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September 2013



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Watercolor Pencils and watercolors aren't really the same...

Cardinal, again, originally uploaded by Cathy (Kate) Johnson.

...though the pencils and crayons can be used that way, as "cakes" of
pigment, which they are.

This is a post I sent to my watercolor pencil class, now in session. Several people mentioned being frustrated because the pencils didn't act like their watercolors, and I wanted to clarify.

They ARE wonderful tools, particularly for sketching, and allow a kind of hybrid cross between drawing and painting, but they are very much their own thing.


Mostly, comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges...

As I've said before, and will again I'm sure, a pencil point is a whole lot smaller than a 1" watercolor brush--or a #8 round, even! It's smaller and it's slower. Even if you use one of the larger blocks or crayons, it's still slower than a big splashy wash you apply all in one go, with a big brush. So yes, you may even find them a bit more tedious. They often require more planning ahead, unless you're being truly sketchy--which of course is one of my favorite ways to use the medium!  Below is one of my favorite WC pencil sketches...

Autumn Tree

When used in the traditional way, with these dry media you're adding another step that you don't, with watercolor--rubbing dry pigment on paper, then wetting and blending it--and then layering, if you need to. So yes, it not only SEEMS a bit slower, it is. (It can also offer more control and wonderful portability.)

You can't expect, in most cases, to get the same loose, splashy washes you can with watercolors--you need a nice generous mixing area and a lot of water for that. Lyra Aquacolor crayons come closest that I've found, even when used in the traditional way--rubbing them on the paper, then lifting and blending.

They and the new Derwent Aquatones seem to work best lifting from the pencil/crayon with a wet brush and using them as big cakes of color, though Cretacolor Aquastics do about as well.

Pluses include the more controllable aspect of a pencil point and the
familiarity for many people of drawing over painting, and the interesting textures you can get with many of these tools.

The texture often shows through even after wetting, and can be a significant asset to your work, atmospheric and interesting.

They're convenient for travel, where water's hard to come by, or too heavy to carry, or where its use might be difficult or frowned upon.

Many of them are lightweight, though the solid pigment ones are much less so!

If weight is really an issue, you can choose a very limited palette--the cardinal above was done with three low-key primaries--Albrecht Durer Light Ochre, Indian Red, and Ultramarine--plus Graphitint's Steel Blue. as you see, you can get a really nice range with just those few tools.

Here's another example of low-key limited palette work, this time with a bit of black ink:

low key primaries--journal page detail

You can click on the image to see it more closely, and to be able to read the color names.  I really liked the bit of pencil work that showed through on the little landscape in my journal.

And not related to this discussion of comparisons...the thing I stress MOST when working with this medium is that the paper makes all the difference in your satisfaction level! Soft, delicate paper will drive you crazy in short order. It's just too hard to deposit sufficient pigment! I like a good hard surfaced paper with good sizing, like Fabriano or Strathmore 400 or 500, cold pressed or hot. The example above is on Folio paper, a print paper, and it's really not quite hard enough for easy watercolor pencil work...

Watercolor pencils are their own medium--an extremely versatile one! Just don't expect them to act like anything other.

Here's a clear example...the brighter, cleaner example is Fabriano paper, the softer is Folio: paper makes the difference with watercolor pencils (and other things!)


I don't often comment, it seems like my days are just so hectic, but I do read each and every one of your entries, whether about art or life, or maybe I should rephrase that as reading every entry about your ARTFULL LIFE. Thank you so much for sharing here in LJ, your knowlege and talent, not to mention your beautiful self! I learn so much from you! I love your work so much! And I think you are an amazing woman!
They are rather intertwined, aren't they! Thank you for all the kind words...


Thanks for posting this. I have so much to learn about this media, and watercolors for that matter, that I really appreciate all of your wonderful tutorials. Always inspiring.
You're very welcome, Ann...I keep meaning to do MORE of this kind of thing on my blog. Maybe you'll inspire me!
I really appreciate these wonderful posts :)

In April I plan to do a drawing each day, and I'm thinking about playing with my watercolor pencils for some of those. I love colored pencils, and watercolor pencils were great fun the couple times I used them. If funding allows, I may pick up your Watercolor Pencils CD :)
I'd love to see what you do with them!


Thanks so much for the informative post, Kate. I appreciate how you explain everything in easy to understand terms. I LOVE your work!

I guess I've been writing how-to stuff so long I do it in my sleep!*G* Glad you enjoyed it, Serena!