Derwent Watercolor Pencils – My Review

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Derwent watercolor pencils. After using the Derwent watercolor pencils for a few months, it’s time for a review.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils Review

About Derwent Watercolor Pencils

I purchased a set of 12 colors, along with a pad of Canson L’Aquarelle 140 lb hot press watercolor paper at Hobby Lobby. The pencils retailed at $25.99 and the paper at $24.99, but I used a 40% coupon on both items.

TIP: If you shop regularly at Hobby Lobby, go online and print their 40% off coupon. You can use it only once and it applies only to the most expensive item you buy (not the entire purchase,) but it’s a great way to get new supplies and a good deal.

Since I did most of my work on the watercolor paper, I’ll share my thoughts on that, as well.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils - Set of 12

Derwent Watercolor Pencils: My Review

Derwent packages their tins with a shrink wrap cover inside the tin, so you can remove the tin’s lid and see the pencils before you buy them. A very helpful feature if you buy retail from a brick-and-mortar store.

The pencils are stamped in easy-to-read silver, with color names and color numbers clearly visible. They come pre-sharpened, and with the approximate colors on the end of the pencil.

Approximate because they aren’t all 100% accurate. It’s a good idea to make color swatches to see the actual color once you buy the pencils.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils in the Tin

Most of the pencils in my set were in excellent shape and ready to use. Only the Burnt Ochre broke when I sharpened it the first time, but that gave me an opportunity to test Derwent’s customer support process. My understanding before buying these pencils that the Derwent company is very quality conscious and is quick to replace defective stock.

I found that to be true. I emailed the company and told them about the set I’d purchased and the pencil with the broken pigment core.

True to expectation, they emailed me back within a few days and offered to replace the pencil if I wished. I could still use the pencil—yes, even the broken pigment core—so I didn’t ask for a replacement, but it’s good know they were so willing to help me.

Lightfast Ratings

Derwent is a British company, so they use the Blue Wool Scale for lightfast testing.

Two identical dye samples are created. One sample is placed in darkness and one in the equivalent of sunlight for three months. A standard test card is also put in the same lighting conditions and the samples are then compared.

Fading is rated on a scale of 0 to 8, with 0 being the poorest and 8 the highest. A rating of 8 signifies a color that doesn’t fade at all and can be considered permanent.

Of the twelve colors in the 12-pencil set, four have an “8” rating, one is rated “7”, two are rated “6,” and the other five are 5 or below. Most professional artists either don’t use any color rated 5 or less for fine art or they don’t sell the originals. Fading colors can be used to create artwork if all you plan to do is sell reproductions.

However, these ratings are all for dry pigment. They apply only if you don’t use water to activate the color.

Since the purpose of watercolor pencils is to use them wet, I set up my own lightfast test.

My Lightfast Test

I made a swatch of color for each of the pencils. Each swatch is labeled with the color name, the number, and the Blue Wool rating (in parentheses.) At the bottom of the page is information on the pencil, the paper, and the test I started the test.

This swatch shows the dry color.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils - Lightfast Test Dry

Next, I activated half of each swatch with water.

This also gives you a good idea of how will the strokes disappear with a minimum of blending. I have found that strokes disappear entirely with a few more strokes of a wet brush, or if you use more water.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils - Lightfast Test Wet

When the samples were dry, I covered the center portion with a piece of opaque paper and taped it in a south-facing window.

4-Week Results

This is the result after four weeks. Dry pencil on the right, water-activated on the left. The only color that appeared to have faded at all was the Imperial Purple (rated 4,) and the fading wasn’t obvious. The fact of the matter is that the ball point pen I used to label the test faded far worse than the colors.

Derwent Watercolor Pencil Test 4 Weeks

8-Week Results

The 8-week check looked like this. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see much difference. That was encouraging, to say the least.

Back into the window for the test sheet.

Derwent Watercolor Pencil Test 8 Weeks

12-Week Results

I checked them again at the 12-week mark and this is what I found.

Derwent Watercolor Pencil Test 12 Weeks

There does appear to be some dulling of the color, but it’s not significant.

However, I need to make two points about my test.

One, it’s in no way scientific or conclusive. We had a lot of gray days this spring, so the exposure of the colors may not have been as strong as it could have been.

Two, I didn’t use very much water to activate the color. The more water you use, the more likely the colors are to become fugitive.

However, given my results, I’d have no difficulties using all of these colors (except maybe the 4-rated and less colors) for fine art if I didn’t plan to sell the original work.

Drawing with Derwent Watercolor Pencils

From the first stroke to the last, these pencils were a delight to use, even on a paper that I was previously unfamiliar with. Color goes on with ease, even with light pressure. They have a soft almost creamy feel when used dry. Not quite as soft as Prismacolor, but much softer than Faber-Castell Polychromos, for example.

They’re also fun to use when you apply color wet. I did a lot of work by wetting a brush, stroking the brush across the sharpened pencil, then brushing the color onto wet or dry paper.

Remember I mentioned that broken pigment core? I wasn’t too upset because pieces of pigment core can be dissolved in warm water to create liquid pigment. It’s a great way to blend colors before putting them on paper.

I’ve drawn several pieces on different types of paper. I’ve also used them wet and dry, and tried several different ways to use them wet. As I prepare this post for publication, I’m working on a sky and cloud study for a tutorial, so you can see how they perform in action.

What Do I Think of the Derwent Watercolor Pencils?

I’m a little disappointed so many of them are fugitive. The pencils are so easy to use dry and wet that it’s a shame five of them are too fugitive for my liking.

But that is the only strike I have against them.

Colors lay-down very smooth, the pencils are highly pigmented. The earth tones, blues, and greens are perfect for landscape and animal art, even in just the 12-pencil set.

Time will tell on the fade rate, but I have no objections to using all the colors for sketching and studies, and will be using the lightfast colors for finished pieces.

So if you want to try watercolor pencils, but don’t have a lot of money to spend, you can hardly go wrong with a small set of these.

And What about the Canson L’Aquarelle Paper?

I didn’t forget!

Most of the work I did with Derwent Watercolour Pencils was on Canson L’Aquarelle Watercolor Paper. I was as pleased with the paper as with the pencils. It’s very much like Stonehenge Aqua in feel, and performs pretty much the same way, too.

I bought 140lb hot press because it’s smoother than cold press watercolor paper, so is more suited to colored pencils. The 9×12 inch pad contains 25 sheets, so it’s about a dollar a sheet. I cut the sheets in half for my small works.

It would also be ideal for ACEO art, since it’s heavy enough to withstand the use of water.

The only thing I haven’t yet tried with it is dry drawing. As soft to the touch and smooth as it is, I have no doubts it will perform well for that application as well.

Finding Your Artistic Style

Let’s talk about style today. More specifically, finding your artistic style.

Have you ever wondered how to find your artistic style? Maybe the following reader question echoes your own.

I am 67 and my life became so much more adventurous due to colored pencils.

I would very much like to develop my own style, but I hope I am not too old to do so, because I think it needs a lot of time and patience to develop a personal style. What are your thoughts about developing your own style?

Finding Your Artistic Style

This reader is right in one respect. It does take time.

But I would replace the word “develop” with the word “find,” because I think that’s how most artists come by their style. They find it.

Or have it pointed out to them by other people.

What is Artistic Style, Anyway?

An artistic style is the style of an artist’s body of work. There are literally hundreds of different things that go into an artist’s style, but the main ones may include the subjects they prefer, the colors they use (also known as their “palette”,) how they combine the colors, the drawing methods they use, and even their favorite drawing sizes.

All of those things and more contribute to the overall look of each piece.

Style happens when a large collection of pieces all look similar, even if the subjects are different.

Most artists don’t deliberately set out to develop a style. It just happens as they create. Given enough time and enough artworks, style emerges.

How I Found My Artistic Style

I know from personal experience this is true.

After years of painting horses and showing art at local county fairs, I missed a year. Later, a neighbor asked why I didn’t have anything at the fair. I asked how she knew I didn’t and she said, “I didn’t see anything that was your style.”

Up to that point, I hadn’t thought about style and didn’t know I had one. I just liked painting horses.

So it’s likely that your style has already begun taking shape, and you just don’t realize it.

Finding Your Artistic Style

Yes, it will take time and probably dozens of finished pieces.

But it will happen.

When you create consistently and over time, people will recognize your art without having to see your name on it.

And it’s quite likely that other people can already see it.

Is It Ever Too Late to Find Your Artistic Style?

No! So long as you have breath in you and the desire to make art, you will develop an artistic style. It’s bound to happen. In fact, you won’t be able to keep it from happening!

Unless, of course, you focus so much on style that you don’t draw.

Are Prismacolors Right for You?

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Prismacolor pencils over the last several years. Some artists love them; some hate them. After all the debating, you have only one question. Are Prismacolors right for you or not?

Are Prismacolors Right for You

Last week, I shared reasons you might want to try colored pencils.

This week, it seems appropriate to answer some of the more common questions about Prismacolor pencils, and give you tips for deciding whether or not Prismacolor pencils are right for you.

A Little Bit of History

I always like to provide a little background for discussions like this, because background can provide insight into present day problems. Don’t worry. It’s going to be brief and personal.

I started using Prismacolors back in the 1990s, when they were Berol Prismacolor. There was no better pencil so widely available (in the US at least) and at reasonable prices. They were a high-quality pencil and problems like breaking leads, split casings, and off-center pigment cores were unheard of.

At least I never heard of them.

I had no problems with the pencils. They were perfect for the work I was doing, which was almost exclusively horse portraits.

Sometime since then, Prismacolor changed hands. Berol sold the brand to Sanford, which subsequently sold the brand to Newell-Rubbermaid. Manufacturing changed location and artists began having problems shortly afterward.

I used Prismacolor throughout all those changes, and to be honest, I had very few problems with them.

One batch of Indigo Blue pencils were so gritty I couldn’t use them.

Some pencils did break during sharpening or drawing, and there were a few that broke so much, they were useless.

I did discover (or maybe started noticing is a better way to say it) that quite a few pencils had off-center pigment cores, and I learned still later that sharpening problems often result from off-center cores.

More recently, I started finding pencils that were warped. Fortunately, I usually buy open stock from a local suppler, and learned how to check for warped pencils, so that problem was solved.

But overall, I’ve had relatively few problems with Prismacolor pencils.

Then came the spring of 2017.

The Case of the Fugitive Pencils

Early in 2017, I started hearing a word that aroused concern. Lightfastness. Specifically, the poor lightfast ratings of many Prismacolor pencils.

I believe I mentioned that I was using colored pencils almost exclusively for portraits, right? Portraits people were paying a good amount of money for.
I’d also started doing landscapes, which I hoped to sell.

So it was discouraging (to say the least) to discover that some of my favorite blues and greens, as well as a number of other colors, were fugitve. They faded over time, even in the best conditions.

How permanent were all those portraits I’d created? Would I start hearing from clients about disappearing portraits? It still gives me a twinge of concern thinking those thoughts!

So I went through my pencils, and sorted out all the fugitive colors. The pile of safe colors was almost the same size as the pile of fugitive colors, but I confess I erred on the side of caution. I threw out everything rated III, IV, or V.

I still use the other colors and I still love the way they go onto paper and the effects I can get. I also still miss colors like Sky Blue Light, Light Cerulean Blue, and Limepeel.

But I refuse to use them for anything except sketching and filling in my monthly habit tracker.

All of That to Say This….

What does that mean to you?

It means that what I’m about to say is being said from the standpoint of personal experience. Nothing more, nothing less.

You want to know if it’s safe to use Prismacolor pencils or not, and I’m here to tell you it is.

Depending on what you want to do with your art.

Reasons to Use Prismacolor

So how can you know if Prismacolors are good deal or not?

You Color for Fun and Relaxation

If adult coloring books are your thing, then by all means invest in that full set of Prismacolor pencils.

I don’t do very much in the adult coloring book line—I don’t have much time, to be honest—but I have read plenty of articles about the subject written by artists who do. Almost to the artist, they recommend Prismacolor because of the smooth color lay down, wide variety of colors, reasonable cost, and availability.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - Adult Coloring Pages

I do, too, and for all the same reasons.

In fact, when I doodle with a coloring page, I often use those fugitive colors.

You’re Crafty

You’re making greeting cards, coloring in adult coloring books, or doing crafty things. Color permanence doesn’t concern you.

Color selection, ease of use, and price do.

Prismacolors are probably your best choice. There are over 150 colors altogether. They lay down like a dream, and blend beautifully. You can get them almost anywhere in the United States, and in most cases they’re a good value.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're Crafty

They’re also artist-grade, which means pigment quality is high. That means you’ll get a lot more color per pencil than you’d get if you purchased student-grade pencils.

You’re New to Colored Pencils

You think you’ll enjoy them, but you don’t know. You’re not interested—right now—in making art for sale. You just want to draw.

You also don’t want to spend an-arm-and-a-leg on something you may not enjoy.

But you want to try the medium with the best quality tools you can find.

Prismacolor is the answer. They offer students and beginning artists the best combination of quality and value around. Yes there are better pencils, but they’re more expensive.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're New to Colored Pencils

And there are cheaper pencils, but they’re lower quality. Even if you get them at a bargain basement price, you may soon find they don’t put much color on the paper or are a struggle to use for other reasons.

Prismacolor is, in my opinion, the only way to go if this describes you.

You Make Fine Art, but Sell Reproductions, Not Originals

The fact of the matter is, you often keep your originals yourself because you like them so much, or you give them to family members or friends. What you sell are reproductions.

Most reproductions are made with lightfast inks, so the lightfastness of the pencils does not matter. At. All.

Use every pencil in the set, lightfast and not-so-lightfast. Get top-notch photographs or scans of the finished pieces, and sell reproductions to your heart’s content!

Then give the original pieces to whomever you like, or hang them on your own walls.

Just make sure to advise friends and family to frame those works of art under UV resistant glass and never, never, NEVER hang the art in direct sunlight.

So Are Prismacolors Right for You?

Prismacolor pencils are perfect for uses like those described above, as well as many others I didn’t touch upon.

By the way, the same applies if you make art mostly to teach others.

In other words, if you don’t care to sell your originals, it doesn’t really matter whether they fade away with time or not. It seems a shame to me to put that kind of time into something that will fade whether you sell it or not, but it’s really up to you, the artist.

Have a question about Prismacolor pencils I didn’t cover? Click here to ask me by email.

Not the Usual Tuesday Post

You won’t have to read far to realize this is NOT the usual Tuesday post. The fact of the matter is, the title gives it away!

I thought about not posting at all, and just letting things fall into place on their own.

Not the Usual Tuesday Post

Then I remembered my reaction when one of the artists I follow on YouTube seemed to suddenly disappear. Being a creative person with a fiction writer’s imagination, all sorts of explanations came to mind.

None of them were good, and every one was worse than the one before!

Not the Usual Tuesday Post

I don’t want to leave you in the same position.

So a brief explanation is in order.

Physical Ailments

Last Thursday, I hurt my back in some way. I don’t remember doing anything in particular. I do remember the twinge that turned into something more throughout the morning and afternoon. By the end of the day, it was all I could do to get up out of a chair.

You know what that meant.

No drawing.

Not much writing.

Lots of taking things easy, and a lot of taking two, three, and four times as much time as usual to do normal things.

Unexpected Responsibilities

Two of our friendly community cats had kittens recently. Thursday of last week, one of those kittens was brought to our front door. I monitored its progress throughout the day, but although the mother cat stayed around, she did very little with the kitten. At the end of the day, my husband and I decided it was officially an orphan and took over it’s care.

Sunday, another one appeared, and yet another was squalling on the front porch Monday morning.

The first kitten is doing well. Eating on its own and old enough to start thinking about using a litter box.

The third one is the same age, but is not yet eating on its own. It’s eyes aren’t even open.

The middle kitten is much smaller, probably about two weeks old. It is not eating on it’s own either. I’m having to feed Kitten 2 and 3 with a dropper, bit by bit.

What All This Means for You, My Loyal Reader

A bad back I could handle and keep up with most of my work.

I could manage orphaned kittens and keep up with most of my work, too. I’ve done both before.

But having a bad back, and orphans to care for (and three-hour, 24-7 feeding cycles) is making it difficult to do more than just the basics. Add a little sleep deprivation and you get the picture.

So for the time being, I’m planning to post here on a reduced schedule. I sincerely hope to get one post a week out, but if I miss a Saturday, you now know why.

Unless, of course, you’d like kitten updates. Then I’ll have plenty to write about!

In the Meantime

Thank you so much for your patience, and your loyalty. It’s been an interesting few days, and there’s the possibility of it getting even more interesting.

There always is!

Check out the most popular posts and pages to the right for good reading. If you’re hankering for a full length tutorial, check out the tutorials page.

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

There are lots of reasons to try colored pencils for fine art or fun art. I started using them mainly because they’re easier to travel with than oil paints (and cleaner, too!)

But the longer I’ve used them, the more reasons I’ve found to recommend them to others.

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

Today, I want to share six of the best reasons (in my opinion) you should try colored pencils if you haven’t already.

(Or to give them another try if you tried them before and weren’t sure they were for you.)

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

#1: They’re Relatively Inexpensive

You can spend $4 a pencil if you want to, but you don’t have to. And if you’re just getting started, you probably shouldn’t.

For most people who want to try colored pencils, the basic Prismacolor pencils you find at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart are an excellent place to begin.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Inexpensive

You don’t need the full set, either. A set of 12 gives you enough colors to try. You’ll be able to see how they feel to draw with, how they go onto the paper, and how they look when you layer various colors one over another.

And even if the colored pencils you’re looking at seem expensive, take a look at the get-started supplies for oil painting, watercolor, or acrylics!

#2: You Can Get Them Almost Anywhere

Most Wal-Mart type stores carry colored pencils in some form.

So do most office supply stores and even some print shops.

And of course colored pencils are a staple at most hobby shops, art stores, and crafting supply stores.

You can even buy them from eBay and Amazon if you don’t mind paying for shipping.

#3: You Don’t Need a Bunch of Special Equipment

No fancy easels, canvases, or dozens of brushes. No paint thinners or drying retardants, and no varnishes or fixatives.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - No Fancy Supplies

Just pencils, paper, and a sharpener.

What could possibly be easier?

#4: You Don’t Need Solvents or Other Toxic Materials

You can use a wide range of drawing techniques with colored pencils without using smelly or toxic solvents. Many artists, even advanced artists, don’t use any of those tools and they produce vibrant, real-to-life works of art.

You can use those things if you wish. They can be time saving tools if you decide colored pencil is your medium.

But if you’re just getting started, leave those things on the shelf.
Get an extra sheet or pad of paper instead!

#5: They’re Clean

Colored pencils are a dry medium. They go on the paper dry and they stay dry. You don’t need to worry about cleaning up afterward, unless you spill shavings out of your sharpener.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Clean

I mentioned above that you don’t need toxic solvents or other materials to use colored pencils.

The even better news is that most colored pencils are also non-toxic to use. Just don’t eat them, chew on them, or suck them.

(Yeah, I know. You’d think that warning shouldn’t be necessary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself with a pen or pencil in my mouth while pondering something or studying a drawing. NOT a good idea!)

#6: They’re Portable

This is the primary reason I took up colored pencils years ago. They’re portable. Because they’re clean and dry, you can travel with them and use them almost anywhere without worrying about leaving or making a mess.

I took them to horse shows and other venues, and was able to work on a piece while on site. They were a lot easier to travel with than the oil paints I’d been using for years.

That’s why I now use them almost exclusively. Even in the studio, they’re mess-free.

Bonus Tip: They’re Great for the Kids, Too

If you have kids and are looking for an art-related activity you can do together, there is no better medium than colored pencils.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Kids

You and your budding artist can use the same pencils without worries about messes, unsafe materials, or the other cautions required with many other mediums.

And if you find colored pencils aren’t for you, turn them over to the youngsters in your household.

I’ve put together a list of Basic Drawing Lesson Materials & Supplies that you can download for free, then print it and take it shopping. It includes not only the items you need, but my recommendations on brands and size (when applicable.)

I hope you find it useful.

And I hope you also enjoy your adventure with colored pencils, no matter where on the journey you may be!

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil?

Can you use graphite under colored pencil? Does graphite work as an under drawing for colored pencil work?

There are a lot of ways to draw an under drawing for colored pencils. Umber under drawings. Complementary under drawings. Monochromatic under drawings. The fact of the matter is that you can use any of these or combine them almost any way you want.

But what about using graphite for the under drawing?

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil

The most obvious reason many artists think graphite and colored pencils are compatible is that they’re both pencils. They’re also both dry mediums and you apply them in many of the same ways.

But you really mix them with success?

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil?

The short answer is, yes, you can. But there are some unique qualities to each that make them not entirely compatible.

The biggest difference is that colored pencils are made by mixing pigment with wax and/or oil and a small amount of clay so the pigment can be formed into a core.

Wax and/or oil holds the color together within the pencil, and also allows it to be put onto paper. It’s fairly resistant to smearing or erasing.

The core of a graphite pencil is made by mixing graphite powder with a clay-based binder. This binder holds the graphite together inside the pencil, and also allows the graphite to be easily transferred to paper.

However, it is not permanent, and is easily erased or smeared (blended.)

So if you plan to try graphite with colored pencil, you need to observe two very important things.

Always use graphite first, then colored pencil.

Always, always, always use the graphite first and the colored pencil second. Colored pencil will stick to paper that has graphite on it, but it will be very difficult to get graphite to stick to colored pencil. The heavier the layers of colored pencil, the less likely graphite will stick to it.

Even if you used oil-based colored pencils.

Consider sealing the graphite before adding colored pencil.

Graphite muddies colored pencil if you don’t seal it before adding the colored pencils. This may not be a concern if you’re making a dark background, but it will damage or darken lighter colors immediately. Once that happens, it’s difficult to correct the problem.

Graphite also gets shiny if you apply it too heavily. Since the purpose for using graphite is creating a dark value, and since you achieve dark values with lots of layers, or heavier pressure, you may very well have to deal with a shiny surface by the time you get to the colored pencil stage.

One way to seal a graphite under drawing before adding colored pencil.

The easiest way to prepare a graphite drawing for colored pencil work is to seal it with a couple of layers of fixative. You may have to try more than one brand to find one that works best for your uses.

Spray the drawing at least twice, by holding the can upright and about twelve inches from the drawing.

Start at one side of the drawing and move across the drawing to the other side. Begin and end off the edge of the paper to avoid excess fixative along the edges of the drawing.

If the paper is very large, move down and repeat.

NOTE: I always spray a drawing the same way I read a page, starting at the upper left corner and moving left to right, and down. You don’t have to do it this way if another process is more comfortable.

Let the paper dry for at least 30 minutes, then repeat.

WARNING: Work in a well-ventilated area. I prefer to do this kind of work outside, but any room with good ventilation is acceptable. You may also want to consider using some kind of respiratory protection.

How to Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step-by-Step

An Optional First Step

Use masking film or masking fluid to protect the subject. They both work by covering the parts of the paper you want to be white, but each one works best in different ways.

Masking fluid is a liquid mask you brush onto the paper. When it dries, you can work over it carefully, then peel it off. Just make sure not to leave it on the paper too long, or it may discolor the paper.

Fluid is good for protecting small areas or details because you can apply it with a brush. You will ruin the brush, so don’t use expensive brushes.

Masking film comes in sheets, which you can cut to shape, then press onto your paper. It’s ideal for larger areas or for shapes that have smooth edges.

You can use both forms together.

Since my demo drawing was small, I didn’t mask out the main subject.

Step 1: Shade the background with graphite

This step will take several layers, even if you use a very soft graphite pencil. I used a 6B pencil to shade this drawing on Stonehenge paper.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 1

TIP: Graphite pencils are graded by softness. HB is about in the middle. Harder pencils are labeled with an H; softer pencils with a B. The higher the number, the harder or softer the pencil. 6B is softer than 2B. 6H is harder than 2H, and so on.

After shading, blend the graphite with a tortillion, paper towel, bath tissue or cotton ball. The fact of the matter is that you can blend with almost anything soft. Brushes are even good blending tools.

Here’s the previous layer of graphite blended.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 2

Continue to layer and blend until the background is as dark as you want it (and can get it with graphite.) I did three rounds of layering and blending to get the result below.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 3

Step 2: Seal the graphite

When the background is finished to your satisfaction, seal it as described above.

Step 3: Add Color

Start layering color over the background.

You may need to adjust the amount of pressure you use when you work over graphite. I ordinarily begin with very light pressure, but that made no impact at all on the graphite background. So I increased pressure until I was almost burnishing.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil - Adding Color

You will probably want to add more than one color. I used only a dark green for this demonstration and it worked, but adding blue, brown, or even red makes for a much richer dark value.

For comparison, I also shaded the tree with the same green. I used a variety of pressures, including heavy pressure, so you could see how much darker the graphite made the background.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil - Adding More Color


Personally, I very rarely mix graphite and colored pencil. This method didn’t produce the results I hoped for, nor was it any faster than drawing a background with colored pencils alone.

For the ways I work, simply layering colored pencil and blending with sovlent produce better results more quickly.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Graphite can produce some very interesting and unique effects if used properly. And you can lift highlights with an eraser or sticky stuff, so long as you do it before sealing the drawing.

So if you’re looking for a different way or a different look, give graphite and colored pencil a try.

For information on using graphite under colored pencil, read How to Use Graphite Under a Colored Pencil Drawing, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Today’s colored pencil questions concern blending, color matching, and Prismacolor alternatives.

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Following are today’s questions.

Remember that if you have a question, you can always email it to me. I try to answer every email I get personally. Your question could be the inspiration for a blog post!

Answers to 5 Colored Pencil Questions

I’m not sure which pencils are blend-able, and don’t want to keep buying pencils that don’t achieve this. Help!

Most colored pencils are blendable, even if all you can do is layer them.

But the better the pencil, the more likely it is to be blend-able in ways other than by layering.

Most pencils can be blended with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits or turpentine. Different brands—and sometimes different colors—may react differently, so you need to test them on scrap paper first.

Most pencils can also be blended by burnishing.  You can use either a colored pencil or a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) to burnish, and most of the pencils I’ve used can be burnished. It’s just takes more effort with some brands than others.

Is there a solution blender available that doesn’t have fumes? I’m asthmatic and very sensitive to odors.

Fumes and odors are not always the same thing. All odors are detectable by your nose. You can smell them.

But there are fumes that are odorless. So you can have an odorless solvent, and still have fumes. That’s why it’s so important to use any solvent with caution. Be smart!

Odorless mineral spirits and similar solvents are free from odors. Some are natural solvents, and some are not.

I’m not asthmatic or sensitive to odors, so can’t advise you from personal experience. So I suggest is you speak with other artists who are sensitive to odors and see what they recommend. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art is one such artist, and I know from listening to her live streams, that many in her audience also use odorless solvents.

You might also contact Lisa and John at Sharpened Artist Podcast. They’re always looking for topics for their weekly podcast about all things colored pencil. If they haven’t already talked about solvents, you may provide the topic for the next podcast!

Beyond that, consult your doctor or healthcare provider.

I am tired of the Prismacolor Premier because of their fragility and high waxy content. Just too many problems to justify the expense. How are Derwent, Faber Castell in this regard?

If you want pencils that aren’t waxy, you may want to take a look at oil-based pencils. There aren’t as many brands to choose from, but there are three that I recommend. Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt, and Koh-I-Nor Polycolor. I do use Faber-Castell Polychromos, and have a set of Koh-I-Nor Progresso, and believe other Koh-I-Nor products are also high quality.

As for the two brands you named specifically:

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are oil-based. They do contain a limited amount of wax, but the primary binder is oil. Usually vegetable oil. You will have no problems (or very few) with wax bloom or wax build up with these pencils.

I’m very happy with the Polychromos, and find myself reaching for them more than the Prismacolor pencils. They don’t have quite as many earth tones as I’d like (brown is my favorite color,) but most of the blues and greens are perfect for animals and landscapes.

They can be pricey unless you buy them from Dick Blick or some other online supplier, but the price is well worth it, in my opinion.


Derwent are wax-based, but not as waxy as Prismacolor pencils. I’ve heard very good reports about the Derwent Coloursoft and Procolour pencils, as well as the Artists line of colored pencils.

At the moment, the only Derwent’s I use are the watercolor pencils, so they may not be of any help to you.

However, they draw very well dry, so they’re good for traditional drawing methods. I’m very pleased with the set I have, which is only 12 colors. They’re well-made and feel solid in my hand. I’ve used them dry, and with water, and have been very happy with them.

They’re reasonably priced, too. I paid a little under $20 for a set of 12 at Hobby Lobby. Use the 40% off coupon, and they’re a great value.

My recommendation? If you can find any of these (or other pencils) in open stock in stores, buy a few and try them. What works for me and my methods may not work for you and your methods. So try as many as you can.

I have just started using pencils after years with oils. I like dramatic pictures so I’m using black paper. Once I’ve put in a starter coat of white for flower petals I’m getting resistance to later coats. I’m using Caran D’ache supracolour.

I can’t speak about Caran d’Ache Supracolour pencils, since I’ve never used them.

But the problem sounds more like a paper problem. If the paper is too smooth or slick, it will not take very many layers of color before you start to experience the type of resistance described in the question.

So the first thing I’d suggest is to try a different paper. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for colored pencil, but make sure to use the back. It’s the smoothest and behaves best with colored pencil unless you want a lot of texture.

Second, I’d ordinarily suggest that you use a harder pencil like Caran d’Ache Pablo or Prismacolor Verithin for the white under drawing. But Supracolour are a watercolor pencil, so they are going to be harder than other pencils.

In addition, you won’t want to layer Supracolour (or any watercolor pencil) over a traditional colored pencil, because it may not stick.

There are a couple of other things you might try.

Draw the Black Background

Since you’re using a watercolor pencil, paint the background with a combination of black and other dark colors. You’ll get a black background that’s richer than plain black paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes and Stonehenge papers both stand up well to limited amounts of water.

You might also try painting the white under drawing with white watercolor pencil. That will preserve the tooth, and that may solve your problem.

So the only other thing I can suggest is to try a very light coat of a workable fixative made for colored pencils over the under drawing, then try layering color over that. This, however, is a last resort.

I am a brand new color pencil person and have been working with Darrel Tank’s online classes. He does not offer much as regards color pencils and uses Prismacolor Col-erase. Is there a good tool for matching between brands?

Many manufacturers offer color charts for their colored pencil lines. You should be able to match colors with reasonable accuracy by comparing color charts.

Beyond that, my best suggestion is to find a store that carries open stock and physically compare the colors.


I hope my answers to these colored pencil questions have helped you. Or at least pointed you in the right direction.

Of course, the real answer to most questions about colored pencils (or any art medium,) is experimentation. Even if the experiments don’t work, the answers are much more likely to “stick” in your mind if you try for yourself.

At least that’s the way it works for me.

Want to learn more?

I also recently answered four reader questions in an EmptyEasel post.

Readers wanted to know whether or not they could use White Out or correction tape on colored pencil pieces, suggestions on the best illustration board, information on white specks left after spraying with fixative, and how to draw like an expert.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

So what’s the biggest mistake I made as  a beginning artist?

I cannot tell a lie; I made a LOT of mistakes as a beginning artist.

Some of the mistakes were the normal trial-and-error stuff every self-taught artist encounters. After all, if someone isn’t teaching you, helping you avoid certain pitfalls, you have to find them for yourself.

Things like learning that you always paint fat over lean with oils, and that if you don’t let paint dry thoroughly, it may not stick to the canvas.

And things like its okay to use oils over acrylics, but never use acrylics over oils.

Some of my mistakes were pretty big, and a lot of them were pretty tough to swallow. Red face and apology sort of mistakes.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

Then there are the big mistakes.

The kind of mistakes that hindered my progress as an artist and could have torpedoed my chances of success altogether.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

The biggest mistake I made as a beginning artist was wanting to be the next Somebody.

I admired Fred Stone‘s stunning racehorse art and thought if I could be just like him, I’d have it made.

Guy Coheleach was another. Back in the 70s, I came across a two-fold, full sheet brochure filled with images of his wildlife work. I carried that thing around for years, poring over those beautiful paintings and wishing I could paint like that.

There were other artists, too. They all inspired me to create great art, but they also tempted me to create art just like they were creating.

Is there anything wrong with admiring the work of more established artists?

Absolutely not. Established artists give new artists a visible goal to work toward. That’s always a good thing.

Established artists also have a lot to teach those coming along behind them (something I’m learning more about every day.)

The fact of the matter is that I often recommend to new artists that they find an artist working in the same medium, the same style, and producing the kind of work the new artist wants to produce. Students should then learn how that artist works, what tools they use, their methods, and everything else there is to learn.

So what’s the problem?

The problem for most beginning artists—yes, including me—is that they start wanting to be the next Fred Stone, Guy Coheleach, or whomever.

There will only ever be one Fred Stone or Guy Coheleach. No matter how good I get, it will not be me!

So instead of working to become the next incarnation of the artist you most admire, strive to become the best YOU you can be. Learn everything you can from your role model, but work toward developing your own style.

No, that won’t guarantee success, but you have a great opportunity to become the best you the world’s ever seen.

Try to be someone else, and the best you can hope for is second-best.

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Have you ever worked and worked and worked on a piece, but it never quite seemed done? I know I have. As long as I’ve been an artist, I sometimes wonder how to finish art that never seems finished.

I’ll bet you have too.

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Part of the problem can be perfectionism. I wrestle with that on almost every creative project. Every piece begins with my vision for how it will turn out and it’s always great.

Then reality sets in.

As good as the piece may be, it never measures up to the original vision, so it never seems finished. Talk about discouraging!

So for me—and maybe for you, too—it’s important to remind myself that I’m not perfect and that nothing I produce will ever be perfect. It can only ever be as good as it can be.

But is that all there is to it?

No (and oh, how I wish it were!) But don’t despair. I have learned a few other things over the years that may help you, too.

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Put down your pencils and step away from the drawing board.

I’m sorely tempted to add, “and no one will get hurt.” 😉

Why is this so important that I listed it first?

Because sometimes when I don’t put down the pencils and step away, something does get hurt. I end up making a mistake that takes hours to fix. Sometimes I totally ruin a piece. Had I stopped when I first started having trouble, I wouldn’t have made the mistake.

So sometimes the best thing to do with a piece that never seems finished is to set it aside for a few days. Maybe as long as a week. Put it in a place where it’s out of sight, so you’re not constantly looking at it.

Then take it out and look at it again. It’s quite likely that just giving yourself permission not to examine it every day will allow you to see it in a different light.

Art That Never Seems Finished - 1

I can’t tell you how many times I set aside a painting I didn’t think was right, and when I looked at it later, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

Just sign it and move on.

Sometimes the only thing to do is sign the piece and move on to the next one.

There are times—even now—when I come across a problem I lack the skills or tools to deal with. In cases like that, the only real solution is to sign the piece and put it away.

You can tell yourself that when you develop the skills or get the tools to fix that piece, you’ll finish it. That has helped me put something away when I didn’t think it was finished.

Art That Never Seems Finished - 2

But you know what? Most of the time, I never go back to it.

Usually, by the time I see it again, it doesn’t look so bad.

Review the art in a different way.

For me, that means scanning or photographing a piece and looking at it on the computer screen. For you, it might mean snapping a shot on your phone and looking at the artwork that way.

There’s something about seeing your work in digital form that points out mistakes you didn’t otherwise see. I don’t know what it is. I just know it works.

Don’t have a computer or phone with a camera? Hold your artwork up to a mirror and look at it in reverse. That’s a good way to spot problem areas, too.

Read How to Judge Your Own Work for more tips on evaluating your art.

Photoshop it.

I’m serious. Once you scan or photograph your artwork, play with it in a photo editing program. Up the contrast. Change the color settings.

Feeling frustrated? Crop it! Yes! Crop it in different ways to see if a different configuration or composition solves the problem.

The neat thing is that you can do this digitally without touching the physical art.

And sometimes after you’ve done all this cutting and changing, you discover the real thing looks better than you thought.


If you get the idea that dealing with art that never seems finished is a lot of  mind games, then you’ve gotten the right idea. At least in my case, the reasons I think a piece isn’t finished are all in my head.

Actually, I can narrow the cause down even further, and it’s this.

I don’t think I have the skill to create that initial vision.

The truth is, I don’t. Those visions are always so perfect, after all.

But the truth also is that a vision is usually just a vision, and we artists need to find ways to convince ourselves that we have or can get the skills to improve our work, no matter where we are in our art career.

If you want to avoid this problem as much as possible, read How to Finish What You Start (The Artist’s Edition), which I wrote for EmptyEasel. I can’t guarantee you’ll finish every drawing you start, but if you follow these suggestions, you will finish a lot more pieces than you give up on.

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

For any artists working in realism, an accurate line drawing is essential. There are many ways to produce accurate line drawings. Today, I’d like to share a few benefits of using a drawing grid.

The post is written in response to a reader, who asked:

I want to ask you about [the] grid technique, can you … explain the benefits of the grid technique in drawing humans?

I used the grid method for years, so can happily describe just a few of the benefits for the portrait artist and any artist who wants accurate line drawings.

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid 2

There are, of course, a number of ways to develop accurate line drawings. Tracing from a reference photo and drawing freehand are two common ways to create a line drawing.

Drawing directly from life is another way to create a line drawing, and you can also use a more technical method of measuring with drafting tools.

So what makes a drawing grid so great? Just what are the benefits of using a drawing grid?

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

There are as many benefits to drawing grids as there are artists, so let me focus on a few that have been of special help to me.

Composition & Design Tool

You may not think of it this way, but a drawing grid can be used as a design tool.

You’ve heard of the rule of thirds, right? That’s the rule that divides any composition of any size and shape into horizontal and vertical thirds. The idea is that the center of interest should fall on or near one of the places where a horizontal and vertical line cross.

In this photo, the tree falls right on an intersection.

Also notice that the horizon is near the lower horizontal line. That’s a good thing, too. The composition is not divided into two equal halves, which can make for disjointed drawings.

Using a Drawing Grid - Rule of Thirds

Those lines form a very basic drawing grid. So even if you don’t use this grid to sketch out the landscape, you are still using a grid.

It doesn’t matter what subject you’re drawing, you can design the best possible composition by using a simple grid as shown above.

Reference Points

The lines and intersections of the grid also provide reference points for placing the features of the face and other details. If, for example, the subject’s eye falls at the intersection of two lines on the reference photo, you can place it at the same intersection on the drawing paper.

Not only does a drawing grid provide a map of sorts for placing the features of your subject’s face and clothing; it provides a map for the position of your subject within the composition.

Simplifies Drawing Complex Subjects

For me, using a drawing grid was a good way to draw complicated subjects more accurately. After I’d drawn enough horses using the grid method, I could draw them more accurately freehand or from life. So it’s also a training device.

But when it comes to complex subjects, like this one, a drawing grid is a must!

(Personally speaking, a drawing grid is a major help in drawing mechanical subjects, too.)

Using a Drawing Grid - Complex Compositions

There’s nothing wrong with using a drawing grid for all of your work, though. Especially if portrait work is your specialty.


The grid method of drawing allows you to produce an accurate line drawing by reducing your subject to a series of small squares. You can then draw the shapes within each square, a technique that is often easier than trying to draw the entire subject all at the same time.

Read How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method, a tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.


Those are a few of the benefits of using a drawing grid. I’m sure there are others, but you get the point.

Now that you know some of the benefits of using a drawing grid, you might want to learn how to put a drawing grid on a digital photo. You’re in the right place. I can show that, too, right here.