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 . . .

37 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. Evelyn Steward.

        Hi Sylvie, i have done several pastel works. I started with oils, then a little pastel, some cp. then made cards. The Last couple of years I started back to a little watercolour, then pastel including pastel pencils. Now I have started back on CP.

        1. Steve Hutton Post author

          hi Evelyn – I’ve always found pastel very hard to work with, and I have total respect for those that can use it well. As a hobby I paint landscapes in oil, but they’re quite abstract and done very fast, which is a nice change of pace to the taxing pencil illustrations I do (-: Keep up the drawing! Steve

          1. Evelyn Steward.

            Hi Steve, find pastels for landscapes, easier to work with, in a looser way. It is just the colours I have some problems with. As one gets older, the lens in the eye yellows. Thinking I have picked up a white stick, only to find it is a light yellow and pale blue turns out to be turquouse and so on.

          2. Steve Hutton Post author

            it upsets me to hear that, Evelyn, and although I’m not ‘old’ neither and I ‘young’ and I’ve started to have to ware glasses to draw fine details, along with wincing when I get out of the chair!! Sometimes very fine work gets to be a pain, and I long for a quicker and more expressive way of working with pencil.

          3. Evelyn Steward.

            That is a shame Steve, and it creeps up on a oersin slowly, even without prior health issues. Never thought I would become blind un my left eye. I have worn glasses since I was ten years old and oarrnts wore them before that so I guessed bad eyesight was in the family. Never expected a detached retina, 12 and a half years ago, coupled with an irate consultant at the Londin eye hospital who said, what did I want, my sight or my life? Mire to it but that were those were his options for me.
            So, I say, be careful of your sught as you get older, it is your living. Just be aware if what can gi wrong without warning. Mine happened over the course of a day, and I did ring the local eye clinic who dithered with an appointment. Then mini heArtattack and lost the sight over the course of less than thwenty four hours, forever.
            Bless. Evelyn.

          4. Steve Hutton Post author

            that’s a tragic tale, Evelyn, and compounded by health workers who from the sound of it didn’t seem to care one way or another. I’m sorry for anyone who’s sight is damaged or restricted, and even more so when it’s someone who loves to draw. I think if I ever got to the point where small detail was beyond me, I’d move on to big paintings, even if they came out terrible, I just have to keep making things. Steve

          5. Evelyn Steward.

            Hi Steve. Thank you, very kind. I yav other things on my plate right now, but you can be certain I will be doing more painting after present problems are sorted.
            In fact, I did start a line drawing of a cat, head and shoulder, yesterday. I was actually lusting some colours and the last on was a white. I thought it might show up on an earth tone Canson Mi Teints. At least it is something. Long time ago, over , over fifty years in fact, I did a pastel drawing of the head of a Siamese kitten, about sixteen by twelve, and the head and shoulderm, again in pastel, of a dog belonging to a friend in Canada, big, white and fluffy Samoyed. Still habgung on my wall. My pencil drawings of the late nineteen nineties were about eight by six, flowers. Not as pencil drawing is done now. I am not brilliant at pencils this way, but I try. Have to say that in all my work, I am better at landscapes. Depends in the medium.
            Anyway, taken up enough of you time. Wish you good luck with all of your work

          6. Steve Hutton Post author

            you’re never taking my time – it’s a pleasure to chat with other artists. I agree with what you say, and I’ve also gone through phases when I drew certain things or used certain media. In the end I settled for colour pencil, but this is what I call my ‘work’ because I often draw for commissions, whereas my hobby is landscape painting, for which I’ll paint from old photos I’ve taken on holidays. This way, the landscape also has a personal meaning for me, which is important. Good luck, and keep on drawing! Steve

          7. Evelyn Steward.

            So pleased to hear that Steve. Always good to paint or draw for absolute pleasure or relaxation. And that is what I do when I have time or the inclination. Time at the moment.
            Keep up the good work and I will look at more of yours when I can.
            Thank you Steve.
            Ps I also Blog

          8. Steve Hutton Post author

            Being creative is a great way to use your time, I find I do it all the time – even when sitting down to watch a film I end up doodling in a sketchbook! (-:

          9. Evelyn Steward.

            Thanks Steve, I very often use my mind, thinking of things, patterns, pictures, writing, plants even, all creative in their own way, but doodling is just as good. I kind if doidle in ny heads, ha ha!
            Take care.

          10. Evelyn Steward.

            Steve, have gone bck to your previous pist nd started reading the thunfer dorites. Wonderfuo, your are in par of my tertrutiry. Some if my writing is in the rantasySci fi region. Loving reading your explanatiinss o far.

          11. Steve Hutton Post author

            thanks, Evelyn – I find writing is just as important to me as drawing (-: Steve

          12. Evelyn Steward.

            Me too Steve, and I REALLY MUST apologise for the typos, quite shocking, but this is this keyboard. I used to do a lot if typing when young but I do not think electronics like the strength if my hands. Old typewriters needed a whole lot of pounding, ha ha!
            I have a defunked small computer that has loads of my poems and two whole novels plus several half or part novels stored, also a great many short stories etc.
            One fine day I will get to Currys an have them taken off and perhaps onto Amaxon with the other three of my works.

          13. Steve Hutton Post author

            I understand, I make plenty of typos myself and some even crept into the published books (ouch) but people seem to like them nonetheless (-: I value my writing as a friend and also as representing a large part of my life, and as such I keep my books with me always saved on a flash-stick so if the worst were to ever happen back home, all those hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written are still safe.

          14. Evelyn Steward.

            Yes Steve, I worry about all my words, hidden in my defunked computer. Two full novels, several halves and loads of small parts, liads of shorts and poems. If I already mentioned this, please forgive. Could never replicate all of that. Here is hoping. Good luck though. Even a stick could niot be used on a tabket, I do not think?

          15. Steve Hutton Post author

            Look after your words!! They’re very hard to replace – and I think tablets should read memory sticks, shouldn’t they?? (-: Steve

          16. Evelyn Steward.

            I would have thought so Steve, but…….not my Ipad, though there may be some other tablet that does. A lot can use Memory Cards that plug in, so my daughter says, Blue Tooth as well, so there you go. It CAN be done. Isnt science wonderful?
            Been looking at some grey Prismas. Not sure if my fourty eight set has a grey or two. Would like a few greys for this cat I want to try. Lots of cats have various colours in the grey spectrum, £1.60 each, plus postage. French warms and cools,a as you obviously know. In fact, your picture gave me the idea. Thank you.
            Have a good weekend.

          17. Steve Hutton Post author

            yes, greys are very important, or at least I find them so. If you’re stuck for Prisma greys (which have to be ordered) then Derwent Coloursoft do a reasonable range that’ll do as a stand it – not as extensive but still handy to have. Happy drawing! Steve

          18. Evelyn Steward.

            Thank you Steve. Seems better now, but was craxzy this a.m.
            Will let you know how I get on,

          19. Evelyn Steward.

            Hi Steve, not to take up your tine but, this morning I listed my Polychromos colours (yet again) as my online stockist for Prismacolours is £1.65 ea. and the Polychromos only £1.35. Found out that none of my good pencils, including my old Karismacolours, are GREY!
            I mostly used to draw flowers so I guess I deemed that most flowers had no grey (I never drew white flowers- so no greys needed. Who knew? So for the time being, I think I will buy a few warm and cool grey Polys, see how they go.
            Hooe you are having a goid drawing day.

          20. Steve Hutton Post author

            greys are wonderful for toning down colour without resorting to black or adding a complimentary colour, and the results to my eye are more natural. Yes, a couple of greys should get you started, try to mid-greys rather than the very dark or very light. In the Prisma range I love my set of French greys and wouldn’t be without them (-: Good luck, and let me know how you get on (-:

          21. Evelyn Steward.

            Me again Steve, re-reading yout latest email about Prisma French Greys , as opposed to the Polychromos greys, Of which warm and cool, there are several? The French greys look softer in colour. I like Prisma and I suppose a couple would not break the bank, currently. I am intending to buy several of both at some point. O, you say it woukd be better to ave the more expenive French now,rather than later. Remembering I want them to try and draw cat fur?
            Thank you fo your time, at your convenience.
            Bless. Hooe your current work is progressing well?

          22. Steve Hutton Post author

            hi Evelyn – I find the most useful French greys are 30% – 50% – and 70% (Prisma grade them according to percentage) and they’re subtly warm without affecting the colours around them too much. I use them a lot, and blend them in to skin tones too, which sounds unlikely but it makes for more believable colours (-: I also use French grey 10%, the very lightest, as a replacement for pure white sometimes, as again it’s not as harsh as white and looks more natural. Good luck – Steve (-:

    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

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