Prismalo Aquarelle water-soluble pencils by Caran d’Ache were the first coloured pencils to be created with a water-soluble lead. Invented in 1931, these high-quality colourfast pencils offer rich translucent washes of intense colour. They are easily identified with their white caps and a coloured varnish that matches the shade of the lead. The pencils can be purchased individually or in sets of six, 18, 30, 40 to 80, the larger sets having colours that are diverse enough for any subject. The quality is such that anyone should consider these as their first choice when venturing to use water-soluble pencils.

There are a number of techniques with Prismalo pencils, including dry work, such as hatching, gradation, overlaying colour and pointillism, as well as a range of wet techniques, which are often only limited by the user’s imagination. In general, I carry out most of the wet work first then complete the painting with dry pencils.

Colour process

Prismalo pencils have reasonably firm leads, which lend themselves well for making fine marks when drawing. Taking a selection of colours from the large tin of 80 pencils, my first painting shows an ancient bridge covered with wisteria flowers, Wisteria Bridge (see below).

I selected a sheet of light grey Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper. Working on papers with a small amount of tint offers the maximum benefit from the range of pale colours provided in the larger set.

Technique 1

Outline drawing The subject was drawn using beige 403. I found I could lift this colour out with an eraser to correct any mistakes. The background of the bridge was a mixture of sky and weeping willow.

Technique 2

Scraping Colour was scraped onto the dry surface using yellow green 230 and light blue 161 with a sharp scalpel (Figure 1, below left). This method saves leaving any unwanted marks behind when the pigment is wetted. Finding how many shavings to add was a bit of trial and error, but when I felt I had sufficient I wet the surface with a synthetic No. 8 brush and introduced the background around the bridge.

Technique 3

Paper palette washes

Using a piece of scrap paper as a palette, I scribbled down pigment before adding more washes of colour. The bridge and roof of the tower were a series of washes using grey 005, beige 403, light beige 402 and silver 498. The tower body in the middle was mainly washed over with ochre 35. The surrounding foliage was a mix of spring green 470, light olive 245, green ochre 25 and yellow green 230. Sky blue 141 made a good colour for the wisteria blooms.

Technique 4

Dry pencil colour

Clairefontaine will only tolerate applied washes for so long before all the colours start creeping outside the edges and back runs start to form. This is the best point to stop, dry the surface thoroughly and move on to dry pencil, which I did using cocoa 405 to pick out some of the brick detail and emphasise the dark areas around the tower and under the bridge. I picked out detail in the foliage on the right using green ochre. I also found silver very useful for indicating some of the brickwork and the stems of the creeper.

The foliage was emphasised by re-working the greens as dry pencil to denote details within the grasses and leaves.

To finish, I added more sky blue to darken the wisteria blooms then worked white 001 over the areas where the light was catching the masonry.

Wisteria Bridge, Prismalo watercolour pencil on light grey Pastelmat, (33x25.5cm)

Demonstration 1 High and Dry, Staithes

The second painting of Staithes was produced on Sennelier 140lb watercolour paper. I chose the reverse side, which is a little smoother and took dry pencil well.


  • Beige 403
  • Ochre 35
  • Carmine 80
  • Ultramarine 140
  • Gold 499
  • Cocoa 405
  • Orange 030
  • Raw umber 049

Step 1

1. I drew the scene using beige 403. Graphite outlines can go a little grubby when a pencil is used for drawing. Prismalo pencils produce a clean line, which, if necessary, can be washed away when making corrections. The edges also dissolve nicely when adding liquid colour.

2. I started by adding the sky using a paper palette onto which I had scribbled ochre, carmine 80 and ultramarine 140.

Step 2

1. Wetting the sky area with clean water, I added diluted carmine followed by ultramarine, swapping for ochre as I washed colour over the cliff.

2. I continued down the paper with ochre, adding gold 499 then cocoa 405 into the right sea wall.

3. I started to define some of the cobbles at the foot of the paper.

4. Shadow was added to the cottage by mixing carmine with ultramarine.

Step 3

1. This was the dry-pencil stage. Roof details were added using orange 030. Windows and dark edges were introduced using raw umber 049, after which I drew the hand railing with the same colour.

2. I picked out details on the boats with carmine, cocoa and finally, white for the tethering lines.

3. I completed the painting by adding grasses to the left side and then picking out some of the details of the cobbles and stone slabs using the cocoa pencil.

The finished painting High and Dry, Staithes, Prismalo watercolour pencil on Sennelier 140lb Rough paper, (23x20cm)

Demonstration 2 Butterton Barn

Prismalo pencils also offer a convenient way when you want to take a few pencils out-of-doors to record sketches of the landscape. I completed this pen sketch of Butterfield Barn on Sennelier Rough 140lb watercolour paper, using a fine waterproof fibre tipped pen. I then selected the following colours: carmine 80, sepia 407, ultramarine 140 and golden ochre 33. Golden ochre is a very flexible colour, allowing nice greens to be produced as well as the ochre stonework of the Derbyshire countryside. A piece of scrap watercolour paper is useful to take out as a palette when creating washes.


  • Carmine 80
  • Sepia 407
  • Ultramarine 140
  • Golden ochre 33

Step 1

1. I drew the barn with a waterproof pen.

2. I wetted the sky area with clean water then added a wash of ultramarine to the upper part, followed by a mix of carmine and ultramarine for the lower clouds.

Step 2

1. After letting this dry, I added a wash of golden ochre to the sunlit stonework, followed by a mix of golden ochre and ultramarine for the foliage. To darken the greens where necessary I added a little carmine to the mix.

2. Shadows and darker areas were added with washes of sepia or a mix of carmine and ultramarine.

3. I let the paper dry thoroughly before adding detail using the sepia for the barn shadows, fencing and the twigs on the trees. I added foreground grasses with golden ochre.

4. Texture was added by flicking a water brush pen against the tip of the golden ochre and allowing the pigment to spatter onto the surface.

5. Where colour had crept too far corrections were made using a small portion of magic sponge eraser.

Step 3

To finish, I added some poppies by dipping the carmine tip into water and then drawing onto the surface. Using this method helps the pigment to part from the pencil with more colour intensity.

The finished painting, Butterton Barn, Prismalo watercolour pencil on Sennelier 140lb Rough paper, (25.5x33cm)

If you want to experience a tried-and-tested versatile set of pencils that have been around longer than any other product of this type then Caran d’Ache Prismalo watercolour pencils are the ones for you.

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This test report and demonstration is taken from the May 2018 issue of Leisure Painter