I’m a big believer in keeping art supplies simple. Especially in the early days of an artistic journey.
If you stick to relatively few materials, you’ll master them much more quickly. That means, if you want to, you’ll be able to switch between coloured pencils, pastel pencils, graphite, ink, charcoal and other mediums with ease!
It will also help you to enjoy the art-making process that much more. It’s so much simpler to get into the ‘flow’ state when you’re not constantly having to deliberate between dozens of colours and accessories. I’d go as far as saying that the fewer materials I have to hand, the more I enjoy the creative process!
This guide contains the materials I recommend for anyone wanting to quickly master coloured pencils. I’m assuming you’re either a newcomer or early on in your coloured pencil adventure and my aim is to save you from lots of tedious research and wasted money on equipment you don’t need.
It’s not an exhaustive review of every brand that’ll take you hours to digest, because that’s the last thing you need. What you need is a definite recommendation for a set of tools that you can hit the ground running with!
Here’s the list...
PAPER Paper surfaces are probably more confusing to newcomers than anything else in the supplies list. There’s a huge variety of choice - in surface texture, weight, colour, size, manufacturing process - and that’s just within a single brand.
For coloured pencils, you need a paper with a bit of tooth, or surface texture. The texture
allows the colours to grab onto the paper surface and allows you to build up several layers on top of each other.
A very smooth paper, like a Bristol paper or hot pressed watercolour paper can have so little tooth that your coloured pencils will just slide off the surface. You won’t be able to create any strong values and you won’t be able to layer colours on top of each other.
Too much texture though (like you find with pastel paper), can be difficult to work with.
A lot of the texture will show through and create a hit and miss effect that you may not want. The sanded textures of pastel paper will burn through your pencil like there’s no tomorrow!
Making bigger artwork is more forgiving. Small errors have less of an impact, the bigger the final piece is. The trade-off of course, is time.
Most of my coloured pencil art fits on a sheet of A4 (8.3 x 11.7inches) or American Letter (8.5 x 11 inches) sized paper.
If you’re starting out, go with something around this size. As you progress and make more time for you art, you may want to try larger pieces. The largest paper I ever need though is around 12 x 16 inches.
Day-to-Day Practise & Sketching
The vast majority of my day-to-day drawings, whether in coloured pencil, graphite, charcoal or ink, are completed on standard drawing paper. Most papers designed for sketching will be acid free and relatively archival - meaning they won’t perish too much over time.
The brands I tend to use are:
• Derwent’s sketching paper • Strathmore ‘Drawing’ or ‘Sketch’ paper
Derwent sketching paper is very affordable in the UK. In North America go for Strathmore Sketch paper with either the yellow or brown front cover. (Yellow is cheaper though).
There are lots of brands that will be perfectly sufficient for everyday coloured pencil sketches. As long as you do a search for “drawing paper” or “sketching paper” on Amazon or any online art store, you can go for what is most affordable to you.
Serious Coloured Pencil Art
By serious, I mean something you are either going to put a lot of time into, or create as a gift or even a commission.
In this case, you need a higher quality paper that is archival. My favourite brand here is Strathmore. They do a range of high-quality papers suitable for coloured pencils, including:
• Strathmore 400 Series Drawing paper • Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil paper • Strathmore 400 Series Bristol paper (vellum surface)
All of the above are great papers so go with what is available and affordable.
If you want the ultimate in quality and durability, try Stonehenge by Legion or Strathmore Series 500 Bristol vellum surface (white front cover). They are rated highly by professional coloured pencil artists and being 100% cotton, are as archival as it gets.
All the papers I’ve mentioned above are white. But I strongly recommend you invest in a pad of mid-grey or mid-tan tones as well.
Because toned paper makes it much easier to judge light and dark values. This might not sound like anything too profound, but it’s the values (lights and darks) that most people struggle with in whatever medium they’re using.
Working on a mid-tone can help you understand value choices much more easily because you can work from both dark-to-light and light- to-dark. Plus, there’s something nice about that mid-toned background that creates a unity in your artwork.
A the risks of sounding like a Strathmore fanboy (we have absolutely no affiliation with them), it’s their grey papers that I prefer:
• Strathmore 400 Series Toned Gray • Strathmore 400 Series Artagain in steel gray
The Artagain has a bit more tooth so if you use, or plan to use pastel pencils, I’d go for this paper. Both are great though.
You can erase coloured pencil to some extent. There are three types of erasers for coloured pencils:
• Putty / kneaded eraser
• Pencil eraser
• Scotch / Masking / Artists tape
Putty / Kneaded Eraser
A putty or kneaded eraser should be in every artist’s tool box. While you’ll only be able to ‘dab’ out a small amount of pigment, it’s often all you need to lighten and rework an area. Kneaded erasers can be teased to a point to greater accuracy and they won’t damage your paper, unless you’re really heavy-handed. You’ll find you use this type of eraser for graphite, charcoal and pastel drawings too.
Pencil erasers will give you more colours-removing power than the kneaded eraser but with the same control. You have to be careful not to overwork an area and damage the paper and this is why most coloured pencil artists use the pencil eraser over a regular plastic or vinyl eraser (they’re just too big and clumsy). Pencil erasers can be sharpened and you’ll see either a pink or white eraser core recommended for coloured pencils. Look out for Faber-Castell and Derwent’s pencil erasers.
I have a retractable pencil eraser by Pentel or Tombow, that can be sharpened with a craft knife, but they’re not quite as sturdy and so don’t give you quite as much control.
A lot of coloured pencil artists use an electric pencil eraser. Derwent and Sakura make one with good reviews. They’ll give you the most erasing power but it’s not an essential tool for starting out.
Scotch / Masking / Artist’s Tape
If you want to lift out a very precise mark as much as is possible with coloured pencils, artist’s tape is the answer.
You place the tape on top of the area you want to erase and then carefully apply pressure to the top of the tape - with a pencil for example.
Any low-tack tape will work but it’s always best trying it out on a test sheet of paper to make sure the tape doesn’t lift up the paper fibres as well.
BLENDERS, BURNISHERS & SOLVENTS
Burnishing is a technique used to ‘meld’ coloured pencil into the paper surface. The aim is to create a smoother, more refined finish that removes much, if not all, of the pencil texture.
Colourless Blenders & Burnishers
The most common method for burnishing is to use a colourless blending or burnishing pencil over the top of colours that have been laid down.
Any brand of colourless blender or burnisher will do. My favourite is by Prismacolor but Derwent and Lyra also do good versions of the same thing.
Although I don’t use burnisher much, (I prefer to let the natural layering of the pencils create the effect I want) it’s worth having one from the start. They are especially useful with softer brands of pencils like Prismacolor Premier.
A solvent, applied to coloured pencil, will turn into a paint-like consistency. The effect is similar to adding water to water-soluble pencils.
Using a paint brush or cotton bud, you can create the ultimate smooth and glossy finish to the extent that it’s hard to tell pencils were ever used!
Personally, I don’t use solvents. Coloured pencils are pencils and I want some evidence of that fact to show through in my artwork. But that’s just personal preference.
If you want to experiment with solvents, use a low odour mineral spirit (rather than turpentine) such as Gamsol or Turpenoid. Use these in well ventilated areas and less is more!
You can use baby oil with Faber-Castell Polychromos.
I feel so strongly about pencils breaking in sharpeners that I felt compelled to make a video helping people avoid the same frustrating fate. You can see it here:
Basically, my recommendation boils down to this:
1. Get Staedtler’s handheld sharpener It’s the best I’ve ever used and has yet to break a single pencil lead. Failing that, get several cheap handheld sharpeners and throw them out every couple of drawings.
2. Invest in a good quality mechanical sharpener if you’re serious You’ll save hours with a mechanical sharpener, especially if you plan to create photo-realistic or botanical coloured pencil artwork.
Expect to spend about $15-$20 it’s one of the best investments you’ll make.
Do a search on Amazon and go for the one with best reviews for your budget. I have mechanical sharpeners by Xacto, Helix and Scholar. They are all terrific.
3. Avoid electric sharpeners They are too inconsistent, brutal and will burn through your pencils like there’s no tomorrow.
Here are a couple of quick reference lists based on my recommendations above. I’ve linked to amazon.com as they tend to be the cheapest.
I have listed my preferred brands and while I have experience with many, I haven’t tried them all.
Not on a Budget
ItemAmazon.co.ukAmazon.comFaber-Castell Polychromos set of 36
Set of 36
Pad of sketching or drawing paper
Strathmore Sketch Pad Pad of Strathmore Drawing, Colored Pencil or
Bristol paper or Legion Stonehenge pape Colored Pencil 9x12inch Pad of Strathmore Toned Grey or Artagain (gray) paper Toned Grey 9x12inch Faber-Castell kneaded eraser Faber-CastellEraser Pencil eraser Faber-Castell 2 pack Staedtler handheld sharpener. Staedtler Sharpener Mechanical sharpener. Lots to choose from and I’ve linked to one with good reviews at the time of writing. Mechanical sharpener Colourless Blender Prismacolor Blender 2 pack
On a Budget
Prismacolor Premier set of 48 or Koh-I-Noor set of 36 or 48 Prismacolor Premier 48 set Pad of sketching or drawing paper Strathmore Sketch Pad Pad of Strathmore Toned Grey or Artgain (gray) paper Toned Grey 9x12inch Faber-Castell kneaded eraser Faber-Castell Eraser Pencil eraser Faber-Castell 2 pack Staedtler handheld sharpener Staedtler Sharpener Colourless Blender Prismacolor Blender 2 pack
* I’m such a big believer in toned paper and its ability to help you improve, that I recommend you find a way to get some even if you’re on a budget.
Full Blog can be found at. Artutor.com