Does Watercolor Smear Pencil Lines?

Watercolor with pencil lines

It’s a common practice to create pencil drawings as a guide before adding paint. However, in the case of watercolor, using a pencil can have adverse effects on your painting. That is because watercolor is a thin medium, and the pencil lines can get smeared or be visible through the colors.

There are a few solutions to this; for instance, the availability of watercolor pencils has made it easier to remove the guides once the paint dries. Alternatively, you can use color pencils that match your paint palette.

So, does watercolor smear pencil lines? Yes, it does. And today, we will look at various workarounds to avoid smearing in order to enhance the beauty of your painting.

Techniques to Avoid Pencil Lines from Smearing

Smearing pencil marks have been an issue for most artists. Here are some of the techniques you can use to prevent or totally avoid this.

1 / Line and Wash Painting

Line and wash painting embraces the pencil drawing technique rather than trying to make them invisible. It has been around in the watercolor painting world for many years now.

Essentially, what you do is make a pencil sketch that will be visible even after you use watercolor. Line drawing is different from making a full detailed pencil sketch because you’re just working with outlines and a few minor details.

Once you’re done, paint within the outlines with watercolor and allow the painting to dry. After that, use a waterproof ink pen to draw over your pencil outlines. These add texture and depth to your finished painting, which helps the fine details stand out amongst the softness of the watercolors.

Alternatively, you can use an eraser to erase the pencil outlines first and then fill them in with your waterproof pen.

2 / Watercolor Pencil Outlines

It is an excellent alternative to using a regular graphite pencil or mechanical pencil. With a watercolor pencil, you can make an initial sketch without worrying about the pencil marks showing above your watercolor paint.

The pencil marks are light and will easily dissolve into the paper when you add water to them. However, one of the main issues is that the outlines and guides of the initial drawing will disappear after the first wash.

That can be a problem if your watercolor painting is very detailed, and so, if the lines disappear, you might need to sketch them again after drying.

One thing you must keep in mind when working with watercolor pencils is their dissolving properties; in other words, they are water soluble. Therefore, always try using a neutral pigment not to affect your watercolor paint too much.

3 / Painting with No Guides

This is more of an advanced process and works better with a set of experienced hands. Painting with no guides means using your watercolor paint directly on the paper without drawing out your image first. It is done by many experienced artists who have a knack for good composition.

You can also sketch out your image on a piece of tracing paper and try to use that as a reference when painting. As we mentioned before, this is a little advanced, so please approach this method with immense levels of patience.

4 / Sketching with 2H Pencil

Most people unknowingly use soft graphite pencils marked as 2B or 4B. These tend to be darker and have a chance of smearing more.

You might think of creating a pencil drawing with soluble graphite pencils. However, that isn’t a proper solution because these tend to spread the grey color around when in contact with wet paint.

If you must use a pencil for sketching out your image first, we suggest using a 2H graphite pencil on some watercolor paper. Not only does it give light lines but also, it is easier to erase.

5 / Use Kneaded Erasers

As an artist, you must be very light-handed when working with watercolors and graphite pencils. If you exert too much pressure, it will result in darker lines that are difficult to erase. Once you apply a layer of paint over the lines, it becomes more difficult to get rid of them.

Drawing faint lines might seem difficult if you’re a watercolor artist who has just started. In that case, you can use a kneaded eraser to dab and erase the lines little by little. Be careful with this, as dabbing too much might remove the pencil line entirely.

As opposed to white erasers, kneaded ones don’t cause damage to your paper or leave dust. Even if you use the famous Magic Rub Eraser, your watercolor paper is bound to have some graphite lines present.

6 / Erasable Color Pencils

A common alternative used by many artists is the use of erasable color pencils instead of a mechanical graphite pencil. Once again, when using color pencils, you must have a light touch just as you would with any soft pencil.

The thing with erasable color pencils is that you need to use shades that your wet brush will easily cover. So, if you’re drawing an outline of tree bark, you would use brown colored pencils.

Erasable color pencils are far better than regular ones because erasing them is fairly easy. Also, they rarely leave marks after you’ve erased the lines completely, leaving your final painting neat and clean.

WATCH – Watercolour Tip from PETER WOOLLEY: Pencil Lines (or not?)


Frequently Asked Questions

1/ Which erasers should I use to remove pencil lines over watercolor?

If you’re removing pencil lines after your painting has dried, we suggest using a tough white eraser. Kneaded erasers are also a good option, but they won’t work as well once you’ve painted over the graphite pencil marks.

2 / How can I avoid tearing my paper when erasing something?

Whether or not your paper can withstand the friction of the eraser depends on the weight. Using 300 GSM watercolor paper is your best bet as it won’t pile or buckle.

3 / Are watercolor pencils erasable?

Whether or not you can erase a watercolor pencil mark depends on how dark it is and the color of its pigment. Dark lines and colors are generally difficult to erase.

Final Words

If you’re still wondering whether does watercolor smear pencil marks or not, the answer is yes, but not all the time. Certain pencil marks remain unchanged even after you put layers of watercolor over them.

However, the workarounds mentioned above should help you get rid of those annoying lines to make your watercolor painting look neat and tidy.

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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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