Will graphite pencil marks dissolve if watercolor pencils are drawn over it?

Reader Question: I love to draw with graphite ONLY, but I also LOVE color. So I bought a few sets of Prismacolor watercolor pencils, thinking I can just trace over my original drawing with them, then take a tiny amount of water, and turn it into a painting. I'm comfortable with graphite, as you can correct mistakes without much stress of ruining hour upon hours of work. So here is my question:

  • Should I erase any graphite before I trace over it with the watercolor pencils? Will the graphite stay hidden behind the watercolor pencil, even if I decide to dissolve it with some water?

I've so far done portraits, but am itching to expand my artwork. I feel like I'm a self-taught artist, with not much natural ability, but I DO try real hard, and it's a blast! Any advice would be appreciated, as I don't want to ruin hours of work, just to see my graphite marks through my portrait. 

It's great that you are expanding your horizons by trying new techniques! It can be scary at first, because as you mention, you don't want to ruin hours of hard work... but once you experiment a bit, you'll get more comfortable with adding color to your graphite drawings.

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If you are going to be using Prismacolor watercolor pencils over your graphite drawing, then I would recommend using a hard graphite pencil to create your initial drawing. By "hard" graphite pencil, I am referring to any pencil that is labeled between 9H and 2H. These pencils are less likely to smear or smudge when you draw over them with Prismacolor watercolor pencils and then add water. They will probably leave a faint light grey mark, so something will probably show through, but this will be minimal compared to the kind of darker smudges you would get from using a "softer" pencil, which would be anything labeled from HB - 9B.

Your best bet is to experiment before you try this technique on a drawing that you have already spent hours on. On a piece of watercolor paper, draw a few lines or simple shapes using your graphite pencil, then go over it with a few different colors of your Prismacolor watercolor pencils. Add water and see what happens:

  • Does the graphite run or bleed into the colored areas? If so, try using a harder pencil.
  • Do the colored marks from the watercolor pencil wash out so much that you can see more graphite than you can color? If so, try adding more watercolor pencil, pressing more firmly, so that there is more pigment on your paper.

Since you are going to be adding water, it is best if you use a stiff, thick paper like watercolor paper. If you use thinner paper, like regular drawing paper, then the paper won't be strong enough to handle the added water, which will cause the paper to warp and buckle.

I hope that helps. Also keep in mind that even if the graphite marks show through after you've added water to your watercolor pencils, that still might create a nice, unexpected effect! You never know. In any case, I think you'll find that once you experiment, you'll get the hang of it and develop a technique that works for you.