Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils

Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils

Mixing watercolor pencils and colored pencils is not something I do very often. I just prefer the look of pure colored pencils.

But I have used watercolor colored pencils with colored pencils on some projects. When I do, I use a couple of different methods, depending on the requirements of each drawing.

One of those methods also works with watercolor, so in this post, I’ll describe two ways to use watercolor colored pencils in your drawings and followup with a suggestion for using watercolor with regular colored pencils.

Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils

There are two basic ways for mixing watercolor pencils and colored pencils. (Actually, there are three, but one of them involves drawing with them just like traditional colored pencils and not using water.)

Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils 1
A plein aire drawing drawn with watercolor colored pencils used without water.

It’s perfectly fine to use watercolor colored pencils this way, so don’t think you have to add water in order to draw with watercolor colored pencils.

But since this article is all about adding water, here are the other two ways you can use water soluble colored pencils.

Draw First, Then Add Water

Most of the time, I draw with watercolor colored pencils just like I do with traditional colored pencils, then use a damp brush to activate the color. When the color dries, it can be drawn over again.

This is best done at the beginning of the drawing process. This method as a great way to do a quick under drawing or create even areas of color for skies or similar areas.

Below is a sample. I shaded the square with watercolor colored pencil first, then brushed part of it with a wet brush. I also let the colors run together, which is one way to blend with watercolor colored pencils.

Of course, you may continue drawing with watercolor colored pencils and you can also continue activating them with water, layer after layer. Every time you dampen the paper, however, you will blend all of the colors; not just the ones you added most recently. If you do more than one wash with water, keep in mind how the different colors will affect each other (if you used more than one color).

You can also go over watercolor colored pencils with traditional pencils.

Add Water First, Then Draw

Another way of mixing watercolor colored pencils with regular colored pencils is by dampening the pencil point, then drawing. This is very easy. Simply dip the tip of a watercolor colored pencil in clear water, then draw with it. You will get a very bold mark that way, but you’ll have to dip the pencil frequently.

In this illustration, I dipped a pencil in clean water, then began drawing. The first marks (on the left) are nice and dark with no paper showing through. As I continued to draw, the pencil dried and the marks became lighter and less sharp. The marks on the right are with the dry pencil. I didn’t lift the pencil at all in drawing from left to right.

This method is especially good for adding accents where you want vibrant or dark color. It works best in very small areas or for details. It’s not very efficient for drawing large areas of color.

Again, mixing watercolor colored pencils and regular colored pencils with this method is possible. Just make sure to test any new method on a piece of scrap paper first.

One Warning: If you use your pencils this way, be careful not to get the wood casing wet. The wood may swell and crack if it soaks up too much water and that could ruin the pencil.

Watercolor And Colored Pencils

Watercolors and colored pencils do mix, but you’re likely to find the watercolor a little more limited in usefulness. Watercolor colored pencils are made to work with traditional colored pencils. Watercolor is not.

Even so, you have one proven method and one method that may or may not work.

Watercolor Under Painting

The best way to use watercolors with colored pencils is to tone papers with washes of color first. If you’re going to draw a landscape, for example, use watercolor to block in the major elements. Sky. Grass. Buildings. You’re not looking for a lot of detail here. Indeed, you probably won’t be looking for any detail at all.

If you’re using a standard drawing paper (one not made for watercolor), you will have to be careful not to get the paper or board too wet or it may buckle or warp.

This is the finished watercolor underpainting for a portrait finished with traditional colored pencils.

You can use watercolor papers, but you will have a more difficult time drawing detail with colored pencil due to the tooth of the paper. The drawing shown here was drawn on watercolor paper. I have the best results with 300lb hot press watercolor paper because it’s quite smooth (for a watercolor paper). Stonehenge Aqua and Canson Aquarelle L’Heritage watercolor papers are both very good for this purpose.

Once the underpainting was dry, I used normal drawing methods to build color and value, add details, and finish the drawing.

The finished portrait.

For this drawing, the watercolor underpainting saved a lot of time and filled the tooth of the paper better than I could have done using colored pencils alone. It also allowed me to focus on the detailing with colored pencils. I didn’t have to do base layers with colored pencils.

Watercolor Over Colored Pencil

I have used watercolor over wax-based colored pencil, but with mixed results. The watercolor did stick to the layers of colored pencils (a big surprise!), but I couldn’t add more colored pencil over the watercolor.

The following drawing made use of watercolor over colored pencil and while the drawing itself turned out fairly well, I don’t recommend this method without a trial run. Test it first for yourself, then decide whether it suits you or not.

Read Can You Add Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil?

Mixing Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils
Landscape drawn by adding watercolor over colored pencil.

One Disclaimer

All of the methods I’ve described here involve using wax-based colored pencils. I have no reason to think oil-based colored pencils would respond any differently, but I don’t know for sure. So if you want to use oil-based pencils with these methods, do a small test drawing first.

If you use oil-based colored pencils with watercolor colored pencils or watercolors, let us know what has worked for you.

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One comment

  1. Nancy

    Thanks for all the info and instruction using both types of pencils together. I have Faber Castell pencils for both mediums. I can’t wait to try them out in a small drawing to start with.

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