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9 Watercolour Techniques for Beginners

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Posted by Aubrey Santana
Having traveled to practically every corner of the world, I draw inspiration for my art from the people, foods, and traditions of many different cultures.
9 Watercolour Techniques for Beginners

Table of Contents:

What’s So Special About Watercolour Pencils?

Watercolour pencils may look like your average coloured pencils, but with just a touch of water, you can watch your pencil lines transform! Beautiful washes of colour will appear right before your eyes. This is the beauty of watercolour pencils and that is why they’re so popular with watercolour painters, sketch artists and other creators. If you’re new to the versatile medium of watercolour pencils, we’ll help explain what they are and what’s so great about them. Get ready, because you’re going to love what they can do!

When you’re drawing, you can use watercolour pencils just like coloured pencils. You’ll find sets with every colour imaginable and they’re great for blending and layering. Sometimes the core of the pencil will feel slightly different than a regular coloured pencil against the paper which can be a good indicator of which drawing tool you’re using. The big difference comes in when you add water to your drawing. Any bold lines you’ve created will almost melt into soft watercolours. You can use many of your favourite watercolour techniques with watercolour pencils as well. 

If you’re thinking about trying out watercolour pencils, don’t hold back on the number you start with. We recommend you get a larger set to get the most value for your money and the most colours for your creativity, such as the Arteza Professional Watercolor Pencils - Set of 72. These premium-grade pencils are all you need for any project, knowing you have the most vibrant colours right at your fingertips. They are break-resistant and come in a convenient tin, making them easy to take with you anywhere you choose to paint or draw.

What Supplies Do I Need?

Because these pencils are activated by water, it’s important to use thicker paper that can handle moisture without buckling. For this reason, you should consider the density of the paper. The higher the density the better, with most professional watercolourist using 90lb. (200 gsm) and up.

TIP: A good rule of thumb is the more watery you paint, the higher the density paper you need.

Another thing to think about when choosing your paper is its texture. Both smooth and textured surfaces have their advantages, depending on your approach and/or the look you’re going for. To get the best of both worlds, we recommend the Arteza Expert Watercolor Pads, 9x12”, 32 sheets - set of 2. Each page gives you a choice of a smooth side and a textured side. It comes in a convenient glue-bound pad to keep your artwork together and protected from wear and tear. At 140lb. (300gsm), it’s ideal for projects that use watercolour pencils.

So how do you apply water once you’ve drawn with the watercolour pencil? The best tool for this is the water brush. This brush has a barrel that can be filled with water to moisten marks to create blurred, smooth, transitional, and thin clear-cut lines. You use it the same way you use a traditional paintbrush. The Arteza Water Brush Pens - Set of 6 come with both fine-tips and broad-tip to produce a variety of stroke sizes.

An eraser is a handy tool to have, but not necessarily for getting rid of a line. Erasers can also be used to lighten areas by lifting small amounts of colour. If you do need to erase a line while drawing, try not to bear down too hard on the eraser, or you might damage the paper. Consider using the Arteza Eraser Pencil Kit, which has an eraser on one end and a handy brush on the other to whisk away erasures without affecting your artwork. This kit also comes with a sharpener to preserve the tips of both your eraser and pencils.

TIP: Watercolour pencils do not work well in combination with regular coloured pencils or on canvas intended for acrylic and oil paintings.

Get Started

Whenever you’re starting out with a new media, it’s a good idea to create a swatch sheet. It will help you get accustomed to using the medium and show you what colours you have to work with. Making a swatch sheet for watercolour pencils is especially important because you’ll be able to see what they look like before they’re applied to your paper and how they’ll react when they’re wet. You can create a sheet by drawing a series of blocks—colour in the top of each block with the colours you have. Gently squeeze the barrel of your brush pen to moisten the bristles or dip your favourite watercolour brush into some water then gently pull the colour down the block to create a light gradient.

Arteza Watercolor Pencils Swatch chart color pencil

Keep your colour charts nearby as a handy reference.

Techniques to Try

Here are nine techniques to try. After practising these, you’ll be familiar enough with different situations to create your own original art confidently.

Dry pencil on wet paper

Dry pencil on wet paper

Make dry pencil strokes on pre-moistened paper to see how the colour reacts. You’ll notice that they may appear brighter and lighter, while the line loses its clarity.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Wet pencil on dry paper

Wet pencil on dry paper

Wet pencil on dry paper

Try dipping the pencil in water first and then make marks with it. While the first technique may have been more vivid, this approach gives you a gradient effect, with continuously changing shades.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Wet pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper

When used dry on dry surfaces, you’ll get a nice, clear line. You can add more saturation of the colour by pressing harder when making your marks.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Dry pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred with a brush

Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred with a brush

Colour your shapes on dry paper first. Add water by smoothly brushing over the shapes. This creates a smooth ombre effect within the shapes and a soft blurring of their edges.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred

Wet brush on wet paper

Wet brush on wet paper

After drawing your designs on a wet surface, use a moistened brush to overlay the lines with water. You’ll see the lines become thicker and blurred. This watery technique is also great for adding expressive paint drips.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Wet brush on wet paper

Two-pencil gradient

Two-pencil gradient

Use two pencils in different hues to fill in both halves of your paper using smooth lines drawn near together. Overlay the colours to blend and mix into a new colour. Use a variety of hues for unlimited combinations. Try this wet and dry.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Two-pencil gradient

Layering

Layering

First, apply a block of one colour with the pencil and lightly moisten with the water brush to create a transparent wash. After it dries, use another colour and layer it on top of the first along one side of the block (the original colour remains visible on the other side). Stroke where the two colours meet to form a third colour. Keep adding more colours and watch as new translucent colours emerge.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Layering

Take colour from the pencil tip with a moist brush

Take color from the pencil tip

Each pencil contains a solid core of pigment. When you touch a wet brush to the tip of the pencil, it’s similar to using watercolour paint in its solid form. By adding more or less paint, you can adjust the lightness or darkness of the saturation. Since your lines will be done with a brush instead of by the pencil, they will be clear, yet indistinct.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Take colour from the pencil tip

Cut off pieces of the pencil tip to create rain/snow effect

Using contrasting colours for the most significant effect, cut small pieces from the tip of the pencils. Drop these on a wet surface to get interesting, small stains and to create texture.

Watercolour Pencil Techniques: Cut off pieces of the pencil tip

Time to Get Started

So you’ve got the pencils, the paper, the brush pen, and an eraser, so it’s time to get started. We believe that once you have made some swatches and practised these techniques, you’ll be excited to create beautiful art and experience the magic of watercolour pencils.

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