Uses for Hard Colored Pencils

Uses for Hard Colored Pencils

Today’s post answers a question from a reader who is having problems finding uses for hard colored pencils. Here’s her question.

I have a lot of low-quality, very hard coloured pencils. Anything I could use them for?

I’m guessing she’s not the only one who has hard or dry colored pencils they don’t know what to do with.

Before I share my ideas on how to use them, let’s talk about the pencils themselves.

Not all Hard Pencils are Low in Quality

Make sure the pencils you have really are low quality.

Prismacolor Verithin pencils and Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils are hard when compared to their Prismacolor Premier and Caran d’Ache Luminance cousins. But they are still artist-grade pencils.

Also be aware that oil-based colored pencils are usually harder and drier than almost any wax-based pencil. That’s because the more wax a pencil contains, the softer it is. Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are hard when compared to Prismacolor Soft Core or any other wax-based pencil. But they are still a top-of-the-line colored pencil.

So if you have hard colored pencils, make sure they really are low-quality pencils before you do anything else.

Read 5 Colored Pencil Questions.

Do You Want to Use Hard Colored Pencils?

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to make a decision. There are ways to use hard colored pencils, but you must decide whether it’s worth the effort or not.

There are many reasons artists don’t like hard pencils.

  • They don’t layer as smoothly as soft pencils on some papers
  • It takes longer to develop vibrant color
  • They don’t feel as nice going onto the paper

If you don’t think it’s worth the effort, or if you don’t like the way they feel when you use them, then your best option is finding them a happy home with another artist, and replacing them with softer pencils.

However, there are good reasons to use hard colored pencils.

  • They leave less binder on the paper, so you can add more layers
  • They hold a point longer than softer pencils
  • They’re excellent for drawing fine detail
  • They’re perfect for impressing lines with color

So the choice is yours. As with so many art-related things, there is no right-or-wrong answer to this particular question.

Uses for Hard Colored Pencils

Now let’s say those hard pencils are high-quality pencils, and you’ve decided to keep them. How can you use them?

Here are some ideas.

For Initial Layers

Use hard colored pencils for the first few layers. Prismacolor Verithin and Caran d’Ache Pablo are great for under drawings or the first layers of color, but any artist grade pencil with a harder pigment core works.

Pencils with harder pigment cores leave less color on the paper, but they also leave less wax. They don’t fill the tooth of the paper as much as softer pencils. They also do not make the paper as slick as softer pencils can after multiple layers.

This portrait began with an under painting of brown India Ink. When I began pencil work, I started with Prismacolor Verithin pencils. At this stage, all the work on the horse was done with India Ink and Verithin Pencils. That left lots of tooth for the following layers using Prismacolor Soft Core pencils.

Read part one and part two of this step-by-step tutorial on EmptyEasel.

Drawing Sharp Edges and Fine Details

Hard colored pencils generally have thinner pigment cores and hold a point longer. That makes them ideal for drawing edges, as well as details.

Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils are similar to Prismacolor Verithin pencils, and most oil-based pencils are harder than most wax-based pencils. If you need to draw fine detail or want really fine, crisp lines, these are the perfect pencils.

Because the pigment cores are usually thinner than soft pencils, hard pencils are also perfect for drawing fine details such as flyaway hairs, whiskers and similar details.

In this sample, I used Verithins and well-sharpened Polychromos to draw the hairs around the edges of the ears, and in the mane and forelock. I was able to draw the lighter hairs over the dark inside of both ears. This portrait is on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, which makes it much easier to draw light colors over dark colors, but it is also possible on other types of papers if you use harder pencils.

I’ve also discovered it’s possible to “cut through” layers of waxy color with a Verithin pencil in a sort of scratch board technique. It’s difficult to add color, but it’s amazing how much color you can remove with a well-sharpened Verithin.

If you try this technique, use the pencil the same way you would use a Slice tool, X-acto knife or stylus. Be careful not to score or tear the paper.

Impressing Marks

Hard pencils are also ideal for impressing marks into your paper. That’s because they hold a point so well, but it’s also because you can exert a little more pressure on them without breaking them.

When I want to impress a mark without leaving color (so that the mark is the color of the paper,) then I use a dried up fine-point pen.

But when I want to add color to the mark, I use a Verithin pencil that’s been made as sharp as I can make it. For example, in this illustration, I used a White Verithin to add a few whiskers to a cat portrait.

Uses for Hard Colored Pencils Impressed Lines

Because the paper was toned, the white marks were clearly visible as soon as I made it. As I layered color over the marks, they began to look more and more like whiskers.

My Favorite Uses for Hard Colored Pencils

I’ve gotten a lot of good use out of the harder colored pencils in my collection with these tips and tricks.

But they’re not the only ways you can use hard pencils.

So if you like to experiment and try new things, then do some sketching, layering or whatever else you can think of with those hard colored pencils.

If you decide later that they’re not for you, you can always give them to someone else without feeling guilty!

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  1. Melissa A Benson

    Hello, I understand that Prismacolor has discontinued the Verithin brand. I have been amassing all I can, but the colors I need are becoming harder and harder to fine. This problem needs a solution. I am 6 months behind in my commission work, so I don’t feel I want to spend the time hunting down and experimenting while my board time slips away.

    Have you found a comparable brand that I can use to replace them? Thanks for any help or insight.


  2. Melissa

    Yes, a couple retailers have some left, but they are all dumping their stock now. Once they are gone, that’s it. You’ll notice that there is no more open stock, and when there is, the colors are severely limited.

    I’m still looking for a comparable brand. Any suggestions for a hard colored pencil?

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