Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Have you tried sanded art paper with colored pencil yet?

If you haven’t, you may be wondering why you should. After all, isn’t it just like drawing on sand paper from the local hardware store? (And who wants to do that?)

That’s the way I thought before my first experiments with sanded art paper. I almost didn’t try it, because I just couldn’t see how it would work.

But I’m glad I took the plunge! There are a lot of differences between sanded art paper and traditional drawing paper. Some pretty big—and surprising—differences.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Now that I’ve created several pieces on sanded art papers, it’s time to share with you what I’ve learned. Both good and bad.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Drawing Paper

Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. More recently, Clairefontaine Pastelmat has entered the market.

In another post, I described 6 basics of drawing paper, including the most commonly used papers for colored pencil. A subsequent article listed 3 non-paper, non-traditional drawing surfaces for colored pencil. One of them was sandpaper.

I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.

Paper Strength

This is a good difference.

Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.

Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.

An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.

Detailed Line Drawings

Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.

I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.

But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.

Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.

August Morning in Kansas
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.

Sharp Pencils

You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.

So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.

Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.

And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!

Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!

Pigment dust can be dry blended into sanded art paper.
Use brushes like this to dry blend pigment dust into the surface of sanded art paper.

Thick Color Layers

Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.

And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.

The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.

Is this a good difference or a bad one?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.

But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.

Excellent Tooth

If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.

Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.

But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.

This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on Sanded Paper

It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.

East of Camp Creek
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

Conclusion

If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!

Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.

Interested in reading more? I wrote a good mini clinic for EmptyEasel based on that first, small drawing. I think you’ll find it useful. Read Using a Sandpaper Surface for a Colored Pencil Drawing here.

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Are there alternatives to drawing paper for use with colored pencil?

The short answer is yes. There are times when choosing the best support for your next drawing involves choosing something other than drawing paper.

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Why You Might Want Alternatives to Drawing Paper

First, lets take a look at a couple of reasons why you might be looking for drawing paper alternatives. (There are more than you might expect.)

You Need to Frame Without Glass

It is possible to frame colored pencil art without glass, but you need to make preparation from the beginning. Since the primary reason for framing colored pencil drawings under glass is to protect the drawing paper, the only way to safely frame without glass is to draw on a rigid support—something that cannot be easily torn or punctured.

Some drawing papers are available with rigid backing, but not all. So if you need (or want) a rigid support, you need an alternative to traditional paper.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to Look More Like Paintings

There is a perception that artwork on paper is less valuable than artwork on supports such as canvas, canvas panel, or hardwood. The bias isn’t usually accurate—most mediums suitable for paper are just as archival as other mediums if used and displayed correctly—but the bias does exist.

Colored pencils can be used on all of the rigid supports above and many others. I’ve tried it on canvas and have drawn on wood supports and liked the results.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to be More “Approachable”

A lot of colored pencil artists perceive glass to be an obstacle between their work and the audience. To avoid that, they frame colored pencil art without glass.

You and Traditional Drawing Paper Just Don’t Get Along

It may be that traditional drawing papers just don’t work with your method of drawing. That’s perfectly all right! Nothing works all of the time for everyone. Even those of us who like drawing paper often have several favorites. I know I do.

But sometimes, an artist needs something totally different. Watercolor paper for watercolor pencils or mixed media. Sanded paper for lots of layering. The list is endless.

That’s when you need a alternative to drawing paper.

You Want to Experiment

Lets face it, some of us just like to try new things! There’s nothing wrong with that! Alternatives to drawing paper are only one way to experiment, but they are often the least expensive way to experiment.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to draw on something besides paper, what are your choices?

4 Alternatives to Drawing Paper

In a previous article, I described some of the non-paper supports I’ve drawn on. You can read about mat board, sanded art papers, and wood in 3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives, so I won’t do more than just mention them here. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the other types of drawing paper alternatives.

Let’s begin with something I mentioned earlier: drawing paper boards.

Bristol Paper Boards

These papers are all mounted on rigid supports that are archival and acid-free. Most of them can withstand heavy use, and some are even capable of holding up under light washes of water soluble color.

There only two disadvantages:

First, they are probably not the type of support you’d want to frame without glass. They are more durable than drawing paper, but because they are drawing paper mounted to a rigid support, they are still susceptible to damage.

Second, they are available in only two surfaces: Vellum and plate. Plate is very smooth and are therefore not reliable for drawing methods that require lots of layering. Vellum is better for layering, but may still be too smooth. As I mentioned in our discussion of paper tooth, neither may be suitable if you do a lot of layering.

I’ve included Rising Museum Board in the list below, but it is actually not intended as a drawing surface. It’s not a surface I’ve drawn on before, but I do like Rising Stonehenge paper, so wouldn’t be afraid to give this a try. I’ve also used mat board effectively, so wouldn’t be afraid to try this.

The links below are to the Dick Blick website, where more information is available on each support.

Suede Board

Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork.

I’ll be honest. I was biased against suede mat board because of past experiences with velvet paint-by-numbers. I tried one or two of those and absolutely, positively did not like them. So whenever someone asked if I’d tried colored pencil on suede board, I said I hadn’t. I didn’t intend to, either.

But colored pencil works much more nicely on suede mat board than oil paints work on velvet. All I had to do was draw one eye from imagination on a sample of blue suede board to decide I wanted to try it for a larger drawing (stay tuned for a work-in-progress demonstration on that).

Although its surface is best described as “plushy”, it can take a lot of color. You can also render a lot of detail on it. You will have to adjust color application methods somewhat and you’ll need to build up three or four layers before the colors begin to pop, at least on the darker color I was using.

But it produces a type of drawing that I’ve not been able to duplicate on any other paper. It’s definitely worth a try.

Pastel Boards

Pastel boards are designed to be drawn on with pastels. They generally have more tooth because pastels require more tooth to stick to the drawing surface. Some are actually sanded art papers, while others are just a toothier form of drawing paper. There are so many that I can list only a few here.

But you may recognize many of the brand names: Names like UArt, Art Spectrum, Canson Mi-Teintes.

Most of these surfaces are listed as “multi-media”. I’ve seen the most luscious oil paintings on Ampersand Pastelbord, for example.

Some of these supports are on my wish list. All of them sound intriguing. If one of your primary reasons for wanting to draw on something other than drawing paper is framing without glass, give one of these a try.

Canvas

The last surface I’ll look at today is canvas. Plain and simple oil or acrylic painting canvas. Granted, this is not a support I’ve ever considered, though John Ursillo’s work on canvas does make the prospect more inviting. Canvas is so toothy that about the only way to use it successfully with colored pencil is to use solvents to melt the color down into the weave.

Master that method, though, and you can produce any level of detail you desire AND have a surface that never needs glass in the framing process.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the more common alternatives to drawing paper. There are many others, so if you really want to experiment, you have lots of options.

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Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils?

A short time ago, I wrote a post about the best colored pencil papers. Jana Botkin read that post and had a question.

Will you expand on the paper in the basic list? I use Strathmore 400 series Bristol smooth for graphite, but prefer the vellum for cp. Which surface and weight were you thinking of? The Michael’s in my county only carries 300 series, which has inconsistent grain, so I order from Blick. –Jana Botkin

Thank you for your question, Jana. I’d be glad to share my thoughts on drawing paper. There are a lot of choices available so I’m confident many of your fellow readers have the same question.

Best Colored Pencil Papers

Best Papers for Colored Pencils

The truth is, choosing paper for colored pencil work is as much a personal preference as anything else. So many things factor into those decisions. Jana mentioned the surface and weight of the paper and those are two important things to consider.

But they aren’t the only things, so before I get to my recommendations, lets take a look at a few “paper basics”.

Paper Basics

There are six things to consider when considering which paper to buy. Fiber, weight, surface texture, sizing, longevity, and color.

Fiber

Paper is made from plant fibers. The most common plants for paper making are cotton, linen, flax, jute, hemp, bamboo, rice straw or rattan. The size and shape of these fibers determine the type and sturdiness of the paper.

Cotton papers are made from cotton fibers, the longest fibers of all the plant types. It’s generally considered the highest quality paper and is referred to as 100% cotton rag. 100% cotton rag paper can withstand heavy erasing and drawing. The highest quality 100% cotton paper can last over 100 years, but not all cotton papers are the same. The shorter the fibers, the more the paper may tend to get “fuzzy” with use. Check the specifications on cotton paper to know what you’re buying.

Cellulose papers are made from wood pulp. Wood pulp papers are usually less expensive, but they’re also usually less archival (long lasting). That’s because wood pulp contains a natural acid that breaks down the fibers over time. Buffers can be added during the manufacturing process to neutralize the acids. Look for the words “buffer”, “buffered”, or “neutral” when deciding which cellulose paper to buy.

Weight

Paper weight is a measurement of the thickness—or heaviness—of paper. Traditionally, it’s been measured by weighing 500 sheets (a ream) at a standard size. The more a ream of paper weighs, the thicker each sheet is.

The thicker a sheet of paper is, the more color it can accept without buckling (if you’re using wet media), tearing, or falling apart.

Tracing paper is a light-weight paper. Strathmore 300 series papers are heavier. Card stock papers are still heavier.

Papers used to always be measured in pounds. 300-pound watercolor paper, for example.

But many art paper manufacturers have converted to a grams per square inch (gsm) measurement. A 50-pound paper is the same as an 81gsm paper. Many art retailers show both forms of measurement.

Surface Texture

Surface texture is properly known as “finish” when discussing art papers. How the paper is dried during manufacture determines the finish.

Paper with a rough finish is allowed to air dry without being smoothed or pressed. The resulting finish is very textured and is best suited for water media and pastel.

Cold press paper has been pressed before it dries. Handmade papers and machine made papers are pressed in different ways, but the result is the same. The surface fibers are “pressed down” somewhat. Since the pressing is done without heat, the paper isn’t completely smooth. Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight.

Hot press paper is made by pressing newly made paper through heated metal rollers or plates. All texture left after manufacture is pressed out of the paper. This paper is excellent for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing.

Sizing

Sizing is added to make paper more water-resistant. The paper doesn’t absorb as much moisture or pigment, so watercolors and inks stay brighter and lines stay crisper.  It’s less important for papers used for dry media. Sizing also can affect a paper’s archival qualities.

Internal sizing is added while the paper pulp is still in a liquid state. It becomes part of the paper.

External, Surface or Tub sizing is applied to the surface of the paper after the sheet is formed and dried. Some paper is both internally and surface-sized.

Longevity

Also known as being archival. Archival papers have a proven history of stability over time. They don’t yellow or fade. They’re also more likely to be acid-free, which means they contain little or no cellulose acid natural to wood pulp papers.

Many sketching papers are wood-pulp based papers and are not archival. They’re perfectly suited for sketching, but if you want your drawings to last a long, long time, use higher quality papers.

Color

Some drawing papers come in only one color. White.

But many others are available in a range of colors. Working on colored paper can be both fun and frustrating. Paper color does affect the way colored pencil looks, but it can also provide a good foundation for your drawing and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil drawing.

What I Use & Why

I buy the best-quality papers possible for colored pencil work because many of my drawings are portraits. Portraits or not, I want all of my best drawings to  look fresh and new for years.

My favorite papers are Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Bristol Vellum pretty much in that order.

Stonehenge

I’ve used Stonehenge for years. It’s a cotton-based paper suitable for watercolor (in limited amounts), drawing, and printmaking. It has enough tooth to take a lot of color, but is smooth enough for drawing details. It’s available in several sheet sizes, in pads, and rolls, and comes in white and a selection of light colors and black. It has no sizing (that I’m aware of) so the surface is relatively soft, almost velvety.

It’s my go-to paper for large and small drawings. For smaller drawings, the 90-lb (250 gsm) is very good, but I prefer the heavier 120-lb (320 gsm) paper. It’s also available as a rigid support, which I haven’t yet tried.

The biggest disadvantage to Stonehenge is that it can be difficult to find locally. I order mine from Dick Blick.

It also should be handled with care, since the surface can be easily impressed. Flat storage for sheets is recommended.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson makes Mi-Teintes paper for pastel artists, so it has quite a bit of surface texture (tooth) on the front. The texture is also mechanical in nature. Lay a little color over the paper and you see a pattern of hexagon shapes.

But the back is less textured and the texture is less dramatic. It still has more texture than Stonehenge, but it’s great for colored pencil work of all types.

What makes Canson Mi-Teintes one of my favorite papers is that it handles solvent blending and a moderate amount of water media work with ease. Make sure it’s taped securely to a rigid support and you can do several solvent blends in a single drawing.

Bristol Vellum

Bristol paper is a more economical paper. Usually acid-free and generally heavier than other papers, it’s often referred to as “Bristol board”; usually 100-lb (270 gsm).

It comes in two surfaces. The smooth (or regular) surface is very smooth and somewhat slick.

Vellum finish has a little more tooth and is ideal for drawing. I have a pad of it in my paper drawer and use it for article illustrations, but layering a lot of color can be difficult without the use of solvents or workable fixative.

Bristol comes only in white and is available from a variety of manufacturers. I currently am using Beinfang Bristol Vellum because it’s available in 146 pounds.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

If you create art for income, and especially if you sell your original work, it’s key to know the best colors and brands to use. Not all colored pencils are created equal, and you do not want to produce art that fades with time.

That’s certainly one of my primary concerns. It also happens to be Joan Marie’s concern too.

OH Carrie!

I have used colored pencils for years, but mostly licensing my art, so the originals were not purchased.

NOW I am beginning to sell my originals and you have really helped me to face the facts that most bright colors fade! OH MY!

Could you please help us who sell our art for professional prices to know which brands and colors are the best and OH MY…

I guess there is no hope of art using bright colors to last with any colored pencil brand. SO SAD! Is this true…??

Thank you SO MUCH for all you are doing for us passionate for colored pencils!! (:

Joan Marie

To see what Joan is doing with colored pencils, visit her website.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

Sadly, Joan’s conclusion that most bright colors fade—some of them very quickly—is true. Even among the better, more lightfast brands of colored pencils, there are some colors that fade.

Because that is such a universal thing, I’m going to answer Joan’s question in two parts. In Part 1, I’ll discuss the root cause for fading colors. The second part will list some of the brands of pencils that have the best selection of bright colors.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

Basic Information about Pigments

After getting Joan’s email, I researched pigments. I had in my mind the idea that the problem was not with the manufacturing of art supplies, but with the pigments used in making various colors.

Turns out, I was right.

Paints, colored pencils, pastels, fabric dyes, and other “colorants” are all developed from the same basic pigments. These powdered pigments come from a variety of sources, and can be used individually or combined to create the colors that go into colored pencils, oil paints, watercolors, and other media.

Pigments come from two basic sources: Organic and inorganic.

Some pigments are lightfast by nature and some are not.

Inorganic Pigments

Metals are a common source of pigments. Colors with the words cadmium, chromium, cobalt, iron oxide, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, titanium, zinc or aluminum in their names come from metals.

Other inorganic sources of pigment are carbons (carbon black, ivory black, charcoal,) clay earth (yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber,) and ultramarine pigments (ultramarine, ultramarine green shade.)

These colors are usually “earthy” in appearance.

They are also among the most lightfast colors available. Although there is a range of blues, greens, yellows, and reds among these pigments, none of them are very bright.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art - Dry Pigment

Biological and organic pigments

Biological pigments are derived from plant and animal sources. Certain snails, for example, produce rich purples while Indian Yellow was said to be either plant sourced, or animal (there is debate over which is true.)

Other organic pigments produce such colors as Alizarin Crimson, gamboge, rose madder, and indigo.

As a rule, these pigments are brighter, but also less permanent than inorganic pigments.

Synthetic Pigments

With the advance of technology and industry, many naturally occurring pigments have been replaced in part or entirely by synthetic pigments. These pigments are often have very bright, intense shades and were developed by or for industry. They are generally very lightfast.

The Best Colors for Artists Who Want to Sell Their Work

If you want to create colored pencil work that maintains original appearance for a long time, the best colors to use made from inorganic or synthetic sources.

So how do you know which pigments went into each color?

Most manufacturers list technical information for their products somewhere on their website. That information often includes the pigments used for each color.

Some also print that information right on their product. M. Graham Oils, for example, lists not only the lightfastness and transparency of the color, but the pigments used to create the color.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art - Oil Paint Labels

Don’t you wish colored pencil manufacturers did that?

Of course, pencils are much too small to have all this information printed on each one. For those of you who are more technically minded, you can get the same information by contacting the manufacturer of your favorite pencils.

The rest of us must rely on manufacturer lightfast testing and labeling!

In general, avoid pinks, purples, and most bright reds.

In other words, as Joan put it, most bright colors fade.

Does that mean there’s no hope? Not at all!

The Best Brands for Artists Who Want to Sell Their Work

The cost of pigment is among the biggest factors in the cost of a colored pencil, no matter what the color. The less expensive the original pigment, the less expensive the finished pencil.

More expensive pencils are made with better pigments. Pigments that are more lightfast to begin with. That’s part of the reason they’re more expensive.

The best option for the artist who wants to create artwork to sell is to start with a set of favorite pencils, then buy open stock, and choose the most permanent colors from each brand.

However, some companies take such care in selecting pigments and making their colors, that buying full sets is a safe investment.

(Yes, there are only three brands of pencils on this list. There are a lot of very good colored pencils on the market, but since the purpose of this post is lightfast bright colors, I’m only including those I could find that have more permanent bright colors.)

Faber-Castell Polychromos

I have a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and most of them are rated very good or excellent for lightfastness. In fact, of the 120 colors, I wouldn’t use only two.

Polychromos have a beautiful range of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges and they are available open stock, so if you only need lightfast bright colors, you can probably find them on-line.

Caran D’Ache Luminance

Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils are also very lightfast. A full set consists of 76 pencils, including some nice yellows and oranges, and a few pinks and purple. Every color is rated 1 or 2.

They are expensive, but they are also a very good investment.

Derwent Lightfast

Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils are a new addition to Derwent’s already excellent line of colored pencil products.

As I write this post, there are only 36 colors available, but every one of them has the highest possible lightfast ratings. The original set is mostly earth tones. Creams. Browns. Earthy greens and blues. They’re perfect for landscape and animal artists.

However, Derwent Lightfast also includes a couple of shades of purples that are very lightfast.

An additional 36 colors are rumored to be released laster this year.

So What are the Best Colored Pencil Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art?

There is no easy answer.

Finding the best colors that are bright AND lightfast is an ongoing challenge for most colored pencil artists. Manufacturers find new ways to create lightfast bright colors on a regular basis.

Every artist will find different companies and colors to suit their work best, so the bottom line is to do your own research, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Today continues a series of articles on colored pencil basics for those who are either new to colored pencils, or want to try them. Today, we’ll talk about the things you need to get started with colored pencils.

Since this is an article on the basics, I want to keep it simple. But I also I want to answer a few common questions asked by people considering colored pencils.

If that’s you, read on!

Why Colored Pencils?

With so many great mediums available, why should you consider colored pencils?

Reasons are a varied as the artists who use them. I dedicated an entire posts to why I like them and you can read it here.

For the sake of this post, I’ll share the most important reasons I prefer colored pencils.

  1. They’re great for creating detail.
  2. They’re clean. No messy cleanup. No migrating paint.
  3. You can take them anywhere!

Those are the three main reasons I started using colored pencils back in the mid 1990s. I needed a medium I portable medium ideal for producing the same, highly detailed portraits I was doing with oils.

Of course there are all the great colors, ease of use, all the ways you can blend with them, and all the great brands available. If you give them a try, I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons to love colored pencils.

What You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Okay. So I’ve convinced you that you are on the right track in considering colored pencils. Now for the big question. Just what must you have to get started?

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about so many different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder:

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk. There are just so many really cool things available!

What do you really need to get started?

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Lets begin with three very simple lists.

I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases.

This post covers the first two lists because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of supplies necessary to get started with colored pencils. It is the most simple list, and the least expensive.

In most cases, you can find these items locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of some of the same items. Two kinds of paper, for example.

You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

If you want to start with the basic list, then add a few items from the other two lists after you’ve used colored pencils for a while, that’s perfect.

One Additional Word of Advice

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils. That makes them easier to use and learn with.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available where you live.

Now on to the lists!

The Basic List

Paper

I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or toned. I recommend white. It’s easier to see what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.

Pencils

One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense.

And not all of those.

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools

Sharpener

A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener gives you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils. It’s high quality and inexpensive, though you will probably have to buy it on-line.

Eraser

There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby. If there’s an art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.

Paper

A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods. They are ideal for learning, though, and are the go-to papers for a lot of colored pencil artists.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.

Pencils

Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colorless Blender

Other Tools

Sharpener

Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.

Erasers

One package of mounting putty. Look for Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak or similar brands. Mounting putty is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. You can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Brush

A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Drafting Brush & Erasing Shield

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color using an erasing shield.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but you also need to use them with care.

That’s why I don’t include them on the Basic List or the Expanded Basic List. Better to find out first if you like drawing with colored pencils enough to invest in additional tools.

Are you ready to get started with colored pencils?

I’ve put together a PDF download shopping list that includes all three of my shopping categories.

Click Here to Download Your Own Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils Shopping Lists

Click here to get my Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s have a little fun today. Something totally off topic as far as tutorials, discussions, and techniques. Let’s take a look at my colored pencil wish list.

And yours, too, if you care to share.

Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s face it. No artist can have too many supplies.

Remember the last time you went to an art or craft store? All those open stock pencils in their nifty display rack. Sheets of paper, and accessories.

Those beautiful colors are enough to make your mouth water (and that’s just the lacquer!) I don’t know about you, but it’s impossible to have too many colors.

Or too many pencils.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Faber-Castell

But most of us can’t afford to buy every colored pencil we see. The budget just doesn’t allow for that. We begin where we can and wish for others.

That wish list is what this post is all about.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Here are other pencils on my wish list, in alphabetical order.

Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company producing a range of writing and art supplies. Their colored pencil product line includes Pablo, Luminance, and Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are probably the best known, and they are about the best wax-based pencil available, but they are quite expensive at $4.49 (currently at Dick Blick) for single pencils.

Luminance pencils are available in 76 colors that are highly pigmented and can be used with all the same blending methods you might use with Prismacolor. Their pigment core is soft and ideal for layering.

But what sets them apart is their opacity.

Most wax-based colored pencils are translucent in nature. You can see the influence of each layer of color through all the other layers you put over it. That’s why it’s so difficult to make white or light colors show over dark colors.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Luminance

That is not the case with Luminance. You can draw light over dark for striking results.

The Pablo line is to Luminance with Verithin is to Prismacolor Soft Core. A thinner, harder pigment core that holds a point longer, and is great for fine details.

Derwent Drawing Pencils

Derwent Drawing Pencils have been around since 1986, when Derwent introduced the original line of six colors. Now with 24 colors, they are starting to step onto center stage with colored pencil artists.

Each color is a soft, “earthy” color. The pencils themselves are bigger than most colored pencils. The pigment core is 8mm (Prismacolor is 3.8mm). But they’re also very soft, so they lay down a lot of color quickly.

Colored Pencils 1

What attracts me to these pencils is the muted colors, which are ideal for drawing landscapes or under drawings.

They’re a medium priced pencil, currently listed at $2.02 each in open stock on Dick Blick.

Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent Lightfast Pencils are brand new to the market. They are specifically designed by Derwent to be 100% lightfast; that is, every color in the collection is lightfast.

How lightfast? The company has tested them by ASTM Standards (D-6901 to be specific,) and every color is guaranteed not to fade in 100 years under museum conditions.

They’re an oil-based pencil that performs almost like a wax-based pencil, with smooth lay down and great pigmentation.

Colored Pencils Pencils 2

The downside?

There aren’t many colors, yet. Only 36.

They’re very expensive. The full set is currently $102.56 from Dick Blick. Single pencils are $2.65 each from Dick Blick.

Derwent is planning on introducing 36 more colors in the Lightfast line, but the roll-out date is still unknown.

But they are on my wish list!

Dick Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils

If you’re just getting started with colored pencil drawing and want a high quality pencil for a reasonable price, you can hardly do better than Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils.

The pencils are available in a variety of sets and open stock (91 colors) for about a dollar a pencil. They are a wax-based pencil, with a thick, soft pigment core, and can be used with layering and blending methods.

I’m interested in trying these pencils both because of price, and because they are manufactured by the same company that manufactures Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils. I think of Utrecht as an old, and respected company, so am interested in their colored pencil products.

Colored Pencils

Koh-I-Nor Polycolor Dry Color Drawing Pencils

I can’t say much about the Koh-I-Nor Dry Color Drawing Pencils that I didn’t say about the Koh-I-Nor Woodless Progresso pencils (see below.) I’ve been so happy with the woodless pencils for general drawing and on sanded pastel paper, that I hope the Polycolor pencils live up to the same standard.

Polycolor pencils are oil-based—another advantage as far as I’m concerned—and are moderately priced below a dollar each for the full set of 72.

Colored Pencils on a Diagonal

The only drawback—and it is significant—is that they are not available open stock. For that reason, they wouldn’t be my first choice from this list. But in my opinion, price makes them worth a try.

Someday.

Lyra Rembrandt

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are also oil-based, so they produce less wax-bloom than wax-based pencils.

The closest I’ve ever come to these pencils is having some how once gotten hold of a Lyra Splender Blender. That was back before I knew the difference between wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils. I used it to blend Prismacolor and it worked great.

They’re available in a wide range of colors open stock and in sets. Open stock price at Dick Blick is $1.72, so they’re a moderately priced pencil.

Colored Pencils in two Rows

Colored Pencils I Wish Were Available

More Colors, Please.

The Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils are fabulous to work with, especially on sanded art surfaces. But they come in only 24 colors, some of which are of no use to an animal or landscape artist! I’d love to see more earth tones, and “earthy” blues, greens, and yellows.

The same goes for the Derwent Drawing Pencils. Those muted tones are said to be beautiful and the pencils themselves a delight to use. I have only the Chinese White, but I definitely plan to buy a set one of these days. Twenty-four colors is a great start, but I’d really love to see a wider range.

Prismacolors the way they used to be.

Who wouldn’t want that?

I have a pencil or two dating back to the Eagle days, as well as a few that are newer, but still predate the current Prismacolor. I would dearly love for someone to buy back the brand and get back to manufacturing a colored pencil for artists and by artists.

Colored Pencils in a Circle

That’s My Colored Pencil Wish List

At least at present. Who knows? Something new may come along any day, and merit addition to this list.

But isn’t that the way it is with art supplies? There’s always something new!

What pencils are on your wish list?

Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils

Just how important is it to use lightfast colored pencils?

There have always been discussions about lightfast colors among serious artists. Artists who create work for sale want their work to last beyond years or decades. They want it to last generations.

So do the collectors who spend big bucks to get original artwork.

No one wants to spend a lot of money on something that’s going to fade away in ten or twenty years (or less.)

Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils

Given the number of people starting to use colored pencils every day and the number of new products coming to market, it’s not surprising to get questions. Questions like these:

When considering lightfastness in colored pencils, what number is considered light fast?

Is there any difference in the lightfastness of oil pencils in relationship to wax based pencils?

Do I have to use lightfast colored pencils?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions individually.

A Little Basic Information on Lightfastness

If a color does fade over time, it’s also referred to as fugitive. The color “runs away and hides” if exposed to light. Sometimes it may disappear altogether, and sometimes very quickly.

Most companies that produce art supplies for fine art or professional use test their products to see how they hold up under use. That includes tests for fading and durability, among other things.

Oil paints have included lightfast information for many years.

Lightfast Colored Pencils - Oil Paint Rating

Most reputable colored pencil manufacturers also now include such information on each pencil. This basic information is designed to let artists know which colors are lightfast and how lightfast they are.

Answers to Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils


When considering lightfastness in colored pencils, what number is considered light fast?

Pencils are rated differently in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world, but all brands are tested in some form, and many companies provide color charts that include lightfast ratings.

Let’s look at two examples.

Prismacolor pencils are made by a US-based company, so they’re tested according to US standards. The ASTM D6901 standard, to be precise.

The results are divided into five categories, with the lowest number being the best and the highest being the worst. The categories are labeled with Roman numerals and look like this. I (1,) II (2,) III (3,) IV (4,) and V (5.)

Any color with a I ranking is said to be very lightfast. Colors with a V ranking are very poor. My personal sunlight tests show such colors fade within weeks when exposed to direct sunlight.

Unfortunately, the rating is not printed on the pencils.

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are made in Germany and are tested using the Blue Wool Scale, which is the European standard. The results are divided into eight categories, with the lowest numbers being the most likely to fade.

To further complicate matters, Faber-Castell and other companies combine categories into three. They rate their pencils on a star system. A color with one star is more likely to fade than two- or three-star colors.

Lightfast Colored Pencils - Faber-Castell Pencils

So the answer to this question depends on the pencils you use and where they’re made. Look for high numbers in non-US made pencils and low numbers in US-made pencils.

Is there any difference in the lightfastness of oil pencils in relationship to wax based pencils?

The qualities that make a color permanent is in the pigment itself, not in the binder (the substance than  holds the pigment in shape.)

So it doesn’t matter whether you use wax-based pencils (with a primarily wax binder) or oil-based pencils (with a primarily oil binder.) If the pigment fades, then it will fade regardless.

What makes the difference is that some companies replace fading pigments with more expensive pigments that are similar in color, but do not fade or don’t fade as quickly.

Those pencils are more expensive because the pigment itself is more costly. Not because of the binder used in making the pencil.

Do I have to use lightfast colored pencils?

No. You do not have to use lightfast colored pencils all of the time, or for every drawing. You don’t have to use them at all, if you really don’t want to.

Nor do you have to remove every fading color from your new set of pencils if you don’t want to. A lot of those fading colors can’t currently be replaced in any brand. Pinks and purples are notorious for fading, but if you really need to use them in your work, then you should use them.

So is there any time or place for using lightfast pencils?

Sure!

You can safely use fading colors if you don’t plan to sell the original. If it’s a practice piece, just for fun, or if you sell reproductions and keep the originals, it’s perfectly safe to use fading colors.

If you do give those pieces away (or even sell them,) make absolutely sure the new owners fully understand the precautions they need to take. What are those precautions?

  • Use UV resistant glazing with framing
  • Never exhibit the artwork in direct sunlight
  • Be aware of the interior lighting in the exhibit area, since some artificial lighting can also contain ultra-violet light.
Lightfast Colored Pencils - For Crafting

If you’re doing craft work (gift cards, etc.,) adult coloring books, or anything else of that nature, you don’t really need lightfast colors.

Even so, it is important to know enough about lightfast ratings to understand how they work and why they’re important.

That’s the best way by far to avoid potential problems.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

I know what you’re thinking: Who cares about drawing realistic dirt? What possible difference does it make?

For many artists, dirt is. . . well, just dirt, and not nearly as interesting as water or as monumental as mountains. A few swipes of color and a little bit of shading is all you really need. Right?

For most subjects, that’s probably true. But if you enjoy making landscapes or other outdoor scenes, it’s important to know how to draw dirt in a manner that fits your subject and style.

That’s I’m sharing a few basic tips for drawing realistic dirt.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

Maybe you’ve never thought about how you draw dirt before! If so, that’s OK. It’s not the most glamorous subject and the most notice it gets is either in the form of rocks, or as an unimportant part of the overall composition.

That’s a shame.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

It isn’t that difficult to draw almost any kind of soil so it looks believable and fits into the overall composition as though it’s meant to be there, rather than an afterthought.

Let’s look at a few of them.

A Few of My Favorite Methods

Watercolor Pencils

Here’s a portrait I drew sometime ago. I used watercolor pencils with watercolor paper to lay down the foundation, then finished with regular colored pencils.

The setting was a specific racetrack with a distinctive color of sand. There were also specific types of soil and cover on the winner’s circle, which is visible in the middle ground on the left. Since this was a “moment in time” portrait, all those things had to be correct.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Here’s a detail of the track and winner’s circle. As you can see, there isn’t much detail. The portrait was just too small for that (only 8 x 10.)

But there is still a distinct difference between the sand on the track and the ground in the winner’s circle.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Water Soluble Colored Pencils Detail

How I Did It

I laid down washes of color in several layers, letting each wash dry completely before adding the next.

The initial wash was a red-gold base color that covered everything. Next came layers of darker, cooler browns in the shadows and to add details. Final details were added with traditional pencils.

I worked on four versions of this portrait before getting it right. One of them was entirely traditional colored pencils, and I documented that process for an EmptyEasel article. Read How to Draw Realistic Dirt, Ground, & Soil with Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel for more tips.

Traditional Colored Pencils

The Sentinel, shown below, was drawn entirely with traditional colored pencils.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Traditional Colored Pencil

How I Did It

This path is a little outside the ordinary because it didn’t appear in the original composition. I finished the entire piece, then decided it needed something to more clearly direct the eye to the trees. What could be better than a path?

So I had to first lift as much color as possible with an eraser. Next, I added the path by layering fresh color over the areas that had been erased. The end result was much more satisfactory.

The same method—without the erasing of course—can be used for any drawing. For step-by-step instructions, read How to Correct Mistakes or Rework a Finished Colored Pencil Drawing on EmptyEasel.

Interesting Drawing Surfaces

Sometimes all you need to do is find the right support. A colored paper or unique surface texture, and you’re halfway there.

That was the case with this miniature drawing. I used a piece of cured Silver Maple for the support. The drawing was an experiment. I wanted to see how well colored pencil worked on wood (it works beautifully).

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Support

How I Did It

Ironically, this one was the easiest of all. I simply used the wood grain for the exposed soil along the bottom of the composition. A few accents and details made the wood look like dirt for this miniature drawing.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that it isn’t that difficult to make any patch of ground in your composition look like it belongs there. Any one of these tips will help you do it, or you can think outside the box and find your own ideas!

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

Whenever new students begin a colored pencil course, whether it’s an online colored pencil course or a basic drawing lesson, there are questions. In this article, I want to address four frequently asked questions about colored pencils from my students.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

1. What are the best/top brands for colored pencils?

There really isn’t an easy answer to this question. There are just too many brands of pencils on the market and so many ways to use them. The brands most often named by artists who make at least part of their living from art are:

  • Caran d’Ache Luminance
  • Derwent (a number of different lines in the Derwent collection)
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos
  • Prismacolor

Before you chose a brand, though, there is a more important question to ask and I can answer that question specifically.

Colored Pencil Grades

The grade of the pencils you use is, in most cases, more important than the brand you prefer. Grade refers to the quality of the pencil. The higher grade, the better the quality.

Colored pencils come in three basic grades.

  • Scholastic
  • Student
  • Artist/Professional

Most elementary school students use scholastic pencils. They’re the type of pencil you’re most likely to find at discount stores.

Student grade pencils are middle grade pencils. They’re higher quality than scholastic pencils, but not as good as professional grade pencils. A lot of people who are trying colored pencils or just getting started with them use student grade pencils because they can be significantly less expensive than the best pencils, but are better than scholastic pencils.

The top-of-the-line pencils are artist or professional grade pencils. They handle better and, in most cases, lay down better color and last longer, but they’re also more expensive.

The same manufacturing processes and pigments are used to make all the pencils in all of these grades. The difference is in the ratio of pigment to filler. In the scholastic pencils, there’s less pigment and more filler. In artist grade or professional pencils, there’s very little filler, and more pigment. The student grade pencils are between those two extremes.

Buy the best pencils you can afford. The higher the grade, the better the drawing results. I used cheaper pencils first because of the cost and almost gave up on the medium before upgrading my pencils.

TIP: Learning colored pencil is difficult enough; don’t make it more difficult by using low-quality materials.

2. What is the Difference Between Wax-Based and Oil-Based Pencils?

Wax-based pencils are manufactured with a wax binder that holds the pigment together and allows it to be formed into the pigment core (commonly known as the “lead” of the pencil.) Oil-based pencils use a binder of vegetable oil or some similar form of oil.

Wax-based pencils are generally softer and go onto the paper more smoothly. Oil-based pencils are harder and dryer.

Wax-based pencils can produce something called wax bloom. This happens with all wax-based colored pencils if you apply enough color, but it’s most obvious with dark colors. Wax bloom causes a drawing to look cloudy. It’s easy to remove by lightly wiping the drawing with paper towel. Oil-based pencils do not contain enough wax to cause wax bloom.

You can mix wax-based and oil-based pencils in a single drawing and many artists use both types in most of their work.

3. Does it matter how I hold my pencil?

Yes. Here’s how.

The closer to the tip you hold the pencil, the more pressure you can exert on the paper. Usually, you’re holding the pencil upright, so the tip is the only part of the pigment core that touches the paper, as shown below. You can fill in the paper better this way, you have more control over the amount of pressure you use, and you can draw finer detail holding the pencil this way.

Adding Jade Green to the Distant Trees

When you hold a pencil at the middle or closer to the end, it’s more difficult to exert a lot of pressure on the paper, because you hold the pencil in a more horizontal position.

If the pencil is well-sharpened, you can add color with the side of the exposed pigment core. You can still vary the amount of pressure you use, but not to the same extent. It’s also more difficult to work on detail holding the pencil like this.

Adding Dark Green Colored Pencil to a Green Under Drawing

When you hold a pencil at the very end, you have very little control over the amount of pressure you can use. You’re also drawing with the side of the exposed pigment core, so you can’t draw a lot of detail.

Holding the pencil by the end is best for laying down layers of color over larger areas. If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil very lightly and near the end of the pencil.

4. How many pencils do I need to get started?

Most artists like to have as many pencils as they can get their hands on. For one thing, there are all those lovely, luscious colors!

A lot of us also like to keep different brands around because even though all the manufacturers use basically the same pigments, no two use the same blend of pigments. So there is a range of colors available to the artist who is able to buy some of every brand that’s not available to the artist who wants to stick with one brand.

But how many pencils do you need to start?

The simple answer is that you don’t really need very many.

I recently purchased a set of Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils that contains 24 colors. That’s the largest set they offer, but many other colors are available as open stock.

Those 24 colors are more than enough to draw almost anything I want to draw. Yes, it takes more layering and mixing of colors to get the colors and values I need for some drawings, but it is possible.

Learning how to mix and blend colors is an important part of learning colored pencil, so rather than buy the largest set you can afford, I recommend you buy a middle-sized set. With wood-encased pencils, that’s usually somewhere between 24 and 48 pencils (numbers vary by manufacturer). Once you’ve mastered blending and mixing colors, then you can add colors—or brands—to your collection.

If you really want to test yourself, try the smallest set available!

Ask Carrie a Question

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools

Today, I want to share some of the colored pencil blending tools I use most often.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you may have read about some of these in different posts. But a recent reader question prompts me now to talk about them in a single post.

That reader asked about my favorite blending tools. Yes, of all the colored pencil blending tools available and all those I’ve used, I do have a few that I reach for repeatedly.

So I’ll tell what they are and why I like them so much.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools

Colored Pencil Blending Tools

As I describe in The Only Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil, there are really only three main categories of blending:

Pencil blending is what you do when you layer one color over another.

Dry blending is any method of blending that happens after you’ve layered color, and that doesn’t involve solvent.

Colorless blenders, blending stumps, and scraps of paper fall into this category.

Solvent blending is any blending method that requires a solvent. The solvent could be odorless mineral spirits, turpentine*, rubbing alcohol*, or rubber cement thinner*. Anything that dissolves the binder in colored pencil can be put into the solvent blending category.

*Links to articles on EmptyEasel.

I’ll list at least one in each of these three categories, and tell you not only why I like it, but how and when I use it.

The Colored Pencil Blending Tools I Reach For Most Often

Colored Pencils

The pencils themselves are my blending tool of choice. I use them every time I draw.

Why?

I love layering color and that’s the easiest—and most easily used—method of blending colored pencils on the market today. You don’t need smelly solvents (or any other kind.) You don’t need special tools or materials. Just pencils and paper.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools - Colored Pencils

Whenever I draw, I’m blending, whether I’m adding more layers of the same color to make darker values, or adding other colors to make new colors, it’s all blending.

Colored pencils are also great for burnishing, which is a form of blending in which you press down as hard as you can on the paper.

But the best part is that they require no additional storage containers or special treatment!

Bristle Brushes

A good, stiff bristle brush is also an excellent tool for blending colored pencils. Whenever you blend with solvent, you need a brush, and I get the best results with bristle brushes because I can use a little more pressure.

Well-worn bristle brushes are my absolute favorite. These two are just a couple from a jar full of worn out oil painting brushes I’ve kept on a shelf for years.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools - Bristle Brushes

TIP: If you happen to have old oil painting brushes lying around, don’t throw them away. Wash and rinse them thoroughly, let them dry, then put them in your colored pencil toolbox!

Yes, bristle brushes are perfect for blending with solvent, but that’s not my favorite way of using them.

When you draw sanded pastel paper (which I highly recommend you try at least once,) you create a lot of pigment dust. You can sweep that dust into the trash if you want, but there’s a much better option.

Blend it into the tooth of the paper with a bristle brush. The results can be quite pleasing.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools - Dry Blending Sample

Granted, this method of blending works best on sanded papers.

Colorless Blenders

For regular drawing paper, my favorite dry blending tool is what’s known as colorless blenders or blending pencils. Prismacolor colorless blenders are shown below, but many other brands also have blending pencils.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools - Colorless Blenders

Colorless blenders are pencils without the pigment. Prismacolor colorless blenders are a wax-binder core. Lyra’s Splender Blender is an oil-based blending pencil.

But in both cases, you can blend with them without putting additional color on the paper.

You can use any brand of blender on any brand of pencils. Lyra’s Splender Blender is oil-based and I used it on Prismacolor pencils until I used it up. It worked fine.

But in most cases, the blenders do work best on the pencils for which they were designed.

Solvents

I don’t really have a single favorite tool for blending with solvents other than my trusty bristle brush and a sable or two, so let me share my favorite solvent.

As I write this, I have Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits on my drawing table. I also have a small jar of rubbing alcohol. Both blend colored pencils quite well, though the Gamsol does produce a more thorough blend.

My Favorite Blending Tools - Sovlent

It’s difficult to say which I like better, since they’re suited for different types of blending.

Gamsol, for example, works on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, watercolor paper (but not with watercolor pencils,) and sanded art paper.

Rubbing alcohol doesn’t have much of an impact on sanded art paper, and even on smoother papers, it’s better for smoothing out surface color, then deep blending multiple layers. What I refer to as “gentle blending.”

So those are my favorite colored pencil blending tools.

Do I use other tools to blend colored pencils? Absolutely!

Paper towel and bath tissue are great for soft blends on smooth papers like Bristol or Stonehenge. Sable brushes work quite well with solvents when I can blend an area without exerting a lot of pressure.

Don’t tell anybody, but I even sometimes use a finger tip, which is not recommended because of skin oils.

And there are many blending tools I’ve never tried.

But that, my friend, is an topic of another day!