Colored Pencils 101

One of the things I like best about colored pencils is their simplicity. Unlike other mediums, they are portable and require virtually no clean up. Very few materials are needed to get started, and none of these items are particularly expensive. I recommend the same tried and true list of materials to my students that I use myself.

I discovered Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencils when I was a high school art student 35 years ago, and I am still loyal to them today. They work perfectly for my colored pencil painting techniques and I’ve never had a reason to switch. A great starter pack is a set of 72 pencils, which includes a well rounded selection of colors. Larger sets are available, but you can always buy individual pencils in a wide array of colors to supplement any set. Inevitably, certain colors get a lot more use, so they can be replaced periodically with new individual pencils.

My short list of other basic materials includes a battery powered eraser (Derwent makes a great one for under $10), drawing paper for colored pencils (Strathmore 100 lb. colored pencil paper is excellent and inexpensive), and a pencil sharpener. Other colored pencil artists might disagree with me on this one, but I never use a manual pencil sharpener. I keep my pencils extremely sharp, which requires continuous sharpening while I am drawing. I’ve never found a manual sharpener that does the job. Instead, I use a good quality electric pencil sharpener intended for heavy office use, which you can buy at an office supply store. Since soft core colored pencils are waxy and can build up inside the pencil sharpener, a great trick is to occasionally sharpen a graphite pencil. This will clean the blades and keep the sharpener running perfectly.

While you won’t need an art studio to work in, it’s great to have a designated work space to leave your project and materials set up. It should be in a well lit area where you have control over the lighting situation. Also, it’s a good idea to organize your pencils. There are many ways to do this, but I prefer to stand them up in cups, categorized by color. This way, I can always see what I have, and they are quickly and easily accessible. It also prevents the pencils from rolling and falling on the floor, which inevitably results in broken tips.

I like to work with my paper upright and slanted, rather than sitting flat on a table. To me, it’s very difficult to sit over a flat drawing and see it from the correct perspective. This can be accomplished by using a tabletop easel or a drawing board, which you can rest on your lap leaning against the edge of the table. Finally, it’s best to work on a cushion for soft core colored pencils to go on properly. I clip a large sketch pad to my drawing board or easel and then attach my project to the pad using removable artist’s tape. This also gives me a “scratch area” along the side of my drawing to swatch color combinations.

With a fairly small investment in materials and these organizational tips, soft core colored pencils are an easy medium to get started in. Despite their simplicity, they can produce drawings that will easily rival any painting.