My Favorite Watercolor Papers

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

Time to talk about the art supplies I find the most useful for the type of work I do. Today’s topic is paper; specifically, my favorite watercolor papers.

Here’s the reader question.

Hi Carrie.

I have read a few of your articles on eliminating paper holes showing through colored pencil, but I would like to know which paper you recommend using to apply the water color or Inktense under painting before applying colored pencil. Multi-media, hot or cold pressed watercolor paper, or something else. Some watercolor papers have so much texture they are no fun to use for colored pencil drawings. Thank you.

The Different Types of Watercolor Paper

The reader mentioned the surface texture of some watercolor papers. That is probably the most important thing to consider when choosing watercolor paper for colored pencils.

There are two types of watercolor paper. Hot press and cold press. The type you choose makes a huge difference in how your art looks.

Cold press paper has more texture. The amount of texture differs, but it’s always a bit rougher than hot press watercolor paper and most traditional papers. The texture isn’t gritty; it’s more pebbly, and in my opinion, it’s unsuited to dry colored pencil work.

Hot press paper is smoother, but it’s not as smooth as Bristol. It also has a different feel. Rather than being slick feeling, like Bristol, it’s a bit softer. Almost velvety, sometimes.

So when it comes to choosing the right watercolor paper for your colored pencil work, make sure to look at the differences between cold press and hot press.

For more detailed information, you might want to read The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Watercolor Papers.

Now, to my favorite watercolor papers.

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

I prefer 140lb because it’s very tough and thick enough to stand up to many layers of color and some abuse. It needs to be taped to a rigid drawing board of some kind for larger piece, or it will buckle if you get it really wet. But it’s ideal for smaller pieces or for pieces on which I use moderate amounts to moisture.

For a really heavy paper, you could try 300 lb hot press watercolor paper. 300 lb paper is quite thick and stands up very well under lots of water and layering. I used Strathmore 300 lb. watercolor paper for this piece several years ago and it was quite sturdy.

I did not note whether or not the paper was hot press, but in looking at the texture shown in the high resolution image, I think it was probably cold press. So you can do great work on cold press, but it does take more work.

The Brands I Like Most

The watercolor paper I use most is Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. It has a nice, velvety surface that works as well for completely dry colored pencil, as it does for watercolor and colored pencil mixed.

I’ve used it for larger works (8×10 usually) and for small studies of 6×9 or smaller. It’s very satisfactory for every technique I’ve tried; even some very experimental techniques.

The reason I prefer this paper is that it’s usually available at outlets such as Hobby Lobby, so if I need a pad quickly, and I stop by the store and pick one up. I prefer 9×12 inch pads, but it comes in other sizes, as well.

If you shop online, you can also find it in full sheets.

I’ve also used Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press and it feels almost like regular Stonehenge. It stands up to water extremely well, and you can use regular pencils on it just like on regular Stonehenge.

I got samples of this paper from the Legion company and wrote a review on my experiences here.

The two papers are pretty similar in every way but cost. Stonehenge is a bit more expensive than Canson L’Aquarelle, but I’ve been very happy with both.

Those are My Two Favorite Watercolor Papers

The truth is that almost any watercolor should work, and you can try almost any brand. When you buy paper, keep in mind how you want your finished artwork to look, and choose the paper accordingly.

Also knowing how you plan to use wet and dry media is important. The example I showed above involved a lot of watercolor work. I used colored pencils for glazing and details, so the additional texture was helpful.

If you don’t plan to use wet media for more than tinting the paper, then you may want to consider a hot press paper.

And don’t be afraid to try heavier papers. Sometimes that additional substance in the paper is just what you need; especially for larger works.

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils

Time for another product review. Today I want to share my experiences using a Slice Tool with colored pencils.

Before I begin, I want to thank Slice Inc. for providing samples of their tools. The tools were sent to me after I contacted the company for more information and product images for the Q&A post, What is a Slice Tool?

I’d never used these tools before, though I’d seen countless videos by artists such as Lisa Ann Watkins and Bonny Snowdon, and have published many tutorials by Peggy Osborne. So I was delighted to get a chance to try them out for myself.

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils

The Slice Tools I’m Using

I received three different Slice tools: The Manual Pen Cutter, the Manual Precision Cutter, and the versatile Slice Craft Knife.

All three are ideal for etching out details such as whiskers, flyaway hairs, and other fine details. Slice tools have quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I wanted to see how well they added highlights to grassy areas in landscape art.

From left to right, the manual pen cutter, the precision cutter, and the craft knife.

I didn’t have time to make a new piece to try these tools on, so I went back to some older art that I thought could be improved with a little etching. The piece I chose was Spring Storm.

A Landscape on Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Spring Storm was completed in early 2020. It’s on Anthracite (dark gray) Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so scratching out details was more a matter of adding shadows than highlights.

But there is a lot of grass in the foreground that I thought could benefit from a few more details. Here’s what the area looked like before the Slice tool.

The lower right half of portion of Spring Storm before the Slice tool.

I tried all three tools on the drawing. At first, it didn’t look like they were having an affect. But as I continued to scratch out shadows, I began to see the difference.

I used the two larger blades to add shadows to the grass in the foreground and the tall clump on the left.

The smallest blade, the Precision Cutter, was great at adding a few spots of dark foliage around the edges of the trees in the middle ground.

All three knives allowed me to add fine details that would have been next to impossible to recreate with pencils, especially on such a small drawing (about 7 inches by 9 inches.)

Here’s what the same area looked like when I finished. I don’t know if you can really see the differences this way, but in real life, they are quite obvious.

An Interesting Experiment

My next experiment was this little piece.

This is one my Sketch Habit sketches. It’s on white Clairfontaine Pastelmat and I wanted to see if I could make sparkles on water.

I layered three or four colors heavily onto the paper in a pattern that looked like water.

Then I used a couple of the Slice tools to etch X shapes in various spots in the drawing. I’d seen an acrylic painter create sparkles on water by painting white shapes like this, and wondered if it would work with colored pencils.

It does, if you scratch color off the paper.

Keep in mind that I made no plans where the sparkles would appear as I was laying down color. This was just a sketch; a experiment.

If I were to do this with a finished piece, I would be more deliberate in where I put and how I put color down. Using brighter colors in some of the areas where I wanted sparkles would help them show up better.

But overall, I’m thrilled with this little test.

Tips for Using Slice Tools

I also learned a few things about using Slice tools that are worth sharing.

First is to be careful. It’s difficult to cut your fingers with these blades, but it’s easy to cut paper. Use light or medium-light pressure to gently remove color.

Second, it will probably take more than one “layer” of etching to remove enough color to make a difference. Going over an area a couple of times produced good results. That’s why light pressure is so important.

Third, the scratch marks will be either the color of pencil beneath the layers you’re removing, or it will be the color of the paper. For my test with Spring Storm, I was essentially drawing shadows because the paper was so dark.

On the white Pastelmat, I drew highlights.

Fourth, you get the best results if there’s a clear difference in color or value between the color you scratch off with a Slice tool and the color beneath.

Scratching black layers off dark gray layers makes very little difference. Scratching black layers of light gray or white layers makes a big difference.

Do I Recommend the Slice Tools?

If your work is highly detailed and you like precision in your artwork, then consider buying the Slice tools. They’re a great way to get ultra fine details.

You can remove color, add more color, then remove color again to create a depth of detail that is difficult (if not impossible) with just colored pencils.

And you can also bring a little additional life to an older, finished piece, as I’ve shown here.

They’re not for everybody, just as sanded art paper isn’t for everyone.

But if you’re looking for something to add a little spark (or shadow) to your artwork, the Slice tools may be just what you’re looking for.

My thanks again to Slice, Inc. for their generosity in giving me an opportunity to try their tools. I didn’t honestly think I’d have much use for them.

I now know different!

How I Store My Colored Pencils

Today, I want to talk about how I store my colored pencils. To begin, here’s the reader question.

Is it best to keep pencils in medal tray in which they were purchased or do you put in a container that allows pencils to stand up? Thanks

Since those beautiful colored pencils can be expensive, it’s important to know how to keep them safe and useful when we’re not drawing.

Now I know every artist is different, and we all have our preferences about storage. So the best way to tackle this topic is to tell you what I do. If that works for you, great.

If not, that’s okay too.

How I Store My Colored Pencils

I use a variety of methods for storing colored pencils. How do I decide when method to use? There are a couple of factors.

Original Packaging

My first choice is to keep new pencils in the tins in which they arrived. What’s my thinking on that?

First, if a tin is sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe during shipping, then the tin is probably sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe on my shelf. Even if a cat happens to knock the tin to the floor.

How I Store My Colored Pencils

Second, many tins also include slotted plastic trays, with a slot for each pencil. Faber-Castell does this and it’s a great way to keep pencils from rolling around if the tin gets jostled.

It’s also a great way to keep pencils from rolling off a desk or table while I’m working. But now I digress.

Third, tins are compact and stream-lined. I can slide them into a tote or carry case so I can take pencils when I go traveling.

Fourth—and this may really be a stretch for a lot of you—I arrange my pencils according to height in the tin. It’s easy to see what colors I need to restock.

(Yes. I really do this with the Polychromos pencils. It’s the best way I’ve found to easily manage inventory and re-ordering.)

Tackle Boxes

When I started taking art supplies to horse shows, I bought a couple of plastic lure boxes designed for fishermen. I actually found them in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart.

Two of them handled a full set of Prismacolor pencils back then (there were only 96 colors, if I remember correctly.) I sort pencils by color, with the most often used pencils in one box and others in the second box.

Those Prismacolor pencils are still in those trays and, although the trays are starting to show wear-and-tear after thirty years or so, they’re still very solid and sturdy.

They’re not as compact to pack for travel as the pencil tins, but I can get both of them into a laptop carrier along with a couple of pads of paper, a working in progress if it’s in a working mat assembly, and even my trusty mechanical sharpener.

Cups & Jars

Now sometimes, I don’t buy new pencils by the set. For example, I’ve been collecting Derwent Lightfast pencils and Caran d’Ache Luminance one or two colors at a time. Obviously, there are no tins to store them in.

I also don’t want to put them into the trays with the Prismacolor pencils, so I keep them in ceramic mugs or glass cups. The cups are on a shelf along with the tins of Polychromos and other pencils. I admit that they’re not as secure as the pencils in the tins. If they fall, they scatter.

But I have put them high enough that even the adult cats are wary of jumping up there.

I also recently purchased a set of Blick Studio pencils, and while I like the pencils quite a bit, the tin was less than ideal for storage. The pencils arrived in good shape, but I put them all in a big coffee mug. The mug is easy to carry to my front porch or back yard for sketching.

And I like the message. Not bad advice!

Open stock replacement pencils and Prismacolor Verithin pencils are also in cups.

I also keep a few select pencils in a light-weight plastic sleeve. I can easily grab them for short trips, along with my package of 4×6 sketching papers.

So How do I Store My Pencils?

Short answer, I store my colored pencils in whatever way is the most secure, and the most convenient.

That’s what I recommend for you. If you have a permanent studio space and rarely travel with pencils, then storage cabinets and shelving are probably the better solution for you.

But maybe you’re like me. You don’t have a permanent studio space and you like to travel with pencils and paper.

In that case, then you might do better with some of my storage solutions.

What is the Slice Tool?

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils 2

Liz submitted today’s question, and she asks, “What is the Slice tool?”

She also wants to know where to get one.

The answer to the second part of her question is easy. The Slice tool is available through art supply stores like Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama and Jackson’s, as well as directly from Slice, Inc.

Now that we know where we can find them, what exactly is a Slice tool?

What is the Slice Tool?

The Slice Tool Described

The Slice tool is a ceramic knife similar to the X-acto knife.

The X-acto knife is a long-time artist’s tool with stainless steel blades and great cutting ability. I have two in my art tool kit and I use them for a number of things.

Unfortunately, cutting fingers is one of the things in that number. X-acto knifes and other knives with stainless steel blades must be handled with care because they are so sharp. I know of at least one artist who doesn’t use them due to a propensity for cutting herself.

Slice tools were originally developed for fine industrial cutting work because the ceramic blades maintain an edge much longer than steel blades. Slice, Inc. makes a wide variety of cutting tools, including scissors, with ceramic blades used by industries of all types world-wide.

According to the company’s website, ceramic blades cut better, require less force, and last longer than the best stainless steel blades.

But more important to many of us is the fact that they don’t cut human flesh nearly as well as they cut other things. That’s why their official name is Slice Ceramic Safety Knives.

Types of Slice Tools for Artists

It didn’t take artists long to discover the usefulness of these tools. Artists use Many of the Slice tools. Depending on the type of art you make, and what you draw, they may be helpful to you, as well.

Following are two of the most often used tools.

The Manual Pen Cutter

This is the manual pen cutter. It’s the tool I see most often on the videos published by other artists.

The Manual Pen Cutter is ideal for adding whiskers, hair details, and other fine details to colored pencil art. It has quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I can also see that it would be useful for adding highlights to grassy areas in landscape art, as well as highlights and details to floral art and still life art.

The Manual Precision Cutter

The Manual Precision Cutter is also a great fine art tool. It’s used in much the same way the Manual Pen Cutter is used.

But it’s also useful in cutting intricate shapes when necessary. If you do a mix of fine art and craft art, or if you cut small, complex shapes in non-art applications, this is probably the best Slice tool for you.

The blade is smaller, giving the artist more control in every application.

Using a Slice Tool

How to Use a Slice Tool

Artists use the Slice tool the same way they use any type of etching tool: By scratching out details.

A short video on the Slice Company website shows an artist creating hair-like details on a horse.

Peggy Osborne, who has written tutorials for this blog, uses a Slice tool to draw whiskers and other details on her pet portraits. She used it several times in her Irish Setter tutorial.

Other Basic Information

As I mentioned before, I’ve never used a Slice tool, though I have tried scratching out details with an X-acto knife.

Hopefully, between the information I’ve shared here and additional information from the company website and other artists, you’ve learned enough to decide whether or not you want to give them a try.

In closing, I want to thank the Slice, Inc. representative. He not only answered my questions, but provided the product images you see in this post. It’s always good to get information directly from the source, and it’s especially nice when the people with whom I chat by email are friendly in addition to being helpful.

By the way, here’s something else I learned in email correspondence with the Slice, Inc. They offer three Slice Tool kits for colored pencil artists ranging from a basic sketching kit, to the Masterpiece kit that comes with everything. Each kit includes free shipping. If you’re not sure which Slice tool is right for you, you can check out all the details here.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I’ve Used

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

Questions about pencil sharpeners arise regularly. I’m certain that’s because sharpeners are so important to artists (and anyone else) who uses pencils for their work. I’ve tried a lot of sharpeners over the years, and today I’d like to talk about the best hand held sharpeners I’ve used.

But first, here’s the reader’s question to get us started.

I have a question regarding pencil sharpeners. What is the best hand-held sharpener to use for colored pencils?

I’ve tried an electric pencil sharpener, but it eats up too much of the colored pencil. I’ve [also] tried the Prismacolor Premier hand-held sharpener and it works great on Prismacolor pencils, but isn’t strong or durable enough to handle sharpening my heavier and thicker oil-based colored pencils.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

The Best Hand Held Sharpener I’ve Used

The best hand-held pencil sharpeners I’ve ever used were inexpensive sharpeners purchased at a local discount store. Under $5 each, as a matter of fact. I bought one on a whim, took it home and used it a couple of times, then went back and got another.

They sharpen all of my pencils extremely well, even the temperamental Prismacolor pencils. The sharpener has two holes for sharpening all types of pencils, and it also has a container to catch shavings. The sharpener isn’t very big, so if you sharpen a lot or work for hours at a time, you may need to empty it more than once a day, but that’s easy to do.

I’ve found them remarkably durable for their price and size. Drops on floors haven’t scuffed or damaged them. But at that price, I can also replace them as needed.

It’s been about three years since I purchased them and I still use one of them for Prismacolor, Polychromos, graphite, and whatever else I happen to be using. The other one went missing, but at the price, it wasn’t a big loss.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

Five Reasons I Prefer This Sharpener

Cost

I simply cannot beat the price on these little sharpeners and on the similar sharpeners I’ve used. It’s no strain on my budget to have multiple sharpeners, so I don’t have to lug a larger sharpener around.

Or worry about finding an electrical outlet or carrying spare batteries!

Performance

Of all the sharpeners I’ve used over the years, none have out-performed my favorite hand-held sharpeners.

The blades have remained sharp through the years, but if they start feeling gummy or dull, I sharpen a graphite pencil. The graphite cleans the blades and the sharpener is good as new.

Portability

These sharpeners are so lightweight and small, they’re easy to travel with. You can stash one in your field kit, pencil box, and tool kit and be ready to go.

And if you work in different places as I do, or if you have different kits, you can keep one in each of those if you have more than one.

Ease of Use

They fit easily in my hand and are easy to empty. Simply remove the top, empty the shavings and snap them back together. Even though I’ve used this particular sharpener for several years, it still fits together quite snugly and sharpens very well.

It’s also easy to sharpen with in a couple of ways.

The normal way to sharpen is by holding the sharpener in my right hand and turning the pencil with my left hand.

But for pencils that break easily, it’s just as easy to hold the pencil in my right hand and turn the sharpener with my left hand. Believe it or not, that does help prevent breakage during sharpening.

Sharp, Medium-Length Points

Finally, I like this sharpener because it sharpens pencils to a needle-sharp tip that’s of medium length.

That’s important, because a medium-length point is less likely to break under pressure. It also means less pigment ends up in the sharpener. If you use expensive pencils, that’s less money wasted.

The Second Best Hand Held Sharpener

Many years ago, I conducted an an-person, weekly class. Part of the process was assembling a low-cost supply list I could purchase and offer to students. The list included pencils and a sharpener.

The best deals were from Dick Blick and the sharpener I choose was the one shown here. I still have this sharpener and it still works nearly as well as it did when I bought it.

Dick Blick still offers a wide selection of hand held pencil sharpeners, though the model shown above is no longer available. That’s why it’s the second best sharpener. In reality, it works just as well as the I Magine sharpener, but it’s no longer replaceable.

Are any of these sharpeners the best on the market?

Probably not, but they sharpen my pencils extremely well, and they were low cost.

Take a look at your local stores and see what they might have. You could very well be as surprised as I was by the usefulness of such inexpensive sharpeners!

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Today’s question comes from Sally, who needs a few suggestions for restoring tooth to drawing paper that has gotten slick. Most of us have had to work with paper that got slick before we finished the drawing. Yes, even me!

Here’s Sally’s question.

What can you do for more tooth when you need to add more layers to blend the colors softer.

I am working on lightening up my hand, but after the layers, I blend with a colorless blender and there are times that the pencil gets waxy, and will not accept any blending colors to soften up the color changes.

I use the Prismacolor line and different papers, and just bought Strathmore Color Pencil paper and it doesn’t seem to hold any more than the Strathmore sketch or mixed media.

Is there any way to renew the tooth ???

Thank you, Sally

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Sally’s problem is common, especially for those of us who love softer, waxier colored pencils. It’s such a common problem that before I answer Sally’s question, I’d like to explain why the problem happens.

Why Drawing Paper Becomes Slick

The biggest reason for paper becoming slick is the accumulation of pigment and binding agent. Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent to hold the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.

There is no way to get around this and still create art with colored pencils.

The more layers you do, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. Pretty soon, all you have is the slick surface of color layers. All those layers bury the tooth.

All colored pencils contain wax in the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than other ingredients, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

So the waxier your pencils, the more likely you’ll fill the tooth of the paper before you finish. That’s what’s happening to Sally.

Ways to Avoid Getting Slick Paper

It helps to know how to avoid getting slick paper before you finish a drawing. Sally mentioned one: working with a light hand. But that’s not the only way.

Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another way to avoid making slick paper. Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.

Less wax on the paper, less slickness.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

For those who don’t like the feel of oil-based pencils, try a toothier paper. The more texture the paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.

Using colorless blenders sparingly is another way to avoid slick paper. Colorless blenders are essentially a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.

But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.

Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.

It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.

The last suggestion is blending with solvent. Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. It’s also a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.

Ways to Restore Tooth to Paper

Most workable fixatives for dry media work on colored pencils. Prismacolor used to make a fixative designed for colored pencils, but that product is no longer available, and if you can find it on a second-hand website, you’ll probably pay a pretty penny for it.

Dick Blick offers a selection of workable fixatives. If you choose to use one, make sure you use one made for dry media.

Since I’ve been working more often on sanded art papers, I’ve started using Brush & Pencil’s ACP Textured Fixative. But that dries to a thin film, so it works best on papers that are thicker like sanded art papers or on rigid supports.

Whatever type of fixative you use, test it on a sample first to make sure it doesn’t discolor the paper or your drawing. Follow the instructions on the can, and work in a well-ventilated area.

I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness of too much color and pigment by blending with rubbing alcohol.

Solvents are also sometimes helpful in cutting down slickness.

Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes restores a bit of tooth.

Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.

However, neither solvent will completely restore the tooth of the paper, so they may be of limited use.

If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

The way to deal with slick paper is to avoid the slickness. The methods I described above will help you do that.

But even if you take all those precautions, if you like layering lots of layers, you will sooner or later end up with slick paper. When that happens, it pays to know how to restore at least a little bit of tooth so you can finish!

Metallic Colored Pencils: My Thoughts

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

Lets talk about specialty pencils today; namely those pencils labeled as metallic colored pencils.

E. Mark Gross will get us started with his question:

I sometimes use pencils with the metallic description.  I’ve seen metallic pencils by Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache, General, Stampin Up.

Do you have any favorite types? Do you have particular situations where you find metallic pencils work well or poorly?

Mark has asked two questions, so I’ll answer in two parts.

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t really have favorite metallic pencils, so I’ll share a list of those I have. The list isn’t very long.

The Pencils I Have

I’ve purchased full sets of three or four different lines of colored pencils, so I have metallic pencils. Since I’ve purchased more than one set of some lines, I have quite a few metallic pencils!

There is a good representation of Prismacolor Metallic Copper, Metallic Gold, and Metallic Silver in my pencil stash. I also have a metallic green Prismacolor. I think I used that color once to draw trees in the far background for a landscape piece. More on that in a moment.

I have a couple of metallic colors of Prismacolor Verithin pencils.

The full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos includes Copper, Gold and Silver.

And I recently purchased a full set of Blick Studio Colored Pencils, so I have Gold and Silver in that line.

Other than the Prismacolor Soft Core and Prismacolor Verithin, I’ve used none of them.

The Ways I Use Them

When I first started using colored pencils, I tried the metallic colors to draw the metallic parts of horse bridles. That makes sense, but it didn’t work. The bits, buckles, and other details looked flat when I drew them with metallic colors. I got better results using non-metallic colors and focusing on values, edges, and transitions to draw metal and/or reflective objects.

A couple of years ago, I used Prismacolor metallic pencils (gold, silver, and copper) on black paper. I was trying a lot of things at the time, and decided to include the metallic colors in my experiments. The drawings in this post were all drawn with metallic Prismacolor colors.

The colors were fun to work with. Color went down very nicely and surprisingly smooth. On the whole, the sketches turned out well. I liked the results.

As I mentioned above, there’s also a vague memory that I tried Prismacolor Metallic Green in a landscape drawing thinking that muted green would be good for drawing distance. It is a nice color and it may have worked in that drawing, but it apparently didn’t work all that well because I’ve not used it again.

The Problems I Have With Metallic Colors

The biggest problem I see with metallic pencils is that the metallic qualities don’t show up in images of the artwork. You have to be looking at the original to see those qualities.

All of the illustrations in this post were drawn with Prismacolor metallic colored pencils. The colors look metallic in real life. They have a nice, subtle sheen.

But there’s nothing special about them (other than interesting colors) when you view images of the original drawings. The sheen disappears in digital images, reproductions and all other non-original forms of that art.

Those are My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t have much more to say about metallic colored pencils of any type or brand because I don’t use them.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to draw with or to use as accents.

In the right places and on the right papers.

Got a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

The Drawing Boards I've Used

Today, I’d like to share the drawing boards I’ve used for colored pencil work over the years. They’re so easy (and cheap!) you’ll be amazed you haven’t thought of it yourself.

This post comes in response to a reader question, so let’s take a look at that to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please tell me what you use under the paper of your colored pencil pieces? My table leaves unwanted marks on the paper.

What a great question! Thank you!

First, I need to explain that I don’t draw at a drawing table very often, and even when I do, I have my drawing mounted to a rigid support for stability. So I don’t have problems with the surface of the table creating unwanted marks in my drawing.

Since I do a lot of work sitting on the couch or standing at a drafting table, I keep works-in-progress mounted on light-weight, portable surfaces.

But you can also use drawing boards this way and they can be very efficient.

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

I’ve been using colored pencils since the 1990s, and have been using them exclusively since 2017. So I’ve used a lot of different types of drawing boards.

Professional Boards

The first drawing boards were small, 16 x 21 inches. I used them because I had them. As I recall, they were part of the supply list for a correspondence course I took as a teenager. Art Instruction Schools, if anyone is interested. A good course that covers everything. I still have the binders!

Because I bought these boards in the late 70s, they were wood, so they were on the heavy side. But they were very smooth and very well made. It was easy to mount paper to them with ordinary masking tape (I didn’t know any better back then,) and work with them in my lap or propped up on a desk or table. When I wasn’t working, I could lean them against a wall or on an easel and the art was visible, accessible, and out of the way.

I still have one of them, but I no longer use it even though it’s still a good drawing board. The main reason is the weight. It’s just too uncomfortable to sit with it on my lap these days. Age, I guess.

It’s also a bit on the bulky side compared to the types of drawing boards I use now, and it’s nowhere near as portable. So it’s in storage.

This exact drawing board is no longer available, but Dick Blick sells a similar model that’s very lightweight and comes in a variety of sizes.

Richeson Drawing Clip Board

A few years later, I purchased two drawing clip boards, one large and one small. These boards are very light, have very smooth surfaces, and were excellent to draw on. They are fitted with two strong clips on one side, and a grip hole at the top, so you can easily carry them. They also have a strong, wide extra large rubber band to hold paper securely, so you don’t need to tape your paper down if you don’t want to.

I’ve since given the larger one away because it was too big for what I needed. I still use the smaller one, but it’s on my oil painting easel with art clipped onto it. More on that in a moment.

The Drawing Boards I've Used

These are very nice drawing boards, and they’re not that expensive. You can get them from Dick Blick for less than $20 each at the time of this writing.

The reason I no longer use them for drawing is that they just didn’t fit my needs. They may be perfect for you.

Homemade Laptop Drawing Boards

When my main artwork was horse portraits, I went to two big equine trade shows every year, and as many smaller local horse shows as I could manage. I tried to have something to work on at these venues, especially the longer shows. Most drawing boards just didn’t fit into a medium-sized sedan loaded up with artwork, marketing tools, and a complete display system.

So I started looking around for a workable solution.

It didn’t take long to realize I could make my own lightweight, laptop drawing boards for next to no money, and I could make as many as I needed, in whatever size I needed. They worked great! I made them to carry a work-in-progress safely, cleanly, and in a manner that allowed me to work on a piece during lull times at shows, but still display the work on an easel when I wasn’t working.

These are totally hand made, and I describe how I did it in a post titled Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board. If you’re interested, the step-by-step directions will help you build your own.

The great thing about these is that they’re inexpensive, you can create the type of drawing surface you want, and you can display works-in-progress without having to remove it from the drawing board.

My Current Favorite Drawing Boards

Given the shortage of time to draw, I’ve been working small the last several years. The majority of my work is 9×12 or smaller. That size makes it possible to scan pieces if I’m putting together a tutorial. But speed and scanning are not the only benefits.

I buy most papers in 9×12 inch pads. When the pads are empty, I don’t throw them away. I use them for drawing boards for my small pieces if they have rigid backing.

The beauty of using empty drawing pads for drawing boards is that they’re very lightweight. I can take them anywhere, or lean them on a shelf between working sessions. I can also have more than one piece in progress at a time, and each one has it’s own drawing board.

To cover the artwork if necessary, I leave the cover on the pad. And if I want to travel with them, I can easily slide them into a resealable, archival clear plastic envelope, and tuck them into a briefcase, a piece of luggage or a tote bag.

They’re also free. You’ve already paid for the paper and used it up, so the empty pad cover and back is no extra charge. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste that comes with any artistic endeavor.

In other words, they’re perfect!

Subscribers to my newsletter learned how to turn empty drawing pads into nifty, next to no-cost drawing boards. For exclusive how-to articles and other features, subscribe to the newsletter!

Those are the Drawing Boards I’ve Used

Any one of these tools provides a smooth, mark-free drawing surface. Not all of them will suit your drawing preferences or taste, but that’s the beauty of art. There are very few Must Do All The Time answers.

And if you really just need a smooth surface to put between your artwork and your favorite drawing table, get a sheet of good, archival mat board. Cut it to the size you need, then lay it on your table top whenever you want to draw.

Make sure to use the back, because that’s the smoothest side, no matter what type of mat board you use. You can get full sheets at a good frame shop or online, and chances are it will be less expensive than most drawing boards.

Best of all, you can use it on different tables with little or no fuss.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

I’ve talked a lot in the past about Stonehenge paper. More recently, I’ve talked about sanded art papers. So today, I’m comparing Stonehenge and sanded art papers.

Here’s the reader question to start the discussion.

Can you discuss the differences in using Stonehenge 90 or 120lb vs sanded paper for colored pencil portraits?

Several years ago I completed a colored pencil portrait of my son’s family dog using sanded paper. They have asked me to do portraits of the two dogs they now have and want to group the portraits together.

I loved the velvety look of the finished project on sanded paper. However [I] found the paper difficult to work with. I’ve also evolved in my style and technique. While I want them to be somewhat similar in style I would prefer a different paper. I use a lot of layers and prefer color saturation. These two dogs are very light in color where the previous portrait I did was a very dark color. I usually keep my backgrounds very simple and prefer a monochrome color palette.

Your thoughts?

Thank you, Sharon

Before I go any further, I want to thank Sharon for her question, and especially for the background on the question. It’s always helpful to know where a reader is coming from.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

There is a world of difference between sanded art paper and Stonehenge, no matter what the subject.

The most notable difference is the surface texture. Stonehenge is soft and almost velvety in feel, while sanded art paper is gritty.

Consequently, color goes onto each type of paper differently.

In the illustration below, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw each of the lines. The left half is Stonehenge, and the right half is Fisher 400 sanded pastel paper.

The pencil left marks on both papers, but the marks on Stonehenge are much lighter, while the marks on the Fisher 400 are darker, even with light pressure.

The top two lines were drawn with the tip of the pencil. I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and used the side of the pencil for the bottom two lines.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

It’s easy to develop strong color on sanded papers because the grit of the paper almost seems to “grab” the color from the pencil. This is true with all of the sanded papers and pencils I’ve used.

Pencils layer differently, too.

The samples on top in the illustration below show shading on both papers. The color is not smooth on either paper, but it’s smoother on the Stonehenge than on the Fisher 400.

I shaded the bottom areas with the side of the pencil, then used the tip to draw hair-like strokes. The strokes on the Stonehenge (left) look more like hair than the strokes on the Fisher 400. That’s because the Fisher 400 flattened the tip of the pencil with the first few strokes.

it is possible to layer enough color on both papers to get rich, saturated color. But you can add more layers on sanded art paper than on the Stonehenge.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Sturdiness

Sanded art paper is quite solid and gritty. It takes a lot of layers, but it also takes a lot of punishment. You can use any kind of pressure on it without damaging it.

Stonehenge can take a lot of layers, but it’s a soft, velvety paper, so it’s very easy to damage. I’ve often said that looking at it cross-eyed can leave a mark!

Drawing Methods

Many of the same drawing methods can be used on both papers, but their effectiveness varies.

But as you saw above, even light pressure on sanded art papers produces darker color layers than the same amount of pressure on Stonehenge. The first time I used sanded art paper, that seemed like a negative. I have such a naturally light hand and have gotten used to drawing that way that I was put off by the results of the lightest layering on sanded paper.

But I soon learned that I could add so many more layers to the sanded paper that the pressure I used didn’t matter as much.

One thing you can do easily on sanded art papers that you can’t do on Stonehenge is lift color. In some cases, you can also get back to the color of the paper with mounting putty when you draw on sanded art paper.

This piece is an older piece on Fisher 400. One of the first pieces I did on sanded art paper. When I decided to rework it, I needed to lift color. As you can see, repeated use of mounting putty removed a lot of color. The lightest areas in and around the tree are the paper showing through.

I can also lift color on Stonehenge, but I cannot remove color back to the paper. Lighten it, yes. Remove it, not without risk of damaging the paper.

Highlights

You can layer light colors over dark colors on Stonehenge, but all you’ll accomplish is tinting the darker color. It’s next to impossible to create bright highlights over darker colors on Stonehenge or other traditional paper.

But you can add light highlights over darker colors on most sanded art papers. This illustration is on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I drew these ears by alternating strokes of dark and light colors. That’s pretty much the same method I’d use on Stonehenge.

When I drew the small portion of visible neck, however, I shaded the area with dark colors, then went back and “flicked in” the lighter marks. I was able to do that because there was still plenty of tooth on the paper when I finished shading the base layers.

Layering

Both types of paper take a lot of layers, as already mentioned.

But you can layer with light, medium or heavy pressure throughout the drawing process when you use sanded art papers.

Stonehenge requires light pressure for as long as possible in order to get the maximum number of layers. Of course you can use heavier pressure, but you will fill up the tooth of the paper. You also run the risk of scuffing the paper.

You have no such worries with sanded art papers. I reworked the background on this piece several times. This illustration shows just three phases. I could have worked the background yet again after finishing the horse if I wanted to because there was still plenty of tooth left on this sheet of Pastelmat.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers: My recommendation for Sharon (and you!)

Sharon is right. Sanded art papers do produce lovely, velvety textures AND they are difficult to work with. I don’t blame her for wanting to try something different.

I encourage Sharon to try Stonehenge, but I also suggest she do something for herself first. Get a feel for it. Push it to its limits and see what kind of results you get.

That’s the best way to try any new paper. If you like what you see and the paper makes your work easier, then by all means use it. If you don’t like it, no harm done. You haven’t ruined a portrait!

I hope that’s helpful. The problem with paper is that no two artists work exactly the same way, and what works for one artist may not work for another.

If it seems like I prefer sanded art papers, it’s because I do. After years of using Stonehenge, I’ve discovered I can produce better work on sanded art papers, no matter what I draw.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best paper for everyone else.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

Economic Colored Pencil Sharpening

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics here, and I continue to get questions about them. Today, let’s take a look at the subject from a different angle: let’s talk about a few economical ways to sharpen colored pencils.

But first, since this is Q&A Wednesday, here’s the reader’s question.

What is the best – and most economical – way to sharpen colored pencils, particularly the softer ones?

I use an electric sharpener for graphite but it seems to “eat” colored pencils quite rapidly. Thank you.

Kathy

I want to thank Kathy for asking this question. Most people want to know the best sharpeners. That’s an impossible question to answer because there are so many factors to consider.

But very few people ask economical ways to sharpen colored pencils. And there is a difference.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

But before we get started, let’s consider sharpeners.

A Few Words About Sharpeners

The purpose of pencil sharpeners is eating pencils. Whenever you sharpen a pencil with a mechanical sharpener, the sharpener has to chew up enough of the lead to make a sharp point.

That’s true for graphite pencils, and it’s true for colored pencils.

But there are ways to sharpen pencils so less of the pigment is wasted.

Kathy’s Sharpener

I also suggest that Kathy find out if her electric sharpener is an auto-stop model. Sharpeners with an auto-stop feature automatically stop sharpening when the pencil is sharp.

Other types of electric sharpeners continue sharpening until you remove the pencil. It’s very easy to sharpen a pencil to a nub quickly if you don’t pay attention to the sharpener while you’re sharpening.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

A Sharp Knife Works Wonders

The absolute best way to sharpen pencils with minimum waste is by sharpening them with a knife.

I use an X-acto knife, but any knife sharp enough to cut through the wood casing is suitable.

Sharpening pencils with an X-acto knife is also a great way to sharpen a pencil that’s prone to breaking. You can whittle away the wood casing with very little pressure on the pigment core itself.

This method requires extreme caution! It’s easy to cut yourself while sharpening pencils, and we most certainly do not want that!

How to Hand Sharpen Colored Pencils

Use a knife with a finely sharpened blade.

Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand with the exposed pigment core facing away from you.

Hold the knife in your dominant hand, with the blade at a slight angle to the pencil. As you can see in the illustration below, the knife blade is nearly lying on the sharpened wood casing. This keeps you from gouging too much of the wood casing with each stroke.

Push the blade downward along the pencil with your thumb. Use light pressure and make as thin a cut as you can.

Hold the knife at a slight angle to the pencil and stroke away from yourself. Turn the pencil after each cutting stroke.

Always stroke away from yourself.

Turn the pencil between strokes and work around the pencil two or three times or until the sharpened end is as smooth or even as you prefer or until as much pigment core is exposed as you need.

Pointing the Pencil

To get a needle-sharp point, rub the pencil on an emery board. Roll the pencil as you stroke it along the emery board until the point is as sharp as you want it to be.

A sanding block or sand paper (not sanded art paper) also works for fine tuning a newly sharpened pencil.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Pencils

One Word of Caution

Hand sharpening with a knife is a very economical way to sharpen pencils. But it’s not a fast method. For the best results, work slowly and carefully. Always stroke away from yourself, and always keep your knife sharp.

It also requires practice, just like drawing. So be patient. Injuries happen when you rush, so go slow and be careful.

Other Benefits of Hand Sharpening Pencils

Sharpening pencils with a knife allows you to more easily save pigment shavings. You can then soften them with solvent or Brush & Pencil’s Touch-Up Texture and use them like paint.

If you decide to use this sharpening method, get several small containers with screw-on caps to store the pigment. Label each one with the color and brand of pencil (if you use more than one type of pencil.) Then, when you need that color to “paint” with, you can mix a small amount of solvent or Touch-Up Texture and make use of this otherwise wasted pigment.

I found this very helpful article on sharpening pencils with a knife. The demonstration is with a graphite pencil, but the process is the same.

Pay Attention to the Length of the Sharpened Point

The length of the exposed pigment core on a freshly sharpened pencil also makes a difference.

The longer the tip, the more pigment has been left in the pencil sharpener.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils
The length of the exposed pigment core makes a difference in how much pigment is wasted in sharpening. As a rule, the longer the point, the more pigment is left in the sharpener.

There are times when you want a longer tip. Glazing with the side of the pencil works best if the exposed pigment is quite long.

But you really don’t need a long pigment core for most work, so look for a sharpener that doesn’t sharpen this way.

Keep Points Sharp While You Draw

One way I keep sharp tips on pencils is by alternating glazing with other types of layering.

I always turn my pencil in my fingers as I draw. I don’t know when or how I developed that habit, but I do it even when writing longhand with a pen. Turning your pencil helps keep the tip from getting flat on one side.

But it doesn’t keep the point sharp.

If, however, you do a little layering with the side of the pencil AND you turn the pencil as you draw, the tip will stay sharper longer.

And that pigment ends up on the paper, not in the sharpener!

Three Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

And there you have it. Two suggestions for economical colored pencil sharpening, and a bonus suggestion for maintaining sharper points.

I hope you find them helpful.