Watercolor Pencils with Colored Pencils

Watercolor Pencils with Colored Pencils

Have you ever thought about combining watercolor pencils and traditional colored pencils in the same work? Do these two types of pencils work well together?

You’re not the only one who wants to know. Here’s today’s reader question.

I have dabbled in watercolor pencils combined with regular colored pencils and I wonder if you would ever be willing to give some tips or do a tutorial combining the two? I am only just starting to do more of this and I love the rich colors that you can get when these two mediums are combined.

What a great question.

And what a great observation. You can get rich colors when you combine watercolor pencils and traditional colored pencils.

Combining Watercolor Pencils with Colored Pencils

Whenever you consider mixing mediums, there one important thing to keep in mind.

The most important thing to remember whenever you combine traditional colored pencils with any other medium is that all colored pencils contain some wax. The pigment that gives them color is mixed with a binding agent that allows them to be shaped into lead form. The binding agent is a mix of wax, oil, and other ingredients. In wax-based colored pencils, the binding agent is mostly wax. But even oil-based colored pencils have some wax in the binding agent.

That’s important because wax and water don’t mix. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using watercolors, watercolor pencils, inks, or some other water-soluble medium. Traditional colored pencils stick to water-based mediums, but water-based mediums will not stick to wax-based mediums.

Now let’s discuss a few other basic tips.

Choose Appropriate Paper

Whenever you use a water-based medium, it’s smart to use a paper designed for wet media. Watercolor paper is designed to handle repeated applications of water and it usually stands up well under lots of layering.

Regular Stonehenge paper can handle limited amounts of water without warping or buckling. If you tape it down first, it even dries flat. I’ve used it for small, experimental pieces like the one below and find it quite satisfactory.

For larger pieces or pieces in which you use watercolor pencils for most of the work, watercolor paper is best. Stonehenge Aqua is designed for watercolors and watercolor pencils, but it also accepts traditional colored pencils very well. It’s a great paper that feels like regular Stonehenge paper, but is much sturdier.

Tape the paper to a rigid support before you begin, unless you choose a paper that’s 140 lb or more. Most of them are thick enough to withstand repeated applications of water without being taped down.

Start with Watercolor Pencils

When you want to use watercolor pencils and regular colored pencils, always start with the watercolor pencils. They’re a great time saver and a great way to create color with no paper holes, but use them first.

Do everything with them that you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you paint with them wet, or if you layer them dry, then blend them with water. Take your time and make sure you’ve done everything you want to do before layering traditional colored pencils over them. Once you start with the traditional colored pencils, you can’t go back.

Think of the work you do with watercolor pencils as the under drawing (or under painting, if you prefer.) Do as much detailing or as little as you like. I blocked in color and a few details on this piece (above,) but I’ve seen other artists do watercolor work that looks almost like a finished piece. They use traditional colored pencils for detailing.

Let the Paper Dry

After you finish with watercolor pencils, it’s important to let the paper dry completely before layering traditional pencils. Using a pencil on wet paper can scuff the surface of wet paper, and it’s possible to puncture wet paper.

The fact is that you should let the paper dry between applications of watercolor pencil, unless you’re applying wet color. Then you can work wet-into-wet. Just remember that wet watercolor applied into wet watercolor will run. The colors will mix. Some great, spontaneous affects are possible with this method, but they may not suit your overall style or the specific piece.

Some artists work on damp paper, but I’ve always found it safer to let the paper dry first.

Finish with Traditional Colored Pencils

Once you do everything you want to do with watercolor pencils, finish with traditional colored pencils. For some projects, that may mean you’re doing only the detailing.

Other projects may involve more work.

I did most of the layering and detailing with traditional pencils with this landscape. The watercolor pencils provided the base layer, as shown above.

Watercolor Pencils and Colored Pencils

Apply traditional colored pencils over watercolor pencils normally. Use the same layering and stroking techniques. Watch the amount of pressure you use, and so on.

The only difference is that you begin with a layer of color that fills in all the paper holes without filling in all the tooth of the paper.

And that’s the beauty of mixing watercolor pencils with traditional colored pencils.

The Bottom Line

Those are a few basic tips for combining watercolor and traditional colored pencils. If you follow those basics, you can create vibrant, richly colored artwork that lasts for years.

As for the reader’s second question about a tutorial, the answer is yes. There is a full-length tutorial featuring the landscape I used in this post waiting for you. It’s a beginner level tutorial called Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners, and you can buy it here.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!


  1. Gail Jones

    Thank you for this nice article. I want to do more combining watercolors with colored pencil. I specifically want to work on black paper and do an under drawing with the watercolors or white design gouache as the under drawing and see how vivid I can get my colors on the black. I already did a rose on black with a white colored pencil under drawing and I was very happy with the results.

    1. Gail,

      You would definitely have to do a white or light-colored under painting on black paper in order for watercolors to show up, because they are pretty all opaque. Gouache is a good option, but make sure your paper will hold up under water-based media.

  2. Patricia E Wilson

    Helpful as just did some pencil coloring. Can you tell me why the ink would smudge on these pencils? Is there a fixative you have to use to keep that from happening? Thanks so much.

  3. Coral Australia

    I will definitely give this a try, sounds like a fun way to go.
    My question is, How do I get shiny highlights on my subject?
    Sorry to hear about the damage at your property. Keep safe

    1. Coral,

      Getting really shiny highlights on drawings begins with preserving the color of the paper, especially if you’re working on white paper. If you’re using a smooth paper, that’s about the only way to get highlights because you can’t add light colors over dark colors.

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