How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils

Today I want to share a drawing method that’s both fun and potentially time saving. What is it? Drawing with watercolor colored pencils.

Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

Solvents are one way to save time, but there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over watercolor colored pencils is one of them.

How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth, and was heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

I wanted to learn what I could do with watercolor colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils

Step 1: Getting ready to paint (and deciding how to start)

There are several ways to create color washes with watercolor colored pencils.

To create strong color, use dry pencils to layer color, then wet the color with a brush. Colors “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

Or dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas, but requires frequent dipping. It can also soften the wood casing if the wood gets too wet.

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce good color.

If you plan to use watercolor colored pencils for most of the drawing, create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper as shown below.

How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils - Color Palette

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by layering more color on the palette.

Step 2: Toning the background

Mark the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

Create a pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and a yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet-into-wet into part of the yellow.

Step 2: Toning the Subject

For this demonstration, I under painted the horse in complementary colors. The horse is a chestnut (a reddish brown), so greens are the complementary colors. To make the green, wash Emerald Green (163) over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, use a small, round sable. Stroke color into the shadows that break the mane into hair masses. Leave the rest of the mane alone.

For stronger color, wet the brush, then blot it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color is less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you dilute the color. Limit yourself to one stroke for the darkest values. 

After the paper dries, add a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. Use a larger brush for more even color. Once again, limit yourself to one or two strokes. Load the brush with water, then touch it to the sharpened pencil.

For brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane, use a smaller brush and a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolves slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affects the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Parting Thoughts about Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use watercolor colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength,) or any other medium that can be thinned with water then used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use watercolor colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusively colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

8 Replies to “How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Colored Pencils”

  1. Hi Carrie, when you are talking about Prismacolors water soluble colored pencil, are you meaning the Prismacolor watercolor pencils?
    In Christ,
    Gail J.

  2. Thank you for all of your posts and I appreciate all the time and effort that you have put in to each tutorial.

  3. Your tutorials are so helpful.
    I can eliminate one frustration and
    progress to another. Thankyou for your time
    which is our most precious gift .

    1. Marla,

      Thank you for your very kind words about these tutorials. I’m glad to help!

      Eliminating frustrations one at a time is how we improve and progress.

      And that applies to all things, not just art!

      Thank you for taking the time to write.

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