Using Watercolor Brush Pens – 6 Easy Steps! (2023)

final Watercolor Brush Pens Tutorial Sunset on a Lake verycreate.coms

This watercolor brush pens tutorial Sunset Lake is using May Moi brand brush pens.

and  Strathmore Watercolor paper series 300.

I also used a number eight round watercolor brush like this one.


The vibrant colors in your watercolor brush pen set are a great opportunity to use when painting a sunset.  Sunsets are inherently out of this world high chroma color. I used the May Moi Watercolor Brush Set and I tested and preselected a palette of colored pens that would work well together.

When using watercolors, it is helpful to have a playful attitude from the start and embrace the serendipitous nature of watercolor.  Once it starts flowing, there is a certain amount of ‘stand back and watch it happen’ aspect.

Pro tip

There is a saying amongst artists that until the very last minute of painting, the painting is in the ‘ugly’ stage.  Please, please don’t let yourself stop until you finish the painting and step back six or seven steps.  It will all come together at the end, and until then, it might look like a hot mess.  Quite often I will want to throw a painting in the trash until I cut it free from the test side of the paper and stand it up by itself and walk back across the room.  Then, it miraculously looks so much better.

Color Selection

The colors are all analogous, meaning that they are right next door to each other on the color wheel. I also rewet the colors and dragged them to the right to test how light I can push it. As the pen button identifier on each pen is not terribly accurate to the dye color that comes out, I labeled each pen with my own name.

Dark blue-grey

Dark neutral grey

Pinky orange pale

Dark warm brown

Medium pink

Bright yellow

Medium-dark pink

Neon orange


Dusty red-brown

Dark purple-brown violet

Red violet

Olive green ( I added this to the grass at the last step)

Step One

Using one sheet of watercolor paper, block out a size 5.5 x  7.5  inches, keeping a large enough area to the right empty so you can swatch out colors and test strokes. 

Lightly sketch out the location of your setting sun orb, the bank of trees, the reflection of the trees and the reflection of the sun.  Everything except the sun can be in flux as we paint, so we don’t need to be tight in the details.

Start with the palest yellow and circle an area around the sun and into the sun, leaving the center of the sun plain white paper.

Dry brush orange-yellow in the bulk of the sky, leaving the top of the sky alone for now.  Also, add orange-yellow to the water below the reflection of the trees.

first layer and palette Watercolor Brush Pens Tutorial Sunset on a Lake verycreate.coms
Testing the pens for rewetting options and first layers laid down but not wet blended yet

Start adding neon orange, medium-dark pink and a tad of red-violet to the top of the page and the bottom.

Wet blend all with horizontal swipes of clean water from your brush and let dry. Don’t go poking around with your brush and try adding more color until it is very dry or you will get backwashes. 

Step Two

Fill in the hillside of trees with violet-red, avoiding the tree trunk areas.  Add a few drops of water to blend.  After it dries completely, you can add blobs of more of the same color to give the illusion of clumps of deciduous trees.  Here is where a little backwash is appropriate.  If I don’t like the effect, I can go over it again once dry and darken up the treed hillside. Wet blend if the edges of those darker blobs are too stark, but don’t overwater the entire bank of trees or the illusion will blend out too much.

Do the same with the reflections in the water, but keep it just a tad lighter by not loading the paper to the max with inky colorant.  Let dry.

Step Three

Dry brush the violet-red into the lower half of the water and the upper half of the sky and wet blend it out so it is a light value.   Let dry.

Add a streak of dark blue-grey to the sky and wet blend it into the sky for a blurry cloud effect.

Dry brush again over the top of the lake closest to the foreground shore to give the look of ripples on the water.

step two Watercolor Brush Pens Tutorial Sunset on a Lake
Mosaic tiling and layering colors

Step Four

Reassess the sky and water to see if you need to go a shade darker anywhere or if you like the bands of colors.

Rewet the area surrounding the sun in the trees and blot the paint up with a paper towel.  This will give the look of the trees being backlit by the sun.  Let dry.  Add a few tiny dots of bright yellow if needed in that area to warm it up if the pigments lifted too much.

With your brush wet with clear water, using a fine tip, rewet a line for the far shoreline.  Don’t make it too wide!  Check and make sure you are drawing a true horizontal line and it does not drift at an angle.  Immediately blot the paint up with a paper towel.  Repeat if needed.  The dye stain from the violet-red brush pen should have left enough behind to create a shoreline.

Step Five

On totally dry paper, resketch your tree trunks, if the initial drawing disappeared.

Paint in the entire tree trunks and most of the thicker branches with dusty red-brown.

Paint in the center of the tree trunks using dark warm brown.

Using the thinnest lines you can, draw in the twiggy branches with light calligraphic strokes.

Let dry. Lightly stroke yellow on the outside edges of some of the twiggy branches at the topmost areas of the sky to show sun glow.  Don’t draw too many! It’s far to easy to get carried away because our brains say “there should be a million tiny branches” but our artist’s eye says “suggest, don’t overdo!”

It is ok if these branches blur a bit because the sun would drown out any tiny details for the eye to see.

final Watercolor Brush Pens Tutorial Sunset on a Lake verycreate.coms
Sunsets call for vibrant colors! A great chance to use some of those neons in your set.  This picture looks huge on the screen! In real life, the sun orb is less than 1/8th inch in diameter and the stark division between white and yellow is nearly invisible to the naked eyes.

Step Six

Using dark purple-brown violet, red-violet, olive green and just a few dots of dark blue-grey, tile on colors in the foreground laying colors adjacent to each other in random order.  Wet blend together.

Using red-violet, draw a few short clumps of grass into the lake to give some eye candy texture.

These vibrant colors are far from subtle!


If you are wondering about other sets of watercolor brush pens, check out our review article with great insider tips and tests here.

And if you would like to learn about the best watercolor paper for beginners, check out our review article here

Anita HC

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