Watercolor Pencils

By Alex Whisman

Water color pencils can seem mysterious if you are new to coloring or if you haven’t used them before.  What is the difference between those and regular color pencils? How do you use them?

Water color pencils are what their name suggests: Pencils that you can use water with.  You color a picture and add water to the colored areas to make it look as if you used water color paints.  They can be used on their own without the water and can still be blended like you would with any other pencil.  They just have an added dimension that you can take advantage of when creating your pictures.

I started back into my journey with adult coloring with Faber Castle’s Aquarelle pencils in 2015.  These are a nice entry-level water color pencil that lays down bright colors, blends well dry and are a great set to start with.  When you add water the color seems to transform and become deeper.  I have since converted my collection to their premium version, the Albrecht Durers.  These are smoother and nicer to color with.  I can buy them individually,  and there are about 120 colors to choose from.

I experimented with my first set.  I colored with them dry, I colored with them and added water to the finished picture, and I did some blending with Vaseline.  Because they are made to react with water, they work well blending with Vaseline, but like anything in the coloring world, this can depend on the brand of your pencils, Vaseline/Vaseline-like product and the type of paper you are coloring on.  (For more  information about blending with Vaseline, check out my article in the Feb 2016 issue of Color On).

While some places say you can dip the tip of a water color pencil into water and color with it, I generally avoid doing this.  You don’t want to get the wood casing of your pencil wet, and you don’t want the water to wick too high into the ‘lead’ of the pencil and stay too soft to color with, or to become crumbly if it repeatedly gets wet and dries out.

I use my water color pencils like a regular color pencil: I color with them.  I can add water for a different look.  If I want to put down background colors or go over an area quickly, I don’t have to make sure the pencil strokes are perfectly smooth because I know the water will even the strokes out.

I only use water if I am coloring on thicker paper, usually on pictures I’ve printed onto a heavy printing paper.  The thinnest I prefer to use when adding water to my colored pictures is 160gsm (about 60lb).  If you want to create a real work of art, try printing on water color paper.  You can create artistic pictures that way.   Do not add water to pictures on thin paper or paper that has an image on the other side.

If you are using water on a picture in a book use extra care and put some water and pencil on a test page.  Let it dry to to see if the water bleeds into the rest of the paper, if it sits on top of the paper and doesn’t soak in, or if it stays where you dab it and  starts drying.  If you do have good paper in a book and want to give it a try, make sure you put thick cardboard, plastic, or something similar to stop the water from leaking onto a page you aren’t coloring.  While I have used water with my pencils in books, I  prefer to scan and print them out so I don’t have to worry about ruining other pictures or my books.  You can use the water color pencils in a book without water, but add water to your pictures in books very carefully and at your own risk.

Telling you I use water with my water color pencils is well and good, but I hear some of you asking how I do this.  I color my picture with my water color pencils and then add a little water to the colored section.

I have used regular paint brushes made for water colors, but my favorite tools are my ‘water pens’ or ‘water brushes’.  These are plastic barrels that hold water and let you screw a brush on the end.  I have a set with 3 different brushes. These are perfect, because I am less likely to drip water on a picture than with a regular paint brush.

When using my water pens (or even just a paint brush) I use a paper towel to wipe off excess water.  I will ‘prime’ the brush with a little water on the bristles until it starts wicking water naturally from inside the barrel.  I don’t like to use a lot of water, so I go over a small section with water, then wipe it on a paper towel, then go over another area of the same color, then wipe and keep going.  Unless you are trying to blend colors, make sure you rinse your brush thoroughly (and dry most of the water off} between colors.  Because most of my pictures are self-printed, I try to avoid dragging water across the printed lines of the picture.  This can pick up ink and bleed it into another area.

I have found, being accident-prone, that it is better for me to color an area and then go over that area with water, then color another area and go over that with water.  If I try to color everything and then add water, I will drip or go over a line that bleeds black into my pristine yellow or end up spilling my coffee over the whole thing.  Little by little is the best way to work with water and your water color pencils.

I don’t usually wet an area and try to color on top of it.  I am more likely to tear the damp paper and I don’t have the control over pencil as I do when I color dry.  I color on dry paper and then add the water.  I may sometimes add some more pencil over the top of that section to deepen the color, but only do this when the paper has dried.
If you want to use these for backgrounds, I suggest you do this part first so you can experiment with what you want to see.  If it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted you won’t have spent time working on the main picture.  You are also less likely to drag color from one part of your picture into the background.

When you add water to your colored areas you can blend the colors into each other.  The technique is similar to blending dry colors.  First color your picture. Go over the area with the lightest color you want to show through.  Do a light application of color.  Lay down more of that color at the outer boundary and do the same on the other side with the second color you want to blend.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect blend. Once you have a patch you like (again, remember it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth), take your brush/water pen and drag it through the lightest patch of color. Clean and mostly dry your brush, then drag it through the darkest part only. Once both are lightly wet, you can blend a little of the edge of the dark into the light by pulling the damp color down into the light.  It takes practice and you have to be careful not to over-wet the page or it will start going fuzzy and break through.  When your paper is dry you can also add more dry colored pencil over the top of where you originally put the water and add more water again.

You can also blend by lightly wetting your brush and dragging it through the middle, but not quite to the edge of each color separately, cleaning it between each different color.  Then lightly wet your brush and drag it between two colors, from lighter to darker, to blend them together.  You can mix the colors where they meet.  Again, once your paper has dried you can add more color pencil to it and re-wet it for deeper color or different blends.

While water and pencils make great pictures, too much water and your paper will start  to wear through.  Be aware of how much water you are using and try to not overwork the area.  Too much water over a lighter weight page will cause it to curl.  We all know what that is like.  When I have finished a page I have used a lot of water on, I will put it between a couple sheets of paper towel, then between some heavy books for a few days.  You can also use a cool (not hot) iron on the back of the picture, with a thin towel between the iron and your picture, to gently straighten the paper.

Take time to play with your pencils.  Learn  what techniques suit your style best.

Of course, the best way to make sure your picture stays straight after that is to put it into a nice frame or to laminate it and show it off!


Happy Coloring!

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