How to Combine Watercolor and Charcoal in Your Artwork

Many artists may think that mixing a dry and wet medium may not produce good results but the concept of mixing charcoal with watercolor has been around since the early 20th century. Jessie Willcox Smith combined the two medium’s to create illustrations for the Ladies Home Journal.

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

How to Work with Watercolor and Charcoal

One of the best methods of making a perfect marriage is to lay down a wash of watercolor and allow it to dry completely, preferably overnight. If using a watercolor block, it’s okay to dry the wash with a hairdryer, being careful not to hold the heat too close to the paper. Once the watercolor is dry, proceed to draw with your Nitram Charcoal as you would on ordinary drawing paper.

There are no limitations to what you can do. Drawing, erasing and blending are not altered because of the watercolor, provided the wash is completely dry. It’s a great way to add color to your charcoal drawing!

Sponge blenders, generally used for pastels, are a great tool for blending charcoal on a watercolor background. The sponge has a tendency to capture the charcoal powders, aiding in the prevention of fine powders spreading on the paper.

When the drawing is completed, one or two coats of fixative should be applied to keep the charcoal in place. Don’t forget to spray outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.


Myrna Wacknov - The Clan

What About Watercolor on Top of Charcoal?

Applying watercolor over charcoal can result in a muddy mess. To best paint over the charcoal, two good coats of a workable fixative should be applied, leaving ample time between each coat. Never use hairspray as a fixative. Not only will it yellow with time, but it doesn’t work properly as a workable fixative.

If you intend to lay down a wash over the charcoal, it’s best to use a fixative on the back of the paper as well. It’s also recommended that if the drawing is on Bristol board that the paper be taped to a surface to prevent buckling. It’s always best to test a small section first to be sure the charcoal doesn’t spread.

When the painting is complete, spray once more with a fixative and when completely dry, the picture can be varnished. If varnished, it doesn’t necessarily need to be placed under glass.

Mixed medium art is a great way to use Nitram Charcoal for those times when color is needed. Charcoal and wet media can coexist happily together when applied just right. Why not give it a try and create your own happy medium marriage?


  • Hi Pip,

    On the site of Nitram charcoal ( you can find retailers on the store locater page.

    Have fun!


    Rietje Eckelmans
  • I can’t find sponge blender or Nitram Aquarelle suppliers anywhere here in the UK.
    Please advise !
    Many thanks
    Pip Wilson

    Pip Wilson

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