve never used markers of any kind for art, but a lot of artists use markers to do the early work, then layer colored pencils over them.

      I don’t know how archival that would be, but you should have no problems with the colored pencils sticking to the markers.

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