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Painting with watercolour pencils: All about applications, techniques and inspirations

With watercolour pencils you get two for one! Firstly, because they are just as handy as conventional coloured pencils and secondly, because they produce just as beautiful colour gradients as watercolour paints. Watercolour pencils are extremely versatile, which always makes them worth buying.

In this part of our online course, you will learn from our artist Nadja:
✔ How to paint with watercolour pencils even for beginners ✔ What advantages they offer ✔ Which basic techniques you should know

A feature from Nadja

Painting with watercolour pencils:

The materials

Painting with watercolour pencils is easy if you know a few basic rules. First of all, you should have everything ready that you need to paint with the watercolour pencils:

STAEDTLER Watercolor pencils

Watercolour pencils:

Choose a colour set that contains the most important basic colours. These open up more design possibilities and make your watercolours look more realistic.

Watercolour paper

Watercolour paper:

It is best to use paper from a watercolour block with a structured surface and a minimum weight of 200 to 300 g/m2.


Paint brushes:

The undisputed classic is the round brush, which has a round opening and tapered brush hairs. A small round brush is best suited for fine details, the larger counterpart for large areas. For watercolouring corners and edges, however, you should use a flat brush.

Water glass

Water glass:

Having a glass full of water nearby is necessary for painting with watercolours to wet your brushes. You should change the water regularly as soon as it becomes too discoloured.

Paper towel

Paper towel:

Paper towels are handy to have close by as you will occasionally use them to squeeze the brushes.

Painting with watercolour pencils:

What painting techniques are there?

The good thing about watercolour pencils is that you can also use them like conventional coloured pencils to draw and hatch with them on normal paper (copy/sketch paper). They have a slightly softer lead so that the pencils release a lot of colour with little pressure. The special thing about watercolour pencils, however, is that they are watercolourable.

There are a few techniques you can use to paint with watercolour pencils. Nadja shows you which ones in the video.

Since a lot of water is used for painting watercolours with pencils, you should definitely use special watercolour paper.

9 techniques for painting with watercolour pencils

There are 9 basic techniques that you can use and try out when painting with watercolour pencils. Download the exercise sheet for the techniques beforehand to use during the video.

Exercise sheet

Watercolour technique "Flat Wash": Purple gradient in white rectangle on paper

#1: Flat wash

Colour an area with the watercolour pencils and then wet it with a little water. Make sure that the watercolour pencils are applied as evenly as possible. You can also make the surface more even with your brush strokes.

Watercolour technique "Gradient Wash": purple colour gradient from light to dark in a white rectangle on paper

#2: Gradient wash

With the gradient wash technique, apply the colour more prominently at one end and then let it run out. To do this, apply more pressure to the colour pencil at one end. Reduce the pressure towards the lighter side. Where you want the area to be the lightest, do not apply any pigments with the colour pencil. Only a few pigments are "pushed" here with water and brush.

Watercolour technique "Damp watercolour pencil on dry paper": Purple line drawings of various thicknesses in white rectangle on paper

#3: Damp watercolour pencil on dry paper

For this technique, dip the tip of your watercolour pencil into a small container of water. Then you draw soft lines on dry watercolour paper, which will immediately flow discreetly. To use this technique, you need to wet the watercolour pencil at short intervals, as the tip dries quickly.

Watercolour technique "Damp watercolour pencil on wet paper": Snake lines drawn in red in a white rectangle on paper

#4: Dry watercolour pencil on wet watercolour paper

Another technique: Moisten the paper with water beforehand. You can spray it or apply a thin layer of moisture with a brush. When you colour the paper with the watercolour pencils, the colours will melt and create beautiful gradients.

Watercolour technique "Colour transitions": Red-yellow colour gradient in rectangle on paper

#5: Colour transitions

With this technique, you first apply the colours with the watercolour pencils to the dry watercolour paper. Then you paint everything with a brush and water. Important: When applying the pigments with the watercolour pencil, you can already draw a thin layer of both colours on top of each other where the colours are to mix. When you add water, the colours will blend seamlessly.

Watercolour technique "Mixing colours": Yellowish colour gradient in rectangle on paper

#6: Mixing colours

You can also mix your own colour that is not included in the watercolour pencil palette. Apply two colours dry on top of each other and then dissolve them with water so that they mix on the paper.

Watercolour technique "wet-on-dry": Reddish colour gradient in rectangle on paper

#7: Wet-on-dry

You can also work with watercolour pencils in several layers of wet-on-dry. Blend a first layer of colour with water and let it dry completely. To achieve more depth or a darker colour, you can colour a second or third layer and blend it again with water.

Watercolour technique "Colour from Pencil Tip": Purple gradient from light to dark in white rectangle on paper

#8: Pencil tip colour

You can also moisten the tip of the watercolour pencil with water to dissolve the pigments. You can then pick them up with the brush and draw with them.

Watercolour technique "Sandpaper Technique": Reddish dots of various sizes in a white rectangle on paper

#9: Sandpaper technique

Create random effects or structures when drawing with your watercolour pencils by spreading pigments from the lead on the paper and dissolving them with water. Here you can experiment and try out a lot of designs.

Get inspired

Painting with watercolour pencils: Find more inspiration here

Do you want to try out the techniques yourself and experiment with your watercolour pencils? Then get started straight away! In the video below, Nadja shows you how she paints a poppy meadow using different techniques.

Download our free template for painting with watercolour pencils for beginners to use during the video and get started.

Want to see how to transfer the template to watercolour paper again? Nadja explains it step by step in this video on our page for getting started with watercolour painting.

Mixed media tutorial

You can also combine different techniques and products in one watercolour painting. You can find out exactly how to do this in this video.
Download the motif template to use during the video.

Want more inspiration from other artists?

Once you've created your first image, link to us on social media with the hashtag #myDesignJourney!

How do watercolour pencils differ from watercolour paints and crayons?

4 STAEDTLER Watercolour pencils red

How do watercolour pencils differ from watercolour paints?

Painting with watercolour pencils is particularly suitable for beginners who are not yet as skilled with a brush as they offer the control of a pencil while allowing for beautiful watercolour effects. They are also easy to carry and the perfect all-rounder for on-the-go watercolour drawing.

You can create artistic images with pencils just as you can with watercolour paints - the only difference is that colours from paint tubes have a slightly more intense pigmentation than watercolour pencils.

How do watercolour pencils differ from coloured pencils?

Visually, watercolour pencils differ from regular coloured pencils by having a small brush symbol embossed on them. Their shape makes them extremely handy and allows for easy colour application. You can create dry drawings with them or paint your drawings with water.

Finally, the lead of the watercolour pencils is the most important distinguishing feature from conventional coloured pencils. While the ingredients of the watercolour lead are very similar to the waterproof lead, it contains additional substances to achieve watercolourability. This allows you to apply colours in a glazed way and create a transparent look. Or you can use the watercolour pencils to accentuate the contours and lines of your watercolour painting to give it more expression and depth.

Painting with watercolour pencils:

The products used in this course

STAEDTLER® 146 10C STAEDTLER® 146 10C Watercolour pencil Cardboard box containing 48 watercolour pencils in assorted colours
STAEDTLER® tinted 146 10T STAEDTLER® tinted 146 10T Tinted watercolour pencil Cardboard box containing 12 tinted watercolour pencils in assorted colours
STAEDTLER® pure colour 146 10G STAEDTLER® pure colour 146 10G Full watercolour pencil Metal case containing 12 watercolour pencils in assorted colours
STAEDTLER® 989 STAEDTLER® 989 Synthetic brush Blistercard containing 3 brushes: #2 round, #8 round, #8 flat
STAEDTLER® 949 STAEDTLER® 949 Water brush Blistercard containing 1 brush: round fine
STAEDTLER® 949 STAEDTLER® 949 Water brush Blistercard containing 4 brushes: round fine, round medium, round large, chisel
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Other materials needed:

  • Watercolour paper
  • Mixing palette
  • Water container with water

Instructions for watercolour painting: To the other courses