I’ve planned to write detailed posts about the equipment that I use for my coloured pencil work and I thought the best place to begin would be pencils of course.
While I initially began with a 72-pencil set of Prismacolors, I later moved to Faber Castell Polychromos as I found the former too soft for detailed botanical work. For many years afterwards, I used Polychromos exclusively and it is only in the last year that I have started to diversify my collection. Now I use a mix of different brands and have built up quite a collection. In this blog, I’ve listed all the different brands I use most often and also explained what I like about each of them.
Faber Castell Polychromos
This range of pencils is the most popular with coloured pencil artists. They have a great selection of colours, they are relatively affordable and quite easily available (at least in India). What I particularly like about them is that they are oil-based so they are hard enough to be able to keep a point for a while and yet not so hard that they feel scratchy.
If you are a beginner at coloured pencils, I would highly recommend purchasing these. You just can’t go wrong with them.
Once I had acquired the Polychromos pencils, I sadly ignored Prismacolors completely. I find them too soft, they break so easily and sharpening them to a sharp point is such a struggle. But, soft pencils have their own importance, even for detailed work, and I am slowly starting to incorporate more of the Prismacolors in my work. In her book, Ann Swan has mentioned that in spite of the difficulties of using these soft pencils, they have some great purple and red shades and they pair well with the Polychromos.
If I am not wrong, this is the only Derwent coloured pencil range that is not entirely wax-based. They are not entirely oil-based either; instead, they seem to be a mix of the two which makes these pencils harder than most wax pencils but softer than many oil-based ones. Many artists really enjoy these pencils but I am not a huge fan. Nevertheless, they do have some fantastic colours, especially in the green and purple spectrum (I am always looking to add more shades of green!). I use their Spruce Green and Heather quite a lot.
I purchased two pencils from this range to try, and I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that I immediately bought a 24-pencil set. Even though they are wax-based pencils, they sharpen to a fine point with minimal breakage. What I actually found surprising was that in spite of being wax-based, they are quite hard and therefore, a great option to have in your collection, especially for the tiny details where a softer pencil might give up! It’s priced right around Polychromos so I would say they’re pretty affordable too.
Caran d’Ache Luminance
So many artists I know absolutely adore this range of soft, premium pencils. ‘Premium’ because they can be quite an investment (a single pencil costs almost $5 in India!). In spite of their cost, I have added some of these pencils to my collection specifically because of the unique colors they offer. For example, their Violet Grey and French Grey are excellent muted shades and their Sepia and Payne’s Grey come in shades such as 10%, 30% and 50%. I personally lean towards harder pencils so the softness of the Luminance range can feel bothersome at times, though it does have its benefits (more on this in another post).
Caran d’Ache Pablo
This is hardest pencil I have used by far. So that means a sharp point for longer and less wastage of pencil through incessant sharpening (yay!) but that also means that laying down color can be a laborious process. Also, if you are not careful, you might end up denting the paper because of the pressure you use combined with the hardness of the pencil. Apart from the fact that this range has some nice colours that I couldn’t quite find in other brands, I like to use these pencil for the sharpest details in my drawings and to clean up soft edges. I wouldn’t use these as a primary set but they make for a great addition to the Polychromos!
Before I wrap up this post, I will just say that what pencils you end up using will depend on your art style, their availability and also their affordability. There is no right or wrong and what I’ve mentioned above is purely my personal preference. If you are a beginner, I made a video on what to keep in mind when you purchase your first set of colored pencils. Check it out here. Also, if you are in India and wondering where to purchase open stock of these brands I have mentioned, visit the highlight titled ‘Supplies’ on my Instagram profile for all the details.