Why you should create a sketch before watercolor painting – answered

We have all seen sketching before watercolor paintings. They are often drawn in pencil on paper, with the sketch being a preliminary sketch of what is to be painted. Sketching before painting is an excellent way to plan out your composition and get a feel for how things will look when they are done. It also helps you avoid mistakes that can’t be fixed easily. In this post we will go over the benefits of why you should create a sketch before watercolor painting such as providing guidance, improve design and control composition mistakes before you apply paint plus much much more.

Many benefits to apply a sketch before watercolor painting

There are many benefits to sketching your image before watercolor painting.

The sketch is a great way for you to explore different compositions and ideas without actually having to paint the watercolors yet. It is also very helpful in avoiding mistakes, as we mentioned above.

When sketching on paper it can be easily changed with an eraser or by starting over again completely which will save you time and money if done correctly.


Also, sketching allows for more freedom than actual painting does since there isn’t any pressure of having your work judged yet (though that comes soon enough!). By freeing yourself up from those pressures early on, it allows you to experiment more freely until you find what works best for each piece as well as your own unique style!

Additionally I have found watercolor painting a much harder activity than oil or acrylic painting where I could easily paint over any mistakes with layers of paint.


When working with watercolors I am really guided by the sketch which allows me to visualize the painting as I apply the layers of watercolor.

But not all watercolor artists are in favor of a preliminary sketch. Some like to paint directly on the watercolor paper without any sketch to guide them.

Some draw the sketch directly in the painting using watercolors themselves and others use a sketch made with pencil to add light guidelines under layers of watercolor.

It is afterall a personal preference.

So if sketching before watercolor painting is a personal preference what does classical watercolor painting state? Should you sketch before watercolor painting?

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Should you sketch before watercolor painting?

The answer is yes.

Sketching not only gives you a sketch to guide you, but it also helps with design and flow of the work as well as giving structure.

It can be used to help with composition by creating focal points or value changes that direct the eye through the painting.

It’s a great way to plan for color choices and successions before starting your watercolor paintings. In fact some artists say sketching allows them create better compositions than without sketching their ideas out first on paper.

In short sketching before watercolors allow for easier designing, planning, more control over materials & colors which makes your art easier & faster!

Can you watercolor over a sketch?

If you are using pencils to sketch in your design, then yes you can watercolor over your sketch as long as you don’t use ink or other non-waterproof materials.

Is it ok to have visible pencil lines under a watercolor?

Yes, that is fine. Because you sketch with pencils which are easy to remove if needed later on by simply rubbing it away using a eraser or watercolor paper towel.

I quite like looking at watercolor paintings and seeing the fine pencil sketch lines underneath, and seeing where the watercolor paint has bled over the lines.

It highlights to me that there was a plan but the watercolor paint took a life of its own and gave the artwork a unique character.

Are there sketching stages before starting your sketch?

There is no right or wrong way of sketching for everyone! Some artists sketch their whole composition in one go while others prefer to work more slowly and use many sketches until they finish the painting.

It’s completely up to you how much planning & drawings you do before actually start sketching out your final idea. Don’t be afraid to experiment new ideas till you get what feels best!

Which pencil is best for watercolor sketching?

In sketching you can use any pencil that is capable of creating a light sketch.

HB or 2B pencils are both medium hard graphite pencils that I prefer to use. I have also had good results with a 2H pencil if I wanted the preliminary sketch to be so light that you don’t want to see it after the watercolor paint is applied.

Watercolor pencils or Aquarelles (pencils that are water soluble), may be used for sketching, but you should keep in mind that they might dissolve into the colors you’re painting and mingle with them.

When I’m doing a brief watercolor painting with no visible sketch in the end result, I don’t mind using them.

Does pencil smear with watercolor?

Watercolors, especially heavy applications, can clog pencil marks on paper and make them impossible or difficult to remove.

This is why you should only apply a light touch when making a sketch for watercolor paintings.

Can you rub out a pencil after watercoloring?

While you can rub out pencil lines after watercoloring, it can be difficult or impossible to do so depending on how much water is in the paper from the paint.

My tip is to keep the rubbing out to a minimum so that you don’t risk damaging the watercolor paper and watercolor paint itself.

Yes, watercolor paper is thick and pretty strong but you can still damage the paper fibers with excessive use or an eraser.

Can you use watercolor over colored pencil?

Yes, you can use watercolor over colored pencil.

As long as the sketch is complete and there are no smudges or other flaws in the sketch lines then it should be okay to paint over them with watercolors.

I would avoid doing so if possible but sometimes it’s necessary when using a dark colored sketching pencil like black Prismacolor brand pencils .

Another option is to only sketch lightly enough that you don’t see any sketch marks after painting has been applied. This will probably take more time than simply coloring within the lines though!

Can You Sketch On Watercolor Paper?

Yes you can sketch on watercolor paper .

It’s best to sketch lightly with pencil on watercolor paper, applying multiple layers of graphite if necessary.

Watercolor paper is quite tough, it is designed to handle a few layers of water so some pencil sketches should be fine.

If you need some information on what watercolor paper you should use I have a few watercolor posts that cover this topic plus more here.

Can I ink over a watercolor painting sketch?

Yes, you can ink over a watercolor sketch .

If you choose to do this, be careful not to smudge or smear the sketch lines. You can minimize risk by making sure your sketch is dry before inking it.

Sometimes I will even let my sketch completely air dry overnight just because it’s best to err on the side of caution when working with delicate paper like watercolor paper!

I like to use a quality waterproof ink or a quality pigment pen such as the Sakura Pigma Micron pen. I have a guide on Sakura pigma pens here.

I quite like the look of an inked in watercolor painting, but that is just a personal preference.

Why you should create a sketch before watercolor painting – Final Thoughts

I hope you found “Why you should create a sketch before watercolor painting” a valuable read and have learned something new.

Watercolor painting is about learning what works for you and also exploring the medium with other mediums such as pencils, charcoals and inks.

It is less forgiving than other paints but the final results are more rewarding.

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