Best Pencils for Watercolor Sketching & Art

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 15 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Pencils are an essential tool for watercolor artists, whether for sketching or creating detailed artwork. Choosing the right pencil can greatly impact the outcome of your watercolor painting. In this article, we will explore the best pencils for watercolor sketching and art, considering factors like lead hardness, blendability, and color range.

Key Takeaways:

  • Choosing the right pencil for watercolor is crucial for achieving optimal results in your artwork.
  • Consider factors such as lead hardness, blendability, and color range when selecting watercolor pencils.
  • Popular brands for watercolor pencils include Faber-Castell, Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache, Derwent, and Tombow.
  • Watercolor pencils should be erased before painting to prevent damage to the artwork.
  • Experimenting with different pencils and techniques will help you find the best fit for your artistic style.

What makes a good drawing pencil for watercolor?

When it comes to watercolor artwork, choosing the right pencil is essential for achieving the desired results. Here are some important factors to consider when selecting a pencil for your watercolor projects:

  1. Well-Bonded Lead: A good watercolor pencil should have a well-bonded lead to prevent constant breakage. This ensures that you can work smoothly without interruptions.
  2. No Graphite Shedding: Graphite particles can smudge your artwork, leading to unwanted marks on the paper. Look for a pencil that does not shed graphite, allowing you to maintain clean and crisp lines.
  3. Uniform Stroke: The lead of the pencil should be well mixed with a binder of clay, resulting in a uniform and consistent stroke. This allows you to achieve smooth transitions and create the desired textures in your watercolor painting.
  4. Artist Grade: Opt for artist-grade pencils when working with watercolors. These pencils are usually made with high-quality materials, ensuring better pigmentation, lightfastness, and overall performance.

A good drawing pencil for watercolor should meet these criteria to enhance your artistic process and help you create stunning watercolor artworks. Now, let’s explore the different tonal ranges offered by various watercolor pencil brands in the next section.

Tonal Range Comparison: Different Watercolor Pencil Brands

Brand Tonal Range
Faber-Castell ‘9000’ Light to medium tonal range, excellent for soft hatching and fine details.
Mars ‘Lumograph’ Wide tonal range, from light to dark, suitable for mid-tone work.
Derwent ‘Graphic’ Varies in tonal range, offering blendability but may lack consistency in softness.

In the next section, we will delve deeper into the features and characteristics of each watercolor pencil brand, starting with Faber-Castell’s ‘9000’ pencils. But before that, let’s understand how these pencil brands grade their tonal values differently.

Comparing the tones of different watercolor pencil ranges

Before diving into individual reviews, it’s helpful to understand the grading values for different watercolor pencil brands. Pencils are graded on a scale that ranges from the hardest (light mark) to the softest (dark mark). However, it’s important to note that there is no industry standard for the darkness or lightness of each grade, as companies apply the grading scale differently. This means that a 3H grade in one brand may function more like an HB grade in another brand. Being aware of the tonal range of a brand can help you choose the pencils that best suit your preferences and artistic style.

Watercolor Pencil Brand Lightest Grade Darkest Grade Range of Grades
Faber-Castell 2H 8B 16 grades
Prismacolor 2H 6B 14 grades
Caran d’Ache 4H 9B 18 grades
Derwent 3H 9B 15 grades
Tombow 2H 8B 18 grades

Note: The tonal ranges provided above are approximate and can vary between brands. It’s always recommended to test different pencils to find the one that matches your desired tonal values.

Faber-Castell ‘9000’ Pencils

Faber-Castell’s ‘9000’ range of watercolor pencils is a popular choice among artists who value exceptional quality and performance. These artist-grade watercolor pencils have earned a reputation for their reliability and versatility in creating stunning watercolor artwork.

One notable feature of Faber-Castell ‘9000’ pencils is their exceptional bonding, which ensures that the lead remains intact during sharpening. This prevents frustrating breakage and allows you to use the pencil for a longer period. The pencils have a smooth and consistent stroke, allowing for effortless blending and shading.

With the Faber-Castell ‘9000’ range, artists can achieve precise and detailed work. The harder grades, such as 6H to 8B, are perfect for creating fine lines and delicate marks. The color range of the ‘9000’ range is carefully selected to provide a light tonal value, allowing for subtle gradations and nuanced shading in watercolor paintings.

Designed with the artist in mind, Faber-Castell ‘9000’ pencils are hexagonal in shape, providing a comfortable grip and preventing them from rolling off your workspace. The distinctive color scheme of these pencils was chosen by Count Alexander von Faber-Castell himself, reflecting the brand’s commitment to aesthetics and craftsmanship.

The Faber-Castell ‘9000’ pencils are highly regarded in watercolor pencil reviews, praised for their durability, smoothness, and superior color range. Whether you are a beginner or a professional artist, these pencils are sure to elevate your watercolor artwork to new heights.

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Mars ‘Lumograph’ Pencils

If you’re looking for quality and reliability in artist-grade watercolor pencils, Staedtler’s Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils are a fantastic choice. Not only are they highly regarded, but they also offer a tonal range that’s slightly softer and darker, perfect for capturing mid-tones in your artwork.

One of the standout features of Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils is their exceptional bonding, which means they rarely break during sharpening. This durability ensures that you can confidently use these pencils without worrying about interruptions to your creative process.

The Mars ‘Lumograph’ range provides the widest variety of grades among the pencils reviewed in this article. With grades extending all the way up to a very dark 12B, you’ll have plenty of options to achieve the lightness or darkness you desire for your drawings.

For easy accessibility, The Hamilton Pen Company carries the full range of Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencil grades. This means you have the convenience of selecting the specific pencils you need for both light and dark drawing, all in one place.

“The Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils are my go-to choice for capturing those captivating mid-tones in my watercolor artwork. Their dependable quality and impressive range of grades allow me to achieve the exact results I envision.” – Sarah Watercolorist

Comparing the Tonality of Different Watercolor Pencil Brands

When choosing artist-grade watercolor pencils, it’s important to consider the tonal range offered by different brands. Let’s compare the tonalities of the watercolor pencil brands discussed in this article:

Brand Tonal Range
Faber-Castell ‘9000’ Light tonal range, with harder grades ideal for fine marks
Staedtler Mars ‘Lumograph’ Soft and dark tonal range, perfect for mid-tones
Derwent ‘Graphic’ Varied tonal range, suitable for blending and initial sketches

Understanding the tonal range of each brand will help you make an informed decision based on your preferences and artistic style.

Derwent ‘Graphic’ Pencils

Derwent’s ‘Graphic’ pencils have a reputation as a classic graphite sketching range. However, they may not be the top choice for watercolor artists. While they are popular for blending ability, they can be scratchy and uneven in their application. The grading can also be inconsistent, with noticeable differences in softness between pencils. Despite these drawbacks, some artists still appreciate the Derwent ‘Graphic’ pencils for their blending capability and use them for initial sketches.

If you’re looking for artist-grade watercolor pencils, the Derwent ‘Graphic’ pencils may not be your best bet. While they are well-known for their blending ability, they may not provide the smooth, even application that watercolor artwork often requires. The grading of these pencils can be inconsistent, resulting in noticeable variations in softness between different pencils. However, some artists still find value in using the Derwent ‘Graphic’ pencils for their blending capability, particularly for initial sketches in their watercolor projects.

Graphite Pencils for Watercolor Sketching

When it comes to watercolor sketching, graphite pencils are a popular choice among artists. They offer flexibility and control, allowing you to create detailed preliminary sketches before applying watercolor washes. Many professional artists have their preferred brands, as each brand uses its own grading system to indicate the hardness or softness of the lead. Here are some well-regarded brands for graphite drawing pencils:

  • Faber-Castell
  • Staedtler
  • Derwent
  • Caran d’Ache
  • Tombow
  • Lyra
  • Conté à Paris
  • Generals

Choosing the right grade of graphite pencil is crucial for your watercolor sketches. Harder pencils, like 2H and above, produce lighter marks that require a lighter hand. This prevents the graphite from mixing with the watercolor washes and maintains the crispness of your sketches. On the other hand, softer grades like B produce darker lines that can smudge and mix with the watercolor, adding atmospheric effects to your artwork.

Note: Remember to erase the graphite lines before applying watercolor washes, as erasing over dried paint can damage the artwork. It’s best to use a light touch when sketching with graphite pencils to avoid excessive smudging and smearing.

“I love using graphite pencils for my watercolor sketches. They provide a solid foundation and enable me to plan my composition with precision. The range of grades available allows for different tonal values, adding depth and dimension to my artwork.”

Experimenting with different graphite pencils and grades will help you find the ones that best suit your style and preferences. Whether you prefer a light, delicate touch or a bold, expressive stroke, graphite pencils offer versatility and control in your watercolor sketching process.

Water-Soluble Graphite Pencils

When it comes to creating unique effects in your watercolor artwork, you may want to consider using water-soluble graphite pencils. These pencils offer a different approach compared to traditional graphite or watercolor pencils, allowing you to achieve a range of effects and textures.

Water-soluble graphite pencils come in various hardness grades, similar to regular graphite pencils. Softer pencils produce more intense and darker lines, while harder grades dissolve into a subtle gray when they come into contact with water. This versatility allows you to create a wide range of tones, from bold, expressive strokes to delicate, subtle shading.

One of the advantages of using water-soluble graphite pencils is their ability to dissolve into the watercolor wash itself. This means that you can incorporate graphite lines and marks directly into your watercolor painting, seamlessly blending the two mediums. It opens up possibilities for creating standalone washes or adding fine details without needing to switch between different tools.

While water-soluble graphite pencils offer unique artistic capabilities, it’s important to note that they may not be as versatile as regular graphite pencils or watercolor pencils. Their primary purpose is to introduce graphite effects into your watercolor artwork rather than replace traditional tools.

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If you’re looking to experiment with different techniques or add a touch of graphite to your watercolor paintings, water-soluble graphite pencils can be a valuable addition to your art supplies. Explore their potential and discover the intriguing effects you can achieve by combining the beauty of graphite with the transparency of watercolor.

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils offer a versatile and convenient option for watercolor sketching and art. These pencils blend seamlessly with watercolor paint and washes, allowing you to create beautiful, vibrant effects in your artwork. High-quality artist-grade watercolor pencils also offer good lightfastness, ensuring that your colors remain vibrant and fade-resistant over time.

Watercolor pencils can be used in a variety of ways. You can apply them directly onto dry paper and then activate the colors with water, much like traditional watercolors. This technique allows for precise lines and the ability to add fine details to your paintings. Alternatively, you can create a watercolor wash on the paper and then layer the pencil colors on top for added depth and richness.

There are several popular brands of watercolor pencils to choose from, each offering their own unique qualities and color ranges. Some of the best watercolor pencil brands include:

  • Faber-Castell
  • Prismacolor
  • Caran d’Ache
  • Derwent
  • Tombow

These brands are known for their high-quality pigments, blendability, and durability. They offer a wide range of colors to choose from, allowing you to create vibrant and lifelike artworks.

When using watercolor pencils in your artwork, it’s important to note that any pencil marks should be erased before applying water. Erasing over dried paint can damage the artwork and affect the overall quality of your piece.

Here is an image of watercolor pencils to inspire your creative journey:

Using Pencils for Watercolor Sketching

Pencils are a vital tool for creating the initial sketch and defining the main lines in watercolor painting. When it comes to sketching with pencils for watercolor, there are two primary options to consider: graphite pencils and watercolor pencils.

Graphite Pencils

Graphite pencils, particularly those with HB or 2B grades, are commonly preferred for watercolor sketching due to their versatility and compatibility with watercolor washes. These pencils offer a wide range of tones and can create precise lines. They are perfect for establishing the basic structure and composition of your artwork.

It is important to keep in mind that excessive details and shading should be avoided when using graphite pencils for watercolor sketching. This ensures that the pencil marks do not interfere with the final paint application and prevent any damage to the paper surface.

Here is a list of popular graphite pencil brands that are well-suited for watercolor sketching:

  • Faber-Castell
  • Staedtler
  • Derwent
  • Caran d’Ache
  • Tombow
  • Lyra

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils provide a unique approach to sketching for watercolor painting. These pencils are designed to blend seamlessly with water and allow for the creation of fine lines and added details in a watercolor artwork.

Watercolor pencils can be especially useful when you want to work quickly or need to achieve a more painterly effect. They offer the flexibility to create both light washes and intense lines, making them a versatile tool for sketching and painting.

Here are some popular brands of watercolor pencils trusted by artists:

  • Faber-Castell
  • Prismacolor
  • Caran d’Ache
  • Derwent
  • Tombow

When using watercolor pencils for sketching, it is important to keep in mind that any pencil marks will become part of the final artwork and should be erased before applying watercolor washes. Erasing over dried paint can potentially damage the artwork.

By experimenting with both graphite and watercolor pencils, you can explore different techniques and find the best approach to suit your artistic style and watercolor sketching needs.

Choosing the Right Paper for Watercolor Sketching

The choice of paper is a crucial consideration when it comes to watercolor sketching. Different weights and textures of watercolor papers offer various advantages depending on your artistic needs and preferences. Understanding the characteristics of different papers can help you make an informed decision for your watercolor pencil artwork.

Weight and Versatility

Watercolor papers are available in different weights, typically measured in pounds (lbs). Lighter weight papers, such as 90lbs, are suitable for sketching and hold light washes over small areas. They are also ideal for practicing and experimenting with watercolor techniques.

For more versatility and the ability to withstand larger washes, medium weight papers (around 140lbs) are recommended. They offer a good balance between weight and flexibility, allowing for a wider range of expressive techniques and applications.

Heavyweight papers, often around 300lbs, are designed for wet-on-wet techniques without buckling or warping. These papers are highly resilient and can handle multiple layers of paint, providing a stable surface for more intensive watercolor work.

Texture for Different Styles

Another important consideration is the texture of the paper. Watercolor papers come in various textures – hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough.

Hot-pressed paper has a smooth surface, making it more suitable for detailed line drawing, fine details, and intricate work. It provides a crisp finish, allowing watercolor pencils to glide smoothly without producing a grainy texture.

Cold-pressed paper is the most commonly used texture for watercolor sketching. It has a slight texture or “tooth” that holds and spreads the watercolor pigments effectively. This texture is versatile and can accommodate a variety of techniques, from bold brushstrokes to delicate washes.

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Rough textured paper is more suitable for creating a textured or expressive style in your watercolor sketches. The rough surface allows for interesting watercolor effects and adds a tactile quality to your artwork.

In conclusion, choosing the right paper is essential for achieving the desired effects in your watercolor pencil sketches. Consider the weight of the paper for the type of washes you intend to use, and select a texture that complements your artistic style and preferences. Experimenting with different papers will help you find the perfect match for your watercolor pencil artwork.

Conclusion

When it comes to watercolor sketching and art, the choice of pencils is crucial for achieving desired results. The best watercolor pencils will have well-bonded leads that minimize breakage and prevent unwanted smudging. They should also offer a range of grades to cater to the desired tonal range, from light marks to dark shades. Additionally, the pencils should blend seamlessly with watercolor paint for a smooth and cohesive finish in your artwork.

Based on recommendations and reviews, some of the best watercolor pencil brands to consider are Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Derwent, Caran d’Ache, and Tombow. These brands offer artist-grade pencils that meet the requirements of professional watercolor artists. However, the choice of pencils ultimately depends on your personal preferences and artistic style. Experimenting with different brands, grades, and blending techniques will help you discover the pencils that work best for your watercolor artwork.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, having a good watercolor pencil guide can be immensely helpful in making informed choices. Consider factors such as lead hardness, blendability, and color range when selecting your watercolor pencils. By investing in high-quality pencils and refining your techniques, you can enhance your watercolor sketching and bring your artistic vision to life.

FAQ

What pencil should I use for watercolor?

When it comes to watercolor, it’s best to use pencils specifically designed for watercolor sketching and art. Some popular options include graphite pencils (HB or 2B), water-soluble graphite pencils, and watercolor pencils.

What makes a good drawing pencil for watercolor?

A good drawing pencil for watercolor should have a well-bonded lead to prevent breakage and avoid shedding graphite particles. It should also be of artist grade, with a carefully mixed clay binder for a consistent stroke. Additionally, the pencil should be capable of blending seamlessly with watercolor paint.

How do different watercolor pencil ranges compare in terms of tones?

Different watercolor pencil ranges offer varying tonal ranges. Faber-Castell’s ‘9000’ range has a light tonal range, while Staedtler’s Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils offer a slightly softer and darker tonal range. Derwent’s ‘Graphic’ pencils, on the other hand, may be scratchy and have inconsistent grading.

What can you tell me about Faber-Castell ‘9000’ pencils?

Faber-Castell ‘9000’ pencils are popular among watercolor artists. They have a well-bonded lead and rarely break when sharpened. These pencils offer a smooth and consistent stroke, making them ideal for soft hatching and creating fine details. They have a light tonal range and come in a hexagonal shape.

How do Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils perform for watercolor?

Mars ‘Lumograph’ pencils from Staedtler are highly regarded for their quality and reliability. These pencils have a slightly softer and darker tonal range, making them great for mid-tone work. They have a well-bonded lead and come in a wide range of grades, including a very dark 12B.

Are Derwent ‘Graphic’ pencils recommended for watercolor?

While Derwent ‘Graphic’ pencils are popular for blending ability, they may not be the top choice for watercolor artists. These pencils can be scratchy and uneven in their application, and the grading can be inconsistent. However, some artists still appreciate them for blending capability and initial sketches.

Can I use graphite pencils for watercolor sketching?

Yes, graphite pencils are commonly used for watercolor sketching. They are versatile and compatible with watercolor washes. Popular brands for graphite drawing pencils include Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Derwent, Caran D’Ache, Tombow, Lyra, Conté à Paris, and Generals.

What are water-soluble graphite pencils?

Water-soluble graphite pencils are an alternative to traditional graphite pencils. They come in various hardness grades and can be dissolved into the watercolor wash itself. Softer grades produce more intense lines, while harder grades dissolve into a subtle gray. They can be useful for standalone washes or adding fine details to a watercolor painting.

What are watercolor pencils?

Watercolor pencils are specifically designed for watercolor sketching and art. They blend seamlessly with watercolor paint and washes, and high-quality artist-grade pencils offer good lightfastness. Brands like Faber-Castell, Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache, Derwent, and Tombow are popular choices for watercolor pencils.

Can I use pencils for watercolor sketching?

Yes, pencils are commonly used for making the initial sketch and main lines in watercolor painting. Graphite pencils, especially HB or 2B, are often preferred for their versatility and compatibility with watercolor washes. Watercolor pencils can also be used for sketching, especially for quick paintings.

What type of paper should I use for watercolor sketching?

The choice of paper plays a crucial role in watercolor sketching. Lighter weight papers (90lbs) are suitable for sketching and light washes, while medium weight papers (140lbs) can handle larger washes. Heavyweight papers (300lbs) are ideal for wet-on-wet techniques without buckling. The texture of the paper should also be considered, with hot-pressed paper being smoother and more suitable for line drawing and fine details.

What are the best pencils for watercolor sketching and art?

The best pencils for watercolor sketching and art will depend on the individual’s preferences and artistic style. Some recommended brands include Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Derwent, Caran d’Ache, and Tombow. Experimenting with different pencils and techniques will help you discover the ones that work best for your watercolor artwork.