Over the past few months, I’ve talked about using water soluble colored pencils or watercolor to speed up the drawing process for colored pencil work. In a recent tutorial, I even described the process step by step. One thing I didn’t really talk much about was how to get smooth color when you use water soluble colored pencils.
The omission was brought to my attention by this reader’s question:
One thing I would love help with is using a waterbrush, or even just a regular watercolor brush, with watercolor pencils and getting even strokes so it doesn’t look all clumpy but is instead smooth.
I can’t offer much help on using a waterbrush since I’ve never used one. But I can share a few tips to help you get smooth color when working with water soluble colored pencils.
SECRET: These tips also work with watercolor, if you happen to like doing colored pencils with mixed media.
Let’s get started!
How to Get Smooth Color with Water Soluble Colored Pencils
Tip 1: Draw on Smooth Paper
The best way to avoid clumpy or spotty color is to use smooth paper. Just be aware that the smoother the paper, the fewer layers you may be able to add. (That may not be a problem if you’re using water soluble colored pencils for under drawings.)
The best smooth watercolor paper I know of at present is Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press. I’m not saying it’s the best there is, but it’s the best I’ve tried so far. It’s also a reasonable alternative to pricier watercolor papers.
Tip 2: Start With An Even Color Layer
If you apply color by drawing on paper with water soluble colored pencils, then wet the color with a brush, it’s important to draw the smoothest possible layers you can. Usually, that means small strokes placed very close together.
Circular strokes are ideal if you want ultra smooth color because they have no beginning or ending point. Circular strokes can be circular (of course), but they can also be elliptical or oval in shape.
As you can see in the three green swatches, all you need to do to get nice values is continue layering circular strokes.
A smooth dry color layer is more likely to produce a smooth color layer when wet than blotchy dry color is.
Tip 3: Use The Biggest Brush Possible
Activating water soluble colored pencil is not the time for using tiny, tiny brushes. Use the largest brush you can that will still fit into the space you want to activate.
Working on a sky? Try a big, flat sable wash brush.
Drawing trees or flowers, then use a smaller brush, but still use the largest brush possible.
This is a good time to mention the importance of having more than one brush. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Hobby Lobby has very nice, very reasonably priced brush sets in a variety of sizes and shapes. Get a set of flats, and a set of rounds, and you’re good to go for almost any drawing.
Tip 4: Use The Fewest Strokes Possible
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous tip. Don’t fuss over an area by doing a lot of strokes. If one stroke gets the job done, don’t do a second stroke.
There are times when you may need to do more than one stroke, but use only enough to do what you need to do. The more you stroke, the more likely you are to start moving color around too much.
Or even lifting it from the paper.
Tip 5: Overlap Strokes
Sometimes you may need to do a lot of strokes to finish an area. Either your largest brush isn’t anywhere near big enough, or you don’t want to use a larger brush for some other reason.
If you have to use multiple strokes, overlap them. This will help prevent hard edges or places with dry color.
Tip 6: Long, Graceful Strokes
Stroke from one side of the area to the other, so there are no stop-start marks in the color. For example, if you’re doing an 8×10 landscape and you’re working on the sky, stroke all the way across the paper with each stroke.
One exception to this might be for clouds. In that case, stroke from one end of each cloud to the other. Let the paper dry a little between strokes so that the clouds keep a little definition.
Tip 7: Lots of Water (Within Reason)
The more water you use, the more smoothly color blends. This is true whether you’re working wet-into-wet, wetting dry color on the paper, using traditional watercolor brushes or waterbrushes.
But be careful. Too much water on a paper that’s not designed to handle water leads to disastrous buckling and possibly ruining your work.
Also remember to tape your paper to a rigid support if you plan on using a lot of water. Even watercolor paper unless it’s very heavy (300lb, for example) may buckle if you use a lot of water.
Tip 8: Mist Your Drawing
If you’re working very large or like to take your time, keep a misting bottle nearby. If your paper starts getting too dry, spritz it a couple of times and you can continue working.
Those are my suggestions if you want to get smooth color with water soluble colored pencils. These methods work for me. Granted, water soluble colored pencils are not my favorite way of using colored pencil, but they certainly speed up the drawing process. Especially when used for under drawing work.
Are these the only methods for getting smooth color? No. So if you use a different method, please share it in the comments below. We all like learning new things, after all. That’s part of the fun!