How to Finish a Drawing Started with Watercolor Colored Pencils

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Watercolor Colored Pencils

In this post, I’ll show you how to finish a drawing started with watercolor colored pencils.

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using watercolor colored pencils. While I focused on watercolor colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

In this part of the tutorial, I added dry color over the under drawing.

Before You Start

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and paper are completely dry. If there’s any dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Watercolor Colored Pencils

Unless otherwise noted, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Soft Core colors. Any colored pencils work over watercolor pencils.

Step 1: Start dry drawing with the base colors.

When the paper is ready for dry color, use the same methods of choosing colors you use for any other technique. Start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

Next, layer Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear. This is the best way to get sparkling highlights when you work on white or light colored paper.

On the horse’s head and neck, use a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color.

In the mane, stroke with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

Use light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, use light to medium-light pressure.

Begin drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink on the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1b
Step 2: Glaze color over the base layers.

With the base color in place, begin developing deeper values and richer colors.

I used Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values, a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod in the lighter values, and Dark Brown in the shadows. However, getting the values right is more important than correct color. Since we don’t all see color the same way, select colors based on what you see in your reference photo.

Continue working around the brightest highlights.

For each round of work, add more of each color. Getting good coverage (filling all of the paper holes) requires multiple layers. For the best color, alternate between two or more colors.

Continue using light pressure and sharp pencils to draw smooth color. Stroke in the direction of hair growth in the mane and forelock.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b
Step 3: Add finishing details to complete your drawing.

When the drawing nears completion, begin working on the highlights. Leave the brightest highlights alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, add Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, use Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.


Using water media or watercolor colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with watercolor colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

Would you like to try your hand with watercolor pencils with a short project you can finish in a few hours?

Draw a Tree Branch with Watercolor Pencils is the tutorial for you! See how easy watercolor pencils can be.

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  1. kerry hubick

    Yes I recently used watercolor as an underpainting but I applied alot of water and watercolor paint.For the background I used watercolor from a Windsor and Newton pan set and the subject I used watercolor pencil and then prisma colored pencil.I used arches 140 pad paper and because Ive never done this before I did get some buckling of the paper as I used alot of water and paint a wet into wet background wash.However by experimenting and patience I lucked out and achieved a very rich and colorful picture and really enjoyed the experience and just had alot of fun with it. The use of watercolor saved alot of time and alowed me to enjoy the process while achieving a painting that is very color rich. Have you ever used derwent I nktense as an underpainting and if you want to enter contests for color pencil do they let you use inktense pencils and blocks and also watercolor from the pans?I think if they allow color pencil artists to use solvents in contests(do they?) then they should allow some other means such as watercolor to achieve the painterly look.Regardless, I such enjoyed the process of this mixed media approach and it is a welcome break from spending hours and hours using just color pencil alone, bringing out a kind of spontaneous creativity and freedom.Thanks!

    1. Kerry,

      It sounds like you had success with watercolors. I’ve done a little bit of that, but mostly just playing around. No “serious” subjects that were also finished.

      I haven’t used Inktense for anything, but I think they would probably make a good under drawing. My understanding that the color is very intense, though, so they might be difficult to cover.

      A lot of groups doing colored pencil are very selective in what they will and won’t allow. The CPSA (Colored Pencil Society of America) will not allow any medium except colored pencil in the annual international exhibit. I’m not sure if that holds true for regional or local exhibits. The key word is “medium”. My understanding is that solvents are allowed to a certain extent, but they aren’t considered a medium, so the resulting drawing would not be considered a mixed media drawing.

      The good news is that the CPSA also has an annual exhibit called Explore This! Anything goes for that. As a matter of fact, I think that show just opened. If you want to see some fabulous art that combines colored pencil and other mediums, check out the Explore This! exhibit options with the Colored Pencil Society of America.

      Thanks for reporting on your mixed media drawing, Kerry. I may have to get some of the paper you used and try it again.

      1. kerry hubick

        Hi, thanks for the reply back and explaining about what the color pencil socity allows etc.I always wondered about the solvent and now I know, thanks.I will check out the link to see the mixed media art.I forgot to mention I used the hot pressed arches 140.Im waiting on an order for fabriano hot pressed140 extra white sheet paper and its supposed to be very smooth with a hint of texture so might be good to get detail and hold the water of course not as good as 300 pound paper but Im going to experiment with the 140 and inktense and just have fun with it as I had lost that creativity for awhile now and I found by allowing myself with the last mixed media picture to experiment and just have fun so what if it didn’t turn out kind of attitude, it brought a sense of delight and fullfillment and that I hadn’t had for awhile.I guess there are issues with the inktense lightfastness and two youtube artists that I watch are going to to do their own lightfast tests with uv spray and protective glass etc but will only sell prints of there work for now..Derwent is supposedly trying to come up with ways to make them more lightfast and its a realitivly new medium but I havent tried them yet but you can mix colors to tone down their brightness also dilute them but they appeal to me as you can layer over them like acrylics and oils so you don’t disturbe the paint underneath like you do with watercolor as they are permanent when dry anyways Im just going to have fun .Thanks again!

        1. Kerry,

          You’re welcome.

          Thank you for the additional information on the watercolor paper. One of my issues with using watercolor is the texture of the paper. But I’ve always tried cold pressed. I’ll have give hot pressed paper a try.

          Let us know what you think of the Inktense pencils.


  2. Tim Grant

    Some pencils are marketed as “water-soluble color pencils” while others are labeled “watercolor pencils”. Are these one and the same, and are they “officially” accepted as color pencils? I am unclear on this point.

    1. Tim,

      In most cases the terms “water-soluble” and “watercolor” are interchangeable.

      Whether or not watercolor pencils are accepted as colored pencils depends entirely on who you’re talking to. I consider them colored pencils, but there are other artists who consider them to be watercolors in pencil form.

      The only place that would make a difference is when you want to enter a colored pencil show or competition. Make sure to read all of the rules because some competitions accept watercolor pencils, some do not, and some will accept a limited amount of watercolor pencil in each work.

      I know that’s not a definitive answer. In this case, the best advice I can give you is to use them if you want to.

      Thank you for reading, and thank you for your question,


  3. Nancy

    I was taught to use very light to light pressure no matter what type of pencils I’m working with to build up color layers and depth of color. I was also taught to use small circles to fill in the area with the best color coverage and to fill in the pores of the paper better. Unless of course lines are needed for hair and fur etc. With all that in mind, I have a question. In an area on the neck under the mane for example; could you first use a combination of light to medium colors of the horse’s body color to lay down a base of color? Then slowly do the line work for all of the hair (mane, lashes, muzzle etc.) Thanks for all of your tutorials, I learn a lot and enjoy them.

    1. Nancy,

      A lot of artists were taught (and recommend) circular strokes for laying down smooth color. That’s good advice, and I recommend it to my students who are just getting started. For those of us who have been doing colored pencil for a long time (we started before the interneet,) I recommend only that they draw smooth color and use whatever stroke they’ve learned through experience in drawing smooth color. I use circular strokes when I remember, but it’s a challenge to avoid falling back into the habit of using the strokes I learned on my own!

      If the hair (or other texture) is very obvious, then you can start with strokes that mimic that texture from the start. That’s how I begin drawing manes and tails or long-haired cats or wood grain.

      But I alternate those layers with blending layers of smooth color to keep the texture from becoming over powering.

      For eye lashes, I use some impressed lines, but I also draw them in later or sometimes “scratch” them out again with an X-Acto knife or similar tool.

      For whiskers or chin hairs, if I draw them at all, I draw them in at the end of the process.

      Great questions! Thanks for asking them!


  4. Susan

    Carrie, do I understand correctly, that you can do an underpainting with watercolor pencil and finish it with wax-based pencil on top? How about finishing with a fixative…yes or no. BTW, very beautiful horse drawing.

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