I’ll bet you clicked on this post because you’ve always wanted to know….just what IS a watercolor stick? Or maybe you hadn’t heard of one and were curious. Well you’re in just the right spot!

Watercolor can be served up for purchase in a variety of ways – primarily the ones folks are used to are tubes, which have liquid-ish paint to squeeze out onto a palette, and sometimes pans, which you can often purchase pre-filled and you don’t need to get tubes.

But a little-known type of watercolor is the STICK….it’s the same great pigments in the tubes, but it has a slightly different formulation (less of what makes the paint move and flow) so they hold together in a stick shape.

While these are 12ml sticks, and the big tubes are 15ml, the amount of paintable pigment is pretty much the same. And since the sticks are several dollars less expensive than tubes – they can be a big money-saver for artists!

In the video below I’ll show you 8 (ok 9) ways to apply the color, including a lovely butterfly painting that uses a bunch of those ways!

Tutorial: What is a watercolor stick?

Big thanks to Daniel Smith for filling out my collection of colors so I could swatch them all out for you!

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

Using a watercolor stick

There are a lot of ways to apply the features of a watercolor stick:

  1. Draw directly on dry paper. Great for textures since often the pigment might not melt out easily. Some colors do this better than others, and letting water sit on the pigment for a bit can loosen it up as it soaks into the paint.
  2. Touch a wet brush to the stick. Use a brush that holds a lot of water and you can get just a light paint – or a dryer brush to pull off thick, mass color. To carry sticks and use this technique while out sketching, just rubber band them together and then paint by touching the tops of each stick.
  3. Mix sticks in a puddle of water. Swish the stick around in a puddle – mix it with your brush, then start painting!
  4. Change the hue with other colors. Mix a color by swirling another hue into the puddle just mentioned! And you can also mix pigment from your traditional watercolor palette too.
  5. Vary the value with more color. Swish even more color – same hues or different – to make a thicker (darker) puddle of color.
  6. Pallettize a stick into a pan or palette. Cut off a chunk of a stick and put  that into your pans or palettes as you would tube paints. Dab a little water in first so it has something to stick to. Then wet with a brush and paint away.
  7. Cut shavings to melt in a palette. Slice off just a little bit for whatever size puddle of color you need. Scissors or a knife should cut through it fine.
  8. Sharpen a stick to draw with! Save the shavings as you do this – don’t waste any paint.
  9. Draw with a stick into wet paint. You’ll get a thick, semisoft line, great for effects.

Bonus tips

  1. Sticks can get “dirty” – if you have a bunch, they may rub next to each other; if you’re mixing colors you may pick up a little of a different stick. Dip the end into water, then wipe it off with a baby wipe. Good as new!
  2. Sticks have no waste – just peel off the paper and everything is pigment! Store them in cases, then label the case to hold each one, especially if the label is gone. It’s hard to tell what color something is when it’s just solid pigment.
  3. Watercolor tubes DO have a little bit of pigment waste in the upper section after you’ve tried hard to squeeze every bit out. Just cut the tube open and you can squeeze out more color – or use a palette knife to dig out any of that delicious color.

Recomendations for what sticks to get

I plan on a few uses:

  1. Specialty colors that I need for a particular painting or technique that I don’t feel is warranted for a spot in my 18-well palette. It’s easier to keep a couple sticks in a cup than have a secondary palette hanging around on my desk.
  2. WHITE! If you’ve ever tried keeping some Titanium White in your palette you know how dirty it can get. (Sometimes same for light yellows, buff titanium, etc). Sticks are a great solution to keep that paint handy but have none of the dirtying.
  3. Textures: Having a black or dark brown leaves you options for tree trunks – if you paint water and want something that gives you a drybrush look, pick a blue. Think about any subjects you can use this on and snag those kinds of colors to draw directly on the paper!

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks Chart

This is available for free download on my teaching site here.

NEW! Watercolor Butterflies course

This class is a Level 3 class – with three lovely butterflies! You’ll learn lots of watercolor tips and techniques and create beautiful 9″ x 12″ paintings (or larger). You don’t need to use watercolor sticks, though the lessons are demonstrated using them. There’s a free Preclass Lesson where you can check out the colors you’ll need on the supply list. CLICK TO SEE MORE ABOUT CLASS.

Did I leave anything out?

Let me know if there are more questions you have about watercolor sticks!


Some product may be provided by manufacturers for review and use. Compensated affiliate links are here at no cost to you. I appreciate your support of my work with your purchases! Full affiliate and product disclosure | My trusted partners in art

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  1. Michael

    Great video, very easy to digest and right to the point. It was fun to watch. Thank you so much

  2. Gab

    Seeing that butterfly come to life is just amazing! I never even knew watercolour sticks existed so thanks for the introduction!

  3. Sharon R Graham

    Once again, that was so fun. I quite like the sticks and I want to try them. I think they might have a place in sketchbook application. We’ll see…
    As always, thank you. You are my hero!

  4. Nicole

    Thank you so much Sandy! I bought a few of these some years ago during a sale and I didn’t really know what to do with them until watching your video, lol
    Beautiful butterflies!!

  5. Bev W.

    Thanks for another great video. I always enjoy your videos.

  6. Janet Evans Buonocore

    I have some watercolor sticks from years ago. Haven’t used them in a while. I will get back to using them after seeing this video. Thanks so much for the video! Loved it!

  7. Chantal

    Ok, I admit I clicked to see the butterfly!
    Not that the content wasn’t interesting but you know where my heart is!

  8. Elayne Catey

    This was my introduction to watercolor sticks. I think I will try them! So many good things – easy to store, easy to use, less expensive. Thanks!


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