Part of the joy of being an artist (whether you do it as a hobby as a career or somewhere in between), is playing around with different styles, media, and tools. You can work magic with paper and a pencil one day, bring to life your favorite character with paint another day, and even spend time creating something beautiful with crayons.
If you’re looking for a new tool to play around with, something that artists all over the world have fallen in love with is watercolor brush pens.
What are watercolor brush pens?
Chances are, if you’ve landed on this page, you love working with watercolor. And who can blame you? For one thing, watercolor paints are among the most affordable and easily accessible available. If you are a watercolor artist, you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank and you know that your dollar will be stretched. Literally. With just the addition of water, watercolors can easily stretch across large landscapes. Watercolor offers great color saturation, doesn’t take forever to dry, and are largely free of the powerful odors associated with other kinds of paint. It’s also remarkably easy to clean. This makes it a popular choice for painters of all ages.
However, watercolor can be also be messy and take up a lot of space. It can be a bit of a drag carrying around tubes, palettes, cups of water, and a bunch of different brushes.
That’s where watercolor brushes come into play!
Watercolor brush pens combine the vibrant pigments of watercolor paint and the versatile delivery system of a brush tip in the convenient form of a pen.
Watercolor brush tips are, to put it in layman terms, like markers that have real soft and flexible brush tips that are designed for illustrating, blending, and coloring.When combined with blender pens, you can add vibrant colors to all types of art projects!
What are the benefits of watercolor brush pens?
Experiment with colors and techniques
Watercolor brush pens use water-soluble ink, which means you can have a lot of fun creating different effects simply by experimenting with different amounts of water. You can even play with different brush strokes - moving easily from thin and intricate to broad and bold - simply by adding or lessening the pressure you put on the pen. By playing around with color and brush strokes, you can practices all kinds of fun color techniques. Want to blend colors?
Simply add a bit of water and blend away! Use water to practice gradients and ombres as well. You can even mix together two colors to create a completely different color. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination!
Portable and easy to set up
If you’re the type that likes to get down to the business of art without having to do a lot of prep work, watercolor brush pens could be your next best friend. Unlike with regular watercolor sets, you don’t have to keep dipping your brush in paint and water.
You don’t even have to keep switching brushes. Just open a watercolor pen, uncap it, and you’re ready to paint - whenever and wherever inspiration strikes. Use a water-filled blender pen to create a variety of different effects!
Another perk of watercolor brush pens is that they cut down on clutter. You don’t have to have a table full of tubes or palettes - just your pens and whatever your canvas of choice is. Cleaning up is a cinch!
Simply pop the lids back on the brush pens, pack them up, and you’re good to go! Since the paints are water-based, you don’t have to worry about staining your favorite clothes (or furniture).
How are they different from watercolor paints?
Of course, on big difference between watercolor brush pens and traditional watercolor paints is that with the brush pens, there’s no need to continuously dip the brush into paint. With the built-in cartridge, your watercolor brush pen is always loaded with color. Simply pop the top and paint! If you need more color, simply press harder.
One brush - multiple strokes
As mentioned above, with watercolor brush pens, you don’t have to switch brushes to achieve different brush strokes - simply adjust the amount of pressure you put on the pen to smoothly transition from thin lines to broad strokes. You can also play around with the angle at which you hold the pen (such as when you are practicing calligraphy or hand-lettering).
Water is optional
One cool thing about watercolor brush pens is that if you don’t have water on hand, you can still use the pens - they work with or without water! Without water, the watercolor brush pens will yield a fine line marker effect. Dip them in water for lighter washes (the longer you dip, the lighter the hue) to create beautiful watercolor effects. You have the best of both worlds with one product.
One of the pitfalls of watercolor painting is that it can be rough on paper - especially thinner paper. However, we’ve found that when we add color with watercolor brush pens, the paint dries faster. This also means that if your art requires layers, you can get done faster- with more consistent color results.
How do you use watercolor brush pens?
When you first start using watercolor brush pens, it might seem like it’s hard to get the hang of. But once you get started, you will probably become addicted to all of the amazing things you can do with them. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Get watercolor paper
As mentioned above, watercolor can be pretty rough on paper - especially when you add water. It might be tempting to use any type of paper, but you should really consider investing in high-quality watercolor paper. Otherwise, you run the risk of the paper tearing or disintegrating easily - especially when you use certain techniques.
Of course, if you’re a beginner and only painting as a hobby or creative outlet, you may not need to invest in the same tools of the trade as a professional artist. However, here are some things to keep in mind when buying the perfect watercolor paper for you:
Artists’ Quality vs Students’ Quality
As mentioned above, the type of paper a professional artist needs is at a bit higher standard than that of a hobbyist or student.Professional artists need acid-free paper (also known as archival paper). Do you know how after several years, papers tend to turn yellow and become brittle? Artwork has the same issue!
Artists’ quality paper helps to prevent this, keeping the artwork looking fresh for longer. It is typically handmade or mold-made, made from cotton, and has an irregular texture that lends itself well to watercolors. Because of this, artists’ quality paper costs a bit more. If you want your art to stand the test of time, though, this is worth the higher price point.
Students’ quality paper, on the other hand, is generally machine-made and composed of wood pulp or a cotton-cellulose fiber mix This makes it much easier to produce (and cheaper to buy). The trade-off is that it’s more liable to deteriorate and distort over time. So, you have to decide which matters more to you - longevity or price.
Another thing to consider when buying watercolor paper is weight. Lighter papers tend to buckle or wrinkle when they get wet. This isn’t an issue when you’re sketching or using tools like color pencils.
However, when you start using things like marker and paint (especially watercolor), it becomes an issue. The three most popular weights for watercolor paper are:
The cheapest, but also the most likely to buckle and wrinkle when you use watercolor paints on it. Not good at all if you’re going to need to make changes to your artwork. We would recommend this as an absolute last resort for beginners.
This the most popular since it is medium priced, is fairly stout, dries quickly (which can be good or bad, depending on the project) and can be stretched to avoid buckling. (Don’t know what stretching paper means? Check out Strathmore’s article on Stretching Watercolor Paper to learn the what, why, and how of stretching watercolor paper.)
This paper is more board-like than the others. It requires zero stretching and dries more slowly. However, it also costs twice as much as 140-pound paper, making it more of an investment and probably not the best pick for beginners.
Another factor to consider when buying watercolor paper is the texture. This is largely going to be a personal preference. The three options are hot press, cold press, and rough.
Hot Press is smooth and even, making it a nice choice for detailed work such as prints and drawings. However, because of its slick finish, some artists find it difficult to control the paint.
Cold Press is more versatile and, thus more popular for both beginners and professional/experienced painters. It has a texture that is slightly bumpy, making it great for both a variety of painting techniques, including details work and washes.
This texture features an even more bumpy surface, lending itself well to washes and other techniques that tend to be rough on paper.
Popular watercolor paper brands
Although the paper you use will largely be a matter of preference and budget, here is a short list of reputable brands that sell watercolor paper. Do your research and don’t be afraid to shop around!
In fact, we recommend trying different brands so that you know from firsthand experience which one suits your needs the best.
Fill your blender brush pen with water
Another tool that is great to have on hand is a blender brush pen, which is like a paint brush and water container in one. They are very portable and make for convenient use. You can use them to blend watercolors by squeezing the barrel, pushing water through the brush tip.
There are a variety of blender brush pens, so the way you fill it will vary. Some of them have an open top reservoir, so you simply twist the top off and pour water into it, then close it back up OR submerge it in water to fill it. Others are designed so that you have to squeeze the barrel to suction water into it. Either way, once you have filled the body of the blender brush pen, you’re ready to use it along with watercolor brush pens for a variety of techniques.
Get to know the colors
Take some time to get to know your watercolors. We recommend creating a color guide. If possible, create two of them - one dry and one wet. This way you know how the colors will come out when you use them in both ways. (Note: If you order our brush pen set, you will be able to request a FREE color guide to paint and keep on hand for your art projects.)
Just as with any creative venture, it’s good to know what you’re working with. Take some time before your first project to look at the colors you have and decide which ones will best fit your needs. If you work best with a bit of organization, it might be helpful to set aside the ones you will most likely need so that you don’t have to break out of your creative mode to find something when you need it.
Prime your paper
If you’re going to use your blender brush pen with your watercolors, you’ll need to prime your paper before you start painting. This means you need to coat your watercolor paper with water. Be sure not to oversaturate it. You don’t want it to be overly wet- a simple layer will do! If you overdo it, use a paper towel to blot up the excess (this is why it’s important to get good quality watercolor paper - it’s more forgiving of mistakes). Priming your paper helps the watercolor to spread more easily and more evenly - especially if you are using rough paper.
There are situations where you should NOT prime your paper. They include when you’re doing sharp details, when you’re doing brush script, or when you’re creating high-contrast motifs. So keep that in mind when deciding what you need to do. As a general rule, if you want the finished result to be more crisp and less blended, you should NOT prime your paper so that it can suck in the color faster. However, if you want your artwork to come out softer and more blended, you SHOULD prime your paper so that you can make color washes and build your colors slowly.
Experiment with water
Remember, the amount of water you use will determine the vibrancy or softness of the colors. Play around with different amounts to achieve different results. You’ll be amazed at how many shades you can create!
Experiment with pressure
Another thing to experiment with is the pressure with which you use the pen. The more pressure you exert, the broader your stroke (which is great for painting large spaces). The less pressure, the thinner the line (perfect for coloring in smaller details). The more you practice, the better you will get at exerting just the right amount of pressure to get the results you want.
With watercolor brush pens, it easy to expand on the colors you have to use by blending colors. You can layer colors on top of each other and even mix two colors together and then paint with the new color. If you like the gradient (or “ombre) effect, you can achieve this by choosing two colors from the same family (like red and orange or blue and purple). Touch the darker color to the tip of the lighter color and once it has been absorbed, you’re ready to get your ombre on! Use the blender brush pen to create a smooth and seamless gradient. (Pro tip: After blending, be sure to clean your brush pen tips by dipping them in water and painting on spare bits of paper until each pen paints in its intended color.
Another cool color effect is layering. Working from dark to light tones, lay shades on top of one another. You can use your water brush to blend the colors together.
What kind of projects can you do with watercolor brush pens?
A better question would be what projects CAN’T you take on with watercolor brush pens. They are so versatile that you can use them in just about any paper project that requires a bit of color. Here are some of our favorite bits of inspiration to show you just how much fun you can have with your set of watercolor brush pens.
Decorating your planner
Are you a planner girl (or guy)? If you love color and doodles as much as we do, it only makes sense that your planner become an extension of your creativity. Use watercolor brush pens to add color to your daily, weekly, and monthly spreads.
Here’s a pretty cool tutorial on decorating your planner with watercolor brush pens.
Looking for a way to express yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings on a regular basis. Have you tried keeping an art journal? With a combination of words and pictures (no other rules!), your art journal becomes whatever it is you want (or need) it to be.
If you don’t know what bullet journaling is, it’s sort of a combination between a planner, a to-do list, and a journal. If you’re trying to find a way to get organized, but keeping a regular planner hasn’t worked out for you, perhaps give bullet journaling a try. And, while you’re at it, why not add a bit of color?
Sketching and Illustrating
Watercolor brush pens can also be the perfect way to add vibrant colors to sketches and illustrations. You can use them on dry or wet paper!
Adult Coloring Books
If you like to break out an adult coloring book every now and then, watercolor brush pens can add a whole new world of coloring possibilities!
Always wanted to try your hand at hand-lettering? The variability in brush strokes with the watercolor brush pens make it possible. Just remember: thick strokes when you move down and thin strokes when you’re moving up.
Love painting outdoors? Capture the beauty of the outdoors easily with watercolor brush pens. Because they’re so portable and don’t require extra tools, it’s a simple matter to grab your watercolor brush pens, a blender brush pen, an easel, your paper, and unleash your creativity!
Thank You Cards
To show gratitude in a more personal way, make your own thank you cards! Play around with techniques like blending, ombre, washes, and hand-lettering to create a beautiful effect that the card recipient is sure to appreciate.
How do you take care of watercolor brush pens?
Taking care of your watercolor brush pens is simple. If you have been blending colors or doing ombre effects, simply keep brushing the tips against spare paper or paper towels until they start painting in their original color. Once you have done this, recap the pens and store them away.
The blender brush pens are also largely self-cleaning. Simply squeeze water through the tip and brush it against spare paper or a paper towel until it paints clear water. Open the pen to pour out any remaining water (or squeeze it if it is a suction-type barrell). The twist it back together, dry the tip, recap it, and store it away. If you take care of your pens, they will last you for a long time (though how long depends on how often you paint with them, of course).
What are some good watercolor brush pens to buy?
We might be biased, but we believe our Doodlehog Watercolor Brush Pens are high-quality and perfect for newbies and beginners alike. But don’t take our word for it. Here is a review from an artist named Aubrey Ware. He has been drawing for over 20 years, but didn’t try his hand at painting until he received a set of our watercolor brush pens as a Christmas gift. Here’s what he has to say about his experience:
“Hi, so when I received my watercolor brush pens, I was both excited and extremely nervous because I had never actually painted before this. In fact though I’ve been drawing all of my life, I always left my drawings black and white until about 5 years ago. I’m glad I decided to give painting a real try, and with these being like the regular markers/pens I get to stay in familiar territory and just add water(pun intended). I absolutely love, How much these pens can saturata page and quickly & easily achieve both very bright and very subtle tones, something that’s very difficult to achieve with the standard markers.
Anyway I had a lot of fun using them, especially after getting used to how to work with watercolors. Exploring different techniques within the same piece was amazing, I especially loved how easy it was to blend colors together. After gaining confidence in my abilities I was very interested in using them in the adult coloring books. Although I felt excitement, I was also a bit apprehensive to use them in a coloring book out of fear of them bleeding into the opposite page. But I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t, and while my adult coloring book’s pages are little thicker than ordinary printer paper, they are a lot less thick in comparison to watercolor paper. And these didn’t bleed even with there being several spot of heavy use of water and layering of color. All in all my first venture with painting was an enjoyable success thanks to these watercolor pens and I can’t wait to explore their use in the future as I learn more techniques. This is going to be fun.”
Curious about how his watercolor artwork turned out? You’ve actually already seen it! Aubrey is the artist behind the examples for Sketching/Illustration, Adult Coloring Books, and Plein Air.
I hope that this article has been helpful in not only helping you decide if you want to try out watercolor brush pens, but in giving you ideas about the many ways you can use them in your artistic endeavors.