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Watercolor Pencils

by Susan Bradford                 from” Watercolor Pencils Workshop & Class”                              Beginner

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Watercolor pencil or crayon paintings can combine drawing qualities of pencils and paint, can look like standard tube watercolor paintings or by not using any water can also be used as traditional wax bases colored pencils. The first choice to make is watercolor pencils or crayons? Pencils are needed for fine lines and detail, so start with these first. Watercolor crayons and sticks are handy for covering large areas quickly. These can be added later as you understand the medium. An important first step in learning to use watercolor pencils or crayons is to experiment with varying amounts of pencil pressure and water to learn your options.

There are several manufacturers who make artist quality watercolor pencils. Most of my pencils are Derwent Watercolor Pencils. Derwent also makes an Inkintense line of water-soluble pencils which are lovely vibrant colors, but unlike watercolor pencils cannot be lifted (lightened). Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils, made by Faber Castell, are also a great line of watercolor pencils. These dissolve more quickly when water is applied which is desirable or not depending on your intent. If you like some of the drawing qualities to remain try Derwent watercolor pencils or if you would rather the painting looked like it was done with tube watercolors, you may like Durer better. Prismacolor also makes good artist quality watercolor pencils. Prismacolor pencils have plenty of pigment at a reasonable price. The leads seem more fragile, but proper sharpening techniques should decrease breakage.

Watercolor technique options: All were painted on cold pressed watercolor paper

To keep some of the drawing quality, use dry paper and either a wet or damp brush (some of the water squeezed out) depending on how the detail desired. For example, to create a smooth sky use plenty of water, but for land features and trees use only a damp brush.  Wet paper and wet pencils create very dense marks that are not possible to alter much with a wet brush. However, wet paper and/or a wet pencil can create darks quickly instead of the creating them with many layers with a dry paper and pencil. 

Some artists create a palette with watercolor pencils and use that brush paint on paper. The example shown was done with Derwent pencils, but Albrecht Durer pencils would do this better. Some artists do not draw on the paper at all, but uses a wet brush to collect color from the pencil tip to use as paint. Instead of this technique, tube watercolors would be faster, more successful and easier. 

Another fun technique is starting a painting with tube watercolors and then adding the detail and textures with watercolor pencils. One big advantage is that watercolor pencils are opaque enough to create light details over a dark background (impossible with tube watercolors) and textures can be quickly and effectively created with watercolor pencils.

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