Learn how to “paint” with watercolor pencils using your MFA art kit or materials from home

Watercolor paint is a translucent, or partially see-through, art medium made up of colorful pigments that are easily spread when mixed with water. Artists use watercolors to paint directly on top of wet paper or mix colors with water to add paint to dry paper. Special effects such as starbursts and spots that keep the paint away can also be achieved when other materials like salt, oil, and wax crayons are used in the art-making process. Today watercolors can be found in many different forms, such as tubes, hard cake-like discs in a tray, watercolor pencils, and even crayons! The painting above, Cape Ann by Maurice Brazil Prendergast, was made using watercolor paints and graphite pencils to sketch the design.

If you have an MFA art kit for this very activity, you already have all the materials you need! If not, start by gathering all the materials below.


detail of watercolor drawing depicting potted plant


You will need:

  • watercolor pencils
  • watercolor paper
  • a pencil
  • a cup or bowl of water
  • a paintbrush, cotton swabs, or paper towels

Step 1

rough pencil drawing of round pot
Start by lightly sketching a design with your pencil. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect!

Step 2

using watercolor pencil to color in pot
Use watercolor pencils to add some color. Tip: use lighter colors first!

Step 3

dipping brush into jar of water and using wet brush on watercolor pencil shadings
Blend the colors by adding water on top of the watercolor pencils using a brush, a cotton swab, a piece of paper towel, or even your fingers!

Step 4

dabbing brush of splotch of red watercolor pencil shading and applying paint onto drawing
To paint, use the watercolor pencils to draw circles on a different piece of paper. Add a tiny bit of water to each circle when you’re ready to use it. You’ve made a palette! Now, you can add paint to your picture with a brush or a cotton swab.

Step 5

colorful geometric patterns drawn with watercolor pencils
Add some textural details like dots, swirls, or lines.

Step 6

using finger to apply water to spiral drawn with orange watercolor pencil
If you’d like, blend the colors by adding water.

Step 7

drawing with watercolor pencils of other colors
Keep adding color to your picture. You can get the paper wet first and draw with the watercolor pencils, or quickly dip the tip of your pencil in water and “paint!”

Step 8

details of finished drawing, depicting potted plants
Add colors until you’re happy with your picture. What will you make?