Adjusting Watercolor Paintings with Colored Pencils

rose floral still life

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Adjusting Watercolor Paintings with Colored Pencils

Colored pencils can transform a watercolor that missed the mark, got a little muddy, or craves a bit of pizazz. Do you have a cupboard of old watercolors from a previous chapter in your art adventure? And I bet you’re a better painter now, so you see what those older paintings need, right?

Adding colored pencil to a few of your older watercolors is a great exercise in value adjustments, temperature tweaks and composition re-arrangements. (Here is a video tutorial of colored pencil adjustments to a watercolor painting from my YouTube Channel.)

This post outlines one method I’ve been playing with using clear gesso, acrylic paint, and a big tin of colored pencils. Read on…

A quick watercolor study of fading roses backlit on a windowsill. It got a bit muddy, and I almost shredded it.
A bit of acrylic pigment mixed with the grit of Liquitex clear gesso so I can still see the watercolor through the layer of sheer, warm green I’ll roll onto the watercolor painting.
Mixing acrylic paint with clear gesso on a sheet of plexiglass with a rubber brayer.
Rolling layers of my tinted but still sheer gesso on top of the completely dry watercolor painting. I love the way the values are all pushed into a darker shade with this process. Now I can brighten parts, or shift colors and temperatures strategically. Fun!
Now that the gesso is dry, and the watercolor has a nice, antique tone, I’ve mounted the paper to a stiff board with artist’s tape. The perfectly gritty surface of the gesso will grab the pigment in colored pencil, so it’s time for sketchy fun.
Using colored pencil (this set from amazon) on the couch with a pillow as a lap desk for an evening of art time after dinner.

Permission to Experiment

Learning as an adult is harder than learning as a child. Grown-ups think we already know everything. But the minute you decide to play with art (or music or writing or quilting), you have to embrace the mindset of a beginner again.

Beginners learn via trial and error, experimentation, and risk-taking. It *really* helps to get comfortable with failed art. Remind yourself that each failure is rich with lessons about what not to do on the next project.

Flip through your failed watercolors, and pull a few that might improve with a little colored pencil. Since you’ve already deemed them as failures, there’s no harm in applying other media.

Give yourself a directive to live large. Apply crazy color. Go all fancy with values and temperature. Add polka dots to solids, and change the color of the sky. Give yourself permission to experiment. You miss 100% of every attempt you don’t take.

Let me know how your colored pencil on clear gesso watercolor adventures goes in the comments. I’ll be playing with a few more of these same tests in my studio, and we can compare notes.

Thanks for stopping in, and I’ll see you in the next post –


P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with gesso, read the details about it on the Liquitex Gesso page here.

rose floral still life
Crow’s Nest – 12×9 inch Watercolor and Colored Pencil, available in my Etsy Shop

Art Quote

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
visit my Etsy Shop to pursue framed and unframed watercolors and printmaking.

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4 thoughts on “Adjusting Watercolor Paintings with Colored Pencils”

  1. Mickey nolan

    I love how you’re always experimenting with different mediums. You are such an inspiration to all of us. Can the oil-based colored pencils be blended with something like Gamsol (which I use to blend oil pastels)?
    Something new to try. 🥳

    1. Hi Mickey,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ve never used gamsol, but I think it’s worth an experiment or at least a swatch test, since the acrylic paint and gesso layer seals the watercolor, making your new, gritty surface primed and ready for other media! Please come back and leave another comment to let us know what you discover.

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