Playing with Watercolor Pencils

Colors, Uncategorized, Watercolor Pencils

Today we’re going to play with two watercolor pencils and accomplish three tasks with one activity:

  1. Play with watercolor pencils
  2. Create a painting with just two colors
  3. Using shading to create depth and dimension

Please keep in mind that this activity is about playing and experimenting. Precision, exactness of shape, perspective and lighting?…these concepts are for future activities.

Disclaimer: This is my approach and lacking any formal training. I learned by playing with the pencils versus taking any classes. I would recommend that if you want to pursue this medium further, search out classes, books and/or other web sites on this topic. Of course you may find that you learn best by just playing and experimenting with them.


  • a piece of 140# cold press watercolor paper (cold press has more texture to the paper)
  • 2 watercolor brushes: I used a small round brush, and a 1/2″ flat brush (you can use these or whatever watercolor brushes you have available to you).
  • 2 watercolor pencils: red and blue (I used Stabilo Aquatico brand…but almost any brand of watercolor pencil will do).
  • a good pencil sharpener…metal sharpeners work much better than cheap plastic ones)
  • 1 light gray watercolor pencil to draw out the design. You can use a regular pencil; the lines you draw will be visible as you paint. With the watercolor pencil, the gray will disappear into the painting. As an added activity do this painting twice, once with a gray watercolor pencil and once with a regular pencil. See which one you like better.
  • a small jar of water


  1. Use your gray w/c pencil (or regular pencil) to draw out this loosely drawn balloon shape. Again, forget about precision…keeping it loosely drawn, makes it more interesting.
  2. Step 1

  3. Using the side tip of the red w/c pencil, roughly color in the balloon shape. Whatever angle you color, be consistent throughout. I colored on a right angle. You’re welcome to color straight up & down, on a left angle, or horizontally.
  4. Step 2

  5. The balloon filled in with red
  6. Step 3

  7. Color with the blue pencil along the right side of the balloon, following the shape of the balloon. What color do you get when you mix blue and red? Purple!
  8. Step 4

  9. The balloon with the blue added. Using the blue in this way makes the balloon look more 3-dimensional instead of flat.
  10. Step 5

  11. Take the round brush, dip it in water, and brush over the red section, brushing at the same angle as the original coloring and along the outside edge of the drawing.
  12. Step 6

  13. Mid-way with brushing through red section. As needed, wet your brush to help with the spreading of color.
  14. Step 7

  15. The red section after brushing and a little into the blue section
  16. Step 8

  17. Now brush through the blue section and along the shape of the balloon’s right side
  18. Step 9

  19. Here’s another way to use your w/c pencils…dip the red pencil directly into the water
  20. Step 10

  21. Now color the red as you did when the pencil was dry, continuing on the same angle as you originally colored. It will take several dippings back and forth between the water and the paper. You’ll see that the color will go on darker, with some lines. This will give the painting some texture.
  22. Step 11

  23. Wet color over the red section and then use the blue pencil to wet color over the blue section
  24. Step 12

  25. Use the wet red pencil to overlap the blue and red sections
  26. Step 13

  27. After you overlap…
  28. Step 14

  29. Add more blue, as needed, to the blue section
  30. Step 15

  31. Add more red, leave a small curved rectangular area with less red. This will act as a reflection and give the balloon more of a 3-dimensional shape.
  32. Step 16

  33. Now here’s the surprise…turn the painting upside down. My original intent for this painting was to create a balloon. On a whim, when I got to this point, I decided to turn the painting upside down. I found this to be more interesting…now it looks more like a vase.
  34. Step 17

  35. The vase feels link it needs a background. The general rule of thumb when painting is to paint the background first and then the subject. Since my approach to this painting was very loosely based, we’re doing it a little backwards…and that’s ok. Here I took the blue pencil, and very loosely colored in some blue in the bottom third of the paper.
  36. Step 18

  37. Using the flat w/c brush, wet the brush and spread the color out along the paper. By putting only a little blue on the paper from step 18, the blue becomes a light blue when water is added to it.
  38. Step 19

  39. To give the painting more depth, create a shadow area to the side of the vase. Use a wet blue pencil to color in the shadow. Make it curved so that it resembles the shape of the vase. Then add some wet red pencil to the shadow. You can smooth it out if necessary with a brush. You can play around with the shadow placement. Just know that the light is coming from the right, so the shadow has to be somewhere on the right. I’ll be discussing shadows in another activity.
  40. Step 20

  41. To finish the background, lightly color in some red (dry pencil) in the upper 2/3rds of the paper.
  42. Step 21

  43. Use the flat w/c brush, wet the brush and spread the color out along the paper. And we’re done!
  44. Step 22

The way I placed the shadow on the blue surface, makes the vase look like it’s floating. Play around with the shadow placement and notice what happens to the vase.

And look at how many colors appear in this painting…it still blows me away with what you can create with using only two colors.!

As an added activity, do this painting a few more times using other pairings of colors. The only requirement would be that one color be lighter and one darker (ie: yellow & green, pink & brown, orange & purple, etc.)

Whatever you do, just have fun with it & experiment!

Happy Painting!

Maureen, The Mandala Lady


5 thoughts on “Playing with Watercolor Pencils

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. Thank you for the unique style of playing with 2 colors in such a simplistic approach to painting with watercolors. You seem to have an honest, open style that encourages students, rather than a critical precise expectation. It was very rewarding and refreshing to learn while offering other optiions for practice. What do you think about experimenting with this approach as an underpainting with pastels suspended on the surface? Thank you for your inspiring essence.

    1. Lynda,
      many apologies for the extreme delay in replying to your question…I just today discovered your comment.
      Absolutely…watercolors work great an underpainting for pastels as well as other mediums…color pencils, markers, etc.
      By all means…play, experiment 🙂
      – Maureen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s