Finding the Perfect Colored Pencil

When I first ventured into adding color to my artwork, I reached for colored pencils.  I didn’t think about my artwork lasting a lifetime or even that people might be interested in buying it, so I reached for Crayola Colored Pencils.  All that mattered was that I was having fun, right?

Done in Crayola Colored Pencils.

I didn’t know anything about colored pencils at the time, but I quickly found that Crayola was very limited in the number of layers that would go on the paper.  After a while, no more pigment would go onto the paper, and instead it was like the pencil was just pushing the pigment around.  It left a fogginess over anywhere I’d put down a lot of colors, and I could never get rid of the graininess.

Despite all that, I really enjoyed what I was doing.

Eventually, I thought it might be time to upgrade my pencils.  I still didn’t know much about colored pencils, but I’d read on some online forums that Prismacolor was supposed to be the best.  At the art store, I balked at the price.  I grabbed a 12 set of Koh-I-Noor pencils instead.

One of the first Koh-I-Noor experiments.

I found Koh-I-Noor pencils to be a lot more pigmented than Crayola, but I struggled to get any sort of realism with them.  I couldn’t get them to layer the same way that Crayola had, and all the drawings I did with them looked cartoonish.  Not that that’s a bad thing, it just wasn’t what I was hoping to achieve.  And I was still getting the grainy look with them.

A few years later, I took an art class where we were going to be using colored pencils.  Prismacolor was the colored pencil on the supply list.  I didn’t know there were different types of Prismacolor pencils, so I grabbed a pack of what was on sale–Verithins.

Unfinished study using only four colors.

We immediately got along.  I was able to layer so much more than I could with either Crayola or Koh-I-Noor.  The way they went down on the paper felt just like my beloved graphite pencils but with pigment!  I loved them … mostly.

I never was able to use the black Verithin pencil.  The one that came with my first set broke all the way down.  I thought nothing of it, must’ve just been a defective pencil.  Next time I was at the art store, I grabbed another.  That one broke all the way down, too.  I purchased another.  Same story.  That happened with a few of the other pencils as well, never to the same extent, but it was still frustrating.  I was paying over a dollar for each pencil, shouldn’t they last for more than one sharpening?!

Another problem was that the colors never became very vivid no matter how many layers I put down.  Although, now I did find that as long as I kept them sharpened, I didn’t get the graininess.

I eventually decided to give Prismacolor Premiers a try.  Those were the colored pencils I’d read about. Those were the colored pencils that were supposed to be The Best.

First project done 100% with the Premiers.

We didn’t get along.

Sure, I loved how many colors I had to choose from, but what good are all those colors if they crumbled every other time I sharpened them!  I was used to slowly building up my colors, but these laid down so much bolder even with an incredibly light hand.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a personality difference.

I was able to create some beautiful pieces with them, but we struggled to ever see eye-to-eye.  I wanted softness and subtlety, they wanted to be seen.  I wanted a sharp point for details, they just couldn’t hold up. I wanted every speck of the paper covered, they didn’t like filling in the valleys of the paper without a lot of coaxing. Quality problems aside, this pencil just wasn’t for me.  I missed the precision and gentleness of my Verithins, but I did love the richness of the Premiers.  I wasn’t sure if I’d keep up colored pencils seriously if this was what I had to choose from.

Only four colors used.

Enter Faber-Castell’s Polychromos.  It was love at first drawing.  They held a sharp point for precise details and getting down into every valley of the paper.  No more grainy drawings!  They were precise, subtle, deeply pigmented, and didn’t break every time I sharpened them.  They were everything I loved about the Verithins and Premiers combined without any of the drawbacks.  Well, there was one drawback.  They’re a very translucent pencil.  Which is wonderful for layering color on top of color for some lovely effects, but if I want to lay over white or a lighter color on top, it just wasn’t going to happen.  Not the end of the world, I’d just have to be far more careful with the areas I wanted to stay white or a light color.

And then I found Caran d’Ache’s Luminance colored pencils.  They could add those bright highlights I wanted sometimes.  They didn’t break, they were pigmented, they were lovely.  Except the price tag.  $4 for a single pencil.  Because of that, I haven’t gotten the full set yet, but they work wonderfully with my Polychromos.

7 thoughts on “Finding the Perfect Colored Pencil

  1. Personally, if I’m writing in pencil, I’d favour a 2H wooden one (no preference on manufacturer); for technical drawing only a mechanical pencil will do for accuracy; but a craft knife-sharpened 2B will always feel right for sketching.

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