Watercolour pencils are one of the most awesome art mediums out there. If you’ve never heard of them before, then they’re basically just coloured pencils, whose lead is made out of watercolour pigment. What this means is that they will turn into watercolour paint when you go over your drawing with a wet paintbrush.
They’ve been around for literally decades, although I first heard of them in autumn 2013 and only started using them after Christmas 2013.
Not only are watercolour pencils considerably more practical (and ten times less messy) than traditional paints are, but they also combine the best elements of both drawing and painting. Since I come from something of a drawing background, these pencils allowed me to become a painter without having to re-learn literally everything.
Still, if you’re new to watercolour pencils, then here are some basic things that you should probably know before you start using them:
1) Use the right paper: Since turning a drawing made with watercolour pencils into a painting involves going over it with a wet paintbrush, the paper needs to be able to handle getting wet. Normal printer paper doesn’t really do this very well, and it’ll become crinkly when it dries and/or it might disintegrate if it gets too wet.
As such, you’ll need to use watercolour paper. It doesn’t matter which type you use – since even the cheapest and thinnest types of watercolour paper will often work well with watercolour pencils, for the simple reason that you’re adding less water than you probably would if you were making a traditional watercolour painting (eg: you’ll probably just be gently sliding the paintbrush over the pigment, rather than using more painterly techniques like “wet in wet” etc..).
In fact, cheaper types of watercolour paper can often be better for the simple reason that you’ll be less hesitant about using them for practice paintings etc…. Plus, they often come in sketchbooks (rather than as loose sheets of paper), which is often far more convenient to use too.
2) Use the right pens: Likewise, if you’re also including ink drawings in your watercolour pencil artwork, then don’t use normal ballpoint or fountain pens! Most types of writing inks are water-soluble, and they will turn into a horrible, smudged, blurry mess when you go over them with a wet paintbrush.
As such, look for drawing pens that contain either waterproof or “water resistant” ink. They can be a bit more expensive than writing pens can be (eg: they can cost £1-4 per pen, depending on where you buy them and how many you buy at a time), but they mean that you can add watercolour pencil to your ink drawings without worrying about the ink smudging.
3) Use the right brush: This is all a matter of personal preference, but you need to find a brush that works well for you. Although I used an old set of traditional paintbrushes (of varying sizes) when I started out with watercolour pencils, I quickly moved on to using an inexpensive medium-tip waterbrush instead.
If you’ve never heard of a “waterbrush” before, it’s a type of paintbrush with a water reservoir in the handle (which can be squeezed gently to release water onto the nib). What this means is that you don’t constantly have to keep dipping your brush into a pot of water when adding water to your watercolour pencil art. Although, obviously, you’ll still need to wipe the end of the brush between different colours.
Still, there are some painterly effects that are more difficult to do with a waterbrush than they are with a traditional brush. But, if you’re just adding colour to drawings with your watercolour pencils, then a waterbrush is often a lot easier, more portable and more convenient than traditional brushes are.
4) Use a backstop: If you’re using cheaper watercolour paper and/or a watercolour sketchbook, then get a large piece of cardboard that you can slide behind the page before you add water. With cheaper papers, this stops small amounts of water seeping through the page and damaging whatever is undeneath it.
Plus, if the cardboard sheet is larger than the page, it allows you to paint right up to the edges of the page without worrying about getting paint on the edge of the sketchbook and/or anything nearby.
If you’re using loose sheets of watercolour paper, then you’ll probably need to find a board or a desk (that you don’t mind getting messy) which you can attach the paper to with a low-adhesive type of tape (I’m not sure what exact type of tape you need to use, since I always use sketchbooks. But, I’ve seen footage of artists using something that vaguely resembles masking tape or medical tape in art videos on Youtube).
5) Don’t fuss about brands: If you’re just starting out, then the important thing is to actually start painting with your watercolour pencils. As such, don’t fuss about what brand of pencils to use. Intead, just make sure that you have all of the colours of pencil that you need and/or have the pencils you can mix to make the colours you need.
Yes, different brands of watercolour pencils behave in very slightly different ways and there are slight colour variations between brands, but they will all allow you to make watercolour paintings.
If you’re just starting out, then the most important thing is to get as much practice as you can – so, if you have to use cheaper pencils, then use them! Most of them will work just as well as more expensive ones will (although the paint may be slightly thinner or more watery in consistency) and you will be able to use them a lot without worrying about “wasting” expensive pencils.
The only other thing that I’d recommend is to look for loose black watercolour pencils. If your art is even slightly gloomy, then having extra black pencils (since many watercolour pencil sets only contain one) is an absolute must!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂