Using Watercolour Pencils

October 23, 2014 | 4 Comments

Looks like we are having a colour chart week. The next on the agenda is my collection of watercolour pencils.

I have always had some watercolour pencils in my kit (since Sketchbook Number 1) but it has taken me years to find a way that I am really happy with since they are only ever a part time use. In fact in the early days I often used them to patch up a bad watercolour wash – would not do that now.

I don’t like that they:

  • lift too easily – too much water and they disappear
  • lose intensity when you add water  (with the exception of a few colours that go way too intense with water)
  • are so opaque.

But I do like using them:

  • instead of ink for outlines
  • as setup lines (I have been using brown ochre as a setup pencil for the last 12 months)
  • for texture or small detail

AND I discovered last year that putting paint over them was much better than just adding water.

I have tried only carrying three pencils and then 6… but at the moment I carry 10 with me. Oh! no…it is actually 11 as I recently added cobalt green!

I am happy with this collection. I can achieve a good range of colours but if I am worried about achieving an exact match I can adjust when the watercolour is added over the top.

I really focused on what colours were in my kit earlier this year when I taught a High Tea workshop for Rockdale Council. The addition of a bright green and the middle purple pink was a definitely a teacup response!

I then added a few more earth colours to the set when I went to Tasmania in May and taught 2 workshops inside the local museums there. It was then that I seriously looked at the way I was using them. Putting down the colour richly and boldly and then being very restrained with water.

Recently however, I have developed a new way of working with watercolour pencils (WCP) that perfectly suits the occasions I think of using them. Those occasions are when I have NO time… and what I am doing is mixing up pencil – pen – paint.

Lynne Chapman got me thinking in Brazil… because she was just working with coloured pencils she was able to attempt a sketch at anytime. The ease of colour with WCPs is very liberating.

Last night I did this quick sketch of my suitcases – I am off for a few days to Newcastle for a workshop and a rare full day off (in association with my rest day, Sunday – I will have 2 non work days – that is so needed at the moment,)
Here is the first stage – I very quickly drew the outlines in the colour and roughed in some shading using a little mixing of colours.


Then I added some ink OVER the WCPs (solves the opacity problem) and then paint… and then a little more ink. Did the same for the camera sketch as well.

And another one of my paint tubes…

This way of working is super fast – it is not a polished sketch but at least I am sketching and I am happy with the freshness of these sketches. No overworking here!

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  • Susana Smith says:

    Hi Liz …just read about your use of watercolour pencils. What are your thoughts on mixing the watercolour pencils and water on a board first (like the Caran d’Ache palette which has a textured surface) before applying the mix to paper? This eliminates the problem of lines on the paper.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks, Susana – A lot of people use that technique!
      Personally I like the lines… if I use WCP as opposed to watercolour I want the lines and texture of the pencil work to still be visible in the end sketch… so I’ve not really used this technique at all. But that CdA board looks great!

  • Greg Nott says:

    Hi Liz,

    I took a class on Domestrika with Albert Kiefer.. He LOVES your work by the way. I started using some of the Copic markers. Can you list the colors that you use?



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