The Artist’s Guide To Colored Pencils

The Artist’s Guide To Colored Pencils

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Colored pencils have been part of our lives ever since we learned how to draw lines. Once we had them, we could stay for hours at a time drawing shapes that were completely disastrous – but they still made us very proud.

However, at some point, we realized that the small set we got from the supermarket would no longer do the trick for us. Pursuing the life of an artist, we realized that we had to go pro – and that meant purchasing an appropriate set of crayons.

But how do we choose the best colored pencils, based on our level? No matter if you are a beginner or a professional grade one, we will try to provide some insight into this guide. Coloring has never been more fun!

What Are Colored Pencils?

Everyone past the age of two probably knows what colored pencils (or crayons) are, but let’s still make it easy for those who have never used them. They are basically pencils with a colored pigment core surrounded by a wood casting.

Colored Pencils In Circle

So what are the best colored pencils? Unlike standard pencils that have the core made of graphite or clay, these pencils use pigments, wax, additives, and other binding agents that provide that bright color.

It is not exactly certain when colored crayons first came into the world. Some say they date back to the Romans, where they used wax-based crayons. At that time, these pencils were used for marking and checking.

It was only in the 19th century that colored pencils were used for art purposes. The first ones, and the best at that time, were made by Faber-Castell, and coloring books also started to accompany pencils on the shelf.

Initially, everything was fairly basic. Now, colored pencils are more professional, with adult coloring books accompanying the kid ones. These books are made with a great eye for detail, and they are the start of every artist wanting to turn a hobby into something more.

Benefits Of Adult Coloring Books

Before your mind starts going in all kinds of different directions: no, they’re not those types of coloring books. Granted, while those are preferred by some people, we’re talking about the normal coloring books.

Mainly, the only difference between these coloring books and child-oriented ones is that the adult versions pay more attention to detail. And while cracking a coloring book may seem like a laughable idea, it actually comes with a lot of benefits.

Stress Relief

Coloring can efficiently relieve stress – and that has actually been scientifically proven. How, you may ask? Well, it is said that coloring calms your amygdala, a certain part of your brain that is directly related to the stress/fear responses.

After showing success in many experiments, adult coloring books were actually introduced in therapy for those suffering from anxiety and all kinds of stress disorders. Some people even say that they have a better sleep if they color 10 minutes before bedtime.

Socialization

One may think the opposite when they hear of coloring books, but they are actually pretty social. While they may promote relaxation and require a certain amount of focus, they are still an activity that can be done while you are talking with others.

Some clubs and art coffee shops even encourage coloring and socializing – to the point that you might even get a free coffee as a reward for providing a good drawing on the spot.

Focus And Creativity

As an artist, you probably know the pains of having an image in your head that you want to draw or color – but cannot make it look anything like that. It will take a lot of time and practice until the result is slightly pleasing.

Coloring Paper With Pencils

Well, coloring puts your brain into action. It makes you think “Hmmm, what color would go there best?” Practically, it will make you think of the best way to achieve a superior result – which is why coloring is said to boost your creativity and focus.

Ultimately, using the best colored pencils for adult coloring books represents a great way to improve the stability of your mind.

Meditation Alternative

Typically, many people go for meditation when they want to improve their focus and calm their mind. However, it’s not always that easy to turn everything off and calm your mind – which is why cracking open a coloring book seems like a great alternative.

On the other hand, activities such as coloring allow you to do something without requiring that much concentration. Even as a professional artist, with enough practice, every coloring session will come naturally. 

What Are Colored Pencils Made Of?

We’ve slightly entered this territory, but now we’ll tackle it in more detail. As mentioned, a color pencil is made from a colored pigment that is encased by a wooden shaft. The pigment can be anything – but it has to be held by a good binding agent.

The core of the colored pencil is, therefore, made with four different materials: water, pigments, the binder, and the body of the core. These ingredients are mixed until you get a result of a dough-like consistency.

Once the cores are brought and dried in their shape, they are added into the wooden shaft. The casing is usually made from reforested wood, and it is unlikely that you will find any made from rainforest wood.

Generally, the wood used for colored pencils are grown specifically for this reason in farms and are only harvested after 14 years.

The Differences Between Colored Pencils

You are probably asking yourself: how can something as simple as a colored pencil be so different? Yet you probably noticed how some crayons from your childhood gave off a nice, right color, while others – well, let’s say they were barely visible on the sheet.

This is mainly caused by the base of the colored pencil. Depending on their construction, these items may be differentiated by certain criteria. Here’s what the best pencils for coloring books are generally based on:

Oil Based

Pencils that have an oil core are generally favored by professional artists. Their price may be slightly more elevated, but they are the most durable of the batch – and they also have a fairly unique color application.

Holding Oil Based Colored Pencils

Since these pencils have a harder core, they are the more appropriate choice for intricate areas. The color provided by these pencils may be lighter, but this will also depend on the brand that you use. They also tend to smear, so be careful when you apply them on paper.

Wax Based

Wax-based color pencils are cheaper than oil-based pencils, and they are generally easier to erase. These cores are also generally softer than oil-based ones, so they are more suitable for filling in the center of the outline.

Since these pencils have a slightly “buttery” surface, they are a great choice for mixing, layering, and blending. Wax cores, however, also have a tendency to “bloom,” a process where the binder slowly migrates to the surface, forming a waxy film.

However, this can be wiped with a damp cloth. Since these pencils do not smear that easily, most artists consider this just a minor inconvenience. A lot of people consider them the best colored pencils for adults.

Pigments

Depending on the brand and type of crayons that you use, colored pencils can have different amounts of pigment. The richer the pigment composition, the better the color will look.

Depending on the base of the pencil, the pigment will also react differently. Oil-based crayons will hold the color better than wax-based ones, while the latter will provide a slightly better coverage.

Binding Agents

The binding agent is basically the polymer holding the pigments together. This can be anything from wax to oils, gums, and resins.

Depending on the binding agent, the thickness and color richness will differ. Coconut oil-based agents, for example, are more soluble when melted – but they may not provide such a rich color. On the other hand, a thicker agent may offer a better coverage of your drawing.

Types Of Colored Pencils

As we may have mentioned, colored pencils were not created to be equal. The pencils that you used as a kid in first grade will not be as good for you if you want to pursue a career as an artist in your 20s.

Depending on your level of experience, here are the types of color pencils that you may go for:

Beginner/Student Grade

Today, you may find several types of student grade pencils. They are generally the most affordable of the batch – which is why they are preferred by people who are not yet sure whether they want to turn drawing into a career or not.

Beginner Colored Pencils

These color pencils typically have a harder core that is more resistant to abuse than more professional pencils. Because of this, however, the colors may be much lighter – and some may say less satisfying than professional-grade pencils.

They are a great option if you are just starting out on your artistic journey. On the other hand, if you are a professional wanting to try out some fancy coloring techniques, you may find that these pencils are not up to par. 

The color options are also fairly limited when it comes to student grade pencils, so they may not be a very good option if you need more than 24 to 36 colors.

Artist/Professional Grade

Artist grade (or professional) pencils have a much higher concentration of pigments, which is why they also have a much richer, brighter color. These types of pencils also come in a larger color range – sometimes even going up to 150 colors.

An artist grade color pencil will generally come in three forms: oil-based, wax-based, and watercolor. Every one of these has a different opacity, softness, and overall feel. The wax-based pencils are generally more popular, but the others are also great alternatives.

These pencils are generally more expensive than a student grade pencil, and the price can be up to three times the former’s price. This is why they may not be the first choice for beginners – unless you have a small fortune to kill for that.

Furthermore, since they have a softer core, they may not be as durable as a student-grade one. Granted, they may offer a richer texture – but this only means that you’ll pass through a pencil much quicker.

Depending on how often you use those pencils, you may have to spend a great deal of money on a new batch – which is why they may not be a good choice for classrooms.

Woodless Colored Pencil

Woodless colored pencils are all core, no wood. These are great for reaping the best out of your colored pencil since you will no longer have to sharpen it immediately.

Since the general base is oil, these pencils provide a smooth, thick line on the paper. Thanks to their buttery texture, they can be blended with other colors, offering you a fairly vibrant, beautiful color. This makes them some of the best quality color pencils.

The drawback with these types of pencils is that the sharp tip will wear down fairly quick – which is why they may not be a very suitable choice if you are coloring margins or difficult points.

Furthermore, when you finally do sharpen it – you will be taking off a lot of wax that you would normally use to draw. Considering that these crayons are fairly expensive already, this might not be very convenient for many artists.

Mechanical Pencil

These may not be the best colored pencils for everyone, but they are definitely convenient. Those who dislike continuously sharpening their traditional crayons may go for the mechanical version.

Colored Mechanical Pencils

With these types of pencils, the solid pigment core is added into the mechanical pen, allowing you to just “click” it up instead of continuously sharpening it. It’s like a ball-point pen – only that it uses pigmented graphite or clay. 

Colored mechanical pencils may not be as common as your traditional graphite versions. However, you may still find some companies that will sell you a refill on colored leads.

The drawback for these types of pencils is that they are relatively rare, so it will be fairly difficult for you to find many color options. Currently, the color range is very limited, so only beginners may be able to benefit from them.

Watercolor And Pastel Pencils

Watercolor pencils, also referred to as water-soluble pencils, use water as their base, as well as a medium. These pencils may be used dry like a traditional colored pencil, but they can also be applied to a “wet” surface in order to get that watercolor effect.

With wet applications, the artist basically lays down the pigment in dry form and then spreads it with a paintbrush. They are easy to blend, and artists all over the globe use this to create the painting effect.

You can find them in smaller assortments, but an artist-grade one will usually have 60 to 72 colors – sometimes even going as high as 120. They are the best colored pencils for drawing if you enjoy blending in colors.

A pastel pencil is pretty much the same as a hard pastel when it comes to its composition. The only difference is that these can be sharpened so that you can touch up the details with the fine point.

How To Draw With A Colored Pencil

Coloring can be very fun – provided that you know what it is you are doing. They say that practice makes perfect, and that is definitely true; without practice, you cannot improve your technique.

In order to know how to use those techniques, you’ve got to do some proper research on them. This way, you may easily go from Louie the talentless to Van Gogh the genius. Here are some coloring techniques that every artist in training should try out.

Stippling

With stippling, you will have to place lots of small dots on your paper. These dots can be either very close to each other or placed pretty far apart. As an artist, you may want to practice both ways until you find your preferred distance.

You may notice that there is a very significant difference between points; when they’re sharp and when they become dull. Some people prefer the sharp point while others want to add some texture with the dull one.

Generally, the dull point is the one that will offer you the most coverage.

Hatching

With hatching, the artist will be drawing a series of parallel lines that will all go in the same direction. Just like with stippling, they can either be placed close or far apart.

Illustration Of Correct Pencil Hatching

Cross-Hatching

Cross-hatching involves drawing a set of parallel lines one next to another going in one direction and then striking another set going in the opposite direction over the first set of lines.

Depending on how you create your lines, cross-hatching can be a fairly interesting shading technique.

Back-And-Forth Strokes

You probably used this drawing technique a lot as a child, yet you never knew that it was called this way. Basically, all you have to do is perform the hatching technique without lifting your pencil off the paper. It’s a great technique to fill in all areas.

Scumbling

Scumbling is similar to the back-and-forth technique, only instead of drawing straight lines, you draw in a circular motion – again, without lifting the pen from the paper.  It is likely yet another technique you’ve been using without knowing.

How To Blend A Colored Pencil

One of the reasons why many artists go for color pencils is that they offer a fairly wide range of applications. The most popular blending methods involve layering and burnishing, both of which can be used with almost any type of colored pencil.

Layering

This is usually done at the beginning of your coloring session where you have to patiently apply one layer of color over a primary color. You add in order as many colors as you need until the result is a grainy and fuzzy finish.

Burnishing

Burnishing occurs after you have applied the layers. At this stage, you will need a colorless brush that you will apply to the surface of the paper, gently brushing the colors in.

The result will be somewhat shiny, and you will see that the rainy layer is much smaller than before. 

Sharpening And Maintaining Your Colored Pencil Set

In order for you to have nice, fine strokes, you need to sharpen your pencils regularly. How often you do it, that will also depend. Some people prefer small, finer lines to work the edges while others like them duller; it offers a thicker stroke for centers.

Always make sure that your sharpener is, well… sharp. A dull blade will cause the tips to break even as you are sharpening, shortening the life of your colored pencil. This applies especially to wax-based crayons since they are more susceptible to damage.

Sharpening Colored Pencils

You may want to sharpen them as often as possible, because the sharper they are, the less likely they are to break. Furthermore, no matter the type of sharpener that you use, always clean it out after you use it.

Keeping things on point (as literally as possible) will ensure that the life of your pencil will be as long as possible. You may also want to keep them away from moisture – even if it’s just in the air.

Conslusion

Becoming an artist is never going to be easy, especially if you plan to add coloring to the mix. No matter if you are going for coloring books or you want to make the outline yourself, a set of good coloring pencils will make the difference between a good drawing and a bad one.

If you are not entirely certain what to pick for your new artistic journey, you may want to read into our buying guide. There, you’ll see colored pencils reviews of the most popular choices.

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