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FAQ: Watercolor

I'm often asked "what kind of white pencil is that?" or tell me about your paper. So.. here's a list. If there's any questions you can think of, please contact me and ask- I'll add here.
My caveat here is that all the information is in context- it's for the way *I* work and my effects. These are not the only ways to work with watercolor.

I want to note, that using cheap substitutes for materials is a dead end. Nothing will work right and you'll be left wondering why you failed so hard, and why you suck. You don't suck- you just didn't listen to uncle Leo about what you should use. Listen to me, don't use cheap shit.


My paper right now is Stonehenge, made by a company called Legion.

Most paper we encounter is wood pulp. To make this cheap paper flat- a 'sizing' is used- this substance is water soluble. That's why when you get paper wet, it curls like mad. And why if you use non water media- the paper stays flat. For example, alcohol based markers and enamel do not warp the paper very much. Because the alcohol and heavy hydrocarbons (xylene) do not dissolve the sizing on the paper that's holding it flat.

This paper is made of cotton. This is more expensive than wood pulp papers. But the cotton paper takes more of a beating- and is very different to work with. There are very many cotton papers. Some are stiff, some absorbent- printmaking papers such as Rives BFK and Arches 88 are luxury papers used for printmaking that may be of use. Personally I find them too absorbent- and the watercolor cannot move around.

Absorbency of the paper is key for the way I work. Traditional watercolor papers are almost non absorbent- they are coated in a way that the watercolor floats on top- and after it is dry, it can be moved around again with a moist/wet brush.

Stonehenge is a paper that is medium absorbency. The watercolor does not float as much as with regular watercolor paper, and it does not suck the stuff in like with heavy cotton papers such as Arches and Rives. 

Furthermore, the paper is smooth. Most watercolor paper is textured.

The paper comes in a variety of tones. If you plan to use a lot of white and bright colors for highlights, I recommend 'kraft' color- it's a brown color. 

The next very interesting tone is 'cream'. It looks white at first but it very much is not- and when you use white, it shows up well.


All that said, my favorite paper right now is Stonehenge 'fawn' toned. It is darker than cream, and lighter than kraft.


Step 1, the sketch

For the initial sketch, and linework, I like dark colors. Hint, don't use black until much later.

Raw Umber

Prussian Blue

Cadmium Red

Any dark reddish brown color; Carandache Museum Aquarelle 106 (prune violet), and 575 (a brown). 

Your initial sketch should be lightly defined- don't spend hours on this.

Watercolor Process

Step 2, toning

Here we fill in areas of shade. You have two ways to do this. Either lightly tone with the watercolor pencils and then wash over with a waterbrush- or use regular watercolor with a brush methods. I tend to use some of both.

These are my colors for toning;

A mix of lamp black and raw umber.

A mix of lamp black and rose madder.

A mix of lamp black and prussian blue.

How to have a soft blend from the toned area to the edge. Watercolor as is, will not dry soft, it dries hard to the edges of the stroke. To change that, you must use a dry paper towel to dry out the area that you want to lighten and soften. Blot it out. Play around with it until it makes sense.

Watercolor Pencils

I have two suggestions for watercolor pencils. The first is my goto, it's Carandache Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils. At five bucks a pop, they are expensive. If you are already producing work for sale, it's worth it. If not, I suggest you pick a couple of colors anyway to try out.

My next type is half the price, and works very well. They are Faber Castell 'Albrecht Dure'r line of watercolor pencils. They are a fine substitute. Anything cheaper I suggest is worthless and don't bother.


I suggest use of a waterbrush. It's a plastic container with a brush tip- you squeeze out or it drips out slowly. This is useful to work quickly.

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