So you’ve had some fun with watercolor paint and gotten comfortable using colored pencil. Why not combine the two? The wet and dry media complement each other and can bring great depth to your artwork, whether it’s a portrait, still life or just in your sketchbook. And, it’s easier than you think to fuse the media — best of all, there are no special tools required!
What you need
Before you start, you’ll want to gather your favorite set of colored pencils and watercolor paint.
Your paper selection is important here, too. Since you’ll be applying a wet medium to the paper, you need something that can handle water. Look for paper that’s neither too smooth or too rough; it should have some tooth (texture) to it, but not too much that your colored pencil won’t glide easily over the page. For my own artwork, I used hotpress paper.
How to combine watercolor and colored pencil
To begin, make a plan and sketch your mixed media artwork.
Planning your artwork is (most of the time) essential to creating a great piece. Even the most basic sketch will help you get scale and proportions correct.
Both watercolor and colored pencils are unforgiving media, so once you start to lay them on the page, there’s little you can do to correct your mistakes.
Once you’ve selected your subject, draw it lightly in pencil. Focus on the large shape relationships as well as some of the finer details you want to highlight.
Then, assess your subject.
What parts of it lend itself to watercolor? What details need to be rendered in colored pencil? Where will you layer both of them?
Have a general idea of how the two will interact before you put paint and colored pencils to paper. You can, of course, experiment, but the process becomes much easier with a loose plan. Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips:
- Watercolor works best for large areas of coverage and dark, saturated color. I used it to establish the ground and the backdrop, as well as to cover the body of my subject
- Colored pencils are ideal for accents and small areas where the fine point of a pencil works is needed. I used them to draw the hard edge of shadows.
After you’ve planned, apply your watercolor paint.
Once you’ve decided on the areas you’re painting, start by applying your favorite watercolor techniques. Working in thin layers, gradually add more layers of pigment.
But, beware: if you want to draw with colored pencil on top of the watercolor, you need to keep the color light. If the pigment is too saturated, it’ll look too dark and you won’t see the colored pencil.
Wait for your painting to dry, then draw on the colored pencil.
Break out your colored pencils only when your painting is completely dry. At that point, work in the same way you did with the watercolor: Lightly drag your pencils over the page and build rich color layer by layer. In addition, look at the areas which could use some precision, such as sharp shadows.
Colored pencil can be alone on the page, but it’s best when you apply it on top of your watercolor. Together, they add a beautiful depth that’s hard to achieve on their own.
Optional: Repeat the process.
Once you’ve applied the watercolor and drawn with the colored pencil, you might feel that your artwork is still lacking in richness, be it color or texture.
If you find yourself dissatisfied with the result, have no fear — you can repeat this process. As you paint with your watercolor, however, notice the areas where you’ve used colored pencil. Depending on how waxy your colored pencils are, the water might repel from your drawn lines. After it’s dry, you can use the colored pencils again.
You should approach this extra stage cautiously. It’s easy to apply too much pigment or texture to a work of art and make it look overworked. Use the rinse-and-repeat option only if you feel like you need to add contrast or saturation to a color.