Colored pencils are expensive. Whether your art budget is large or small, it’s important to know how to get the most out of every colored pencil you buy.
But it doesn’t really matter how much you spend for colored pencils: You still want to get every bit of color out of them that you can. Right?
Following are a few tips I’ve found useful.
Or at least interesting.
How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil
Turn the Pencil While You Draw
As you use the pencil, turn it in your fingers. The simple act of rotating the pencil every few strokes keeps the pencil from developing a flat edge. You don’t have to sharpen your pencil quite as often and that keeps valuable pigment out of your sharpener and puts it on your paper.
It may take a little bit of concentration to learn this habit if it doesn’t come naturally, but you can get to the point at which you’re turning the pencil every few strokes. That’s what happened to me. It’s now become such an ingrained habit that I don’t remember a time when I drew without turning the pencil.
Use the Side of the Pencil
Most of us tend to hold a colored pencil the same way we hold a writing tool. That’s called “normal writing position,” and it’s the pencil grip that’s most comfortable.
Most of the time, it’s also the most productive grip.
Try holding the pencil in a more horizontal position. This allows you to use more of the exposed pigment core. If you turn the pencil in your fingers as you draw, you can also keep the pencil sharp.
I use this grip when laying down color in larger areas. Quite often, I sharpen my pencil to draw or shade small shapes, then move to a larger area to shade with a more horizontal grip. When the pencil develops a sharper point, I go back to smaller areas.
This doesn’t totally eliminate sharpening your pencil, but it does allow you to sharpen less frequently.
It’s also a good way to give the muscles in your hands and fingers a little break.
One caution: When you draw with the side of the pencil, you get less pigment into the tooth of the paper. This is good if you’re trying to preserve the tooth of the paper, but it also produces a color layer that shows a lot of paper through the color. It’s ideal for drawing distance, or atmospheric effects such as fog.
It’s not so great for saturated color or high detail.
Don’t Sharpen to a Long Point
Different sharpeners sharpen pencils to different degrees. Some sharpeners produce an exposed pigment core that’s long and tapered.
Other sharpeners produce shorter points.
The yellow pencil in this photo was sharpened with my old-fashioned mechanical sharpener. I love the sharpener, but it does create too long a point for most Prismacolor pencils.
If you’re using a brand of pencil known to be brittle or breakable (such as Prismacolor), avoid sharpeners that sharpen pencils to a long, tapered point. The points are more likely to break off. Those broken tips are lost to you and resharpening the pencil results in further waste of the pigment core.
The purple pencil shows the point that Prismacolor pencils come with. It’s a bit blunt for most drawing, but it does illustrate a point that will produce less breakage during drawing.
Test different types of sharpeners to find the one or two that work best for you.
Sand Paper 0r Emery Boards
Use a sanding pad, sand paper, or an emery board to restore the point between sharpenings. You can sand a pencil to a very fine point without further sharpening by simply stroking it on a sanded surface. Turn the pencil as you stroke to get a sharp point.
You can also create a sharp, angled edge with this method.
Save Pigment Shavings
Of course, you can always save the pigment shavings, then soften them with solvent for a paint-like color that can be “painted” onto the paper.
This might also be one solution for broken Prismacolor pencils (if that’s what you use.)
I don’t recommend this for large areas, since it is time consuming, and you can get pretty much the same results by drawing in the traditional way, then blending with solvent.
But it can make for interesting and unusual touches of color if you like to experiment.
I explain a few more ways to get the most out of every colored pencil in How to Get the Most Possible Use Out of Every Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel.
How do you get the most out of your colored pencils?