How To Use Watercolor Brush Pens -10 Easy Steps! (2023)

Final Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial

Here is my very easy beach landscape tutorial using Watercolor Brush Pens with my Pro Tips and insider information.

Supplies Used

I used Strathmore Cold Press Watercolor Paper 140 LB  

and Genuine Brand Watercolor Brush Pens   

I also used a size 8 watercolor brush, rather than a refillable brush because I have more control with this brush and I can use it for a variety of techniques. 

Also, if you are in the market for watercolor brush pen sets, check out my review and test article here on my top 11 recommendations!



Step One

Set aside your palette of watercolor brush pens.  I always do this before I start. It helps me keep my color choices in check and it helps give a unified professional look to the finished product.  Sometimes too many choices are not such a great thing.

Pro Tip:

Check out color combinations on Pinterest or go to the paint store and play with groups of paint swatches to find color families that work well.  If you are techie, you can play with a variety of color scheme generator programs and apps online or on your phone to find color combinations that look especially great together.

sketch and palette Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Sketch and watches of palette colors that are cool tones

The palette of colors for this landscape will all be cool-toned.

Main color: Grey-blue dark that can be lightened to a pale grey

Ultramarine blue ( a true primary blue)

Turquoise  (not a neon)

Dark blue-green

Warm brown

Greeny ochre

Olive green

Medium violet

Step Two

Lightly sketch the main features with a regular pencil on an area about 4 inches x 6 1/2 inches.

Pro Tip:

If you think you MIGHT want to frame your finished artwork, instead of making a greeting card, then be sure to center your sketch on the watercolor paper so that there is a good 1 inch of white paper all around the main image. This will give your artwork room to be mounted with a mat board at framing. I knew I was going to make a greeting card, so to conserve paper, I ran the image right up to the left edge.

Using the grey-blue dark main watercolor brush color, dry brush the top edge of the sky by holding the brush nearly horizontal to the paper and dragging the brush on its side across the paper.  You can do a couple of swipes if you didn’t get much color.  You don’t want a solid band though! Let the paper peek through.

step two Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
One line of dark blue-grey for the highest part of the sky and dry brushing the true blue below.  I sample the brush pen colors on a swatch on the side, to make sure I’ve got the correct color.

If you are in a pinch, you can use the watercolor refillable wash brush that probably came with your set.  I much prefer to use one of my size 8 watercolor brushes because the hair on the brush is supple and releases water in a very controlled manner. In any case, wet the blue color and bring it down into the sky area, fading into almost all white at the horizon line of the ocean.  Let dry about four minutes until the paper does not feel cool to the touch.  You can speed this up by using a hairdryer if you wish!

Step Three

Using the main color, dry brush in the far hillside lightly with a darkest line on the bottom. Let the paper sparkle through! Wet and blend the hill with the darkest intensity of color on the bottom, but leaving the dry brush sparkles alone.  These will be water sparkling in the sunlight on the far shoreline. Use a bit more water on the top half of the hill. Let dry. 

Pro Tip:

If you have too dark a line on the top of the hill, use a damp brush with clear water and blur the top edge of the hill as it touches the sky by drawing across the top of the hill and immediately blotting the color away with a clean paper towel.  ( In nature, hard edges blur as they recede into the distance, giving atmospheric perspective).  Let dry.

step five Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Wonderfully easy hillside effects using water to blend the colors

Step Four

Color in the middle hill with drybrush blots of the main color and olive green and ochre dots. Lighten by water blending, letting the colors play with each other as they will. Create a few odd little rock shapes and squishy dots on the left side of the land mass.

Color in the lowest hill using mostly olive green and a few grey-blue dots. Water blend. If it gets too light, add a few dots of dark blue-grey while it is still damp.  Create a few odd little rock shapes and squishy dots on the left side of the land mass.

Pro Tip:

Make these rocks in the ocean irregular so that they don’t look cookie-cutter.  Keep them very small because they are in the distance.


Step Five

Drybrush turquoise in the ocean, leaving sparkles of white paper showing through on the right side and tapering off to nothing midway down the paper.

step six Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Hold the brush pen flat against the paper in a vertical direction and swipe from left to right, leaving lots of paper showing through for sun sparkles on the water near the shorelines.

Drybrush a very small amount of blue-grey dark on the far left horizon.  Wet blend, leaving the sparkles near the shorelines untouched.  Let dry.

step four Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Wetting the ocean color and being careful to not overpower the white of the paper for the most part. We’ll NEED the boring white part of the ocean to showcase the tree branches and the grass stalks.

Pro Tip:

Don’t keep going over and over the wet paint area!  I know the color is so lush and inviting, but in watercolor, the more you stroke over a colored area, the more the paint and water combo changes as it absorbs into the paper.  If you keep rewetting it, you run the risk of making backwash mistakes.  (see my comment and close up below).  We don’t want backwashes in the ocean part of this painting.  We want the ocean to be smooth with the only texture being the light sparkles as the waves hit the shorelines.

Part of the mystery and joy of watercolor is its serendipitous qualities. It’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. So let it! Don’t overwork it.

Step Six

Once the paper is thoroughly dry, use the warm brown and draw in the tree trunk of the windswept pine and its main branches. Keep it angular and simple. Think ‘elbow joint’ as you draw the branches, pivoting away from the trunk of the tree like on an oriental fan.

step five Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Hold the brush horizontally and swipe up using the flat of the brush. Don’t go too high!

Step Seven

Using olive green drybrush each clump of pine branches on the upper side of each branch.  Do not blend.

Using ochre, dry brush angled vertical strokes up above the olive green in the same fan-shaped directions as the ochre step.  You will want to leave some of the strokes showing.


Step Eight

Drybrush dark blue-green just above each brown branch and wet blend, leaving the top edges of the pine boughs feathery and dry brushed.

step six Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Dry brush swipes nearly vertically for individual spears of pine. Not wet blended yet.

Using a thin line and the brown, add twiggy branches but don’t overdo it.  It’s too easy to get it looking too cluttered.  It is better to do too few at this stage and add more for the last step, if needed, than overcrowd the painting now. 


Step Nine

Using ochre, dry brush the grass area up into the white of the water area.  Make the clump of grass on the left side larger than the clump on the right side.  This will balance out the composition and draw the eye in.

Using olive, dry brush blot in a few areas.  Using the dark blue-grey, dry brush blot in the left side and color in solid a triangle shape on the right side.

Pro Tip:

Don’t let yourself get carried away trying to draw each individual pine needle or grass blade.  That might be ok on a large painting (say 16 x 20 and larger) but on this small scale, suggesting detail looks more appropriate and professional.

step seven Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Nearly done! Make sure to leave lots of white ocean showing. This sets the stage for the grass and pine to show up the best.

Wet blend both sides, but keep the dry brushed grass area on the top untouched in most places.

Pro Tip:

Here is where you can drop a bit of clear water from your brush into the shrub mix as it dries for a moment to get a spidery backwash effect.  Don’t overdo it though, as you don’t want the eye to linger here overly long because backwashing can be too dang interesting for the viewer’s eyes.

backwash Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Backwash dots in the grassy area leave a harder outline and are serendipitous. Don’t try and control them!  The water and the ink are going to do their thing, which is part of the magic and surprise of using watercolor.  If you don’t enjoy the lack of control, then it’s better not to do backwashing at all.  It will still be beautiful!

Step Ten

Using the light violet and a very thin stroke, draw reedy flower stalks from the grassy area up into the water area very slightly.  Vary the directions so it won’t look uniform like a picket fence. You can clump a few closer together as they grow in the wild. Keep it minimal and tiny so that the sparkles in the ocean are the star. Or, how about trying tiny asters or daisies instead of purple stalks?  Just keep it airy and simple.


Final Watercolor Brush Pens Windswept Pines Beach Tutorial
Final artwork ready to mount on cardstock for a beautiful handmade card.

Here’s my finished artwork.  What area does your eye get drawn to the most?  Can you imagine that if I had painted a sailboat in one of the coves it would have ruined the composition?  If I’ve done my job correctly, your eye should move around the painting in one continuous loop of eye candy, stopping every now and then to have fun in the colors, textures and suggested details.

Cut the watercolor painting out and mount on a greeting card or, if you want to frame it, leave it untrimmed by one inch or more on all sides.  I intended to use it as a greeting card, or I would have left room for the matting all around. It would look fantastic properly matted, though!  Matting really sets watercolors apart and gives such a professional finish.  If you want a real stunner, after you mat your painting, place it in a frame under glass or plexiglass.  I often find great bargains in frames from my local outlet mall home decor store. I just pop out their generic art and insert my own!  Voila, custom artwork!


You DID IT!!  I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and will have the confidence to keep creating with watercolor brush pens!

Check out my other tutorial using budget watercolor brush pens here.


Anita HC

I hope you are enjoying this article! I love helping creators learn. My goal is to help you find the knowledge and inspiration you need. Check out our library of articles and visit often...I'm adding articles every week! Thank you again for reading!

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