Learn How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Table of Contents:

What’s So Special About Watercolor Pencils?

There’s something magical about adding a dab of water to drawn lines and watching them turn into painterly strokes of color. This is the beauty of watercolor pencils and is why they’re popular with urban sketchers, art journalers, watercolor painters, and home crafters alike. So, if you’re wondering what are watercolor pencils and what’s so great about them, get ready, you’re going to love what they can do!

Just like their cousin, the color pencil, these pencils also come in a far-reaching assortment of colors. And, just like color pencils, they can be used for blending and layering to create depth, dimension, and details. Where they differ is that they are water-soluble. When touched with water, your mark diffuses into a soft stroke of color. It’s like creating a watercolor painting without paint!

If you’re thinking about trying out watercolor pencils, don’t hold back on the number you start with. We recommend you get a larger set to get the most value for your money and the most colors for your creativity, such as the Arteza Professional Watercolor Pencils - Set of 72. These premium-grade pencils are all you need for any project knowing you have the most vibrant colors right at your fingertips. They are break-resistant and come in a convenient tin, making them easy to take with you anywhere you choose to paint or draw.

What Supplies Do I Need?

Because these pencils are activated by water, it’s important to use thicker paper that can handle moisture without buckling. For this reason, you should consider the density of the paper. The higher the density the better, with most professional watercolorist using 90lb. (200 gsm) and up.

TIP: A good rule of thumb is the more watery you paint, the higher the density paper you need.

Another thing to think about when choosing your paper is its texture. Both smooth and textured surfaces have their advantages, depending on your approach and/or the look you’re going for. To get the best of both worlds, we recommend the Arteza Expert Watercolor Pads, 9x12”, 32 sheets - set of 2. Each page gives you a choice of a smooth side and a textured side. It comes in a convenient glue-bound pad to keep your art work together and protected from wear and tear. At 140lb. (300gsm), it’s ideal for projects that use watercolor pencils.

So how do you apply water once you’ve drawn with the watercolor pencil? The best tool for this is the water brush. This brush has a barrel that can be filled with water to moisten marks to create blurred, smooth, transitional, and thin clear-cut lines. You use it the same way you use a traditional paintbrush. The Arteza Water Brush Pens - Set of 6 come with both fine-tips and broad-tip to produce a variety of stroke sizes.

An eraser is a handy tool to have, but not necessarily for getting rid of a line. Erasers can also be used to lighten areas by lifting small amounts of color. If you do need to erase a line while drawing, try not to bear down too hard on the eraser or you might damage the paper. Consider using the Arteza Eraser Pencil Kit, which has an eraser on one end and a handy brush on the other to whisk away erasures without affecting your artwork. This kit also comes with a sharpener to preserve the tips of both your eraser and pencils.

TIP: Watercolor pencils do not work well in combination with regular colored pencils or on canvas intended for acrylic and oil paintings.

Get Started

When learning how to use watercolor pencils you can get started by creating a swatch chart. Draw a series of blocks. Color in the top of each block in each color. Then moisten with your brush pen, moving the color down the block to get a variant of shades.

chart color pencil chart color pencil

Keep your color charts nearby as a handy reference.

This exercise will help you get acquainted with all the colors in your set as well as how they look both wet and dry.

Techniques to Try

Here are nine techniques to try. After practicing these, you’ll be familiar enough with different situations to confidently create your own original art.

Dry pencil on wet paper

Dry pencil on wet paper

Make dry pencil strokes on pre-moistened paper to see how the color reacts. You’ll notice that they may appear brighter and lighter, while the line loses its clarity.

Wet pencil on dry paper

Wet pencil on dry paper

Wet pencil on dry paper

Try dipping the pencil in water first and then make marks with it. While the first technique may have been more vivid, this approach gives you a gradient effect, with constantly changing shades.

Wet pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper

When used dry on dry surfaces, you’ll get a nice, clear line. You can add more saturation of the color by pressing harder when making your marks.

Dry pencil on dry paper

Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred with a brush

Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred with a brush

Color your shapes on dry paper first. Add water by smoothly brushing over the shapes. This creates a smooth ombre effect within the shapes and a soft blurring of their edges.

Dry pencil on dry paper– blurred

Wet brush on wet paper

Wet brush on wet paper

After drawing your designs on a wet surface, use a moistened brush to overlay the lines with water. You’ll see the lines become thicker and blurred. This watery technique is also great for adding expressive paint drips.

Wet brush on wet paper

Two-pencil gradient

Two-pencil gradient

Use two pencils in different hues to fill in both halves of your paper using smooth lines drawn closely together. Overlay the colors to blend and mix into a new color. Use a variety of hues for unlimited combinations. Try this wet and dry.

Two-pencil gradient



First, apply a block of one color with the pencil and lightly moisten with the water brush to create a transparent wash. After it dries, use another color and layer it on top of the first along one side of the block (the original color remains visible on the other side). Stroke where the two colors meet to form a third color. Keep adding more colors and watch as new translucent colors emerge.


Take color from the pencil tip with a moist brush

Take color from the pencil tip

Each pencil contains a solid core of pigment. When you touch a wet brush to the tip of the pencil, it’s similar to using watercolor paint in its solid form. By adding more or less paint, you can adjust the lightness or darkness of the saturation. Since your lines will be done with a brush instead of by the pencil, they will be clear, yet indistinct.

Take color from the pencil tip

Cut off pieces of the pencil tip to create rain/snow effect

Cut off pieces of the pencil tip

Using contrasting colors for greatest effect, cut small pieces from the tip of the pencils. Drop these on a wet surface to get interesting, small stains and to create texture.

Cut off pieces of the pencil tip

Time to Get Started

So you’ve got the pencils, the paper, the brush pen, and an eraser, so it’s time to get started. We believe that once you have made some swatches and practiced these techniques you’ll be excited to create beautiful art and experience the magic of watercolor pencils.


Most interesting and instructive ! I made an excellent discovery.

George Chan

What strokes should I use to apply the color? Lines circles? I have no idea


Hey there, Beverly! We’re beyond thrilled you’re having fun on your art adventure! Trying new techniques sure can be magical.


Wow this was great!


I am loving every minute of learning these new techniques. Thank
you so much. Who says you can’t learn new things at 81?? Bev

Beverly Reynolds

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