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How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are an interesting medium to work with in art. While they take out some of the guess work for color blending and water-to-paint ratios, they still require some practice to get the hang of. I bought my first set of watercolor pencils thinking that they would be a piece of cake to use and would cut my work time in half. Turns out I was only partially correct.

watercolored pencilsThere are still tips and tricks to know in order to use watercolor pencils effectively. It’s difficult to just draw a picture and then spray it down or use a wet brush to magically make a watercolor painting. This technique can really only be used with very simple drawings. Below are some of the tricks I have learned for my own “paintings”.

You still need watercolor paper!
I am not sure why I assumed you wouldn’t, but I quickly found out you do still need to use watercolor paper when using watercolor pencils. Regular printer or sketch book paper tends to wrinkle and even fall apart when you use water on it. This affects the texture of your image, and therefore effects the overall quality of it. Plus, watercolor paper is easier to work with as the colors will actually spread the way they are supposed to.

Only draw where you want the darkest shade.
Don’t use watercolor pencils just like any other colored pencil by filling in areas completely with color. Instead, try to decide where you will want the darkest colors to lay (normally heavy color indicates shadow), and then draw lines in those areas only. Once you have laid those lines down, you can use a brush and water to pull color out from them, and give you that classic color wash look.

Layer colors in crosshatch fashion
To achieve fantastic color blending, lay down your first watercolor pencil in a loose cross hatch fashion, and then lay down another color or even two on top of it in the same fashion. When you go over the area with water, the colors will blend together and give your painting a professional look very easily. Use colors that complement each other well to quickly give the painting a complex look with very little effort.

Working with wet paper
wet paperIf you want a very light indication of color in an area, such as for the sky or background, it helps to lay water down on that area before using the watercolor pencils. But you will only want to dampen the paper, not over load it with water or the colors will run out of control. once the area is wet, lightly draw with the watercolor pencils and then use the brush again to smooth out the lines and even out the color.

Draw important detail lines with something else
Before using water on the image, it is important to draw detail lines, or lines you do not want to blur, with another medium such as a pencil or regular colored pencil. Ink works sometimes, but I’ve had problems with it running in the past so I don’t normally use it. I prefer to use colored pencils which will not run or smear once water is used on them. Don’t try to draw these lines after you have used the watercolor pencils and water, though. The texture of the paper will change and be a bit harder to draw on after it is wet.

market-watercolor-paintingHighlights in a watercolor painting are normally shown by just leaving that area blank and not painting it in at all. Sometimes that is difficult in small areas though, as the paint may run into the areas. if that happens, i like to wait for the paper to completely dry, then use a white gel pen or charcoal pencil to lightly draw over the area I want to show highlight. This is a quick correction so you wont have to start your painting all over.

People who have been using watercolor pencils for a while probably assume these are pretty common sense tips, but for someone who doesn’t have a teacher but still wants to learn, these basic practices can help alleviate many hours of frustration. As someone who likes to learn everything on her own, I chose the hard path. I hope these will help others learn more quickly and easily!

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