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How to make your watercolor paintings pop with pastels

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How to make your watercolor paintings pop with pastels

Watercolor paintings can sometimes lack a bit of contrast, a great way to add a bit of contrast and texture is to outline some elements with pastels. Watercolor and pastels are great medium to mix because they both are very mat.

This is a technique that can be used by watercolorists but also in any kind of mixed media painting.

You might also like: Dry pastels, alternative ways of using them in mixed media

Here is how you can do it

You will need:

  • Watercolor paper, I used Fabriano 140 lb, cold press
  • Watercolor paint, I used Da Vinci and Yarka watercolors
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Masking fluid, I used Da Vinci masking fluid
  • A silicon brush or an old brush to apply the masking fluid
  • Pastels, I used nupastels
  • A stretching board, staples, pencil, eraser….
drawing and masking fluid.

Once your paper has been stretched, start by transferring your drawing to your watercolor paper. You can preserve some areas with masking fluid or like here, protect the contours so you can paint the background more easily.

I am a Blick Art Materials affiliate and I receive a small compensation for sales. That does not effect in any way the cost of the purchaser’s order but it helps me keeping the content of this blog free.

Colour Shapers Tools

Apply oil or acrylic straight from tube with a Colour Shaper, then carve back into paint for unusual surface effects. Also for calligraphy. Use the rubber tip shapes to lift or blend paint, draw line, and draw contours.

Click here to see how to build you own light box

to easily transfer your drawings to your watercolor paper.

background painted wet in wet

Here I am starting by painting the background wet into wet.

alcohol sprinkled on the background

You can add textures to your background by sprinkling some alcohol into the wet watercolor wash.

I am a Blick Art Materials affiliate and I receive a small compensation for sales. That does not effect in any way the cost of the purchaser’s order but it helps me keeping the content of this blog free.


Daler-Rowney Masking Fluid

This fluid is used to create striking white highlights or to mask areas for overpainting at a later stage. It forms a fast-drying, water-resistant film on watercolor paper and board, and is easily removed when dry.

Removing  the masking fluid.

new layer of masking fluid

This is a new layer of masking fluid, this time to preserve some white highlights.

painting flowers wet into wet

Wet into wet painting.

wet into wet painting

Softening edges on a petal.

This is the watercolor painting, let it dry completely before applying the pastels crayons.

Outline the contours of your painting with the pastels crayons, you can use different colors or just one, as you want.

I am a Blick Art Materials affiliate and I receive a small compensation for sales. That does not effect in any way the cost of the purchaser’s order but it helps me keeping the content of this blog free.

Prismacolor NuPastel Color Sticks

NuPastels have a rich, creamy texture that blends and shades easily. Frequently used in advertising layouts, NuPastels are stronger than ordinary soft pastels, which means less breakage and easier cleanup. Use them to create broad strokes and fine lines.

You can also highlight elements of your choice on the painting, here the pistils.

Scrubbing with a stiff brush to soften hard edges and lighten some areas.

The finished painting: Cherry Blossoms, watercolor and pastels on paper. The pastels did add very vibrant highlights and a bit of texture to the painting. I did fix it with Krylon workable fixative.

Have you try adding pastels or other media to your watercolors?

4.2/5 - (18 votes)

Comments (24)

  1. Helpful advice! Time to create ?

    1. Thanks Lisa 🙂

  2. alicesaga

    hey:) do you use a fixative when your painting is finished? i am so confused!!! i mean with pastels don’t you have to? or not when water colors? thanks:) alice

    1. yes, you could use fixative but if you intend to frame the drawing, you could also just leave it as is.

      1. alicesaga

        THANKS sandrine:)))) for the reply!!!

  3. You’ve given me many ideas that has allowed me to grow in my understanding of painting! I can’t thank you enough, but I hope this will do. 🙂 Thank you for your talents and generosity!
    Juliana in NJ

    1. Thank you Juliane, nice comments like yours are part of what keeps me motivated to write the blog 🙂

  4. Bonnie

    R u using regular pastels or oil pastels?

    1. I am using regular dry pastels.

  5. Nancy

    Are you using straight watercolors out of the tube/pan, or mixing them to get the color you want? What colors/hues did you use? Thanks.

    1. As a general rule, I am mixing colors as much as I can on paper.
      For my palette, I am trying to have a warm and cold hue of yellow/red/blue plus burnt sienna and burnt umber and sap green.
      For exemple I would take an orangy red like red cadmium and a pinkish red like alizarin crimson

  6. Anne Huntress

    I’d love to take this class, but just noticed the post was from a few years ago and the registration link is broken. Is there any chance you are still offering this opportunity?

    1. Hello Anne, thanks for letting me know, can you please Tell me which class and where was the broken link, I am going to fix it. All the classes are still open

      1. Anne

        Thanks for your quick reply! It was a link that popped up when I opened this article. I went to your “teaching” section just now….and it worked! I registered and look forward to improving my (until now) feeble attempts and drawing/painting.

        1. Great, thanks Anne !

  7. Such lovely colors! I really like the contrast of the dark gray around it (plus the texture/effects of the alcohol dropped on). Thanks for sharing these tips!

    1. Thanks Leah, I am glad you liked it!

  8. ellen

    I want to learn more!

    1. Good for you 🙂

  9. Joyce Geyer

    Lately I have been finishing my watercolors with pastels and I like the added
    vibrancy a lot.
    I have been doing a watercolor under painting for my pastels also and that is
    nice effect also.

    1. Yes, these two media are going so well together, I am glad you enjoy mixing them 🙂

  10. I have thought of this before and here it is. thanks for the boost

  11. sandhya

    Great idea Sandrine. It indeed brightens up the painting and adds a new dimension.

    1. Thanks Sandhya 🙂

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