How to Mix Colors With Watercolor Pencils

Cover image: How to Mix Colors With Watercolor Pencils

Despite their resemblance to ordinary colored pencils, watercolor pencils rely on water to create aesthetically appealing effects similar to watercolor paints. And since the color is a significant factor when using watercolor pencils, it’s crucial to understand how to play around with different colors.  

There are several ways to mix colors with watercolor pencils. You can draw on dry watercolor paper then add water to activate the colors later on. You can also use watercolor pencils to draw on already wet paper. Also, using a wet brush, you can pick up color from the tip of a colored pencil.

Interested in learning How to Mix Colors With Watercolor Pencils? Then you couldn’t be in a better place. Read on as we discuss how to use watercolor pencils to create richly colored pieces. 

More About Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils rely on water-solubleOpens in a new tab. binders as opposed to oil or wax to hold their components in place. The water-soluble binders allow the colors to spread out similarly to watercolor paint. As you prepare to draw using watercolor pencils, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Selecting the right amount of color layers is vital when using watercolor pencils. Using excessively heavy layering will more often than not lead to a muddy buildup of paint.
  • Watercolor pencils dry faster compared to watercolor paints. Therefore, it’s crucial to act fast once you add water to the sketches.
  • Watercolor pencils can also be used dry. However, for the color pigmentsOpens in a new tab. to stand out, using a gently soaked water brush on the sketches is advisable.

How to Control Color Intensity When Using Watercolor Pencils

Your success when using watercolor pencils depends on how well you enhance or diminish the appearance of a color. Consider trying the following techniques when using watercolor pencils.

Vary Pencil Pressure

When using a watercolor pencil, the appearance of your final work of art greatly depends on the pressure you apply when drawing. Pressing the pencil harder on the watercolor paper allows for increased color deposition. But if you want a delicate hueOpens in a new tab., applying light pressure on the paper is advisable.  

Point to note, though, the lines made when applying heavy pressure rarely dissolve upon the introduction of water. This means that such lines will be visible in the finished piece.

Draw Loose and Dense Lines to Saturate the Colors

Did you know that color saturationOpens in a new tab. when using watercolor pencils also depends on how close you draw lines? To explain further, water paintings have more saturated colors when several lines are drawn close together. However, for less vivid imagery, drawing lines far apart is recommended. 

Wet Pencil Tips

Wetting the tip of your pencil before drawing will lead to a bolder and brighter drawing on watercolor paper. However, color applied using this technique is often hard to blend, exactly why it’s a technique best suited for applying finishing touches to a piece.

Lift to Brighten the Colors

If, after activating a color, you realize that it is excessively dark, you can lift its appearance by using a paper towel or dry brush when the painting is still wet. This technique is ideal for making colors appear brighter than they normally would when using watercolor pencils and water only. 

However, you’ll need to quickly introduce the dry brush or paper towel when the paper is still wet for lifting to be successful.  

How to Add Shading and Mix Colors

Below are some ways you can mix unique colors and add expert shading to your work of art.

Layering by Carefully Wetting Between Color Applications

Although potentially taxing, this technique is ideal for beginners and painters looking to muster the art of using watercolor pencils. In this method, you apply one color and activate it without applying any other color.

Put, when using this method, you’ll only apply another color once you’re done applying and activating the first color. Experienced painters rarely use this technique since waiting for the activated colors to dry before applying another is time-consuming, especially when dealing with large paintings.

Layering Several Colors Before Activating

Layering with watercolor pencils can also be done by applying several dry colors before activating with water. Besides being faster than the initial technique, this method allows you to blend colors thoroughly that individual hues rarely show through.

While this method might prove a bit challenging for first-timers, it is highly effective in mixing and blending different types of colors. But for desirable outcomes, it is advisable to check on your pencil pressure, mainly because it influences the amount of color deposited on the paper surface.

Blending Adjacent Colors

Watercolor art is all about the blends and transitions of different color schemes. Blending colors help improve transitions, thus making your painting smooth and well-coordinated in its various color schemes. Once you’ve applied color, take a wet brush and start spreading the colors from the lighter hue to the darker color.

When blending colors in your watercolor paper, be sure to start with the lighter color to the darker shades to achieve a smooth gradient. Blending from dark to light will obstruct colors since the darker color will eat into the lighter hue.  

How to Apply Color Using Watercolor Pencils

Below are some of the ways you can apply color to your watercolor paper.

Draw on Dry Paper

This is the easiest way to apply different shades of color on watercolor paper. After choosing and using your preferred colors, the next step is to take a water brush and carefully stroke the brush on your outlines.

The water will activate the colors, leaving you with a beautiful, well-colored surface. However, be cautious of the pressure you use to apply the colors, as it plays a massive role in determining the final appearance.

Draw on Wet Watercolor Paper

Although not as frequently used as the first method, this technique can also work, especially if your target produces intense color schemes. This method produces fuzzier and relatively soft lines that can be hard to control for first-timers.

If you choose to use this technique, remember to act fast since the colors won’t spread too well once allowed to dry.

Scrape Color on Wet Watercolor Paper

Using watercolor pencils gives you the freedom to try out different coloring styles. For dappledOpens in a new tab. and speckled effects, consider scraping color onto a wet watercolor paper. This method will only work when damp paper is used. Once your paper is wet, use a sharp surface to scrape color from the watercolor pencil of your choice. Please note that there is a difference between regular colored pencils and watercolor pencilsOpens in a new tab..

This method is ideal for depicting natural phenomena like ocean spray and snow. However, you can still play around with the flakes to develop creative designs that’ll help give your artwork a unique dimension.

Using a Wet Brush to Pick Color From Pencil Tips

This method is advisable if you don’t want pencil strokes appearing on your work. Hold your watercolor pencil and direct a wet brush to the tip. Rub the brush repeatedly on the colored pencil until you’re confident that it has absorbed enough color, then use the brush to paint. 

Although not too many prefer using this method, it can help painters transition from paints to watercolor pencils.

Must-Have Items When Painting Using Watercolor Pencils

When using watercolor pencils, it’s crucial to have several watercolor papers, water, paper towels, and even a brush. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the must-have items when painting using watercolor pencils.

Watercolor Paper

Since watercolor pencils work their magic upon the introduction of water, it’s pivotal to use sturdy paper with good water absorption properties. Luckily, watercolor paper is thick in design, ensuring that the surface remains sturdy enough compared to regular sketching paper.

The surface you sketch and paint on determines the quality of your final piece. Therefore, as you look for the best watercolor papers, consider using high-quality papers such as the Global Art Fluid Watercolor PaperOpens in a new tab. and Stillman & Birn SketchbooksOpens in a new tab..

Water Brush

The whole idea of using watercolor pencils is to use water to activate the color pigments and bring life to a sketch. Although not as crucial as watercolor paper or pencils, the brush you use in watercolor painting plays a role in determining the outcome.

You can choose water brushes or paintbrushes. But if you opt to use a paintbrush, ensure that it is clean and free of color remnants that might otherwise introduce foreign color to your raw sketch. Using flat and large brushes is recommended for abstract effects as it spreads large sections of color quickly and smoothly.

Paper Towels

Paper towels help to remove excess water from a brush. These towels also come in handy when lifting (brightening dark shades) a drawing. While some people might opt to draw without paper towels, having a pack on standby will keep you in control of the water levels in your brush and paper.


A watercolor painting must be activated by water for the colors to take up their true form. However, besides activating the colors, water is also essential in cleaning your brush. 

Remember, you’ll need your water brush free of any colors when looking to activate a section of your drawing. Water is also useful in case you choose to change coloring techniques.

Sharpeners and Additional Supplies

Since you’ll be using watercolor pencils, it’s only natural that you’ll need to sharpen the tips of the frequently used pencils. It’s easy to leave out a sharpener when planning to use these pencils; however, having one by your side will help to sharpen tips when need be. 

You might also need additional supplies like sandpaper or knives to scrape the tips when working on unique designs. Washi tape or masking also helps to tape your paper, thus reducing movement when applying the colors.

How to Paint Using Watercolor Pencils

Make a Sample Chart to Define the Primary Colors

Since watercolor pencils usually look different once activated, it’s crucial to understand what the colors will look like after introducing water. To do so, you’ll need to make a sample chart of the various colors you intend to use in your piece.

After you’re done using the pencils, add a bit of water to activate the samples, and voila, you’ll have a practical example of how the primary colors will appear upon activation. Although creating a sample chart isn’t necessary, you should advise if you want an accurate color representation in your final piece.

Stretch the Watercolor Paper

When working on important pieces (with little room for error), it’s always available to prepare the watercolor paper to prevent warping. To stretch your watercolor paper, you’ll need to wet both sides such that the paper is damp. Use a paper cloth to wipe out excess water in case the paper is dripping.

It would help if you allowed the watercolor paper to dry out naturally before drawing outlines using watercolor pencils. This step helps prepare the watercolor paper, ensuring that it maintains its form once you get started.

Draw Your Outlines

The first step, which is usually the easiest when using watercolor pencils, is outlining. Although most artists view this step as basic, it’s crucial to get the outlines right to determine the areas that need additional color or those that need light color schemes.

Take as much time as you can in this step since there’s no going back once you get started on the colors. You can use graphite pencils or waterproof pens as alternatives to watercolor pencils.

Fill In the Colors

 After outlining your final painting, it’s now time to fill in the colors. Disclaimer, while this step might appear easy, it requires extra care to avoid overdoing or underapplying the color schemes. Apply extra pressure on areas that you want dark. The trick is to balance the intensity of the color pencils to ensure that different regions receive their desired color schemes.

Activate the Colors

The next (and arguably the best) step is to activate the colors. As you look to activate the colors, be keen on the direction of your pencil strokes. Observing a similar stroke pattern with the water brush will leave your final piece looking neat and cohesive. To minimize the appearance of pencil strokes, it is advisable to work the color gently using the brush.

Gently stroke the water brush until you achieve the desired color schemes. Remember, when blending different colors, moving from bright to dark colors is always recommended. Also, be careful when introducing water to prevent fraying or pilling the watercolor paper.  

Layer Your Painting to Add Detail and Depth

Once your initial water application has dried up, it’s time to layer more color to improve and develop your piece. It would help if you considered using contrasting colors to enhance the shading, adding a similar hue to deepen the primary colors, and even using precise marks to define tiny details. 

Disclaimer, you shouldn’t use too many colors if you want to avoid muddying your piece.

In the Studio with Michele WebberOpens in a new tab.

Top Three Best Watercolor Pencils

The best watercolor pencils should have a variety of hues and produce vivid colors. Below are some of the leading watercolor pencils in the market.

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils, Water-Soluble Color Pencil Set, Assorted Colors, Adult Coloring, 36 Count Opens in a new tab.
  • Pair with a brush and the water-soluble cores help you sketch flowing liquids and create shimmering...
  • Pigments have excellent solubility for smooth laydown
  • Richly saturated, lightfast colors are great for adult coloring books

Last update on 2024-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This set of watercolor pencils is well known for its lightfast and highly saturated colors. As a set of 36 pencils, you can work on any painting without worrying too much about the color scheme. 

Moreover, you can also use these pencils for creating effects as they have impressive solubility, thus allowing for smooth laydown.

Derwent Colored Pencils

Derwent Colored Pencils, WaterColour, Water Color Pencils, Drawing, Art, Metal Tin, 24 Count (32883),Multicolor Opens in a new tab.
  • STURDY PRECISION – Easy to sharpen, break resistant pencils are ideal for long periods of use....
  • WATER SOLUBLE – Combine the control of a pencil with the beauty of watercolour. Use a wetted...
  • COLOUR LAYERING – Pigment transfers to paper quickly due to a softer formulation. This helps with...

Last update on 2024-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

These pencils come as a set of 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72 units, making them ideal for both amateurs and professionals. All the pencils in this set are break-resistant and easy to sharpen, allowing for increased usability. These pencils are ideal for layering as they are designed to transfer pigments quickly.

These pencils come in a wide range of colors, ideal for users of different proficiency levels. For experts, it is advisable to buy the 36, 48, or 72 sets as they come with a wide array of colors.

Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils

Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils, Set of 24 Colors in Stand-up Easel Case (157SB24) Opens in a new tab.
  • Ergonomic triangular shape
  • Richly colored soft lead
  • Includes a stand up box to keep pencils organized

Last update on 2024-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Staedtler is arguably among the most trusted manufacturers of watercolor pencils. With this set of 24 colors, you can create a richly colored piece, provided you mix the colors well.

The pencils are triangle-shaped, which improves comfort, thus making it possible to hold the pencils for long. Amateur artists will love the Anti-Break System feature that makes the pencil leads soft and break-resistant.

Final Words

Painting with watercolor pencils is a great way to get creative with colors and create aesthetically appealing, richly colored pieces. Although similar to using painting brushes, you’ll need to be extra careful when creating outlines using pencils.

If you opt to draw on dry paper and activate the colors, later on, ensure that you apply the right amount of pressure to bring out the natural colors.

And in case you prefer drawing on wet paper, you’ll need to create outlines with caution to avoid overemphasizing the colors or even pilling the watercolor paper.


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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