Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper

Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper

I’ve mentioned before that Stonehenge paper and Prismacolor pencils were made for each other. I haven’t talked very much about my experiences with Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils on Stonehenge paper. It’s time to change that.

Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper

I have used Polychromos pencils on a variety of papers, and have used them on Stonehenge more than once.

But I combined these two products for a portrait only once, and that did not turn out. In fact, it was a major fail.

It was also a learning opportunity, however, and a recent conversation with a reader about problems with Polychromos on Stonehenge is the motivation for today’s post.

First, let me walk you briefly through the drawing process.

The Project

The portrait was of a blue roan horse for a client. It was 9 inches by 12 inches, so larger than my usual work. Since I’d always had success with portraits on Stonehenge, that was my choice for paper.

As always, I began layering color with sharp pencils and light pressure and I worked throughout the drawing.

But I also tried working in small areas, which naturally led to working on the ears the most frequently during the early stages. As it turned out, that was a good idea.

At the beginning, I used Polychromos pencils exclusively because they had a better selection of lightfast colors than Prismacolor. The overall color selection also suited this project better.

Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper

However, I soon added Prismacolor Verithin colors to my palette. I used the browns and Black for base layers because I could add color without filling the tooth of the paper as much. Even Polychromos pencils are softer than Verithin pencils!

Problems Begin

As I built up layers, I continued mixing darks inside the ears to darken those shadows. That wasn’t satisfactory, so I also used heavier pressure. That was the beginning of my problems with the paper. It seemed like I scuffed the paper by doing that, so I eased off on the pressure again.

But, as it turned out, the damage had been done.

The Remedies I Tried

I knew from experience that Prismacolor and Stonehenge work very well together.

I also knew from experience that it was possible to smooth out minor scuffs in paper by carefully applying Prismacolor over the scuff. The high wax content in Prismacolor pencils can smooth out and seal damage if the damage is slight enough and caught soon enough.

So I began using Prismacolors to my palette, choosing colors that matched or complimented the Polychromos colors I’d been using.

Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper

The paper was scuffed enough to make it difficult to use enough pressure to get really dark values. I didn’t want to start over, so I decided to try a very light solvent blend with odorless mineral spirits. That looked darker while it was wet, but required I wait for it to dry to see if it worked or not.

The solvent blend did darken the values a little, and the paper didn’t buckle.

But I still was not happy with the look or feel of the Polychromos on Stonehenge, so I started using Prismacolor more to see if that worked any better.

In the end, I gave up on the Stonehenge version of the portrait and switched to Pastelmat. That portrait was a great success, and turned out to be one of the best horse portraits I’ve ever done in colored pencil.

What Went Wrong

As I look back on this situation, I think the biggest problem was my own impatience. I tried to rush the process of developing dark shadows by increasing the pressure I used to layer color. I may have gotten away with that with Prismacolor pencils because they’re softer. Even with very sharp pencils, the paper wouldn’t have scuffed so quickly.

I also failed to take into consideration the difference in hardness between Prismacolor and Polychromos. Yes, I knew in my head that there was a difference, but I didn’t stop to think how that would affect the paper. So I began with these two very important strikes against me.

A further problem was that I was drawing something for the first time: a blue roan. Blue roan (and red roan) horses have a mix of colored and white hairs throughout their coats. They’re not one solid color. So I was trying to figure out how to create that look on paper.

That meant I was paying more attention to that than to anything else.

Is it any wonder I had problems?

Was the Portrait on Stonehenge Salvageable?

In hind sight, I believe I could have salvaged the portrait had I been more patient. Things I could have done to overcome the damage to the paper are using Prismacolors more freely and adding Polychromos only when I needed a specific color.

Applying a light coat of workable fixative may also have stabilized the damaged area enough to finish the portrait.

And of course I could have done a few things from the start to prevent the damage in the first place. Starting with Prismacolor pencils is the first thing that comes to mind. Using consistently light pressure for the first few layers may also help prevent scuffing.

Doing color swatches with Polychromos on Stonehenge would also have been a good place to begin. Taking the time to do that before ever starting the portrait could potentially have saved hours of work later on.

Will I Use Polychromos Pencils on Stonehenge Paper Again?

I already have, though mostly for sketching.

For more serious works, I’m not sure. I do enjoy drawing on Stonehenge and I do use Polychromos most of the time, but rarely together. Is that a conscious choice? I don’t think so. It’s more because I really prefer Pastelmat to Stonehenge and Polychromos pencils are excellent on that.

But who knows? I still have plenty of Stonehenge paper in stock and in a variety of sizes. There may come the day when I try Polychromos on it again. If nothing else, maybe I’ll do some color swatches!

Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll remember the lessons I learned with this failed project!

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  1. Vicky Autry

    Hi Carrie,
    Just wanted to say again how much I enjoy your thoughtful process descriptions. I love the orderly way your mind works; the detail and reasoning behind the choices you make, as well as The hindsight and follow-up are so helpful in modeling your thinking process. We all need to learn how to think about things, and this is a sterling example of that. I have a work project that your exposition has inspired me to tackle. I appreciate you!!!

    1. Vicky,

      Thank you! I’m glad you found this post helpful.

      As for hindsight, I did this portrait three years ago, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about the process, what I did wrong, and how I might have done things differently.

      I hope your project goes better than mine did. If you have any problems, let me know. I’m always glad to help!

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I’m interested in knowing which Stonehenge paper you use.

    I notice that there are various weights, colors and finishes from this brand. As I have never tried this paper before, I’m considering giving it a try and was wondering which one you would recommend.

    I see that they have an 11″ x 14″ pad referred to as “Stonehenge White”. The first line in the description states that it’s ideal for colored pencil. Would this one be a good place to start?
    I prefer a vellum type finish. Bristol is a little too smooth and “hot pressed” watercolor paper is a little too coarse for my liking with colored pencils.

    By the way, the detail that you are getting in your images is outstanding, especially on what appears to be a toothy surface.

    Thanks Carrie.

    1. Kim,

      The Stonehenge paper I used in this demo was from a full sheet of Fawn. I cut out the section I needed for the portrait. Since I’d purchase that paper some time ago, it was 98lb. It was also very soft in feel and finish. I’ve always found the original Stonehenge to be very susceptible to damage from the most accidental sources, so I should have known better with this.

      I’m in the middle of trying to duplicate the scuffing with Stonehenge from an older pad of paper and have been totally unsuccessful. Even when I burnished every layer first to last, the paper didn’t scuff!

      I have Stonehenge White in the pad, but in smaller sizes. This form of Stonehenge would be a good starting point for you, since it’s similar to Bristol but not as smooth. My personal preference is Stonehenge in the full sheet.

      Thank you for the comment I was getting on the drawing in this post. That’s one of the reasons I resisted starting over so long. I did like parts of the work.

      You also mentioned that the surface looked toothy. It’s not. Drawing on Stonehenge from the full sheet is a lot like oil painting on velvet, but better. Any surface texture you saw is probably due to magnification. I really zoomed in to make those illustrations.

  3. Clarence Arnold

    I know the feeling, this lingering/minor inconvenience, however your strength isn’t easily held back. All of your excellent art/writing/work is so enjoyed. You really are a star.
    For all you do, thank you!

  4. Gail Jones

    This is good to know as I have Stonehenge paper to use with colored pencils. Also, I tend to have a heavy hand. Learning from you, I will really try for many light layers if I use my Stonehenge, especially with the Polychromos pencils.

    1. Gail,

      Yes, use light layers if you have Stonehenge in the full sheet. It doesn’t do well with heavy pressure.

      However, if you’re using Stonehenge from a pad, you can get away with heavier pressure. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing some experimentation with Stonehenge and found that I was unable to damage the paper even when putting down six or more layers with very heavy pressure beginning to end. It was like drawing on Bristol!

      So I’d try a simple something the way you normally draw and see what happens. Once you’ve established a baseline (so to speak) then you can try other things.


    I know that I have a lot to learn as a newbie and your article only confirms this. Trying to analyze the results of my colored pencil drawings is currently based on my skill set. I hope in due time that my skills do get to the point of pairing the right CP with the right paper will improve my drawings. I certainly do appreciate your insight to this issue.

    Thank you!

    1. Ron,

      Thank you for your very kind words.

      When we are new artists, most of us evaluate our work based on our personal skill sets. That was certainly true for me because I started painting before there was an internet. I had been selling portraits for several years before I found an art organization to join, so all of my learning was accomplished by doing.

      If you know what you want to accomplish and you can objectively evaluate each piece then you’re ahead of the game. It’s helpful to look for the things you’re doing right, then look for areas that aren’t working. In each case, you can then decide what to try next in order to improve!

      Whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep drawing!

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