In my last blog, post I wrote about the differences between pencils being either waxed based vs. oil based. The major components of the colored pencil is the pigment load, wax or oil binder that makes the core that is then encased in wood (or the pencils can be woodless). The wood that is most often used is cedar but basswood is also a common wood for colored pencils.
One of the most accessible and widely used for professional artists is Prismacolor premier (wax based) colored pencils. Faber Castell polychromos is another popular brand that has an oil based binder. There are many other brands that are well established in this medium, but for now I will keep this essay more focused on these two brands. While both have special properties, their popularity is divided due to their individual natures.
Prismacolor colored pencils are a soft core pencil; they are known to have rich pigment and great blending capabilities. There are many more color choices with Prismacolor pencils, especially their different hues of cool and warm grays. One of the downsides to Prismacolor is their nature of the core breaking as they are used. Many times the breakage is more due to the person’s application process when too much pressure is applied. Of late, it appears many of these premium pencils are not centered in the wood casing which can cause the pencils to be off-center when sharpened. It is important if you buy the pencils individually to check to see that the core is centered within the wood. This will insure a better sharpened pencil and reduce breakage as well. I would also add it’s important to layer your colors with this pencil with light to medium pressure which is gauged by holding the pencil middle to back of the pencil. The closer you hold the pencil toward the front of the pencil, the more pressure is applied. The further back you hold the pencil, the lighter the application.. The downside for these pencils is what is known as a “wax bloom.” This is when the wax tends to rise to the surface leaving a hazy effect. This can be easily remedied by wiping the surface with a soft cloth. It can also be remedied by applying a finishing spray such as a semi-gloss, matte, or conservation spray varnish.
Faber Castell Polychromos are a hard core pencil, they, too, have a rich pigment and great blending capabilities. There are less colors to choose from than the Prismacolor pencils. Yet these pencils have a creamy rich texture that create wonderful artworks. They blend very nicely and layer extremely well. The upside of these pencils is that they do not leave a “wax bloom”. They also, from my experience, blend better when using a solvent colored pencil blender such as “Zest It.” Their lack of rich cool and warm grays is an issue, however, Prismacolor and Polychromos are interchangeable and can be used together in layering. Having access to Prismacolor grays can enhance the colors when using Polychromos. This is important to note that professional oil based and waxed based pencils can be used interchangeably and will blend well. This cannot be said equally of no-name brand pencils, which are usually a store brand supplied by a chain art supplier. Polychromos can also be sprayed to level out the color applications. Using a semi-gloss, matt or conservation spray must be applied evenly and minimally. You may have to spray more than one layer and always spray in a well-ventilated area.
I would advise you do not have to buy an exorbitant amount of colors. A nice start is a set of 24 pencils of either wax or oil based pencils. Remember, professional colored pencilists layer colors to create colors much like artists mix paints together to get different hues. The major difference is layering different colors upon each other directly on the paper not in a palette. Very seldom is a “single” color used in rendering a colored pencil piece to express the color of an object. Multiple colors and layers are used to express the various components within an art piece. It is advisable to create a color chart with your pencils to see what the colors actually look like and then go further and layer different colors upon each other to see the variety of colors you can create by layering. You will be surprised.
My next blog will look are the different aspects of papers to use for rendering your masterpiece in colored pencil. Copier paper is NOT one of them. Stay tuned in …
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.