Watercolor pencils look like regular colored pencils, and you pretty much use them the same way. But add water to your drawing and something incredible happens: You've got watercolor art.
That's because the binder holding the pigment in watercolor pencils is water-soluble, unlike the waxy or oily stuff in regular colored pencils.
That small difference is enough to open up a world of creative possibility. I'm going to show you just what you can do by playing around with a few of my favorite techniques.
1. Draw something, then brush with water
This is Watercolor Pencils 101. Just remember to wet the lighter colors first, because brushing darker pigments into lighter ones usually doesn't end well.
Remember that colors look different wet than dry — usually, they're darker and more vibrant. To know what you're getting into, do a test run on a piece of watercolor paper. The chart below is a good model to follow.
The more pencil you add to your drawing, the more intense the colors will be when they're wet. For lighter colors try to color in a "loose" manner. You can even DIY a mashup by layering different pencil colors!
The blue swatches above show what happens when you color with a light hand.
2. Use watercolor pencils as portable paint
Draw a spot of color on an area of your paper, then use it as you would a palette. It's a clever on-the-go move. You could also rub your brush directly against the tip of the pencil, but you'll have less control over how much pigment you get.
Above you see the making of a portable palette. Below: Lifting color from a watercolor pencil with a brush.
3. Add details to a watercolor painting
Watercolor pencils can be used on top of a watercolor painting to add designs and very fine lines. I find this technique really useful when painting electric wires or the details of buildings in a cityscape.
"Early this morning," watercolor and mixed media by Sandrine Pelissier
4. Create patterns
Watercolor pencils can add patterns to a painting, the same way regular colored pencils can.
"Some Flowers Bloom in Winter" by Sandrine Pelissier
In the painting above, the patterns on the right were drawn with watercolor pencil. The lines were drawn with dry pencil; the flowers, with pencil dipped in water.
As you see, dipping watercolor pencils in water makes for darker, bolder line. You could even try drawing with the pencils on wet paper to produce a soft line.