Want to Improve Your Colored Pencil Drawings? Try a Drawing Kit!

Want to learn more about drawing with colored pencil, but don’t have the time for an art class or online art course?

Introducing the solution!

A colored pencil drawing kit.

Yorkie Drawing Kit
Colored pencil pro, Gemma Gylling has almost single-handedly made suede board one of the most popular surfaces for drawing animals in colored pencil. Click on image to read more.

Ann Kullberg’s colored pencil drawing kits are the next best thing to taking an online course. I’ve done them for my own instruction and have used them as class projects.

The demonstration pieces are created by colored pencil artists like Gemma Gylling (see the Yorkie at left), Karen Hull (baby portrait below), Anne deMille Flood, and Cynthia Knox.

Kits are available for all levels from first-time artists to advanced artists. It doesn’t matter what your current skill level, you will find a project that suits you and will help you push your skills to the next level.

It doesn’t matter what your favorite subject is, either. Subjects include portraits, pets and animals, florals, landscapes, and still life subjects.

These drawing kits are also a great way to learn new methods. The Yorkie kit featured here shows you how to draw on suede board and includes a piece of suede board.

Interested in drawing on Mylar film or in combining dry pencils and water soluble pencils? There are kits to teach you that, too.

In short, there’s a kit designed to teach you just about anything you want to learn when it comes to drawing with colored pencils! I wish kits like this had been available when I was learning to draw with colored pencils.

Each kit includes:

  • Step by step images
  • Clear instructions
  • A line drawing to transfer
  • A reference photo
  • Drawing paper (not included with digital downloads or in-depth tutorials)
Baby Girl on Black Mat Drawing Kit
Learn how to draw baby skin tones on black mat board. Click on image to read more.

As if that weren’t enough, Ann’s return policy is pretty simple.  If you don’t like your kit, you can return it for an exchange or refund. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

If you want to be a better artist, but are on a limited budget, these drawing kits may be exactly what you’re looking for.

But don’t take my word for it. Browse the collection and see for yourself.


I am a participant in Ann’s affiliate program. That means that if you follow these links and buy a kit (or anything else), Ann will pay me a commission. For more information on how that works, read my Affiliate Information page. If you choose to do so, thank you very much!

If you prefer, you can go directly to Ann’s website and make your purchase that way. The choice is yours.

No matter how you purchase one of these kits, you will benefit and your drawing will be better.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Drawing With a Grid, Step 1

A few weeks ago, I showed you how to prepare a digital photo for use as a reference photo. Another article shows how to put a grid on a digital image using Photoshop. Today let me show you how to draw a horse using a grid.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Before I begin, though, I need to let you know that it’s okay if grids don’t help you. They don’t help everyone. The fact is that drawing with a grid causes more confusion than comfort to some artists. All those lines! Where do you begin and how do you keep them straight?

I confess that drawing with a grid doesn’t always work for me, either. I had so much trouble getting perfectly square grids by hand that I finally resorted to making them in Photoshop!

But if you do like using a grid, I hope my digital grid helps you use them more effectively. Let’s get to it!

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Here’s my reference photo with the grid in place. I chose red for the grid because it shows up the best on all the colors in this image. Click here to see how I made the grid.

I print the grid without the image on a blank sheet of paper and use this for the initial drawing. If the drawing is 8.5 by 14 inches or smaller, I print the grid full size. The grids for larger drawings are printed at a reduced scale.

I printed the drawing grid on 24lb inkjet paper, which is smooth enough for a good detail drawing and sturdy enough to allow a lot of erasing.

It’s also an inexpensive substitute for most drawing papers.

Drawing the Horse

Step 1

Rough in the large shapes. Concentrate on size and placement. Don’t worry about detail; that will come later.

Start with the largest shape first and add other shapes around it. The largest shape is usually the horse. Everything else is backdrop.

Don’t be afraid of changing the composition, even if you did compose the image with the camera and/or cropped or resized the reference photo before you started drawing. Cameras capture everything with equal importance. To the lens of a camera, the horse is no more important than the fences or trees in the background.

Eliminate details that complicate the composition or distract from the subject. Make background items smaller or move them around if that helps your composition.

For example, in the drawing below, you’ll notice that I simplified the fences to the left of the horse. There are now four simple rails instead of the confusion of shapes in that area.

I also moved the fence post from its position beyond the horse and under the muzzle to beyond the shoulder. I made that change because it’s less of a distraction in that position, but I chose not to remove it altogether to anchor the fence.

The lead chain has also been removed and I replaced the undefined shape over the horse’s back with a small tree.

Step 2

Draw the smaller shapes and define details. I like to work from the gridded reference photo on the computer so I can enlarge the photo to focus on whatever area I’m drawing.

I also generally start with either the eye or the muzzle. It’s important to get the eyes right as soon as possible, but it’s often easier to start drawing with larger shapes, like the muzzle.

Make the drawing as accurate as possible, working from section to section.

To help clarify shapes that are confusing as a line drawing, add a little shading. Nostrils, eyes, and ears are often easier to draw if you draw and shade the shadows in each area.

Darkening the outer edges of the subject can also set it apart from the background.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 3

Step 3

The last thing I do on the drawing grid is outline the highlights and darker shadows. For this, I use a lighter, sometimes broken line. I don’t want to confuse the drawing by having all the lines the same thickness and darkness.

I also do a little shading to define the horse. Sometimes, it’s easier to shade than to draw a line, especially in areas where the gradation is very subtle.

I also use directional strokes to suggest three dimensional form. This helps establish the subject as a form in physical space.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 4

Step 4

Once I’ve done everything I can with the drawing grid, I tape a piece of tracing over the drawing and transfer the drawing to the tracing paper. This is where a mechanical pencil really shines. It doesn’t get blunt, so every line is exactly as dark or thick as I want.

You’ll notice that the darkest lines are the outside edges of the shapes. Interior lines are thinner or lighter, dotted or dashed, or a combination. Since I don’t want to shade now, I use this variety of lines to tell me which edges are hard and which are soft.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 5

I also used the direction, length, and shape of lines to convey an idea of the shape of the horse’s forehead, nose, and cheek. Again, you can do this if it helps you. If not, don’t use it.

This detail (below) is a perfect illustration of how this method works.

One thing I notice now is that I forgot to draw the buckle behind the eye. That’s a simple fix, so it’s not a big deal. But it does illustrate the importance of making sure you’ve transferred every part of the drawing before you separate the original drawing and the drawing on tracing paper!

Step 5

Once the drawing is the way you want it on the tracing paper, turn the paper over and review the drawing from the back. Flip the reference photo horizontally if it’s on your computer.

Looking at the drawing and reference photo this way gives you a fresh look at your subject. There’s nothing like looking at something in reverse to see what mistakes you may have made.

And if you happen to have a left- or right-hand bias—as I do—working on your drawing from the back helps compensate for the bias.

You can also hold the drawing up in front of a mirror if that works better.

You may not need to do much work this way. The red lines in this illustration show my corrections.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 8

Step 6

When your drawing is satisfactory, mount a clean sheet of tracing over it and make a fresh drawing. This will be your transfer drawing. When you’ve finished with it, put it into storage. You don’t have to keep it beyond getting the artwork finished if you don’t want to, but I keep all of my drawings. Especially with portraits, I just never know when those line drawings might come in handy!

Here’s my final line drawing.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 9

Before proceeding to the next step, I usually mount the drawing in a working mat of the proper size, then let it sit somewhere for a day or more so I can review it. This is my last chance to make corrections to the line drawing. When I’m convinced there are no further changes to be made, it’s ready to be transferred to good paper.

That’s How I Draw a Horse using a Grid

Now you can draw your own horse using a grid.

Or anything else you care to draw!

Drawing with a grid is a versatile tool for many artists. Creating grids on digital photos makes using a grid even more versatile for many of us!

I hope it helps you too!

Bruynzeel Design Colored Pencils

A few weeks ago, I shared a few tips for for repairing broken Prismacolor pencils.

The discussion led to another question:

I don’t want to mess with fixing broken pencils. What other brands of pencils are available?

The good news is that there are dozens of high-quality pencils to choose from.

The bad news is that most of them are more expensive than Prismacolor and some of them are more difficult to get. I’ve already shared a video review of Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils and a comparison of Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’ache Luminance. If you haven’t watched those videos, give them a look. You may need go no further.

Today, I’m highlighting another brand of pencils with a video review.

Bruynzeel Design Colored Pencils

Artist’s Caveat

I haven’t used these pencils so my recommendations are based on the fact that I’ve used other products by the same company or have talked to other artists whose judgment I trust. These pencils were on my To Buy List. Yes, I said were; more on that in a minute.

Now, for the review.

Bruynzeel Design Colored Pencils

A very long time ago, I purchased a set of Bruynzeel Full Color Colored Pencils. That was back in the day when I didn’t know much about how colored pencils were made or the differences between scholastic, student, and artist grade pencils.

I loved those pencils. Color went onto paper smoothly and with very little wax build up. I didn’t have a very big set because they were expensive, but they mixed well with the Prismacolor pencils I was also using. I remember thinking that if I ever stopped using Prismacolor pencils, I’d use these instead.

Unfortunately, that line of pencils was discontinued.

Bruynzeel now produces Design Colored Pencils. The same pencil renamed? I’ve wondered about that, but don’t know for sure.

A Few Interesting Facts

From DickBlick.com: The 3.7 mm wide-gauge, perfectly centered, and double-glued colored cores combine with the finest light cedar casings to make Bruynzeel Design Colored Pencils very resistant to breakage and a joy to sharpen. A balanced color range, with matching pigments between the colored pencil and watercolor pencil ranges, in addition to subtle color release and incredible lightfastness, make them a top choice for the discerning graphic artist, fine artist, designer, illustrator, or hobbyist.

The largest set contains only 24 pencils, even though there are a total of fifty colors available.

The pigment core is thinner than many other pencils—3.7mm versus 3.8 or 3.9. Personally, a thinner core is helpful in creating finer detail and/or for smaller work.

I checked prices at Dick Blick.com (my go-to online source for art supplies). The 12-pencil set lists at $19.95 and the 24-pencil set is $39.46. Pencils are available in open stock for $1.69 each unless you buy twelve or more. The bulk price is $1.52 each.

For more, check out this review.

Would I Buy These Pencils?

They appear to be a step above average in quality, but according to the above review, are not on a par with other pencils in the same price range. The last time I bought open stock Prismacolor soft core pencils, I paid about the same price that Dick Blick is charging for these.

I also had good success with the Fullcolor pencils and have saved even the stubs, though they’re years old.


Bruynzeel-Sakura claims the pencils are  made in the Netherlands, but they are actually manufactured in China under the guidance of Bruynzeel.

The less than honest disclosures about where the pencils are actually made is a problem for me and negates the price and quality issues to some extent. Is it enough make me look elsewhere? That’s why I’ve taken them off my list of pencils to buy.

Does that mean you shouldn’t give them a try?

No. That decision is yours entirely. If you do—or if you already use them—let us know what you think of them.

Product Update

2017.05.06: In October 2016, Royal acquired Bruynzeel-Sakura. I don’t yet know how that will affect the quality of Bruynzeel Design colored pencils or any of the other products under the Bruynzeel-Sakura name.

In response to a reader question, I have contacted Royal Talens about getting lightfast information, and will let you know what I learn.

Royal Talens Website

Bruynzeel (Official Website)

Bruynzeel Design Pencils at Dick Blick

What Do You Want to Know?

Is there a brand of pencil you’d like to know more about? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Whenever possible, I’ll purchase the pencils and try them myself. When that’s not possible, I’ll research them as I’ve done here and summarize my findings, along with my best recommendation.

Water Soluble Colored Pencils 8 Articles

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for reader feedback on future articles. One of the subjects suggested was a few demonstrations on water soluble colored pencils. What a great idea!

So today’s post is a collection of eight must-read articles on this topic.

Some of them are right here on this blog. EmptyEasel published the others. Wherever they appeared, they’re all the step-by-step demos you’ve told me are so helpful.

water soluble colored pencils

8 Must Read Articles about Water Soluble Colored Pencils

From the archives

How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Pencils

I wanted to learn what I could do with these water-based pencils. This article is the first of two parts and describes how I used watercolor pencils to create the background and under paint the horse.

water soluble colored pencils

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Watercolor Pencils

This is the follow up to the previous article. See how I completed the under painting, then used traditional pencils to finish this small study.

From EmptyEasel

How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Watercolor Pencils – Part 1

One of my favorite things about colored pencils is their versatility. Traditional wax-based pencils and water soluble pencils can be combined for a wide array of stunning effects. In this post, I show you what I did and how it turned out.

water soluble colored pencils

Drawing a Sunrise with Watercolor Pencils – Part 2

I used a combination of pencils and methods including water soluble Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle, traditional Faber-Castell Art Grip, and Prismacolor Premier. Today I’ll also be using Prismacolor Verithin pencils.

How to Start a Drawing with Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are great for under painting a drawing. In this tutorial, I show you how I started this portrait with watercolor pencils. The tutorial also contains tips for preparing watercolor paper for this type of work.

Using Dry Colored Pencils over a Watercolor Pencil Drawing

I started this drawing using brushes and a homemade “palette” of colors drawn with the watercolor pencils. If you haven’t read the first article yet, I encourage you to click the link above and then come back here to finish reading about the process.

water soluble colored pencils

Blending Tips & Brushing Techniques for Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils look and handle like traditional colored pencils, but they dissolve and blend in water. In this article, I share favorite brushing tips and techniques for creating just the right result.

How to Fix Mistakes Made with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

As much as I love working with colored pencil, the medium can be unforgiving. When I was first learning the craft, any serious mistake meant the end of a painting—just tear it up, throw it away, and start over. (A lot of images ended up in the circular file under my desk back then.)

Fortunately, over the years I’ve discovered a number of techniques for repairing mistakes. In this post, I share one way to correct mistakes with watercolor pencils.

There are my Recommended Articles on Water Soluble Colored Pencils

I hope you enjoy them!

What I Do When I’m Under the Weather

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

We all experience times when we’re under the weather physically or creatively.

I’m in the second week of a two-week cold (today is day eleven). My colds usually last about two weeks whether or not I see a doctor, so I use a variety of home remedies to deal with the symptoms while the process runs its course. Lots of rest, lots of fluids, and a reduced schedule. A cough suppressant or decongestant as needed.

I’m not in a very creative place at the moment. Fiction writing—yes, I do that, too—has ground to a halt. The plain truth is that almost everything has. I have enough energy to do what must be done and that’s about it. Blogging (although this post took most of the week to come together) and EmptyEasel articles. Maybe a bit of drawing one or two days in the last week.

So what do I do with all that “spare time”?

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

(By the way, lest you get the wrong idea from the illustration above, my cold isn’t that serious. I just love lightning and had to use that image! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah.)

What I Do When I’m Under the Weather

These are a few of the things I do when I’m in the middle of a cold or any other illness that sidelines me temporarily or long-term. Maybe these things will help you. Maybe they’ll prompt your little gray cells to other ideas.

1. Read

My first recourse is always reading. When I’m under the weather and lack energy for the usual routine, I have lots of time for sitting around or lying in bed. That means lots of time for reading.

Usually, hubby makes a trip to the library and lugs back an armful of books. Favorite authors include Agatha Christie, Jan Karon, Chris Fabry, and Joel C. Rosenberg. There’s nothing like holding a book in my hand, so although I have a lot of selections on my Kindle for PC, I still prefer books with real pages and actual covers.

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

Sometimes, I read some of my stories. The older the better, usually. Otherwise, it’s too much like work!

2. Look at Photographs

I especially like looking at online photographs. One of my favorite places to browse is Pixabay. Pixabay images are published under a CCO license, which means they’re free for use in any commercial way. The images in this post come from Pixabay.

I don’t generally think of these images as reference photos, but you can never tell.

What I do often find is grandeur, beauty, awe—and sometimes sheer whimsy.

(This photo of colorful tomatoes reminds me of a drawing I once considered. It involved horses of different colors galloping across a black background. Drawn in colored pencil, of course!)

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

3. Surf the Web

Just this week, I happened upon a YouTube Channel for the Longines Masters. I spent an hour watching the speed challenge of the 2013 Longines Hong Kong Masters. Show jumping on the clock. Did you know there was such a thing? It was fascinating to see world class show jumping riders and horses racing the clock on what looked to me like an impossible course. Lots of jumps and lots of big jumps.

The amazing thing was that there were three clear rounds of the 18 competitors. Amazing!

Needless to say, I bookmarked that channel for future reference, along with the channels for the FEI and American Endurance Riding Conference.

But I also watch videos on making art, some of which I’ve shared here and some of which I will be sharing in the future.

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

4. Watch Movies

I don’t do this much at home, but when I was in the hospital for nearly a week in March of last year, my husband and I watched at least one movie every night for the duration. Sometimes two or three.

What do we like to watch?

  • Almost anything with Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne.
  • The Thin Man series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Avengers series
  • Dreamer, Seabiscuit, the Black Stallion, etc.

The hospital room had a VHS player, so we pretty much went through the part of our collection that hasn’t yet been replaced by DVDs.

God is good and provided for me for this cold. Shortly before it got bad, my husband came home from a regular church meeting with a package of CDs. A collection of 44 episodes of an old radio program, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, starring Bob Bailey. I’ve been listening to one CD a day for the last several days and I must confess, I’m hooked!

What I Do When I'm Under the Weather

The Common Thread when I’m Under the Weather

The most important part of the process for me is the realization that I’m not a machine. I don’t create on demand (though I often behave as though I do) and I don’t control very much at all in life or in the studio.

Times likes these remind me that taking time to slow down and take a step back are just as important as all the time and work I put into art, stories, even this blog. If I don’t stop to recharge physically and creatively, pretty soon, the battery runs down.

And so does the mind and body.

So the best advice I can give you for dealing with your under-the-weather times is to find ways to recharge. Everything I’ve shared here recharges me in some way, preparing for the day with the lightning stops, the rain goes away, and the rainbows appear again.

12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

For those among us who use them as our primary medium—or as one of our primary mediums—there are a lot of reasons to love colored pencils. If you’ve used them for any length of time at all, you can probably list five or six with no hesitation at all.

And I’ll wager that if each of us listed our top twelve reasons, every one of us would have at least one reason that was unique to us. That’s just human nature.

And the nature of the medium.

12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

Following are my top twelve reasons for loving colored pencils.

Why I Love Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are easy to use

Open the box, sharpen the pencils (if necessary), grab a piece of paper, and start drawing. You don’t need to prepare a painting surface, mix a palette, or—best of all—wear protective clothing.

Colored pencils are clean

You don’t have to worry about getting them on your hands, clothing, or the things around you. You won’t find traces of them some unexpected place in the house because you brushed against wet paint without knowing it and transferred that color to other parts of the house.

No drying time

One of my chief complaints about oil painting was waiting for paint to dry. That’s not a concern with colored pencil drawing.

Unless you use solvents to blend or work with watercolor pencils.

All those luscious colors!

What artist doesn’t love color? And there are so many!

Colored pencils go everywhere

Colored pencils are easily transportable. Throw a few supplies into your field kit or a tote bag or purse (depending how big the set—or your purse—is) and you’re ready to go. Anywhere. Everywhere.

No smelly solvents (unless I want them)

I can make a beautiful drawing without having to breathe solvent fumes.

I can create a range of affects from soft focus to tight detail

Fine art colored pencils are much more versatile than the colored pencils I used in grade school. Almost everything that could be done with brush and paint can be done with colored pencils.

Colored pencils look—and work—great on so many different surfaces

We all know about drawing on paper. A lot of us have tried mat board, too. But what about sanded art papers, wood, canvas, or even Mylar? Colored pencils work on all of them and produce unique and interesting affects on each type of surface.

Nothing else captures ‘found’ texture quite as well as colored pencils

I’ve added interesting and unique textures to more than one drawing simply by laying the paper on a textured surface and lightly—or maybe not so lightly—shading over the paper. What a great way to add visual interest quickly and easily.

Colored pencils are perfect for making small format and miniature art

The thing that turns so many people away from colored pencil is the very thing that makes them ideal for small format and miniature art. The thin color core. What better medium for drawing details on artwork that’s 4×6 or less?

Bonus: You don’t need special tools…except for maybe a magnifying glass.

Colored pencils are perfect for drawing hair

Colored pencils are also fabulous for drawing hair. One of the things I love most about drawing horses is drawing those long manes and tails. I can paint a decent mane or tail with oils and very small brushes, but colored pencils are far more satisfactory.

The cat can play in my art box and I don’t have to worry about hazardous materials sticking to paws

This is important in a house with indoor cats. Cats like to climb. Cats like to explore.

They also like to help.

12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

Years ago, one of our cats once threw himself on an oil painting while I was working on it (I worked flat, by the way). I had to take time to clean the paint off the cat before repairing the damage to the painting.

That doesn’t happen with colored pencils.

Those are My Reasons to Love Colored Pencils.

Why do you love them?

Video Demo – How to Draw Hair

Video-Demo How to Draw Hair

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know one of my favorite subjects to draw is horses.

What you may not know is that one of reasons—maybe the biggest reason—I like drawing horses is all that long, luscious hair!

Horses aren’t the only subjects with long, luscious hair. So when I came across an excellent video tutorial on drawing hair, I realized many of you might also be fascinated by the process.

The review is provided by Emmy Kalia on YouTube. Emmy’s YouTube channel and her web site feature tutorials in colored pencils and graphite with a special focus on human subjects. Some of her most interesting videos are about drawing hair and skin tones.

How to Draw Hair

The video is a “hair” over 23 minutes long, so grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, sit back, and be amazed.

Here’s Emmy.

Isn’t that fabulous, and aren’t those Faber-Castell browns enticing? If you don’t already own a set, have you put them on your wish list? I hope so because they’re on mine!

Tips for Drawing Hair

When drawing any type or length of hair, keep your pencils sharp, especially when drawing loose or flyaway hairs.

Work from light to dark and use the darkest color to add accent shadows after establishing other colors.

Start developing highlights from the beginning. It’s easier to preserve them than to replace them.

Use an eraser, sticky stuff, or some other method to lift color and create lighter highlights and other accents. Emmy uses oil-based Faber-Castell pencils, so the pencil eraser she uses is very effective. It’s less effective with wax based pencils, especially if you use soft pencils like Prismacolor Soft Core.

Don’t forget the details! Little things like a few flyaway hairs, little shadows between groups of hairs, and brightened highlights make all the difference. But don’t overdo them. Sometimes less really is more!

Here’s a hair drawing I did several years ago. I chose the subject because of the hair and—along with the blanket—the hair is still my favorite part of it!

Portrait of Blizzard Babe in Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

But the best part is that you can draw hair like this, too. All it takes is practice!

And a good subject.

More Information

Emmy Kalia’s on YouTube Channel

Is It All Right to Use Oil Painting Varnish on Colored Pencil Drawings?

Is it all right to use varnish made for oil paintings

Can you use oil painting varnish on colored pencil drawings?

In two previous posts, I shared the pros and cons of using fixative or final finishes on colored pencil artwork and then recommended a few fixatives and varnishes that I and other artists use.

But questions still abound and one of the most common is:

Is it all right to use oil painting varnish on colored pencil drawings?

The short answer is no.

Varnishes—more commonly known as final finishes these days—are not all made the same way. The intended use of the varnish determines how it’s manufactured and what ingredients are used.

Final finishes made for oil paintings often contain damar, which is an actual liquid varnish that can be brushed onto the surface of a painting. Spray final finishes for oil paintings contain an atomized (turned into spray) form of damar.

Damar varnish is a yellowish substance in liquid form. It becomes part of the painting surface by bonding with surface of the paint. It forms an impenetrable coating that protects the paint for years to come.

That ability to saturate a surface is great on canvas or rigid supports.

On paper?

Not so much.

Is It All Right to Use Oil Painting Varnish on Colored Pencil Drawings?

Why You Should Never Use a Varnish Containing Damar on Paper

When used on paper, damar saturates the paper, darkening and sometimes discoloring it. The discoloration is permanent. It won’t dry out of the paper.

If you use a varnish made for oil paintings on a colored pencil drawing, the varnish is likely to soak through the layers of colored pencil and saturate the paper you’ve drawn on. Layers of wax and pigment will not prevent the eventual discoloration of the paper.

If it darkens the paper, it will also darken the drawing that’s on the paper.

This kind of varnish will protect your colored pencil artwork, but you’d be well-advised not to use it for that purpose unless you want to purposely discolor the paper and/or the artwork.

If you still want to give it a try, try it first on a scrap piece of paper. If the results satisfy you, try it next on a drawing that isn’t vital. See what happens and make future decisions based on that.

It may also work for you if your drawing is on wood or a similar rigid support that’s impenetrable. But even so, I strongly recommend a test first. Better waste a small support than ruin your best drawing.

If You Do Decide to Try a Varnish for Oil Painting

Make sure to follow the instructions on the can. Varnishes produced for oil paintings are heavier, even in the spray form, than varnishes or final finishes made for dry media. Too heavy an application and your paper may buckle.

My recommendation?

Don’t. Do. It.

Broken Prismacolor Pencils: How to Repair Them

Broken Prismacolor pencils driving you to distraction?

You’re not alone.

After reading a recent post, Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils, Jana Botkin left the following question in the comments:

Will you address the fact that the majority of Prismacolor pencils are broken all the way through? Sanford denies there is a problem and blames the wrong sharpeners.

If you’ve been using colored pencils for very long or if you’ve participated in any social media discussions on the subject, you’ve already heard the comments. Perhaps you’ve even experienced quality problems with Prismacolor pencils, as I have.

My Opinion

I’ve observed over the years that most companies tend to follow the same course.

Someone has an idea for a new product. They’re passionate about the idea and product. So passionate that they spend time and money to start a business. Product quality and customer satisfaction is the most important thing and they’ll do anything to keep their customers happy.

Eventually, the company moves from the first generation (the person who started it) to the second generation. The founder dies and passes the company to children or maybe sells the company. The second generation owners may be committed to quality, but they lack the burning passion the original creator had. The product is still good and customers may not notice a difference, but there is a change behind the scenes.

The company is sold again. Perhaps it becomes part of a larger company. Just another department or product line. Quality is important, but maybe not as important as the bottom line. The company talks the talk but may be lax in walking the walk.

If a company goes through enough of these cycles, product quality begins to suffer to the extent that customers begin going elsewhere.

It’s not uncommon for many things to follow this course. It takes a lot of work to maintain principles, whether that’s providing the best colored pencil possible or sticking with a diet. It’s kind of like keeping water from running downhill. Possible, but not easy.

I don’t know beyond all shadow of doubt that this has happened with Prismacolor, but I have some very old pencils that bear the Berol name and some even older Prismacolor pencils with the Eagle name. It seems that every time the product lines changed hands, quality suffered.

Broken Prismacolor Pencils & How to Repair Them

What to Do About Broken Prismacolor Pencils

The CPSA taught a method of repairing them in the microwave. — Jana Botkin

There are two camps when it comes to the best response to broken pencils.

Send ‘Em Back

The first camp says the only thing to do is return the pencils if they’re new and came with broken pigment cores because you can’t repair the core. If you buy brand new pencils and discover broken pigment cores, return or exchange is probably the best policy if you can afford to wait for new pencils.

Unfortunately, broken pigment cores aren’t usually discovered until after you’ve started using the pencils. Most stores won’t accept a return on a pencil that’s been used.

And sometimes you drop pencils and they break. Prismacolor pencils seem to be especially prone to damage in this fashion. In this case, you don’t want to send them back.

Heat ‘Em Up

The Microwave Method

The second camp declares with equal conviction that you can repair broken pigment cores and they have just the solution.

Every source I looked at recommended 5 seconds in a microwave. What no one said was at what setting! (Start low and increase the setting if that doesn’t work.) If you microwave pencils longer than that, you risk splitting the wood casings or causing a fire.

This works because wax melts when subjected to heat. Yes, even the wax binder in a Prismacolor pencil—or any wax-based colored pencil, for that matter. The softened wax melts, “healing” breaks or fractures. The pigment core is restored as the wax cools.

I’ve never used this method of repairing colored pencils, but I have no doubt it’s one way to deal with the issue of breakage with Prismacolor colored pencils or with any other brand of wax-based pencils. How can I be so sure?

The Sunny Window Method

Because I do have experience warming pencils in the sun and seeing how soft the pigment cores get. Granted, I wasn’t repairing broken pigment cores; I was attending a horse show. I took my pencils along, but left them in the back window of the car while I watched horses. It was a sunny July day and when I got back to the car, the pencils were so soft I could almost paint with them.

That experience leaves no doubt in my mind that leaving pencils in a sunny window would be an excellent way to apply gentle heat to a pencil with a broken pigment core no matter where you live. The warmer climate, the less time it would take, but I’d still suggest that a few hours wouldn’t hurt the pencil. Check the exposed pigment core every couple of hours and see how soft it is, then use your own judgment on how much longer to leave the pencil in the sun.

Not Quite Convinced?

That’s okay. If you want to try either of these methods without exposing your pencils to possible risk, break off a few tips—yes, on purpose unless you have broken pieces of pigment lying around. Put them together in a small container and set them in the sun and see what happens. If you like the results, you can be more sure about using the same method for your pencils.

The Final Alternative to Broken Prismacolor Pencils

Of course, if you’ve had so much trouble with broken Prismacolor pencils that you’re ready to throw them over, you can always find a different type of pencil. There are plenty of high quality, artist grade pencils available.

The most popular are Faber-Castell Polychromos, but there are others. Jana recommends Polychromos first, but for her students who are on a budget, she also recommends Staedler Ergosoft as a high quality, lower cost substitute.

I can’t recommend the following brands because I’ve never used them, but they are on my list of pencils to try (in alphabetical order).

Caran d’Ache Luminance

Derwent Coloursoft

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour

Staedler Ergosoft

What’s your favorite brand of colored pencil? Why do you prefer them?

What Should You Use to Varnish Colored Pencil Art

In a previous post, I shared three professional reasons to consider using fixative or varnish on your colored pencil artwork and three reasons not to.

You read that post and decided to try varnishing your finished work. The next logical question is which type and brand to use. There are so many on the market. How do you choose?

Fixative and Varnish: What’s the Difference?

Before we go further, though, let me take a moment to define terms.

“Fixative” and “varnish” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Fixative is only a temporary “fix”. It’s a light coating you use as part of the drawing process. Fixative sprays are not designed to be a final coating because it doesn’t provide protection from ultraviolet light (UV), environmental dirt, or rough handling. It’s generally applied lightly and between layers of color.

Varnish is a final coating designed to provide protection from environmental dirt, UV, and—to some extent—rough handling. It is applied more thickly. It is not designed to be used as part of the drawing process since it can easily saturate and discolor the paper and darken both the paper and the colors already on the paper.

Another term frequently used for varnishes is final finish. Not all final finishes are useful for colored pencil work. Many of them are produced for oil paintings and contain damar varnish. When purchasing final finishes, make sure to check the contents label. If it lists damar, leave it on the shelf.

So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art: What Should You Use?

John Ursillo uses workable fixative throughout his drawing process and varnishes finished pieces when he works on canvas (yes, canvas for colored pencils). John says:

I use intermediate layers of workable fixative along with solvent-enhanced CP and water-based CP. The finished piece is coated with two layers of Krylon Archival Series UV protective gloss acrylic spray. There are other brands but I’ve not tried them – happy with the Krylon. This goes on very shiny but after a week or so the coating dries completely into the weave of the canvas resulting in a pleasing semi-gloss coating.

The net result is that these colored pencil drawings on canvas can be framed without glass.

For works on paper, he uses workable fixative before adding the final color, then gives the finished drawing an additional coat of workable fixative.

When I use workable fixative, it’s usually late in the drawing process, when I need to restore a little tooth in order to finish the drawing. I have Krylon Workable Fixatif and Prismacolor Premier Fixative on my shelf. I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison, so I don’t know that one is better than the other. Both are good both for controlling wax bloom and for working over.

I also use Krylon Gallery Series Conservation Retouch Varnish. It’s more suitable for finished work on either paper or canvas. Prismacolor produces a non-workable fixative that I have yet to try but that’s worth a look.

In the past, I’ve used Blair products and Grumbacher products and have had good results.

Best Practices for Using Varnish or Fixative on Colored Pencil Art

Look for a fixative or varnish made for colored pencils or, if you can’t find that, one that’s made for dry media. Not all varnishes are created equal and what may work for an oil painting may not work as well—or at all—on colored pencil. Prismacolor makes a final coating made specifically for colored pencils and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Since each brand of fixative or varnish comes with instructions for use, check those instructions first. Follow them, too, in order to get the best results.

Here’s how I do my varnishing.

  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Position the artwork in an upright position. It doesn’t have to be perfectly vertical, but it shouldn’t be flat, either
  • Shake the aerosol can a few times to properly mix the contents
  • Hold the can in a vertical position about twelve inches from the artwork (check the instructions on the can for the ideal distance, as there may be some variation).
  • Holding down the nozzle, move the spray across the artwork horizontally in a slow movement.
  • Start just past the edge of the drawing and spray across the drawing to just past the opposite edge, then back in the opposite direction until you’ve covered all of the drawing, top to bottom
  • Let the artwork dry for a minimum of 30 minutes. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution and usually wait 45 minutes or longer
  • Give the drawing another coat (optional).

Two or three coats should be sufficient. Just make sure you don’t soak the paper with varnish. When a heavy coat of varnish dries, it could become brittle, making it necessary ship unframed art flat, instead of rolled.

So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art. What Should You Use?

The Bottom Line

What it all comes down to is finding the best product for the type of work you do and the results you want. Generally, the best place to start is with a brand known for high quality in other products. Grumbacher and Krylon, for example. Products produced by or for companies that also make colored pencils is also a good idea. I can’t guarantee you’ll like Prismacolor workable fixative as well as you like Prismacolor colored pencils, but there’s a better chance the fixative will work favorably with the pencils.

Whenever you try something new, try it first on scrap paper or on a drawing that won’t hurt your feelings if it gets damaged. Talking to other artists about what they use and why they use it is another excellent way to find a good product.