Making Fine Lines with Watercolor Pencils

Making Fine Lines with Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencil techniques don’t receive much play here because I don’t use them that often. So I was delighted when someone asked about making fine lines with watercolor pencils. Here’s the question.

I like to draw my fine lines in my paintings with watercolor pencils. I usually wet the tip on a brush then draw [with the pencil.] I‘m wondering if it would be better to wet a fine line on the paper then pencil over it?

Or any other tips would be great.

Many thanks,


Thank you for your question, Keith.

Tips for Making Fine Lines with Watercolor Pencils

There are two or three ways to make fine lines with watercolor pencils, as Keith suggested. Let me share a couple of principles to help you decide which method might work best for you.

Drawing with Dry Pencils First

The most natural way to use watercolor pencils is to use them the same way you use traditional pencils. They’re usually harder and less waxy than traditional pencils , so you can draw extremely fine lines with a well-sharpened watercolor pencil.

Then either leave the color dry, or activate the color with a wet brush. Wet a very small brush—preferably a soft brush—then carefully stroke the drawn line with the damp brush.

The problem I’ve seen with this process is that the activated color sometimes runs, especially if the paper is absorbent or damp. For the best results, make sure the paper is dry and use a very small brush that’s only damp.

Drawing with Wet Pencils

Another option is to dampen the tip of a well-sharpened pencil first, then draw the line you want to draw.

There are two disadvantages to this. First, you can draw only a very short mark before you have to dampen the end of the pencil again.

Second, marks made this way aren’t always very fine or very crisp. I drew the check mark (1) in the illustration below with this method.

These kinds of marks can be very useful, but if you need a very thin, absolutely crisp line, this method probably isn’t the best choice.

Painting with a Wet Brush

As a former oil painter, I prefer using a brush to apply wet color to paper. It just feels more natural.

Years of painting have also given me a great deal of brush control, so that’s my preference.

One way to paint with wet color is to dip a small soft brush into water, then brush the tip of a watercolor pencil and brush it onto the paper. But instead of drawing with the pencil as described above, paint with the brush.

The other method is to make a color palette by burnishing color onto a piece of watercolor paper. This illustration shows a palette I made for a watercolor pencil drawing.

Making Fine Lines with Watercolor Pencils

Pick up color off the palette with a small, wet brush and stroke it onto your drawing.

I have used both methods and prefer the first, because it takes less time. I don’t have to make a palette.

Results are much the same with either method, so use whichever one works best for you. The amount of pressure you put on the brush determines the width of the resulting line, as shown below.

Those are the Ways I Make Lines with Watercolor Pencils

As mentioned, I don’t use watercolor pencils that often; a situation I should probably change. So there may be other ways to paint fine lines that I’m not aware of. You may want to experiment with different methods on your own.

Or if you already have a method that works for you, then stick with that. It’s absolutely okay to experiment with other methods if you like, but there’s also nothing wrong with doing what you’re currently doing!

Thank you again for such a good question!

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  1. Hi Carrie. You mentioned that the activated watercolor pencil sometimes runs. To me, the #1advantage of using Inktense pencils is that they will NOT run. Can be a disadvantage, depending on what you’re after, but this is the only difference i can tell between the Inktense and regular watercolor pencils.

    1. Valerie,

      I think you’re right about the main difference between watercolors and Inktense being that Inktense are permanent once they’re activated with water.

      However, if you want to submit the artwork to some colored pencil exhibits, using Inktense could make the artwork ineligible because some exhibit organizers consider anything using Inktense to be mixed media.

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