[Note: This article is aimed at absolute beginners, so I apologise in advance if I end up stating the obvious for most of this article]
Well, it’s been a little over three months since I got my first set of watercolour pencils as a Christmas present. So, I thought that I’d share a few very basic things I’ve learnt from using these pencils.
In case you’ve never heard of them before, watercolour pencils are basically coloured pencils which turn into watercolour paint when water is applied. Basically, you colour a picture with the pencils and then go over it with a wet paintbrush. So, if you can draw, you can also paint. It’s the best of both worlds.
Anyway, here are seven very basic tips for using watercolour pencils.
1) Always use watercolour paper: I’m still not sure exactly why you’re supposed to do this (it’s something to do with watercolour paper being stronger than normal paper and not crinkling too much when it dries), but you should always use watercolour paper when you’re using watercolour pencils.
One of the downsides of this is that watercolour paper is more expensive than ordinary paper. So, unless you’re planning to hang your work in a gallery for several centuries, don’t be afraid to go for the cheapest watercolour paper you can find when you’re starting out.
Generally, it’s probably best to go for watercolour sketchbooks than buying loose sheets of watercolour paper (I don’t know, if you’re in the UK, the cheapest one is probably the 48-page “Boldmere Field Sketch Book” from a shop called The Works).
2) Start with the lighter parts of the painting when adding water: Unless you change the water you use for cleaning your paintbrush extremely regularly, then it is usually best to start adding water to the lighter parts of your painting first in order to prevent them from being “muddied” by either the water you’re using or from leftover paint on your paintbrush.
3) Always use waterproof ink when drawing: This one is pretty obvious really, but non-waterproof inks will usually tend to run and smudge when you add water to them. So, always use waterproof ink. As a general rule, if the word “waterproof” isn’t printed on the side of your pen, then don’t use it with watercolour pencils.
4) Use coloured pencils or ink for borders: If you are painting a darker area next to a lighter area, then be sure to draw a solid 3-5 mm border around the edge of the lighter area in ink or ordinary coloured pencils (depending on the colour of the darker area) before colouring in the rest of the darker area with watercolour pencils.
This is because painting, by it’s very nature, is a lot less precise than drawing – even if you use a very fine brush, then there is still a risk of smudging. Drawing a border first helps to prevent this.
Plus, as I mentioned in another article, ordinary coloured pencils can be extremely useful for adding fine details to watercolour pencil paintings too.
5) Don’t be afraid to mix colours: Since watercolour pencils turn to paint as soon as you add water, it’s very easy to mix colours with them. All you have to do is to go over the same area of your picture with more than one pencil.
Yes, it takes a bit of practice and experimentation to work out how to mix colours well (and I’m still learning how to do this) but this allows you to create pretty much any colour that you can imagine.
6) Use a variety of brush sizes: Again, this is fairly obvious, but when I started using watercolours, I always used a larger brush. Surprisingly, it took me about a month to realise that – for a lot of what I was painting – a smaller brush can work a lot better. So, don’t be afraid to use different brush sizes when you’re painting.
7) Use a backstop: When I’m painting, I usually put a large sheet of cardboard behind the sketchbook page that I’m using. This prevents the water soaking through the paper onto the page behind it and it also allows me to paint up to the very edges of the page without worrying about getting paint on any of the other pages.
Plus, after a while, you’ll end up with something that looks like this too:
Sorry that this article was so basic, but I hope that it was useful 🙂