How to Create Watercolor Pencil Swatches

I use lots of watercolor pencils.  Two of the issues I have are:  1.) not knowing how many options are available within a color range and also 2.) finding it difficult to decipher the true color from the color on the pencil.  Here’s an example of finding it difficult to decipher the color.

Therefore, I began a “Swatch Project” that took me about 4 days to complete.  I used these items:

  • Watercolor Paper (9”x12” 140 lb. Artist Loft)
  • All of the Watercolor Pencils available to me
  • A See-Through Ruler (2 inches Wide x 18 inches Long)
  • Sturdy Scissors
  • Binder Rings
  • A Water Brush
  • A Permanent Pen
  • and a Heavy-duty Hole Puncher

First, I organized all of the pencils in proper order in their tins.

Next, using a see-through, 2” wide ruler, I created 2” wide lines across the landscape-positioned Watercolor Paper.

I then drew a line half-way through the paper.  It was about 4.5” from the top because the paper is about 9”.  This made about 6-8 swatches per page depending on whether the end swatches were too skinny.  You can probably figure out better measurements than me to make better use of your paper.

With the pen, I began writing the necessary pencil information on the paper about a knuckle-to-tip pinky length up from the midline.  This pic shows the swatch already cut, however, it was not cut when I wrote the details (See Fig. B).

Then I colored the appropriate pencil in the section using a gradation style.  I continued this until all my watercolor pencil colors were completed.  

Using the Water Brush, I activated all of the watercolor ink on my swatches one at a time until I completed them all. Each paper needed to dry and as it dried, I flipped it to the opposite side and placed a book on top of the sheets to keep them flat.

Next, I cut each swatch.  Then, after they were all cut, I organized them into an array of colors:  Blues, Greens, Black-White-Greys, Browns and Yellow, Yellow and Orange, Pinks and Purples, Flesh to Red…  I had three different types of watercolor pencils from two different companies.  Basically, I visually organized them how I thought they should be arranged until I created 7 sets.  You can pick any number of sets that you wish, I just picked seven because I bought a set of seven, 3 1/2” binder rings that were on Amazon.

Now, here is the most difficult part.  The paper is thick so if you have a lot of swatches, you will want an easy hole puncher.  This is why you need a heavy duty paper hole puncher; preferably one that you can press using your upper body rather than just your hand strength.  Create a hole in your first swatch.  Then, place a new swatch beneath it to copy the hole.  Then, place the top swatch off to the side and place a new one underneath the copied one.  This way, you won’t use the original twice.  Adjust as needed.

The result is a great set of swatches.  Now I can easily choose from these colors and then pull the pencils that I need.  I can also easily compliment the colors I pulled.  I can clearly see the warm, cool, vibrant, and muted colors.  This works well for character development when choosing a color palette for them.  Having swatches also helps you to duplicate a color from an image.  I hope this works for you.


Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. ~Genesis 37:3 KJV

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