Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

We all have visions of artists outside, painting landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the London Bridge or San Fransisco Bay.

Maybe you’ve even seen them in your town, painting local scenes and doing wonderful work.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

Plein air art is usually associated with wet media like oils, watercolors, or acrylics. If people think of plein air drawing, they usually think graphite or charcoal. I know I do.

But have you ever considered doing the same thing with colored pencils?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

An Autumn Project

I’ve never been much of a plein air artist. I much prefer studio work and years of working as a portrait artist seemed to make plein air drawing unnecessary.

But I have often admired artists who can accurately capture the personality of a subject while painting or drawing outside, no matter what medium they use.

Summer is drawing to a close here in Kansas. Daily temperatures are beginning to fall, which means it’s more pleasant outside. In fact, it’s the perfect time to be outside.

So I’m giving myself a challenge. This fall, I want to do more drawing outside.

It won’t officially be fall until September 22, but I’m not going to wait. Beginning September 1, I want to do one plein air drawing a week. Just. One.

To make myself accountable, I’ll post my drawing on the blog so all can see.

Plein Air Drawing Challenge

You’re invited to participate in the challenge, too. There are no real rules. You can follow my plan to do one drawing a week or make your own plans. The real goal is to get outside and draw, so whatever suits your schedule and creativity works.

The challenge will run from September 1 through October 31. Counting the first three days of September as a week and the last two days of October as week, that’s ten weeks.

Ten weeks.

Ten drawings.

That sounds easy enough, even to me.

I want this to be a fun challenge and I want to learn more about drawing outside, drawing quickly, and learning how to better capture the personality and appearance of a subject.

But I also want to improve my ability to see each subject and render the detail on paper.

You’re welcome to join me. I’ve set up a special group board on Pinterest where I’ll be posting all the plein air drawings I do in September and October. If you’d like to post your drawings, all you have to do is request an invitation to join the board. You will need a Pinterest account, but they’re free and easy to set up.

Colored Pencil Recommendations Bruynzeel Design

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

The discussion led to another question:

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

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

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

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

Artist’s Caveat

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

Now, for the review.

Bruynzeel Design Colored Pencils

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

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

Unfortunately, that line of pencils was discontinued.

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

A Few Interesting Facts

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

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

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

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

For more, check out this review.

Would I Buy These Pencils?

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

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


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

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

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

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

Product Update

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

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

Royal Talens Website

Bruynzeel (Official Website)

Bruynzeel Design Pencils at Dick Blick

What Do You Want to Know?

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

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

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

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

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

The short answer is no.

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

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

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

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

On paper?

Not so much.

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

Why You Should Never Use a Varnish Containing Damar on Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Do Decide to Try a Varnish for Oil Painting

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

My recommendation?

Don’t. Do. It.

Broken Prismacolor Pencils and How to Repair Them

Broken Prismacolor pencils driving you to distraction?

You’re not alone.

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

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

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

My Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Prismacolor Pencils & How to Repair Them

What to Do About Broken Prismacolor Pencils

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

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

Send ‘Em Back

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

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

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

Heat ‘Em Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Quite Convinced?

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

The Final Option

Of course, if you’ve had so much trouble with Prismacolor pencils that you’re ready to throw them over, you can always find a different type of pencil. There are plenty of high quality, artist grade pencils available. The most popular are Faber-Castell Polychromos, but there are others. Jana recommends Polychromos first, but for her students who are on a budget, she also recommends Staedler Ergosoft as a high quality, lower cost substitute.

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

Blick Studio Artist

Caran d’Ache Luminance

Derwent Coloursoft

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour

Staedler Ergosoft

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

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

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

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

Fixative and Varnish: What’s the Difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Practices for Using Varnish or Fixative on Colored Pencil Art

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

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

Here’s how I do my varnishing.

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art?

Some artists swear by it.

Other artists would never do it.

Many are undecided and most of us are somewhere in between.

Still the question remains.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art?

Aside from personal preference, there are good reasons to varnish colored pencil artwork and there are reasons not to. Personal reasons for varnishing colored pencil drawings or not varnishing them are as varied as artists are. The purpose of this post is to look at some professional reasons for and against varnishing colored pencil art.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art

Reasons to Varnish Colored Pencil Art

Controlling Wax Bloom

Some colored pencils are made with a wax binder that allows the pigment to be formed into a core during manufacture and that allows you to put color on paper while drawing.

Some of the wax is left on the paper, too. If you use heavy pressure or lots of layers, you may end up with a lot of wax on the paper.

The wax slowly rises to the surface of the color layers and gives the drawing a foggy or cloudy look. This is what’s known as wax bloom.

Wax bloom is easy to remove. Simply wipe the surface of the drawing very lightly with a piece of paper towel, a tissue (without lotion), or a soft, clean cloth. The wax bloom will return however and you probably won’t ever be able to totally eliminate it.

Giving your finished drawing a light coat of fixative or varnish does more than keep the color in place. It keeps the wax binder in place, too. That means little or no wax bloom.

Of course, if you use oil-based colored pencils, you have no wax bloom worries!

Protecting the Surface

Even a light coat of fixative or varnish will provide protection for your colored pencil drawing. Environmental dirt, dust, and other similar substances will come to rest on the varnish instead of on the drawing itself. A light dusting with a duster or dry clothe is all that’s necessary to remove the dust.

It’s recommended that any artwork on paper be framed under glass for the best protection and that includes colored pencil drawings. But even then, a coat of varnish provides added protection.

Restoring Tooth

Up to this point, I’ve talked about using fixative or varnish after you’ve finished the drawing—that is, after all—the focus of this article.

But you can use fixative or varnish on a drawing that isn’t quite finished. Doing so will give the surface a little more tooth for additional work if that’s what you need.

How much tooth is restored is debatable and depends in large part on the type of fixative or varnish you use and on how heavily you use it. While it merits mention here, it’s really a topic for another discussion.

Reasons Not to Varnish Colored Pencil Art


Some artists have had drawings discolored and some have had them ruined by an application of fixative or varnish. If you happen to be using a cheap varnish or fixative, there is the risk of discoloration. That’s why I generally advise artists to do a test on a piece of scrap paper or an old drawing first.


Anytime you use an aerosol, there is the risk of some of the substance coming out as droplets. This is a special concern if you don’t use varnish very often and the can has been sitting on the shelf for years. Again, the best way to avoid this is to test the varnish first. If it produces droplets after a couple of sprays, don’t use it on anything else.

Unnecessary Effort

I admit that I don’t finish every colored pencil drawing with a coat of fixative or varnish. Sometimes it just isn’t necessary.

Drawings I don’t varnish are either:

  • Drawings I didn’t burnish or use heavy pressure on
  • Predominantly light value or color (wax bloom shows up better on dark colors)
  • Drawn with oil-based pencils

You may also simply not wish to add varnish to a drawing because you like the look of unvarnished drawings. That is a perfectly acceptable way to finish any drawing.

Next week, tips on types of varnishes to use and how to get the best results.

Do you varnish finished drawings? Why or why not?

Video Review of Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils

When I came across this video review of Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for new ideas. New tools, tips and techniques. New colors.

And yes, new pencils.

So whenever someone reviews a product I don’t yet have, I want to watch it.

Video Review of Caran d'Ache Luminance Pencils

I’ve heard a lot about the Caran d’Ache Luminous pencils since their introduction a few years ago, but I’ve have yet to give them a try.

What I learned in this video makes me more interested in trying Luminance pencils than ever.

Review of Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils

The review is provided by ColoringKaria on YouTube. Karia does reviews of adult coloring books and supplies, but this review will be of interest to fine artists, too.

Here’s Karia.

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company.  According the Caran d’Ache web page for Luminance 6901 pencils, these wax-based pencils are “designed for works intended for exhibition, collection and museum purposes.”

In other words, high quality.

And fairly expensive. At the time of this writing, open stock Luminance pencils are $4.62 each at Dick Blick.

As Karia mentioned, that’s on the pricey side for adult coloring book artists.

Even so, I am curious enough to consider a few open stock pencils, even if it’s only a handful of their luscious looking earth tones. I’ll let you know!


Since I first wrote this post, I purchased a Caran d’Ache Luminance White (along with a Derwent Drawing Chinese White.) They’re reportedly among the most opaque colored pencils available, and they work fairly well over darker colors.

Both pencils are more opaque than my other pencils (Prismacolor and Polychromos,) but they don’t cover color completely. As least not as completely as I hoped. But you have to remember that I’m a former oil painter and when I hear one color covers another, I expect it to perform like oil paints! No colored pencil is capable of that.

But the Luminance pencil is more like Prismacolor when it goes onto paper. Limited use still makes me want to buy a few more colors in open stock and try them on a landscape drawing.

More from the Caran d’Ache Luminance Web Page

Highly sought after by drawing masters from every creative sector, the subtle velvety effect of the new permanent pencil stems from two years of technical research conducted in complete secrecy at the heart of the Maison’s workshops. Its delicate texture, along with the vibrancy of the many recently developed shades, open up exciting new vistas in the realms of overlaying, mixed techniques and gradation.

Its extreme lightfastness is confirmed by the most rigorous tests, earning Luminance 6901 top results and international ASTM D-6901 certification.

With Luminance 6901, Caran d’Ache has achieved the feat of creating quite simply the most lightfast colour pencil ever designed.

The line is created according to the criteria laid down by the Swiss Made label and eco-friendly standards, thereby providing an additional demonstration of the Maison’s steadfast ethical commitment.

More Information

Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils web site.

Luminance Colored Pencils Open Stock at Dick Blick

Have you used Caran d’ache Luminance pencils? What did you think?

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on, so this week, let’s take a look at three other surfaces that make for interesting colored pencil artwork.

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

3 Drawing Paper Alternatives

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. This drawing was drawn on gray mat board with a medium texture.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board. Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth. If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork. Sue Ziegler also makes extraordinary use of suede mat board for her equine and canine portraits.

Mat board also comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe (above) because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil? Are sanded papers any good for that?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. The support is sand paper! Granted, it’s not the same quality as sand paper purchased from a hardware store or lumber yard, but it looks the same and it behaves the same when it comes to drawing.

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

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Ampersand Art Supply has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

It’s very difficult to get a high degree of detail with these supports if they’re coarse (and UArt produces some very coarse surfaces), but most of them are guaranteed archival and most of them can also be framed with or without glass. A big advantage for many colored pencil artists.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood
Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece that you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing so you can look at it. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.

Have you used unusual supports for drawing? What did you use and how well did it work for colored pencil?

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

Drawing paper basics is our subject today.

Kerry Hubick wants to know: What are your thoughts about working on smooth paper?

Kerry isn’t the only one with questions about paper.

The Basics of Drawing Paper

I’m a big fan of smooth papers. I love papers like Rising Stonehenge, Bristol (regular finish), and many of the Strathmore artist papers. Generally, the smoother a paper, the better I like it. The one exception is a paper that has a lot of sizing (a treatment that seals and hardens the surface).

But I have used some medium-tooth and rough papers, so I thought I’d piggyback on Kerry’s question to tell you about the differences in the papers and my thoughts on each of them.

Drawing Paper Basics – Surface Texture

Smooth Papers

Smooth papers are papers that have very little tooth. Some of them may appear to have little or no tooth at all. Popular brands are Rising Stonehenge, Strathmore 400 series papers, and Canson Mi-Teintes.

They’re ideal for fine detail and ease of color application. If you like to create colored pencil drawings that have no paper showing through the finished drawing, smooth papers are going to help you the most.

Many of them are available in colors and some, like Canson Mi-Teintes, have a smooth side and a side with a little more texture. Most come in pads, rolls, or sheets, and are easy to find in most art supply stores or online. If you like buying paper in pads, make sure to compare it to the full sheet versions of the same type of paper. Kerry tells me that Canson Mi-Teintes in the pad seems thinner and less sturdy than full sheets. It may just be a different weight of paper

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 5Bristol board is also a smooth surface drawing support. It comes in a vellum surface or regular surface. The regular surface has a bit more tooth than the vellum, but both are very versatile. I used Bristol paper with a regular (smooth) surface for this drawing, The Sentinel.

Among these, I’ve had the best success with Bristol paper or boards, Rising Stonehenge, and a recycled art paper colored Strathmore Artagain. Artagain is made from 30% recycled material mixed with black fiber, so no matter what color you buy, there is a pattern in the paper. It’s quite sturdy, but is very smooth. It takes the least amount of layers of the papers I use most often, but it’s great for sketching and for use with multiple layers of color applied with very light pressure.

Medium Papers

Medium tooth papers are drawing papers that are neither smooth nor rough. Most were developed for other types of dry medium such as charcoal and pastel, so they have more tooth than smooth papers. Strathmore 500 series paper is one such paper. Others are Canson Ingres and Daler-Rowney Murano Textured Fine Art Papers. Depending your drawing preferences, some watercolor papers can be considered medium tooth papers for colored pencil use, especially if you use water soluble colored pencil.

These papers have enough tooth to grab and hold onto color quickly and easily. They also can take a lot of layering and most of them can stand a good deal of rough handling and medium to heavy pressure color application.

But they’re still smooth enough to allow you to create high levels of detail if that’s what you want to do.

I don’t use medium tooth papers very often. The paper I’ve used most is Strathmore 500 series. It’s a nice, thick-ish paper (64 lb), so it takes color very well. I’ve only used the bright white, but it comes in several other colors, too.

Beyond that, I can’t make recommendations. Perhaps some of you have used and liked them. If so, I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts in the comment below.

Rough Papers

colored-pencil-drawing-on-sandpaperMany rough, or coarse grained, papers (also known as textured papers) are available are suitable for colored pencil work. Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. I used UArt sanded pastel paper for this landscape. Note the more painterly appearance.

The beauty of surfaces like this is that you can lay down tons of color and get very painterly drawings quite easily. These papers are hard on pencils—they eat them for lunch!—but if you love the looser look, they’re going to be well worth your effort to try. You can get detail on them, but it requires a good deal of effort.

BONUS! Mount the paper on a rigid support, and frame your colored pencil drawings without glass, just like an oil painting. Some of the papers listed above come in a panel form.

Many of them also come in colors and some in various “grits” or levels of coarseness.

But the rougher the paper, the more difficult to get a high degree of detail.

Rougher papers and supports can be a lot of fun to work with and are well worth trying at least once, whether you continue to work with them or not.

The only paper of this type I’ve used is the UArt. I love it for landscapes, but that’s about the only use I have for it. It makes for fun and fast ACEO drawings (art trading cards), but I have yet to try it with anything larger or more detailed.

That’s my take on papers. I’ve barely skimmed the surface on this complex and broad subject, but my tastes in paper are almost as well-defined as my tastes in mediums and subjects. I know what I like and don’t see much reason to experiment.

What’s your favorite paper? What do you like about it?

The Only Methods You’ll Ever Need for Blending Colored Pencil

There are many methods of blending colored pencil, but they can be classified in three basic ways.

Pencil blending

Dry blending

Solvent blending

Over the course of the years, I’ve touched on each of these methods in various demonstrations and tutorials, including a few tutorials dedicated to nothing but blending colored pencil.

The Only Methods You’ll Ever Need for Blending Colored Pencil

Because this is such an important topic—and one of the most frequently searched topics among all of you—I’d like to share basic information on blending methods in a single post.

Basic Methods of Blending Colored Pencil

Pencil Blending

This might seem painfully obvious, but the obvious is often the thing that gets overlooked most. One of the only three blending methods you’ll ever need for colored pencil is….

…your colored pencils.

Blending Colored Pencil - Pencil Blending

It’s also the method that is the most automatic. Every time you layer one color over another, you’re blending.

The most familiar way of blending colored pencil with colored pencil is burnishing. When you burnish, you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together.

You can use any color over any color, but it’s most common to burnish with a color that’s lighter than the color you’re burnishing. The one thing to keep in mind is that the color with which you burnish will affect the color you’re burnishing.

TIP: When blending colored pencil with colored pencil, be careful to match pressure with sharpness. The sharper your pencil, the lighter the pressure. Using heavy pressure with a sharp pencil is likely to either break the tip off the pencil–possibly leaving an unsightly mark–or tear the paper. If you want to burnish, it’s best to use a blunt pencil.

Dry Blending

For the purpose of this discussion, when I refer to “dry blending”, I’m talking about blending without solvents (see below), but with a tool other than your colored pencils.

The blending tools I use most often are a couple of household items. Paper towel and bathroom tissue. Both are great for blending colored pencil and producing an eggshell smooth surface.

Blending Colored Pencil - Dry Blending

They’re also easy to use. Simply fold a piece into quarters or smaller and rub them over the area you want to blend. You can use very heavy pressure if you want without risk of damaging the drawing paper. Granted, the effects are light, but if all you want is a light blend between layers, paper towel or facial tissue is the tool you’re looking for.

Blending stumps and tortillons are more often associated with graphite drawing, but they also work with colored pencil. I’ve found them to be slightly less effective than paper towel, but they are very useful if you want to blend a small area.

I also use a Prismacolor Colorless Blender. It’s basically a colored pencil without pigment and it works great for any colored pencil that’s wax-based, as Prismacolors are. Other lines of colored pencil may also include colorless blenders. One thing to note when using this type of blending tool is that it adds wax or oil (depending on the brand) to the paper.

Solvent Blending

I use three basic solvents for blending colored pencil. In order from mildest to most aggressive are rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine. (I have used rubber cement thinner in the past, but only sparingly, since it’s very aggressive in “melting” color. It’s also quite toxic.)

Blending Colored Pencil - Solvent Blending

Solvents work by breaking down the binding agent that holds the pigment together in pencil form. When the binder is dissolved to any degree, the pigment flows together almost like paint.

Before you try any solvent on a colored pencil, test it on a piece of scrap paper. You want to make sure the paper will stand up to a solvent blend. Nothing is more discouraging than to have your paper buckle or warp when it gets wet.

It’s also a good idea to see how colors react to the various solvents before blending a drawing. While solvent blends are appropriate in most cases, they may not produce the look you want.

If the paper you’re drawing on is very smooth or is heavily sized, it’s also possible to remove color completely, no matter how carefully you blend.

So test first!

Blending with Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is ideal for doing a light blend. It breaks the wax binder in colored pencil just enough to move a little pigment around and to fill in paper holes. You need a good amount of pigment on the paper for the best results, but it also works with less pigment.

Use cotton balls or swabs or painting brushes to blend with rubbing alcohol. Because rubbing alcohol is relatively mild, you can do a little scrubbing with a bristle brush IF THE PAPER WILL TAKE THAT KIND OF ABUSE.

Blending with Odorless Mineral Spirits

Odorless mineral spirits blend color more completely than rubbing alcohol. It breaks down the wax binder more completely, freeing pigment to blend more thoroughly. Again, the more pigment on the paper, the better the results, but you can also do a watercolor-like wash with odorless mineral spirits.

For an even lighter tint, “melt” a little color in odorless mineral spirits, then wash it over the paper. You need sturdy paper or board for this kind of treatment, but the results can be very painterly and saturated.

Any type of odorless mineral spirits suitable for oil painting can also be used with colored pencils.

Use bristle or soft brushes to blend with odorless mineral spirits. In later layers, where there’s a lot of pigment on the paper, you can use heavier pressure, but it’s best to use medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure) to avoid scuffing the paper or removing color.

The most potent of the solvent blends I use is turpentine. It works the same way as odorless mineral spirits, but breaks down wax-binder more completely. My experience has been a maximum of two blends before the solvent begins removing more color than it blends.

Use turpentine the same way you’d use odorless mineral spirits.

Safety Tips

Make sure you use all of these solvents safely. Work in a well-ventilated space and exercise caution. Don’t work around children or pets and make sure to clean your work area and tools thoroughly, and close containers when you finish.

Artwork should also dry thoroughly before you begin working on it again. I like to let drawings air for no less than an hour and often let them sit overnight.

And there you have it. The only three blending methods you’ll ever need for creating fabulous colored pencil work.

What method is your favorite?