Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for drawing details. Here’s her question.
Can you share a table or grid, anything, that would match the best pencil(s) and best surface combinations for artwork type, e.g. portraits (in hyper realism or whimsical. Landscapes, still life, etc)? I have learned mainly portraits on Stonehenge and I never get the effect I hope for.
Thank you for your questions. The short answer is no. I don’t have a list of the best surface and pencil combinations for every subject and every type of drawing. Nor do I know of one.
What I do have are a few basic principles from years of using colored pencils on different types of papers and other surfaces.
So let me share those.
The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
As a rule, the more detail you want in your art, the smoother paper you probably need. It’s easier to draw details and create smooth color on smoother papers, because they have less tooth.
But that isn’t the only consideration.
Stonehenge is fairly smooth, but it’s also soft. It takes a lot of layers, but it’s easily scuffed. The last portrait I did failed on Stonehenge because I couldn’t get enough layers without scuffing the paper.
Bristol is a good, smooth paper with a somewhat harder surface. You can draw a lot of detail on it, but may have problems layering. Because Bristol has so little tooth, it sometimes doesn’t take very many layers.
Canson Mi-Teintes is a pastel paper that can also be used for colored pencil. The front and back are two different textures, so you get two surfaces with each sheet.
When I first tried it, I didn’t think it would be any good for drawing details, even if I used the back. But I soon learned differently and now prefer it to Stonehenge. For me, it’s the best combination of smoothness and strength.
140lb hot press watercolor paper is great for drawing details. It takes moisture very well, so you can use it with water-based media and colored pencils combined. It also handles solvent blending very well.
Stonehenge Aqua feels like regular Stonehenge and can be drawn on much the same, but it’s much sturdier than regular Stonehenge.
I’ve also used Canson’s L’Aquarelle watercolor paper and it performs very well with colored pencils wet or dry.
Exceptions to Every Rule
Unfortunately, these principles don’t always apply.
Remember that failed portrait I mentioned above? The one that failed on Stonehenge? I completed it successfully on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, which is a sand paper-like surface. Sanded art papers are fast becoming my go-to papers for portraits and landscapes.
The bottom line on the question of paper is that you need to try several different papers of the type you think will work for you based on the principles above.
But also be prepared to discover that the unexpected surface may be the right one for you.
As for the pencils, what I’ve found is that a combination of pencils works best for me.
In the past, I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for under drawings because they’re thinner and harder than regular Prismacolor pencils. They are not as saturated as regular Prismacolor pencils, but I don’t need saturation for under drawings. I needed a pencil that allowed me to draw values and details without leaving much wax on the paper. Verithin pencils do that.
These days, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos more than Verithin. They’re harder than regular Prismacolors so they give me much the same result as Verithin pencils, but they have a far superior color selection.
Then I layer softer pencils over the under drawing. Usually a mix of Polychromos and Prismacolor regular.
The basic rule of thumb with pencils is that harder pencils are better for drawing detail and softer pencils are better for layering color.
However, artists of all types use one type or the other exclusively to make great art.
In other words, there is no hard-and-fast rule for pencils any more than there is for paper.
The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
If you have a pencil that you like, then stick with that for now. Try different papers until you find one that works with the pencils you have and that gives you the results you’re looking for.
You might also search for videos of colored pencil artists who use the same pencils you use, and see what paper they’re using. That can be a good place to begin your search, and can save time and money in the long-run.
But I also want to suggest that you keep drawing. The difficulty may not be with the pencils and paper themselves, but with your skill level. Especially if you’re still relatively new to colored pencils.
Skill level is easy to improve.
Just keep drawing.