Just Add Water: Four Basic Watercolor Pencil Techniques

Woods and forests, meadows and fields, mountains and deserts: Cathy Johnson covers these and more in her new book, Painting Nature in Watercolor: 37 Step-by-Step Demonstrations Using Watercolor Pencil and Paint. She writes, “There are so many reasons to work outdoors: to drink in the beauty of nature; to find fresh, evocative, inspiring and challenging subjects; to spend time in the quiet places; to capture the liveliness of birds or the grace of a red fox; to learn about your environment; to perfect your skill; and just to be out where it’s achingly beautiful. Whether you take a painting vacation, a field trip led by a naturalist/artist, or a trip to some exotic, untouched locale, or you find painting subjects virtually in your own backyard, you will find subjects enough for a lifetime.”

Scroll down for Johnson’s examples of how to create different effects with a watercolor pencil.

Until next time,

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watercolor journal ideas | ArtistsNetwork.com

“Work across a two-page spread if you like, and create a montage of a single day,” says Johnson. “Just keep adding till you run out of room. Design the page, use a grid with small, quick sketches or allow your design to evolve naturally to fill as much space as it seems to need. Here, the morning’s grocery shopping included a sketch of a sweet hound waiting for his master, an ink sketch of the woodchuck that frequents a den under my deck and a watercolor of my backyard jungle completed later in the day. I added color to the dog and woodchuck later. This is in my hand-bound journal with hot-pressed watercolor paper.”

Applying Basic Watercolor Pencil Techniques by Cathy Johnson

The effects you achieve depend not only on how you apply the pigments, but also on how you add water. I usually scribble tone in with an energetic zigzag effect. Then I wet with broad areas of water applied with a soft brush, yielding a blended wash with a bit of a linear pattern remaining. You may prefer a more controlled cross-hatching to achieve this broken tone–try it. Use a single color or as many as you like, either simultaneously or one at a time, washing with water and allowing it to dry before adding another.

how to use a watercolor pencil | ArtistsNetwork.com

Smooth Pencil, Water Added Lightly
I applied this dark violet with a fairly even application of pigment–nearly flat on the left of the color bar, fading to a relatively smooth but light application to the right. Then I quickly and lightly added water. It still lifted the pigment to a considerable degree, but you can see the pencil marks under it.

how to use a watercolor pencil | ArtistsNetwork.com

Smooth Pencil, Water Scrubbed Aggressively
Here, the effect is even more noticeable because the pigment was scrubbed somewhat aggressively with a brush and clear water to lift and blend it, losing the effect of the pencil underneath. Personally, I like the additional texture and interest the pencil gives in most cases, so I normally would use a lighter touch with my brush.

how to use a watercolor pencil | ArtistsNetwork.com

Loose Pencil, Water Applied Lightly
In this sample, I applied the violet pencil in a much looser fashion, fading off to obvious zigzags that still show under the lightly applied water. Note that the clear liquid still picks up a lot of the pigment.

how to use a watercolor pencil | ArtistsNetwork.com

Loose Pencil, Water Scrubbed Aggressively
In this last sample, I again lifted and blended the color aggressively. You can see that even with the obvious zigzagging of the pencil, you can achieve fairly smooth results. ~Cathy Johnson

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