Painting with Watercolor Pencils

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

In  a previous Tuesday Tutorial, I shared tips and suggestions for avoiding or fixing the mistakes I made using watercolor pencils. Today’s tutorial is all about painting with watercolor pencils.

The painting I’m using for this tutorial is more of a study, but the method I used to paint it works for underpaintings or complete paintings. In either case, you can layer traditional colored pencils over watercolor pencil paintings and get the best of both types of pencils.

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

This drawing is only 4×6 inches on Stonehenge Aqua 140lb cold press paper. It’s ideal for this type of colored pencil work, because it’s made for wet media, but without the typical watercolor paper texture.

Because watercolor pencils don’t fill up the tooth of the paper, you can do a lot of work with them, let the paper dry completely, then use traditional colored pencils over them.

Landscape Study in Gray

In last week’s drawing, I started with a black watercolor pencil and intended to layer traditional pencil over it. I ended up adding washes with a gray watercolor pencil because the black was too warm. It was also much harsher in appearance than I wanted.

So this week, I started with the gray pencil, Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle Warm Grey V.

I also used a reference photo for this drawing, and the results were much more satisfactory.

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

I applied color to the paper with brushes, which I dipped in water, then stroked across the exposed pigment core of the pencil. I did most of the painting with a sable round.

Painting Trees with Watercolor Pencils

Since the largest part of the composition is made up of trees and bushes, I used a lot of squiggly or stippling (tapping) strokes. Both strokes are ideal for foliage.

I started in the shadows and continued layering color until I got the values I wanted in the shadows and darker middle values.

Weekly Drawing Week 2 - Small Tree Detail

For the lighter values in the big tree, I then washed a very light layer of color over the tree. After it dried, I stippled additional layers to blend the values and soften the edges.

As I look back on it, I would paint the light wash first, then add the darker values. I’d even like to try adding some of those darker values while the wash is drying. Wet color dropped into wet or drying color “self-blends,” creating interesting results not easily duplicated any other way.

Happy Happenings and a Lesson Learned

For the grass in the foreground, I used a badly abused half inch sable wash brush. The hairs go in every which direction, so it’s perfect for random or semi-random patterns.

After wetting the paper in the dark area, I laid down a thin wash of gray. When it was dry, I added a few more layers by tapping the brush along the slope of the hill.

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

I absolutely love the look of this after it dried. It didn’t look as great wet, so I’m glad I let it dry before reworking it.

The brush I used for this is a trashed oil painting brush, so this is an ideal reason not to throw any brush away. You never know when it might come in handy!

A Personal Note

I did this work early in the week and intended to work on it again the next day. I really wanted to tone down that white triangle in the foreground.

But an altercation with a cat resulted in six stitches in my right hand and four of them were in the heel of my right hand. Right where I rest my hand when drawing or painting. Result? No more art for the rest of that week or much of the following week.

That happened Wednesday of the second week of January. The stitches came out Friday of the third week. I had hoped to dabble enough to get a drawing for the third week, but that did not happen. I either have to adjust the way I draw, or wait until the heel of my right hand heals.

In the meantime, I hope you try painting with watercolor pencils.

Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.


  1. Marie

    Sorry to hear about that cat hurting you so badly, hope there was no infection. I had a close brutal interaction once with a feral mom cat and had a bad infection. I am a cat lover and many scars to show, being a foster mom has its satisfactions but these poor things did not have a push life most of the time.
    I love that painting I will use it to practice if you allow me.
    I Wanted to use my colored pencils to paint but just can’t get satisfaction with them other than coloring books so, I got my old watercolor pencils out and my watercolor tubes old of 20 years still good to my surprise and do landscapes which were my favorite in oil and acrylic. I stay with smaller sizes so I can use the best ones for cards. You inspire me a lot.
    Gentle hugs

    1. Marie,

      Thank you so much for your very kind words. There is no infection this time. The last time, three years ago, I was in the hospital with cellulitis for nearly a week. Same cat, different circumstances.

      This time, I knew better how to treat my wounds after the fact and everything has turned out well, though I’m still finding some things difficult to do.

      You may certainly use that painting for practice. I’d love to see what you come up with, if you don’t mind sharing it.

      I’m finding painting with watercolor pencils very liberating, not to mention easier on my hands. I’ve even caught myself thinking about getting some good watercolors and trying them with colored pencils. What brand of watercolors are you using?

      1. Marie

        Hi Carrie.
        The watercolored pencils I have are quite old but I still see them sold. It is a set I won, cannot remember exactly when and for what, they are Staedtler Karat in a 24 tin box. There are okay for me, not too long ago I bought 2 Bruynzeel Sakura, I love them they are softer, great for use wetting the brush I will add more. My watercolor tube is a set of 12 VanGoh bought many many years ago with my retired life days in mind those days are almost in the past too. I always had a hard time with watercolor, I am not loose enough for it but staying with postcard or card sizes makes the difference, I enjoy it more.
        See, I have the soul of an artist but not the hand to show it 🙁
        I can say that painting saves my sanity from the pit of chronic pain over the last 20 years.

        1. Marie,

          Good to hear from you! Thanks for sharing the pencils you use. I hadn’t considered Bruynzeel because I didn’t know they made a watercolor pencil.

          Art is excellent therapy for pain. I’ve been able to paint or draw my way through headaches in the past.

          You’re art is probably better than you think. My observation is that we’re our own worst critics. I know I am!

          Thank you again,


  2. Tim Grant

    Some 30 years ago, on an icy winter’s morning in Tennessee, I followed a faint crying sound to a half-frozen little orange fur ball in, of all places, a hollow stump. Of course, I had to take the shivering baby in. This kitten bonded so tightly it would not eat outside my presence, and tried to follow me everywhere. Once I was trudging through foot-deep snow to a local creek, just soaking up some winter ambiance, heard a sound, and looked around to see my feline shadow, who I thought locked up at home, making his way from footprint to footprint, tracking me. I took him along, and will never forget him trying to get at some minnows trapped beneath the ice. By the spring, he would go hunting every morning, and anything he caught, he would bring back alive and lay at my feet. Having no real use for lizards, snakes, moles or disheveled birds, I just gave them back to him, an odd ritual, to be sure. I realize this has nothing to do with the technique of watercolor pencil, but the cat reference sparked the memory of my most unique furry friend.

    1. Tim,

      Memories play an important role in our art. Everything is connected in some way.

      The cat I mentioned in my post is a rescue, too. I found him under the back porch when he was about 24 hours old, apparently birthed and abandoned, along with two others. He’s the only one to have survived. He will be five this coming July.

      Someday, I hope to paint or draw him.


  3. stan Leavitt

    Enjoyed your article. At age 90, I’m about to try a bunch of Derwent pencils that were buried in a drawer for a few years. Our cat adopted us when she was about a year old and half starved came up on our porch. My regret is that I never got around to painting her. She just passed away at age 19.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *