I recently had an email chat with a reader who asked how I chose the brands of pencils I use.
The discussion actually covered more than just that specific topic, and included deciding when to use which brands. In short, we talked so far around this idea that I’m going to publish a short series on the subject.
Let’s begin today with how I got started with colored pencils and the brands I use.
I’ll follow up with some of the more specific questions in the coming weeks.
The Brands of Pencils I Use
For most of my art life, I was an oil painter. I tried several different mediums as a teenager, but oils were my choice. For decades, that was all I needed.
Then I began seeing the need for a cleaner, more portable medium that allowed me to create detail. That’s when I started using colored pencils.
You can read more about that transition here.
In the Beginning
It’s been so long since that transition (in the late 1980s) that I don’t remember much of the specifics. I know I had Prismacolor Premier pencils because they were readily available. But I also had a full set of the now-discontinued Bruynzeel Fullcolor colored pencils. Eventually I added a full set of Prismacolor Verithin.
My favorites were the Bruynzeel Fullcolor pencils, but I used all three brands together. When I used the last of the Bruynzeel, I continued with Prismacolor.
For years, I used just Prismacolor for the portraits I did in colored pencil. To be honest, I didn’t know about all the other brands available.
I learned about other brands when I began discovering the great artists on YouTube (probably been five or ten years ago). I saw what they were doing with other brands and liked their work.
Still, I had no interest in trying other brands because I liked Prismacolor. There was no reason to try anything else.
I changed my mind when I started hearing about lightfast issues. Since I was doing portraits for clients or hoping to sell originals, lightfastness was a major concern. The more I learned about problems with fading colors in the Prismacolor line, the more I considered other brands of pencils.
But it still took a long time to decide to actually buy another brand. Why? I suppose my background as an oil painter had something to do with that. I’d always used a somewhat limited palette with oils, and believed I could do the same with colored pencils. It is possible, of course, but it’s not as easy.
Besides, most of my favorite Prismacolor colors were lightfast and I could get by without those favorite colors that weren’t. Why did I need a full set of anything else?
My husband finally made the decision for me. In April 2017, he bought a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos. Again, I don’t remember now why I recommended Faber-Castell Polychromos when he asked what I wanted. I suppose a good part of that decision was the number of other artists who used them to create pet portraits and wildlife art. If Polychromos worked for them, there was a good chance they would work for me. Right?
Although I was slow making a start with them, they quickly became my favorite pencil. It helped that they work great with Prismacolor, but I’ve also started using them on their own.
Have I Purchased Other Brands Since?
Last December, I bought a full set of Caran d’Ache Pablo because they were harder than Prismacolor. I have used Prismacolor Verithin for base layers and liked that process, but the color selection of Verithin is limited, and about half of the colors are not lightfast.
So I was looking for something similar with a wider variety of colors and good lightfast ratings. I had heard that Caran d’Ache Pablo were to Luminance what Verithin are to Prismacolor.
I thought they were also harder than Polychromos, so this decision was easy.
Although Pablo pencils are not as hard or dry as Polychromos or Verithin, I liked them from the start. As I write this post, I have a project in progress for which I’m using nothing but Pablo. So far.
I also have a few pencils in several other brands, including Derwent Drawing, Caran d’Ache Luminance, and Lyra Polycolor.
But the pencils I use most right now are Faber-Castell Polychromos.
The Bottom Line
I tell you all of this only to share my history in choosing pencils. So how do you decide?
If your favorite artist has a favorite brand, then that’s a good place to start. This is especially true if that person is also using paper you like, since the paper has a lot to do with getting the results you want.
If you’re still not sure or don’t have a favorite artist, then buy two or three colors in different brands. How do you choose the colors? Primary colors are a good choice, or you can choose your favorite colors. When I’m sampling pencils, I often go for earth tones (also known around my studio as “horse colors”). I know what the horse colors in my favorite brands can do, so I have a good basis for comparison in similar colors with new brands.
You can also buy small sets of most brands. If you like them, then you can buy larger sets or add additional colors. If you don’t like them, sets are easier to resell than open stock. (Yes, you can do that.)
It make also come down to something very simple: Buying brands of pencils that are available where you live. If the selection is limited, then you’re decision will probably be easier.
I hope my story helps you make your decisions in some small way. Just remember that there is no “right way” to choose pencils.
And who knows? The first brand you try may be the perfect fit for you.
But it never hurts to try new pencils, even if you do buy them one pencil at a time!
Got a question? Ask Carrie!
Hi Carrie, it is fun to try different pencils. If you get a chance, try a few of the Caran D Ache Luminance pencils. I have been collecting them a little at a time because they are pricey. But oh…. they are so buttery smooth! They have such gorgeous color lay down that I am in love with them. I did the tree beryl picture that you saw, with them.
Thanks for the tip, Gail. I already have one Luminance, the White one. I bought that to add bright white highlights, but later discovered that Derwent Drawing Chinese White is actually a better pencil for that sort of work.
I like the Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils well enough that I may follow up on your suggestion.
Very interesting about the choices of colored pencils that you used and are now using. I’ve bought several brands and find that some blend better than others. I do have the Faber Castell set and like that one allot. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us as it helps us to make decisions, especially if you are on a fixed income.
Thank you for your comment.
Despite the fact that all colored pencils are made with basically the same manufacturing process, no two brands are exactly the same. The ingredients in the binding agents are a big factor. The more wax in the binging agent (and the type of wax) makes pencils blend more easily or less easily.
But I also must say that the paper you use also makes a big difference. I have no problem blending Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils with an ordinary paper stump when I’m drawing on Pastelmat. A paper stump doesn’t work quite as well on more traditional papers like Stonehenge.
I don’t know about Canson Mi-Teintes, but I have a project in the works that I plan to put on this paper, so I’ll let you know.
Thank you again for leaving a comment!