Watercolor Pencils: Providing Painting Control in the Art Room

Have your students ever completed a beautiful and intricate drawing pre-painting, only to have the drawing get obliterated by gobs of paint during the painting process? It’s always sad to see the beautiful details of a drawing become lost, and often makes me wish I never allowed students to use the paint in the first place.

One trick I have to keep details sharp in a drawing, while still getting that painterly look and feel in the end product, is using watercolor pencils.


Although there are many advanced watercolor pencil options to purchase, for my younger elementary students, the Crayola brand seemed to do the trick. Watercolor pencils work especially well for younger students who can’t yet control some of those fine motor painting details. You can dip the pencils directly in the water, but I prefer to have students color on the paper first, and then paint over the color with water and a VERY small brush. There are always a lot of Ohhhs and Ahhhs during this demonstration.

I recommend students to complete the smaller details of their drawing with watercolor pencils, and add a wash using regular watercolor over the background or larger areas. This balance of media keeps the artwork looking sharp and provides students with the satisfaction they deserve in the end product.

What are some other tips you have for controlling paint in the art room?

Do you like using watercolor pencils as much as I do?

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Stephanie Brooks

    Great idea for 1st graders. I have watercolors pencils and have always used them with the older grades in a more sophisticated process. Love your suggestions for the younger age.

  • Laura

    With my students, I always have them outline their picture with sharpie markers or black crayons, depending on the project, prior to painting. Maybe next year I can order some watercolor pencils and see how that goes!

    • Laura,

      For outlining, if you are tired of the black sharpie look, you can still outline in sharpie before the watercolor pencils, or even outline firmly with regular colored pencils OR thin markers for more definition (although the thin markers will bleed)

  • Sue Stupay Moore

    I love watercolor pencils! My students love using them. This year I used them for our Monet and O’Keefe projects. Parents were amazed that third, fourth, and fifth graders could create such beautiful pieces of art.

  • Donna Wiskirchen

    I have used them on red earth clay projects to add details to the clay instead of painting it.

  • Lisa Hartz

    I was just getting stuff ready for our field day tomorrow, where I’m doing simple face painting for the kids. The stuff I bought was cheap and really doesn’t cover well. I was feeling bummed that it wouldn’t go well tomorrow when the kids are all excited about it. Then I saw my Crayola watercolor pencils sitting right next to me and thought “hmmm…. what if…” To my amazement – they work perfectly! Especially the black for outlines and the white for hilighting. The box says non-toxic so I’m hoping it will be ok to use on the skin. Just dip the pencil in the water and start drawing on the skin! Once dry, the image doesn’t smear and washes off with the smallest amount of water.

    Just another fun way to use such a great medium!

    • Lisa, how innovative! Please let us know how it went overall, I am sure the results will be fabulous. If you send photos I will feature you in an article using this- :) Let me know!

      • Lisa Hartz

        It worked fabulously! I only took one photo – but other people took more so I’ll try to track a few down for you! Thanks!

      • Lisa Hartz

        I got some pictures! How do I get them to you?

  • Renee Collins

    Hi Jessica and company. I have seen a couple of posts here at AOE about watercolor pencils and I wanted to let you know that dipping the pencils in water is a no-no. The water can travel up the lead and spoil it. If you are the only one using the pencils and you break the rule once in a while, you should be okay, but I wouldn’t teach class after class of children to dip watercolor pencils in water to use them. Hope this is helpful.