The dilemma of using water-soluble tools

May 27, 2024 | 6 Comments

Water-soluble pencils, pens and markers are fantastic tools for sketching. They are very versatile as you can use them dry or wet and combine them with other media. They are perfect if you are a beginner, if you struggle to use watercolour on location or if you want to sketch more/sketch standing up.

But there is one big problem with them, one dilemma that I struggle with nearly every time I use them…

Should I add water/watercolour?

These days I’m really liking the crispness of using these tools dry, so if I’m unsure what to do next, I generally don’t add any water or watercolour.

I am developing some strategies to help and will share them in the future. For now, my morning walk, coffee and sketch routine is enabling me to really test out my options.

Here are a few sketches this week that I left dry.

Do you also struggle with this dilemma when using water-soluble tools?


  • Jamie C says:

    These are such complicated street scenes that you are capturing so quickly! I hope you’ll be giving us some strategies for how to do that in Watercolor on Location!

    I’ve never been able to resist adding water to the water soluble dry materials. I always look at the yellow and blues in trees and wonder how the pencil marks will look with water and I can’t resist. I’m also not sketching on location these days, nor have I been pulling off sketching when busy, so the main advantages of leaving them dry are irrelevant. I wish I was sketching more despite conditions, I really think it will help, but I’m blocked at the moment.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie – yes I always added water too but lately love the crisp dry state so much that I’m resisting the water/watercolour step.
      Yes tips in WOL about street scenes – building on concepts n Foundations and Edges. It’s all about taking time to get the important edges down first!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    It’s not a dilemma for me — I revel in the versatility of all water-soluble materials, especially pencils and crayons! They are superheroes in my tool kit for being able to stay dry or bloom with water. ?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Tina,
      Yes they are totally superheroes!
      Good for you that you always know whether to use dry or wet. 🙂
      I love them both dry and wet… so find the decision hard!

  • Jim Habersetzer says:

    Just signed up to receive your emails. I’ve been sketching/journaling for years but some time back started using my phone. I’m trying to get re-enthused about growing back into sketchbook drawing and I think you’re the one to inspire me. Thanks!

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