Watercolor sticks are a great tool for artists who want to add watercolor effects to sketches and drawings. They are somewhere between a watercolor and a pastel, with a good amount of variation among brands. Apply them in a range of ways: draw dry on dry and then wet your surface with a brush, dip the stick in water as you work, apply dry to wet paper, or even treat these sticks like watercolor pans, using a wet brush to take pigment from the stick and transfer it to paper. Watercolor sticks are sometimes priced better than traditional pans, and they’re highly portable: no palette or brush necessary. If you’re interested in using watercolor sticks for drawing or painting, find our list of recommended options, below.
1. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Stick
Made with the same artist-grade pigments as Winsor & Newton’s professional tubes and pans, these sticks are impressively smooth and easy to handle. When dry, they have a harder consistency than many other watercolor sticks, making them easier to draw with. Thanks to their rectangular prism shape, they can be used both to shade large areas and to draw fine lines. The amount of pigment in these watercolor sticks is roughly equivalent to what is in a whole pan or a five-milliliter tube. Importantly, they have excellent lightfastness.
2. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor Stick
Daniel Smith watercolor sticks are expensive but they are a favorite of traditional watercolor painters. The large, cylindrical sticks are made with the same ingredients as Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor tubes and hold more pigment than the tubes. They’re easy to take on the go for travel or plein air painting; the only downside is that because of their purity, they can be very soft, especially in humidity, which makes them less useful as a drawing tool. Sticks are sold individually, allowing you to build your own palette—always a fun experience with Daniel Smith, which is famous for its unique colors, like Moonglow!
3. Charvin Artist Colored Chalk Pastels
For a medium that leans more toward the pastel end of the spectrum, try Charvin’s set of 48 square sticks. These artist-grade painting sticks are hard like pastels and can be used as such, but marks turn vibrant, glowy, and translucent once water is added. Because the texture is chalkier than that of standard watercolor sticks, it can be difficult to blend colors to a uniform consistency, but you can achieve some fun effects. Each stick is made with pure pigment and is lightfast.
4. Derwent Inktense Ink Blocks
Like true watercolor sticks, these implements are water-soluble and create luminous, flowing effects when combined with water. Unlike true watercolor sticks, they become permanent when dry. The permanence means certain effects that are difficult to achieve with watercolors, such as clearly distinct layers, are easy with this medium. Plus, the 12 colors in the set, which come in a handy and durable tin case, are opaque and intense. They can even be used on fabric.
5. Faber-Castell Gel Sticks
Children delight in the magic of watercolor sticks and how they flow with the simple addition of water. This set contains 12 colors of easy-to-handle sticks encased in plastic for mess-free art projects at school or at home. When the business end gets too stubby, a twist of the base exposes more material. The “gel” of the paint stick glides well over paper and shows up creamy and vivid on the page. The kit includes a brush to turn scribbles into washes of color.