Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Colored pencil art intrigues you. You want to try it.

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder: What do you need to get started?

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk.

I also confess that I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

My list is divided into three parts. I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases. This post covers the first two because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of things you must have in order to try colored pencil drawing. It is the most simple and least expensive. The items on this list are those you are likely to find locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of the same item (two kinds of paper, for example.). You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils will give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available.

The Basic List

Paper

I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or the toned paper. I recommend white. It’s easier to see if what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.

Pencils

One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense. As I write this, I’m working on a drawing using nothing but the colors in this set.

And not all of those.

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools

Sharpener

A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener will give you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils.

Eraser

There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. If there’s a art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.

Paper

A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.

Pencils

Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Other Tools

Sharpener

Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.

Erasers

A rubber eraser (Magic Eraser is one brand) can be a helpful addition to your toolbox.

One package of Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. Because it can be shaped, you can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color with an erasing shield.

Brush

A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but they also need to be used with care.

Ready to Shop?

I’ve put together a PDF download shopping list that includes all three of my shopping categories. Click here to get my Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists..

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Carrie,
    Excellent post – very organized lists. I have some questions and thoughts on the Basic List.

    Will you expand on the paper in the basic list? I use Strathmore 400 series Bristol smooth for graphite, but prefer the vellum for cp. Which surface and weight were you thinking of? The Michael’s in my county only carries 300 series, which has inconsistent grain, so I order from Blick. (Besides, all art supplies are 35 miles from home. . . and there are only art aisles within craft stores)

    Because Prismacolor are wax based, I’ve found the white eraser to be useless. Only poster putty or “magic” Scotch tape works, and only sort of.

    And, will you address the fact that the majority of Prismacolor pencils are broken all the way through? Sanford denies there is a problem and blames the wrong sharpeners (OH PUH-LEEEZE!) The CPSA taught a method of repairing them in the microwave. I’ve stopped recommending them and am now preferring Staedtler Ergosoft for beginners if they can’t afford Polychromos (by Faber Castell). Both the Ergosoft and Polychromos respond well to the white erasers. Polychromos are oil based, but I don’t know about Ergosoft.

    • Jana,

      Thank you for reading this post and the blog. I appreciate your readership, as well as your comments and questions.

      I’m delighted to expand on the list of papers, since I’ve tried a good many over the years and have definitely formed some opinions on what works and what doesn’t. More opinions than can be shared in the comment section, I’m afraid.

      The same goes for the Prismacolor pencils. I’ve been a user of Prismacolor for a long time and have some from the days when they were Eagle Spectracolor. It has seemed like every time the company changes hands, quality suffers, but that is so often the case. I’ve heard great things about a couple of different brands and lines of pencils and have tried others, as well. I’m already planning a post on that subject, too, but thanks for the added incentive.

      White Pearl erasers are of limited use with wax-based pencils. I usually reach for the Handi-tak first. But I have found some instances in which the White Pearl is ideal, especially with Verithin pencils, which contain less wax than the soft core Prismacolor pencils.

      Thank you again for your very kind words and your very good questions! And for joining the conversation.

      Best wishes,

      Carrie

  2. Richard Steffens

    Carrie; Have you ever tried the Prismacolor Col-Erase colored pencils? They are not of professional quality but I’ve found them to be quite nice for some of my caricature like drawings in the facts that they have a nice tone of color and they all have erasers and erase fairly well. I bought some for me and my 12 year old granddaughter who seems to have some ability and interest in art. She loves them! And they’re quite reasonable in price plus I found them at Walmart saving me a 25 mile trip to the nearest Hobby Lobby or similar type store[s]. Just thought I’d throw this in for beginners and people on a tight budget. Thanks!

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