Five Basic Things To Remember Before You Use Watercolour Pencils For The First Time

2017 Artwork Watercolour pencil basics article

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!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Comic and Art (8th March 2014)

Although I have no plans to go back to making regular “Damania” comics, I thought that I’d see what one of these comics looked like when they were painted using watercolour pencils. I’ll also post a random picture that I painted a couple of days earlier too.

As usual, this comic and painting are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania - Horror Elitism" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Horror Elitism” By C. A. Brown

As I said earlier, “Damania – Horror Elitism” was basically just an experiment with making one of these comics using watercolour pencils. This comic took a lot longer to produce than I expected, not to mention that Derek is absolutely terribly drawn in the first panel too.

And, yes, for the record – slasher movies are about the most boring, un-scary, predictable, formulaic and just downright generic type of horror movie in existence.

Ironically, most of the genuinely scary horror movies out there are actually modern ones. With a few exceptions (eg: “Event Horizon” and the remake of “House On Haunted Hill” from the 90s), horror really doesn’t age that well.

"Random Forest" By C. A. Brown

“Random Forest” By C. A. Brown

Random Forest” was a small painting I painted a few days earlier. It’s ok, but it ended up being kind of generic though.

A Quick Alternative To Masking Fluid For Small Patterns In Watercolour Pencil Paintings

2014 Artwork Bright Patterns and Watercolour Pencils Sketch

Watercolour pencils are absolutely great and they allow you to use the best elements of both drawing and painting. But, if you’re using them for painting, then they’re obviously a lot less precise (when it comes to small details or patterns) than pencils are.

Whilst a lot of this can be dealt with by adding small details to your painting using waterproof ink and/or coloured pencils, there’s one type of design which is an absolute nightmare if you’re working with watercolours. I am, of course, talking about painting small brightly-coloured patterns (eg: polka dots etc…) against a dark background.

If you try to draw these bright designs with watercolour pencils, then unless you use an extremely fine brush and can handle it with absolute and total precision, the background colour can easily blur into or overwhelm the brightly-coloured parts of your painting.

Now, if you’ve got a lot of art supplies, then you can probably use masking fluid to prevent this. But, to be honest, there’s a much simpler – and quicker- way of making sure that your bright pattern stands out.

Draw your pattern with ordinary coloured pencils and use a lot of pressure. It’s that simple.

Basically, just keep going over the bright areas of the painting with a coloured pencil until the coloured area feels completely smooth and shiny when you touch it (the technical term for this is “burnishing”). Then just paint your dark background in as normal.

Since the surface of the paper on the brightly-coloured areas of your painting is completely shiny and coated with pencil “lead”, the paint can’t get through to the paper and it won’t cover up your pattern. Yes, it will make your pattern look faded and gloomy, but it won’t cover it up completely.

In addition to this, if you use a lot of pressure when you’re using coloured pencils, then you will leave a small impression in the paper which your paintbrush probably can’t reach into when you’re going over your painting with water.

The best coloured pencils I’ve found for doing this are probably Crayola pencils. This is because the “lead” in them seems to have a slightly waxy and almost crayon-like quality to it, which makes them absolutely perfect for this technique.

But, at the same time, you can probably use any type of coloured pencils as long as you make sure that the coloured areas are completely saturated with “lead” before you start painting.

To give you an example of this technique – I used it for the red, yellow, orange and blue pattern on the cavalier’s shirt when I tried to paint a (slightly altered) copy of Franz Hals’ “The Laughing Cavalier” recently. As you can see, it works surprisingly well (especially since I only used a light coating of black paint too):

"The Laughing Cavalier In A Tavern" By C. A. Brown

“The Laughing Cavalier In A Tavern” By C. A. Brown

It might be worth experimenting with this technique (and testing it out, because it isn’t perfect and it causes at least some fading) before you use it in any of your paintings, but it works surprisingly well.

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Sorry for yet another short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (9th February 2014)

Yes, yes! I know it’s cliched as hell, but I decided to try to paint a copy of the Mona Lisa. Well, that’s how it started anyway……

Since this watercolour pencil painting is larger than usual, it’s the only piece of art I made for today and, as expected, it’s released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Mona At Sunset" By C. A. Brown

“Mona At Sunset” By C. A. Brown

As I said earlier, “Mona At Sunset” was going to be a copy of the Mona Lisa. But, when it came to drawing and painting the background, I decided to simplify it quite a bit and – for added drama – make it a lot gloomier and more gothic than it is in the original painting.

Today’s Art (7th February 2014)

Well, today’s watercolour pencil drawings ended up being kind of random, but I’m really proud of both of them.

As usual, these two pictures are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Spirit Of The 80s" By C. A. Brown

“Spirit Of The 80s” By C. A. Brown

Spirit Of The 80s” was meant to be a random 1980s-style drawing/painting, but it ended up having more of a 90s kind of look to it. Still, I’m really proud of it nonetheless 🙂

"Not The Night Watch" By C. A. Brown

“Not The Night Watch” By C. A. Brown

Ok, originally “Not The Night Watch” was going to be my attempt at a faithful copy of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch“, but as soon as I tried to draw the lead watchman’s hand, it kind of looked like he was making a slightly crude gesture and this suddenly gave me the idea of turning this picture into a parody of Rembrandt’s original painting.

Today’s Art (4th February 2014)

Well, for some reason, I felt like making slightly smaller watercolour pencil drawings for today. But, on the plus side, I’m fairly proud of the shadows and shading in these drawings though.

As usual, these two drawings/paintings are released under a Creative Commmons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Tech Room" By C. A. Brown

“Tech Room” By C. A. Brown

Tech Room” turned out fairly well, although the background ended up being slightly brighter than I originally planned it to be.

"Valuable Vase" By C. A. Brown

“Valuable Vase” By C. A. Brown

Valuable Vase” was kind of a random drawing. It turned out fairly well, although the realistic shading on the character’s face could probably have been done better.

Today’s Art (3rd February 2014)

Well, today’s watercolour pencil paintings turned out ok, although not quite as well as I’d hoped. Since one of today’s paintings is a new version of one of my old drawings, I’ll include the previous version of it too.

As usual, these three drawings/paintings are released under a Creative Commmons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Observation (III)" By C. A. Brown

“Observation (III)” By C. A. Brown

Observation (III)” is the second new version of a drawing I originally drew in 2012. Whilst I quite like this new version, it doesn’t quite have the same gloominess and atmosphere of the version I drew last July:

"Observation (II)" By C. A. Brown [16th July 2013]

“Observation (II)” By C. A. Brown [16th July 2013]

Observation (II)” is probably my favourite version of this drawing. Although it’s not as good on a technical level and I relied pretty heavily on digital effects, I think that this version best captures the spirit and atmosphere of the picture.

"A World Of Strange New Wonder" By C. A. Brown

“A World Of Strange New Wonder” By C. A. Brown

Although the background of “A World Of Strange New Wonder” ended up being kind of “flat”, I’m really proud of the realistic shadows on the character’s face in this drawing.