When I started thinking about getting into colored pencils, one question I didn’t pay much attention to was this: Do I need a full set of colored pencils to get started?
I didn’t pay much attention to that because I didn’t think I needed to. My default opinion was to get a full set. In order to do the type of art I wanted to do, I absolutely, positively HAD to buy the full set. It was just the way things were.
Since then, I’ve come to see the error of my youthful ways.
So Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils or Not?
The plain and simple truth is that most of us are capable of making great art with as few as one color. Don’t believe me? Ever seen phenomenal graphite and charcoal drawings?
It’s even possible with draw great colored pencil work with only a handful of pencils.
Why Wouldn’t I Want to Get a Full Set of Colored Pencils?
The biggest reason most of us don’t buy full sets is cost. The initial investment can be substantial if you’re interested in higher quality pencils. I just bought a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos for $161 and change. That was a huge amount of money for me and it took a considerable amount of effort to talk myself into the expense.
However, I strongly recommend you start out with the best tools you can—beginning with pencils and paper—so the only option is to buy smaller sets or get a few pencils as open stock.
You will pay more for each pencil that way, but ten Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils at $1.69 each (Dick Blick’s current price) is a lot easier on the budget than that full set.
And if you want to try more than one kind of pencil, buy five or six of the types you most want to try. If you like them, great! But if they don’t meet expectations, you don’t have a full set lying around unused and big hole in your finances.
But What Can I Do With Just a Few Pencils?
You might be surprised! Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.
Sketching—Even before I started using colored pencils exclusively, I used them for sketching. Whether from life, from photos, or from memory, sketching is a great way to practice drawing, and colored pencils are great for sketching.
This sketch is only one color.
I used two colors for this sketch.
Even if your colors don’t match your subject, they can make for fun and instructive sketching. I sketched this foal with blue pencils for a long-since forgotten reason, but it turned out delightfully well.
Plein Aire Drawing—Drawing on location is made-to-order for working with only a few pencils. My field kit doesn’t contain a full set of anything except for Koh-I-Nor woodless and there are only 24 colors in that set.
Yet with layering of colors and close attention to value, it is possible to draw anything.
Portraits & Other Finished Drawings—You can even do finished work with only a few colored pencils.
One of the illustrations in the post on how color theory influences art is a gray, rainy landscape. I used a very limited palette combined with gray paper to convey the look of that landscape.
And this portrait was drawn with no more than a dozen pencils, and probably not that many.
So whenever someone considering working with colored pencils asks me, “Do I need a full set of colored pencils?”, I now tell them they don’t. The truth is that you just don’t need every color in the rainbow to make great colored art.
Just a few pencils can serve you quite well.
Want to See How to Draw a Dog with a Limited Palette?
Sometime ago, I wrote on the subject of drawing with a limited palette for EmptyEasel. In this two-part series, I demonstrated how to do a limited palette colored pencil drawing of Toy Poodle. The series includes tips on using impressed lines to create details and how to correct mistakes.
If you’re interested in learning more about drawing with a limited palette, here are the links to those articles.