How I Use Watercolour Pencils – Colourful Birds Illustration

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An illustration of colourful birds and flower painted using watercolour pencils

I have taken a little time away from jewellery making over the last week. We have had some lovely sunny days and, for some odd reason, the sun and heat always make me want to draw.

My husband and I have recently had a large tree in our garden cut back (to be honest it is completely overrun with ivy and the poor tree is hardly visible) and in doing so revealed some large tree branches perfect for hanging bird feeders. I can be really lazy when it comes to thinking up ideas to draw in my sketch book so it’s no wonder that the pages were filled with doodles of cute birds.

A collection of bird pencil doodles in a sketchbook
A collection of bird doodles in my sketchbook

I decided to take my doodling one step further and drew myself a collection of birds on watercolour card with a few flowers dotted around for good measure, ie, I needed to fill the gaps a little!

When I am feeling a little rusty with painting I find the thought of watercolour pans a little daunting so I opted for my lovely watercolour pencils as I always feel more in control of them. I am using the Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils.

I’ll show some pictures of the finished piece and talk about my process for painting it. There is also a YouTube video at the bottom of this post where I talk in depth about the piece as well.

How I Use Watercolour Pencils…

A purple quirky bird painted with watercolour pencils
A purple quirky bird painted with watercolour pencils

To start my piece I had already decided on a composition on some scrap paper. I try to avoid sketching directly on the watercolour paper as rubbing pencil out can damage the surface of the paper making it difficult to paint on. I used a light box to trace the picture on to my watercolour paper and made sure that my pencil markings were kept light. I have used a hot pressed watercolour paper this time so the paper has a relatively smooth surface.

Once my illustration was drawn out, I took my watercolour pencils and began to colour all the bird tummies, making sure to lay more colour towards the bottom of the tummy (orange in the case in the picture above) by pressing a little harder and laying more colour down. As I worked my way up I lightened my pressure so that less pigment came off the watercolour pencil. I didn’t need to colour right to the top of each tummy as I felt there was enough pigment laid down and it is a relatively small section so I would be able to move the paint around easily with the paintbrush.

With a damp watercolour paintbrush, I worked my way from the bottom of the tummy moving the pigment up. If I felt that a little more paint was needed I took my paintbrush to the tip of the pencil and gently lifted the paint directly from there. I could then take my paint brush back down to the painting and add the colour where needed and work my way up to smooth it all out.

I worked on these paintings like a jigsaw by painting each section on each bird before moving onto the next. This allowed each section to dry so by the time I reached the first bird again I didn’t need to worry about the paint running or smudging the section that I had just painted. I am only using a damp paintbrush so the paper dried very quickly.

A blue watercolour pencil bird with a yellow tummy
A blue and yellow watercolour pencil bird

Once the tummies were all coloured I moved onto the back wings. I started by drawing a line where the wing met the body as I wanted to keep a distinct line between them. These wing would be a little more in shadow so I added more watercolour pencil at the base of the wing and the used my damp paintbrush to drag the colour up.

If at any point your paintbrush seems to wet or you have too much pigment on it then tap it onto some tissue to absorb the excess.

A green watercolour pencil bird with a pink tummy
A green watercolour pencil bird with a pale pink tummy

From there I moved onto the rest of the bird. I added more watercolour pencil towards the base of the body and around the nearest wing. I coloured the rest of the the bird in very lightly as I wanted to avoid harsh lines in the finished watercolour piece. I was worried that if I needed to stop to add more pigment whilst moving around the initial layer of paint then it would start to dry in places and I would have a harsh line. Having more pigment laid down ensured that there was always some colour to move around.

With the paintbrush I started at the darkest part of the underside of the birds body and worked my way up and around the wing as this was the one place that I wanted to keep a crisp line. I could then continue up and into the lightest sections of the bird.

I added colour to the beak and tail in much the same way.

A blue watercolour pencil bird surrounded by flowers
A blue watercolour pencil bird surrounded by flowers

After the birds were all painted and completely dry I added their eyes with a black fine liner pen and added more colour with the same watercolour pencils to the areas that I felt needed more colour. I didn’t add any water this time so the pencil picked up what little texture the paper had. I also used the pencils to add details to their tummies and wings.

I followed the same techniques for the flowers by concentrating most of the pigment towards the middle and painting alternate petals, leaving them to dry, and then painting the remaining petals and adding more details with a pencil once they were all completely dry.

A watercolour pencil illustration showing quirky colourful birds and flowers
A quirky and colourful bird illustration painted with watercolour pencils

After the piece was all dry, I chose some more pencils in slightly darker shades (you could use watercolour pencils for this or regular colouring pencils), made sure they were sharpened and outlined the birds in their corresponding colour. (ie, darker blue for a blue bird with a darker yellow for their tummies etc).

I have now scanned this watercolour pencil piece and uploaded onto The Artisan Duck Redbubble Shop so it is now available on various different items, from t-shirts to shower curtains!

A piece of wall art showing 6 colourful birds surrounded by flowers
Colourful birds art on Redbubble
Colourful birds on a purple floor cushion
Colourful birds and flowers floor cushion on Redbubble

Here are two more watercolour sketch book illustrations using watercolour pencils.

Rabbit surrounded with flowers watercolour pencil illusration
Rabbit and flowers painted with watercolour pencils
Purple and pink watercolour pencil illustration
Purple and pink watercolour pencil illustration

I have more posts on my illustrations for you to check out if you have enjoyed this. If you are interested in other watercolour mediums I have a post about water-soluble oil pastels (they are so much fun).

Links below for products used are Affiliate links for Amazon (UK, United States and Canada). This just means that if you use my link to buy a product I earn a very small commission, at no extra expense to you (you pay the same regardless how you find the item). Every little extra helps me to offer free tutorials.

I have linked to the set of watercolour pencils that I have but smaller sets are available in the same range.

Affiliate Links –

UK Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils, Arches Hot Pressed watercolour paper, Sakura Pigma Micron Fine Liner 005

USAFaber Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils, Arches Hot Pressed watercolour paper

Canada Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils, Arches Hot Pressed watercolour paper, Sakura Pigma Micron Fine Liner 005

There are a few more techniques that I am yet to really explore with this medium but the techniques I’ve shown here, of combining watercolour techniques with dry pencil, really suit my illustration style.

Let me know in the comments if you are a watercolour pencil fan and what techniques you love to use or maybe you are just starting out on your journey with them and want to share what you have discovered so far. I would love to hear from you.

Until next time, happy painting.

Hannah x

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