Watercolor pencils look pretty much like colored pencils. The main difference being the water-soluble nature of the lead. They can, in theory, be used multiple ways. I say in theory because I have only found the first three ways as being really useful. I’ve included the others because in certain situations, they may be the way to go.
- Use them like colored pencils
- Color or draw, then add water for watercolor effect. (My primary way of working.)
- wet brush, then lift color off the pencil. (Occasionally, I do this, especially for putting in long hairs or signing my name.)
- wet pencil then draw. (I use this for putting in white highlights, such as in the eye.)
- wet paper then draw. (Not recommended for most situations. This puts far too much pigment down, and will hinder any blending.)
- Color on separate paper, then lift color with wet brush. (Never tried it.)
I thought I would take a moment to mention watercolor paper, as it goes hand in hand with watercolor pencils.
There are three types (surfaces) in watercolor paper, and what I use exclusively with watercolor pencils is Hot Press. The smooth surface allows for smooth blending and getting in all the little hairs. The rougher texture tends to grab more pigment off the pencil and deposit it in the divets on the paper. I could see this being a fun effect for some, but I am a woman who is set in my ways. Hot Press only for me.
- Hot Press. This is the smoothest texture
- Cold Press. This has more texture and is quite commonly used by watercolorists.
- Rough. This has the most texture with a very dimensional surface.
Watercolor paper also comes in varying weights. I have not experimented with a lot of different weights. Since I tend to work my pencils quite dry, I generally use #140 weight. Papers can vary between 90# to 300# and more.
I would suggest using a heavier weight paper if you are fond of using a lot of water, or if your finished pieces are buckling. Another option would be to stretch your lighter weight paper while painting, by taping or stapling it to a board. This will allow the paper to dry flat.
Faber Castell Derwent Rexell
Watercolor Pencils: What I Use
I have primarily two brands that I use. Rexel Derwent and Faber Castell. I haven’t been working with watercolor pencils for some time now, so I am sure there are loads of new high quality pencils on the market. Since these two brands are the ones I have the most experience with, they will be the topic of this post.
If anyone out there has any brands that they prefer, I would love to hear about them and why you like them.
This was the first set I bought myself. They are a mid-range brand of professional pencil. Personally, I feel the colors are a little more flat looking compared to the Faber Castells. Other than that, I really like these pencils.
Derwent has recently added a new line of watercolor pencils called Signature. They are all made to the highest standards and all have the highest lightfast rating possible. There are only 40 colors available currently. If I continue to work regularly in watercolor pencil again, I will definitely be getting a set.
- Common in most art supply stores, so they are easy to get open stock replacement pencils.
- Dense lead offers a fine point with minimal breakage
- Pencil can be sharpened with most standard pencil sharpeners. (Note: Faber Castell have a bigger barrel and require a larger sharpener.)
- Large assortment of colors. (72)
- You can download a lightfastness chart off their website
- hexagonal shape minimizes rolling.
My favorite brand because of their luminous color. They are a little more spendy than most, but they are of the highest quality. And the way I see it is, you get what you pay for.
- Dense high quality pigment with the lightfast indicator on each pencil.
- Extensive color range (120 colors)
- Large hexagonal shape keeps them from constantly rolling off my drafting table.
- Lead is SV bonded, meaning the color is glued to the wood the full length of the pencil. for added strength and less breakage. (Note: These are still more prone to breakage than my Rexel Derwent pencils.)
- All non-toxic and acid free (ph neutral.)
Both of these brands are tested for lightfastness using the Blue Wool (BW) Scale. The highest BW value is 8. Values of BW6 or higher are considered lightfast.
The Faber Castell system uses a star rating. This is printed on each pencil so you can tell at a glance just how lightfast the color is.
***maximum light fastness BW7,BW8 (100+ years)
**very good light fastness BW5,BW6 (25+ years)
*good light fastness BW3,BW4 (5+ years)
Again, to see Derwent lightfastness ratings for their pencils, you must visit their website.
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