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Watercolor pencils

Jun 05, 2023

(See above the short clip of information that I pulled from one of my group meetings this month.) 

What are watercolor pencils?  They are water-soluble colored pencils, which means that when water is applied the pigment is activated and spreads across the paper; thus giving it the appearance of a watercolor painting.  Watercolor pencils are different than colored pencils because of the binder used.  While watercolor pencils has a binder that is water-soluble, color pencils have a binder made of wax or oil.   

"The first art color pencils were invented and produced in 1924 by Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache. Berol started making its colored pencils in 1938".1

When choosing which type of pencil to use, first you must consider the intended usage of the set of pencils and the overall effect you wish to achieve.


  (The above mixed media project is created with collage and colored pencil.)  

Creating LIGHT AND DARK colors

The more layers of color pencil that is used in an area, the darker a color will be.  Colored pencils burnished to Burnished to create your light and dark colors.  "Burnishing is the process of adding heavy layers to a colored pencil drawing to recreate the look of a painting"2.

And then once water is applied with a brush to the color, the color will intensify and become brighter.  An easy way to create a lighter color is to add fewer layers of color (color lightly), or use a method known as the "pull-out" method in which a damp paint brush is layered on top of the color and pulled out away from the concentration of color. 


Let's talk price.  Artist-grade pencils will cost more than student grade, why? 

  1. Because they have a higher concentration of high-quality pigments.  The student-grade colored pencils will be a lower concentration. 
  2. A greater measured and defined characteristics like “lightfastness” ( the ability of a pigment to retain its original color appearance under exposure to light, i.e., resistance to UV rays in sunlight),
  3. less likely to break because of the core durability, 
  4. easily activates with water rather than being resistant to the water.

Student and academic grade color pencils are of lower quality than the artistic ones.   However, they may be inferior in the quality of pigments, (meaning their lightfastness is lower.) and do not have the same types of characteristics as the artistic grade; they are however...

  1. erasable and
  2. suited for beginners



I prefer Watercolor paper over Mixed media, or other paper because of its ability to hold water due to its thickness in weight.  I am able to add water without the concern of the paper peeling or curling.  



The ease in which you can travel and take along your art supplies is what makes watercolor pencils so appealing.  And the clean up is hassle free.  If you are one who like to add small details to your work, the pencil works beautifully like pen and ink.   And let's not overlook the fact that within a minimal amount of space you can carry a large selection of colors.  
In closing, I love the control of the watercolor pencil, and its ability to add fine details.  I love the ease in travel and especially that clean up is a breeze.  But, I think that my favorite aspect of using watercolor pencils is that I can still achieve the appearance of using watercolors, without taking my paints.    


Creating art while I am traveling is relaxing, but the thought of carrying with me a large bag of supplies is too overwhelming.  With watercolor pencils I do not need to take a large bag of supplies...just my pencils, paper, a brush and container of water.    

1.  Invention and History of Colored Pencils.

2.  Ibid.p.