Colored Pencils are one of the most accessible mediums that are non-toxic, portable, and very versatile. The truth, though, not all colored pencils are equal. When the adult coloring book became a thing, manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started to produce cheap, inferior pencils that are not good for serious artists who want to use this medium in a serious way.
Professional colored pencils, while more expensive, contain rich, blendable, and transparent pigments. Inferior pencils have less pigment and more binder making it less blendable and less rich in color. There is one caveat to this claim, Crayola Colored Pencils are richer in pigment, blendable, and easy to use over other lesser known store brand colored pencils. What makes Crayola less favorable as a professional pencil is its lack of known standards for pigment lightfastness. Lightfastness is a term for testing that determines long-term sustainability of pigment color in a rendered art piece that doesn’t fade over time. The other issue with Crayola brand pencils (unfortunately) is that you cannot buy one pencil at a time. In other words, it is not what is called an open stock pencil. If you run out of one color, you have to buy a whole box just to purchase the one color.
I stated it was unfortunate because Crayola colored pencils have a nice rich pigment and ease of blending multiple colors. It is the pencil I recommend for beginners over other store brands. Store brands are usually recognizable by the box labeling with the bold words COLORED PENCILS by an unknown entity sold at stores like Michaels, Hobby Lobby and Walmart,, as well as other department stores. Those kinds of pencils are fine for coloring books if you only want to lay down one color and don’t want to blend other colors together. For the more serious individual who wants to explore the artistry of using colored pencils as an art medium to render beautiful artwork, stick to more sustainable, blendable, and rich pigmented pencils.
Professional colored pencils are also a challenge for the serious artist; it usually boils down to preference to various factors. Again, not all professional colored pencils are equal. There is difference in pigments, binders, and over all quality. There are two kinds of pigment binders, oil and wax (both in professional pencils and pencils of a lesser quality); less expensive pencils like Crayola are wax based. The cheaper the brand the more wax and less pigment is contained in the pencils. Many artists prefer one type over the other for different reasons. Myself, I prefer the oil based pencils for their creamy rich application and blendability, although I use both interchangeably.
In my next post, I will talk more about the distinctive nature of these two types of pencils. For a beginner, I would urge you to find some Crayola colored pencils and begin exploring the versitiality and joy of using colored pencils as an art medium.
Ron Shepard writes the blog series Colored Pencil for Beginners
Ron is an active Southern Arts Society (SASi) volunteer and teacher, former SASi president, is Certified by the Moore Art School for Teaching Beginners, and leads the Colored Pencil Group.