Coloured Pencils – handy things to know . . .

All of my Wildwood art is drawn in colour pencil, and for those with an interest in this particular medium here’s an article about getting the best from your pencils.

First I gather the reference photos I’ll need, ones I’ve taken myself or sourced from elsewhere. Then I visualise how I’ll piece them together. I always use Daler Rowney pastel paper. It has a rough side and a smooth side and I always use smooth. Most of the time I’ll use Platinum: a neutral mid-grey shade. It might sound odd drawing on grey paper but I find that drawing with colour pencil on white paper spoils the effect, as the pigment leaves all the tiny dips and depressions in the paper uncovered and you end up with a kind of ‘white noise’ behind the image that breaks up its solidity. But that’s just me – a lot of CP artists like white paper.

Graphite can dirty the colours you lay on top, but to start with I sketch up my image with a 2B pencil, and this can take up to a day as I try out different compositions. Once I’m happy I have a choice – if the colour scheme I’m aiming for is dark then I can draw on top of the graphite (with care) but if it’s bright and breezy then first I’ll ‘dab’ off the graphite drawing with a pencil rubber so that it leaves the faintest of lines. I could of course draw faintly to start with, but that’d mean using a HB or 2H and that can leave ugly scratch marks on the paper. Sometimes I draw out my composition not in graphite but with a colour pencil, that way it’s guaranteed to be absorbed by the overlaying colours. The advantage of this is that there’s no risk of graphite smudging areas of delicate detail, such as a creamy complexion on a child’s face for instance. The down side of sketching with a colour pencil first is that they don’t like being rubbed out! You’re dealing with pigment that’s got oil or wax in, and the rubber can’t always get rid of the lines as it can with graphite – so be warned. If I draw in CP first then invariably I’ll use ‘nougat’ which is a nice subtle brown shade in the Polychromos range.

So now the under-drawing’s ready and the colour work can start. I draw a lot of human characters and they can be tricky, so I always start with the face which is the hardest part. If it goes bad then I scrap the picture and haven’t lost too much time. I use a range of colours, finding they all have their strengths and weaknesses . . .

Polychromos by Faber Castelle keep their point well and have good opacity, great for fine detail.

Prismacolor (American) mix and blend better than any other brand I’ve come across. They are softer, and so not as good for crisp fine detail. Not easy to source in the UK.

Derwent Drawing pencils come in a range of 24 earth/natural colours. They are great for nature studies and their cores are quite wide so good for laying down large areas of expressive colour.

Derwent Coloursoft have a wide core and are like Prismacolor in many ways, but I find them a little ‘chalky’ and so I only have a small range, although some of them I wouldn’t do without – cloud blue and brown-black spring to mind.

Lastly on the subject of pencils, don’t forget to include a good range of grey shades. I’ll often add a hint of grey to skin tones, sandwiched in between other pigments. Relying on colours alone can give an artificial ‘Disney’ look to a scene. So don’t forget the greys. I rely on my range of French Greys a lot.

Accessories: I have a small battery powered rubber that’s very handy if you’ve got to alter a small detail in a crucial place. It’s also great drawing tool in its own right, removing colour rather than laying it down.

Pencil extenders – better than throwing 30% of your pencils in the bin! Don’t know why more people don’t use them . . .

Scalpel – always use one for sharpening pencils and for scratching the finest lines in pigment to draw hair or spider silks etc.

Fixative: I use fix not to protect the drawing, but to get rid of wax-bloom. Once your drawing’s finished you might find it looking ‘dusty’ after a few days and wonder what’s going on. It’s wax-bloom. The oils in the pencils are now seeping to the surface. It’s easy to remove, you can either just fix it to seal it and restore the drawing, or wipe it gently with a soft tissue, and then either fix it or leave it – but the wax might come back. As I tend to work heavy there’s a lot of pigment on my drawings and the bloom can be a problem, so I let them ‘rest’ a few weeks then dust them down and spray them, but never spray too much at any one time as it’ll permanently discolour the drawing!

And lastly – tea, plenty of tea . . .

9 thoughts on “Pencils

  1. Sylvie

    Je viens de faire connaissance avec BRU.
    C’est magnifique .
    J’ai commencé à pratiquer le CC et en ce moment, du pastel. Mais j’ai une préférence pour le CC. Par contre, j’admire votre imagination.
    Merci beaucoup pour ces renseignements sur vos outils de travail.
    Dernièrement, j’ai acheté des Prismacolor. J’aime beaucoup leur pigmentation. Et si j’ai les Polychromos, j’utilise principalement Caran d’Ache Supracolor II et Prismalo, plus sec. Je n’aquarelle pas.
    Je fais connaitre votre travail sur une de mes page FB, ou une toute petite communauté sommes entre nous pour parler de nos dessins, et de tout et rien.
    Je vais voir également sur Amazon pour les livres. Je suis fan de fééries
    Continuez à nous faire rêver.
    A bientôt.

    1. Steve Hutton Post author

      thanks for contacting me Sylvie – give me a day or so to pass your message to a French-speaking friend of mine and I can reply in more depth.
      Many thanks
      Steve Hutton

    2. Steve Hutton Post author

      hi Sylvie – thank you for enjoying my artwork so much, it really does mean a lot, and it’s good to know that you’ve found my pencil blog useful (-:
      I’ve only used pastels once, and I found them very hard, although like anything else, with practise these things can be mastered. I’ve worked in many different media over the years but colour pencil is by far my favourite, although sadly Prismacolor are hard to get here in the UK. Keep sharing your work, it’s great to see what other artists are doing.
      best wishes
      Steve Hutton

      I have just met BRU.
      So wonderful.
      I have started doing CC, and right now I am using pastel. I do prefer CC though, but I admire your imagination.
      Thank you very much for the info concerning your work material.
      Lately I bought Prismacolor. I love their pigments. And when I use Polychromos, I mainly use Caran d’Ache Supracolor II and Primal, plus sec. I don’t do watercolor.
      I’ve talked about your work on my Facebook page, we are a small group and talk about our drawings, and such.
      I also take a look on Amazon for books. I am a fan of all that touches the world of fairies.
      Keep on making us dream,
      So long,

    1. Steve Hutton Post author

      Hi Evelyn, yes, I’ve found one outlet for Primsa in the UK (aside from buying box sets from Amazon) but they’re around £2 per pencil. I tend to use a limited pallet and so I’ll buy a dozen of one colour at a time, which isn’t really practical with box sets, so for now I’m experimenting with other brands.

      1. Evelyn Steward.

        Unless prices have changed recently, the ones I get are atound £1.60/£1.80. I just buy colours I think I want in the future and it is hoid to ve abke to purchase individuaos colours fom the whole range. Apologies for any typos as I am ove half blind and cannot bring this scrern up any kArger.

        1. Steve Hutton Post author

          hi Evelyn, no need to apologise about the typos, I make plenty and my vision isn’t impaired. That must be very difficult for you, as my own vision is crucial for my work. I’m hoping that one Prisma will be in all the art shops in the UK as they used to be when they were Karisma, although I’m told that ordering direct from shops like Blicks’ in the US can work out at a good price (I see the pencils sell for the equivalent of 60-70p each, and the shipping doesn’t look too bad either). Good luck with the drawings! Steve Hutton

          1. Evelyn Steward.

            Now I did wonder, Steve,….. i have about 80%Karumacolour oencils from the ninetern ninties. Then only ones I did not buy at the time, were mostly greys. Cash was short, as it often is, but I bought a Few at a time from a small art shop in Uxbridge, they were themost expensive but I loved the feel If the lead. They disappeared frim the shop, finally. Still have them all, so, no wonder I like Prisma but have only anout sixty or just under. Though my Karisma seem to be much more oily now. In case you arr wondering, this keyboard often hides the numbers board, so not to be outdone, I write the numbers instead.
            I have found, (personal opinion only) that the Prismas are less oily. Woukd tha be down to the age of my Karismas, do you think?
            Thanks for your reply. Though I am not doung much draing at the moment, I do belin to a couoke of groups and enjoy looking at the posted work of other members and will get back to doing stuff myself at some point in time.
            Thanks again.

          2. Steve Hutton Post author

            hi Evelyn – yes, it was a sad day when Karisma vanished from our shops! Prisma are made by the same firm and in the same factory (they say) and while I find them little different to Karisma I know a lot of artists still prefer the older pencils. If you have any then look after them – for a while they were commanding reasonable money on ebay believe it or not! I still have some very old ones that say ‘Berol – Made in England’ on the side, I think they’re antiques now (-: Chances are the older pencils did have more oil in them (or wax, I can’t remember which) and progress being what it is standards have dropped over the last few decades and now manufacturers scrimp on many things. Keep up the drawing! Best wishes – Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *