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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why watercolor pencils?


You might have noticed that many of my recent nature journal entries are in watercolor pencil, and some people wonder why I often choose this over other media. My answers? Portability, ease of use, and versatility.

Right now I don’t have a studio space, so I often find myself sketching in odd spaces such as a sofa corner or the dining room table. I also like to sketch outside, and might be standing on a boardwalk or sitting on a lake’s edge; neither of which is friendly to an elaborate set-up.

Watercolor pencil media seems to be an ideal solution for my nature journal because I can carry a small set and a waterbrush for field sketching, or use them in a cramped indoor space for a close-up study.

Besides being extremely portable, they’re also easy to use after a bit of practice. I’ve always enjoyed having a pencil in my hand, and watercolor pencils give me a connection to drawing and sketching. I also love brushwork and the unpredictability of watercolors. These give me both! Once I’ve created a chart of my basic colors (see my Kimberly chart here) and have played around with the media, I know a bit more about what to expect when I use them.

Their versatility allows me to use them as pencils, or like watercolors, or as a combination of both. Working from light to dark, I often like to work in layers, although sometimes I like to keep it simple and work in just one pass. They’re handy to use for quick thumbnail sketches or for more detailed studies on the fly. Please note that in the following demonstration, you can click on the image to view it larger.

A dry pencil can be used for linear textures or solid color, or the scribbles dissolved completely for a wash similar to watercolor paint. At times I mix media, frequently using a fiber-tipped ink pen (such as Sakura’s Micron Pigma or Pitt’s Artist Pens), then add color with watercolor pencils. I’ve also used the water soluble pencils with watercolors and charcoal.


The step-by-step demonstration of this old pine branch gives a good idea of the process that I often use.  The best tool is a test sheet of different colors that might be good candidates.  The test sheet at the top of this post shows several colors that seemed to be present in my subject.  I did utilize them all, however the Yellow Ochre and Orange were used very sparingly.

I was introduced to watercolor pencils last summer when I took an online class  from artist and author Cathy Johnson, and learned how wonderful the media can be. Water-soluble pencils turned out to be a great tool for my nature journal kit!

You can click on any of the images above to view larger on my Flickr photostream.