Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils

Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils

Today, I’d like to address an issue that a lot of us face at one time or another: Overcoming the bias against colored pencils and colored pencil artwork.

A reader recently asked a question on this very topic. She gave permission to share her email, so here’s the question pretty much as she wrote it.

How do you get over the bias against colored pencil? Every time I try to apply for a job on Upwork, or someone inquires about a commission, they drop me like a hot potato the moment they know I’m not a painter! I don’t want to paint, I’m not good at painting! It’s fun and I do paint, but it’s certainly nothing I would allow myself to sell.

I have discussed the reduced price, the more detailed nature of colored pencils, the intimacy of creating art with colored pencil with [potential clients]—nobody cares. Most stop even reading my messages, much less responding. The only people interested are other artists… and they aren’t buyers, only cheerleaders. I’m at a loss as to what to do!

Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils

Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils

There is no doubt that there is a bias among some people toward colored pencil work. The reasons are many. Among them are:

  • Colored pencils are seen as grade school tools, not fine art tools
  • There is a perceived lack of permanence with colored pencils
  • A lot of people think “real art” must be on canvas or be paint of some kind
  • The popularity of adult coloring books creates the perception that that’s all colored pencils are good for

Colored pencils also lend themselves to detailed work. A lot of colored pencil work is realistic in nature; much of it is highly realistic. I know there is a market for that kind of work, but years of working in a gallery have also shown me that there a bias against realism.

All of these factors combine to create a public perception that is not always favorable to colored pencil work. That is, unfortunately, just a fact of artistic life.

How do we, as colored pencil artists, get beyond this false perception?

Solutions

The first thing we need to do is get past the notion that we must convert everyone to colored pencils. There are some people who will never accept colored pencil artwork as real artwork, just as there are some people who think realistic art is not real art.

When this happens, my best suggestion is to stop trying to convince them. When you meet someone who shuts you off the moment you mention colored pencils, then let them go!

I know. This is awfully difficult, especially if you’re just getting started and you want like anything to make a sale. I spent a lot of time trying to talk people into buying something they didn’t want to buy before I realized I could give that time to people who were interested in what I had to offer.

So find the people who are interested in your work, and then talk to them.

There are some people who will never accept colored pencil artwork as real artwork, just as there are some people who think realistic art is not real art. Let them go!

Education

Artists need to educate themselves on the history of colored pencil work, and the quality of artwork created with archival materials. It’s important to know your medium so well that you have confidence in it. If you don’t have confidence in the tools you use and the work you produce, it’s going to be very difficult to convince potential clients to trade their money for your art.

I struggled for a long time with the idea that no matter how good my colored pencil drawings were, they would never be as good as my oil paintings. That is not true, but it did affect my attitude toward the colored pencil pieces I made and marketed.

Clients and customers can tell if you lack confidence in your work. If they sense that you think one type of work is more valuable or worth more than another, they will shy away from the undervalued work, even if they really like it.

Marketing

There are at least two marketing-related solutions to overcoming the bias against colored pencil art.

The first one is the easiest to correct. Make it known upfront that you use colored pencils for all your work. One easy way to do this is by coming up with a tagline something like this.

Portraits and Artwork in Colored Pencil

Also pair your name and tagline with the best sample of your work that you currently have. You don’t need a logo, but you do need to give people a visible connection between your name and the work you do.

For example, here’s one possible layout for my business cards. It contains one of my favorite pieces with my name and title, a tagline, and contact information on the front.

Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils

With a bit of adjusting, you can use something similar for the banner on social media or your website (if you have one). This gives you a consistent internet presence, which is always a good thing.

It also gets people accustomed to seeing the words “colored pencil” and your name together.

This may seem simple. Maybe too simple. But it is important. The more people connect you with colored pencil artwork, the less frequently you’ll be contacted by people who have no interest in colored pencil artwork.

Think of it not as a cure, but as prevention.

Don’t have any artwork you think is good enough for a business card? Find a good image of colored pencils. Until you have your own samples to share, a picture of colored pencils is just as effective.

Persistence

Persistence is another solution. This isn’t going to be an overnight fix. You’ll have to earn the trust of that first customer and produce work that makes them happy. I’ve noticed that one happy customer often leads to other happy customers.

The word-of-mouth promotion of a satisfied client is worth a lot more than any amount of paid advertising.

The Bottom Line

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep making the kind of artwork you enjoy making in the style that you enjoy. Improve your skills, share your work, and people will find you.

Yes, people who are willing to spend their money to get your work.

That’s the key to overcoming the bias against colored pencils, no matter what type of art you make.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.

18 Comments

  1. Years ago, Jack White published an article in “Art Calendar” (a magazine about the business of art) that explained the hierarchy of marketability of art, based on medium. Oil was at the top; pencil was at the bottom. Colored pencil was a few notches above pencil. Ouch. He said there is a perception that “it’s only paper”. Where does that leave watercolor, which is also “only paper”? A few steps above colored pencil. I continue to love plain pencil with a touch of colored pencil, but my oil paintings sell the fastest.

    Dave Ramsey says “He, convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. So, Carrie, you are so right. Focus on people who like your medium and style, and let the others move on.

      1. Rick Steffens

        I know lots of times I get customers who must think that I paint my pictures and some even offer to buy me a canvas to put what they want on it. For the most part, after I explain that I am a colored pencil artist and that I draw on high grade paper, they accept that as being okay for what they want me to do. But I live in a rural area and a small town so I don’t usually get big money offers for my artwork, but it’s usually enough to help supplement me with a few extra dollars to live off of. Good article by the way. I have been fighting cancer for the second time in 4 years so I haven’t always been able to read your articles or respond to them. Hopefully I am good now for awhile.

        1. Rick,

          Thank you for reading this post and taking the time to comment.

          You’re handling things well in explaining what you do and how you’re doing it. My experience has been that most people accept that and make their decisions accordingly.

          Congratulations on the sales, too. That’s wonderful.

          I’m sorry to hear about your cancer and I hope you do well. Take care of yourself, draw as often as you can, and read these posts whenever you have the time and energy. Except on rare occasions, they won’t go away!

  2. Jim monette

    Jim Monette,
    Nice article. I am in my seventies and I do not actively seek to sell my work, but from time to time there have been opportunities to sell my art. Recently , at a yard sale, I displayed some of my work and one colored pencil, watercolor pencil, painting. A woman who collects artwork bought the painting. As she was leaving I told her it was a colored pencil painting. Then I thought to myself: ‘ maybe I should not have told her that after she paid for the painting, would she now feel cheated if she thought I used a more traditional painting method? ‘. But obviously the painting did appeal to her otherwise she would not have bought it.
    So your article struck a cord with me. And I agree that if someone has a problem with colored pencil medium then just move on, good advice. I did ask myself if I thought I could paint in oils, acrylics and other mediums? The answer to myself is a resounding, YES, and it is because of being able to use colored pencils in making art that I feel that way.
    When I sit down on the couch with my board on my lap and all my pencils and paraphernalia all around me it is great. When I finish I simply put the media away it is easy and usually a completed or near completed painting results. And those who see the work enjoy it too. Go to any art show and there are colored pencil works displayed and as you say some enjoy them some don’t. I don’ t enjoy some mediums so much either.

    1. Jim,

      Thank you so much for your comments! Congratulations on the sale, too! Even if you don’t intend to sell your work, making a sale is a great morale booster!

      I chuckled at your comment about sitting on the couch with your board on your lap and all your tools around you. My front room couch is one of my favorite places to work because it’s in front of a south facing window. In the afternoon, the light is perfect, especially for doing small details.

      But I have to add one thing to your collection of tools and pencils. We have cats, and they, too, enjoy the sunshine streaming through the window. So I usually have at least one curled up on the back of the couch or beside me!

      1. Cindy

        Carrie,
        I’m laughing about your cats in the south-facing window. We have an old floor furnace (turns on when the power is out!) that features a large, ugly floor grate. One of my cats used to find it amusing to knock the colored pencils from my drawing board into the furnace. Little stinker! I fished them out using duct tape on the end of a yard stick!

  3. Terri DeVeau

    I have started in colored pencils the last couple of years. I used to work in acrylics and some oils which I loved both but now only have room for a small amount of art supplies and a very small area to work in. and as I was going through my art supplies I ran across some colored pencils that I had had for several years and thought that is a novelty I will do a couple. They turned out really well and at the same time I was told about an art contest at the local art guild, so I decided to enter them they had to be put before a pre judge (lol) not to mention I had to pay to enter. Well I waited as the deadline day came about and waited and waited. I finally decided to call the woman to get in touch with her and find out when I should bring my art. As I talked to this woman she was getting increasingly agitated explaining to me that my type of work was not what they wanted. I’ve been told by other women that had seen it at the guild that it was something they really were excited about because they had never seen colored pencil done that way. the lady I talked to inform me that there was nowhere on this Earth that colored pencil would be accepted into an art contest…..oh I forgot to mention one of the accepted mediums that they had listed on the form was colored pencil. So feeling pretty dejected took my things home and had decided to put my artwork away and my colored pencils. I am My own worst enemy after all is an artist! LOL the next time I had gone to work I explained to one of the women that had encouraged me to enter this show they wouldn’t let me enter. she was surprised and really concerned about how I felt about that. then she asked me if I did dogs or horses and I said horses definitely and dogs you bet. that was the first commission I got is a pet portrait artist! I’ve done several since and since I’m close to retirement I plan on learning all I can and continuing my hobby as a business! For the artist getting rejected or feeling like their art doesn’t matter…. don’t give up! there’s times when I’ve shown people my heart and they have not known what it was thinking it was a painting!

    1. Terri,

      Thank you for reading this post, and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      You definitely encountered someone for whom colored pencil art will never be fine art. I can assure you that there are contests, competitions, and exhibits the world over that do accept colored pencil artwork, and some of them are actually dedicated to colored pencil artwork.

      Good for you in choosing to take that incident as a learning moment. I’m delighted that you didn’t put away your pencils entirely after such an experience.

      And thank you for your encouragement to other artists to keep drawing, too!

  4. Jim monette

    Great story,
    There is nothing like success. I don’t wager but nowadays more people are marveling at the talent of artists with pencils. I wish my mother was still with us, she would be ecstatic with colored pencils. I have seen some of the horse and animal pictures on Carrie’s site and they are wonderful. Surely Terri’s are good portraits.

  5. Ace Robst Jr.

    Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring article! It is such a shame that some people think that only really fine art is on a canvas, or is a painting. Odd thing is that works in pastels on paper are often referred to as paintings. Yet works in colored pencils on paper are referred to as drawings. Why? I don’t understand.

    1. Ace,

      Thank you for your very kind words.

      Some colored pencil artists refer to their work as paintings. Those who have given a reason say that that’s because they create their work in a way that is similar to painting or that the results look like paintings.

      I refer to my colored pencil works as drawings for the very simple reason that when I was starting with colored pencils, I had already been oil painting for many years. To avoid confusion among my readers, I referred to my oil paintings as paintings and to my colored pencil works as drawings, even though it was difficult to tell the difference in online images.

      As for the larger question of why the art world in general calls colored pencil work “drawings” instead of paintings, I don’t have an answer to that.

      Any suggestions among the readers?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *