Using Watercolor Markers, Pens & Pencils

These "Christmas Knits" Gift Tags are great fun to paint in watercolors, but there are so many other ways to make these simple shapes pop with color and details!  In our November 27th online class, the focus was on using watercolors.  Here, I'd like to share some tips on using dual-tip markers, watercolor pencils, and acrylics for coloring your illustrations.

Markers and Pens

The sweater and the mitten (shown in the photo at the left) are decorated with both Tombow Dual-Tip Markers and Tombow Fudenosuke Hard Tip Brush pens

The dual-tip watercolor markers come with a flexible fiber brush tip on one end and a hard fine-line tip on the other end. Their highly saturated, brilliant colors can be used to make defined lines and patterns, or they can be washed out with a wet brush for a soft watercolor effect. The knitted effect was achieved by using the tip of the brush nib to make parallel squiggly lines following the contours of the mitten and on the arms of the sweater.  The white spaces between the lines add to the effect.  The flexible brush tip allows easy transition from thick to thin lines by changing pen pressure, such as for the red stripes and the wreath on the sweater.  The fine-line tip on the other end is great for adding stitching and knitted details.

The Fudenosuke Hard Tip Brush Pens have a harder, semi-flexible fiber tip for lettering and illustration details. They contain water-based pigment ink that won't bleed through most papers.  Here, I used the gray hard tip pen for the little Scottie dogs on the mitten and for the ribbing on the white body of the sweater. The black pen was used for detailing and outlines.

Tombow markers are available online and in local craft stores, sold individually or as kits.  Other less costly brands are also easily available (Crayola, Palmer, Dollar Store), and they may suit your needs - especially if you're going to be making cards and tags with children.  The downside is that the colors may not be as bright and the tips might wear out quickly.  Additionally,  they are only sold in kits, so you cannot replace just one or two of your most-used colors. 

As for a Black fine-point detail marker, my go-to choice is a Pigma Micron permanent ink artist's pen (size 3).  These, too, are readily available online or locally.

Gel Pens are great for drawing details and adding highlights.  My fave white gel pen is a Uni-Ball Signo (broad) #UM-153 Pigment Ink Pen.  It lasts forever and doesn't clog.  See it used along with watercolor pencils in the next photo...

Watercolor Pencils

If you're aiming for a softer look, try using watercolor pencils.  As with all media, the brand and quality of the pencils you use will make a huge difference in your final results. The colors I used in these sweet little pieces are from Derwent (set of 72 colors).  The basic 12-pencil set contains the standard primary and secondary colors plus black and browns.  These pencils are sold separately so you can expand your palette. 

Watercolor pencils can produce a wide range of drawing and painting effects.  They can be used wet or dry, on wet or dry paper, and by washing over a completed work with a slightly wet paintbrush. You can even introduce non-soluble media - such as wax crayon or graphic pencils - which will resist the applied wash.  Check out the big white polka dots on the sweater sleeves which I placed with a white crayon before coloring.  Once the paper is dry, fine details can be added using gel pens or fine-line markers.  Here are a few tips and techniques to help you get started using watercolor pencils:

  • Coloring Method #1 - On dry paper, use the side of your pencil with light pressure to apply color to shaded edges.  Follow the natural contour of the object.  Activate the color using a brush dampened with clean water.  Let dry.  Gradually build layers of color, allowing the paper to dry between layers.
  •  Coloring Method  #2 - On a separate piece of dry paper, use the side of the pencil tip to scribble a dense patch of pencil color (about the size of a quarter).  This patch of color can be used as regular watercolor paint on dry or pre-moistened paper.
  • Detailing Method #1 - On dry paper, using light pressure on the point of the WC pencil, draw outlines and pattern details.  Soften these lines with the point of a small round or liner brush moistened with clean water.
  • Detailing Method #2 - On a separate piece of dry paper, use the side of the pencil tip to scribble a dense patch of pencil color (about the size of a quarter). Use the point of a small round or liner brush moistened with clean water to activate the color patch, and proceed to add details to your painting.
  •  Alternate Detail Ideas - Once the paper is dry, add fine details using gel pens or fine-line markers.  Add self-sticking rhinestones or glitter pens to add some sparkle to your artwork!  You can also add glittering accents with white craft glue sprinkled with dry glitter.  Because who doesn't love glitter, right?

FINAL NOTE - As a rule, painting rendered in watercolor pigments (pens, markers, pencils, or traditional watercolors) on paper does not need to be sealed (varnished).  However, if you plan to use a brush-on top coat such as liquid glitter, you should first spray your finished artwork with a Matte Spray Fixative such as Krylon 1311 to prevent the colors from smearing.  If the paper begins to curl, it should flatten out again once the spray is dry.

Joy to you!