Colored Pencil Essentials
To go along side my Youtube video, Coloured Pencil Essentials, I have also added this written piece to my blog, helping those just starting out with coloured pencils to get to grips with the tools of the trade so to speak.
So the first item on the the list and perhaps the most obvious is the coloured pencils themselves. I absolutely hate telling people to spend money, as a disabled military veteran myself with only my wife working and three young children, all at school, I fully understand the financial strains we are all under. That said, if you are really serious about starting out with coloured pencils, it really is beneficial to get the best pencils you can afford. It is worth mentioning that getting the best pencils you can afford does not mean getting the biggest set.
A lot of coloured pencil companies now manufacture at least two or three grades of coloured pencils, children, students and artist, with the artists brand costing the most.
The best brand of pencils that you should be looking for are as follows, Derwent, Caran D'Ache, Faber Castell, Lyra, Tom Bow, Prismacolor, Staedtler, Koh-I-Noor and Spectrum Noir. I don't want to go into too much detail about the individual companies as I have done and will be continuing to provide detailed information about the pencils and the companies on the blog. Derwent is a UK based company with a wide range of pencils to chose from. Caran D'Ache are a Swiss based company and like so many Swiss products, they provide excellence. Faber Castell is a German company and also supply a wide range and grade of pencils. Lyra and Staedtler are also German companies and although provide decent pencils they don't carry the range of others. Tom Bow are a Japanese company and the presentation of these pencils are a must see, but the product itself is also quite good. Prismacolor are a US based company but they have changed hands so much recently, I will be providing an incredibly detailed blog on these pencils as there is so much controversy surrounding the once king of coloured pencils. Koh-I-Noor a Czech company and finally Spectrum Noir are a fairly new company based in the US and primarily aimed at crafters.
I am going to be absolutely honest in saying this, it wasn't until I started using artist quality coloured pencils that I truly understood the importance of selecting the right paper and right down to the type of picture you are wanting to create. There are so many wonderful companies out the creating high quality paper for coloured pencil artists, Watercolour Artist, Oil painting artists and Acrylic Artists and even mixed media artists.
For a lot of coloured pencil artists, texture in the paper is quite important as working with coloured pencils requires for the most part, the artist to build on lots of layers. The more texture you have in the paper the more layers you will be able to apply, which is why a lot of coloured pencil artists use watercolour paper. If watercolour paper is to be used, in most cases the smoothest is the best, although this is still textured paper and this is Hot Pressed. Watercolour paper comes in three grades, Hot Pressed is quite smooth, Cold Pressed has a bit more texture and is what people would typically think of when they see watercolour paper and finally Rough, which as I am sure you can already guess, this means even more texture than Cold Press.
Although paper companies have created excellent paper designed specifically for coloured pencil artists. I think it is fair to say that the world of art is finally starting to recognise the wonderful artists attached to coloured pencils. Strathmore for example last year released their aptly named Colored Pencil Paper, which has coloured pencil artist split with regards to whether or not they like it. Prior to this another popular choice would have been Bristol board or paper from Stonehenge. Toned paper is also very popular, depending on what type of image you are going to create, toned paper can really help you out. One of the most frustrating things about working in coloured pencil is the ability or lack of ability to achieve white in your picture, especially if you are using white paper. A lot of people try to leave the parts they want white through the paper, but this becomes incredibly difficult if you are drawing feathers. This is were toned or tanned paper comes in really handy. Again I will be writing a detailed blog post on paper in the future.
So next on the list is erasers, but these are not really used for mistakes in Coloured Pencil art, it is more for lifting pencil and creating light areas. As I mentioned earlier, if you are drawing a subject and you need to create a lot of white fur, sometime laying down a light layer of a darker colour and then lifting out the light fur or feathers with an eraser can be used.
Companies have gone all out on this area of erasers for artists and perhaps the finest of the bunch is Tom Bow's mono eraser. However, if you are unable to get your hands on a Mono Eraser, other companies have produced fantastic pencil styled erasers, such as the ones in the image above. Electric erasers have also become a very popular tool in the coloured pencil artists arsenal, relatively cheap for the actual eraser and very cheap for the refills. The electric eraser is a fantastic tool for lifting pigment, even in the areas with slightly more layers.
Okay, so we all know what a sharpener does, so why would anyone in their right mind need to look up information about them? well unfortunately our super expensive coloured pencils can ver temperamental. Prismacolor pencils are notoriously difficult when it comes to sharpening them, and much to the coloured pencil artists disgust, many brands and variations of sharpeners have been purchased and tested in an attempt to actual use the pencil as opposed to sharpen it away before getting the chance to. Until very recently, I personally had a different sharpener for each brand of pencil I owned. However, like I say, until recently. Only a few days ago I purchased the Derwent Super point manual sharpener, the second I opened it, I tested every single brand of coloured pencil I owned and much to my sad excitement, not a single pencil broke or wood split, including the menacing Prismacolor pencil. SO my advice would be this, if you are out of budget for a sharpener £12 and above, purchase a good metal brand sharpener and when you purchase it, buy extra blades which can be replaced when needed. Of all the testing I have conducted with regards to sharpening, I personally have found that sharpening watercolour pencils seems to blunt the blades on handheld sharpeners quite fast. Also, I would advise keeping a separate sharper for pastel pencils, preferably the sharpener that normally comes with the sets. The blades however in the more expensive sharpeners are much more resilient and seem to handle watercolour pencils just as well as any other pencil.
One thing that I can almost guarantee you will encounter as a coloured pencil artist is, as you follow your passion and find the pencil you love best to use for your work, you will encounter expensive pencil. Unfortunately coloured pencils are not ever lasting and so using them as much as you can is very important. This is were the pencil extenders com in. When you have sharpened your Caran D'Ache Luminance pencil all the way to the size of your thumb nail, there is still a lot of valuable pigment in that Swiss Cedar casing but using it so small is virtually impossible, so all you need to do is attach your pencil extender and it is just like using a brand new pencil. There are two ways around this problem. The first is to simply buy a pencil extender, there are so many out there and they normally only cost from £3 upwards, so not mega expensive. But as many artists are on tight, finding a cheaper or even free alternative is always good to know about. Many artists simply get another longer pencil and secure it to the almost gone pencil, using the longer pencil as the extender. The only problem I have found with this option is that taping two pencils together does not give a lot of stability, causing the tape to twist when using pressure on the pencil, so long as you are mindful of this, you are good to go.
When doing any coloured pencil art, in order to get rid of the grainy look you sometimes get, it is important to use a blender. There is another type of blender which I will cover soon, but for now these blenders are basically coloured pencils without the pigment. Each manufacture of coloured pencils will also produce a blender to use along side their pencils, however, you can use any blender with any coloured pencil. The pencil blenders allow you to push the pigment deep into the tooth of the paper and blend colours together. As you can see in the image above there is another pencil like blender, they are only tightly rolled paper called stumps or tortellinis. For me personally, I prefer using these to blend graphite as opposed to coloured pencil, however, that is not to say they can't be used with coloured pencil, many excellent coloured pencil artists use stumps and get terrific results.
While viewing some of the amazing works of art produced by coloured pencil artists, I am sure at one point or another, you will or have looked at the work and thought it was either a photo or a painting, and never in a million years connected the art with coloured pencils. Apart from the amazing ability of the artist, one of the methods used to obtain this feel is solvents such as the one in the image above, Zest-it. Once you have placed a few layers of coloured pencil pigment, you then apply solvents with a paintbrush, the brush a solvent liquify the coloured pencil pigment allowing for a much smoother and richer blending experience also leaving an altogether more professional appearance.
This item could fall into the sharpener category but I've decided to keep it on its own, because it is more of a refining tool. As you can see, this is a simple plinth of wood with strips of sand paper on it and these tools come included with quite a lot of graphite pencil sets or you can buy them individually relatively cheap. Alternatively you can use other household items that you may have laying about such as sand paper or emery boards women use to file their nails, of course don't take your sister or mothers makeup kit without asking, I tried this and had the wrath of my daughter and wife on my back. This tool is used to simply refine the point of the pencil you are using as opposed to constantly sharpening the pencil. Another good use for this tool is to create and keep graphite powder. By rubbing the graphite pencil over the sand paper vigorously, it will create a build up of fine graphite. Simply tap the board onto some paper and funnel the powder into a small jar.
For most artists, before you begin your masterpiece, you are going to want a good quality graphite pencil to sketch out your drawing. There are so many excellent quality pencils on the market and each artist has their own particular favourite. for me personally I love Derwent and Faber Castell graphite, but as I say, this is very much down to a personal choice. The Dixon Ticondaroga is another very popular pencil. Along with the brand of pencil, you will also develope you favourite grade over time. Most brands range from 9B being the softest lead but the darkest all the way through to 9H which is a much harder lead and therefore lighter colouration. This is why most people us HB pencils as this grade is right in the middle of the spectrum.
Mechanical & Clutch Pencils
A lot of artists use these mechanical and clutch pencils, they are incredibly good for detailed work, using them also cuts down on the business of constantly sharpening your pencil. With each of these pencils, you can purchase the grade of lead you desire and use when needed. These pencils are very popular and certainly worth at least trying.
A drafting brush is definitely worth using or as you can see from the images above, I have simply used an old paint brush I had laying about the house. The reason behind using them is simple, when you are sketching or using coloured pencil and you make a mistake that needs erasing, if you get rid of the rubbings with your hands, you run the risk of smearing oils from your hand or smudging your work. With a drafting brush, you get rid of all the excess without the risk of destroying your work.
This concludes my list of coloured pencil essential tools, of course it is important to remember that this is simply my list and therefore my opinion, other much more qualified artists may have other items on their list. Art is very much a personal affair, however, it can be beneficial to get ideas from other artists with regards to their supplies.
If you feel I have left out an item that you feel you must have in your coloured pencil essential tool kit, then please let me know in the comment section below. Thank you so much for all the support you have shown.