Do Prismacolor colored pencils expire? Do any colored pencils expire?
I’ve had more than one artist ask that question over the past year or two, so I thought I’d take the occasion of this most recent question to answer publicly. Here’s the question:
I have quite a few Prismacolor pencils close to 25 years old. My question is do they expire? I’m finding a few of them color unevenly and leave globs of color instead of smooth and creamy. I really don’t want to get rid of them though! I’ve got three new sets and try to smooth them out if I can.
Do Prismacolor Colored Pencils Expire
Colored pencils don’t expire. No matter how old they are, they still color just as well as on the day they left the factory. I have a few that are quite old, too, and I still use them for some things.
If you have problems with old pencils, then it’s likely the pencils left the factory with those problems. I once bought several Indigo Blue pencils at the same time, and they were all gritty and tended to break. They were essentially unusable.
The next Indigo Blue pencils I bought were perfectly fine.
I’ve had no experiences with globs, though. The only thing I can think of is that the wax binder isn’t behaving like it should. Fortunately, there is an easy way to test that theory.
Try placing one of those pencils in a sunny window for an afternoon, then let it cool. After it cools, try drawing with it and see if that makes a difference.
If the globs are wax binder, other possible solutions are blending with rubbing alcohol or odorless mineral spirits. Any solvent breaks down the binder in colored pencils, allowing the pigment to “flow” almost like paint. If the globs are wax, the solvent should dissolve them and allow you to smooth the color.
Before you try solvent, make sure your paper will hold up when dampened, and will dry flat.
Erasable colored pencils are the topic for today, after a reader asked the following question.
I’ve heard of erasable coloured pencils. What is your experience with them?
In short, I have no experience with erasable colored pencils. I’ve never had a need for them.
But Brenda Matsen does use Col-Erase pencils. Col-Erase is an erasable pencil from Prismacolor. Crayola is another company that makes a line of colored pencils that can be easily erased.
Brenda uses them for her line drawing work only, then layers regular colored pencils over them. Here’s what she had to say about them in the September issue of CP Magic:
[Col-Erase pencils] erase well and lift off nicely with a kneaded eraser. I keep them sharp and use light pressure.
I also choose colours that go well with my project, just in case some colour might stay behind.
They aren’t advertised as lightfast but rather as erasable and break resistant. I only use them for line drawing which doesn’t need to last. They keep a good point.
Erasable Colored Pencils: Good or Bad?
As I mentioned above, I’ve never used Col-erase or any other erasable colored pencils. But I can see applications in which they would be useful. Brenda’s method of using them to make line drawings is probably the best one.
You could also use them for the initial layers if you’re not sure of the best colors to use. If you don’t like the first color, erase it, then try another. When you’ve found the best color, then go over it again with regular colored pencils.
Col-Erase and other types of erasable colored pencils are also good for craft applications or adult coloring books. If it’s not important that your artwork last a long time, then there’s nothing wrong with using erasable pencils.
But if you’re doing work for sale or commission work, then use erasable pencils for the line drawing as Brenda does, and use archival, artist quality pencils for shading and rendering.
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different ways of drawing a rich black background. I’ve tried different pencil and paper combinations, different blending methods, and new tools. Today, I’d like to share a brief tutorial showing how to draw a dark background on white Pastelmat.
Drawing a Rich Black Background
The Brush & Pencil tools I’m using for this background are Powder Blender and ACP Textured Fixative. Powder Blender is a dry powder that makes blending and lifting colored pencils on sanded art papers easy. No matter how many layers you add, you can continue blending and lifting.
ACP Textured Fixative seals the Powder Blender and layers of colored pencil. Once you seal your work, you can work over it without affecting the sealed layers.
Step 1: The Initial Layers of Color
I first applied a small amount of Powder Blender to the paper, then spread it around with a sable round brush. A little Powder Blender goes a long way, so don’t use too much.
Next I loosely outlined my subject (a campfire) with a color that will be used in the campfire. You’ll see some progress on the campfire, which I’ll be writing about on my art blog in the near future.
I began the background by layering Faber-Castell Dark Indigo over all of the background. After that, I added Faber-Castell Black around the outside edges. I wanted the background to be dark, but also vibrant, so I next layered a complement of the fire colors (yellows, oranges, and reds) over all of the background. The color I chose was Faber-Castell Mauve.
Here’s what the background looked like after I finished layering the colors.
Step 2: More Layers of Color and Blending
You’ll notice I didn’t take much care to make the color layers very smooth. In fact, I wanted the somewhat blotchy appearance to begin with. Why? Because even slight variations and in color and value give an otherwise solid background a little more interest.
I did a couple of layers of each color, then used a sable round brush to blend the colors. I didn’t add more Powder Blender because it wasn’t needed. The Powder Blender I applied at the beginning works until I seal the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.
Step 3: Still More Layers of Color
After blending, I layered Dark Indigo over all of the background. This time, I layered it with a more careful, precise stroke. I still stroked more boldly than I would on traditional paper, but I was more careful to shade all of the background.
I did a couple of layers of Dark Indigo, hatching the first layer and crosshatching the second.
Then I blended with the brush again.
I continued layering Faber-Castell Dark Indigo over the background, but I increased the pressure to medium-heavy pressure. I also began using strong, diagonal strokes, and covered all of the background. You can see those strokes in the background in this illustration.
Next, I layered Black over all of the background with heavy pressure. My goal this time was filling the tooth of the paper as much as possible.
I also began more clearly defining the shape of the fire by cutting into the orange with Black.
Step 4: Blending Again with Powder Blender
After that, I blended with Powder Blender. This time, I blended with a sponge applicator instead of a brush or my fingers. I softened the edges of the fire by pulling some of the background color into the flames. I didn’t want to dirty the oranges, so I was careful not to get too much Black into the oranges.
Then I sealed my work with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative. The background is finished until the campfire is finished.
How do I like Drawing a Rich Black Background with Powder Blender?
So far, the results are completely pleasing. As mentioned, the background won’t be complete until after I finish drawing the campfire. Then I may find that the background is dark enough.
Or I may decide to darken it more or liven it up a little.
But I’ve been so pleased with this drawing that I’ve started another drawing of luminous fire against a dark background.
And this fire is much bigger and more active! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Colored pencil artists are always looking for ways to improve their work by looking at how other artists work. In today’s question, Donna asked what white paint can be used under colored pencils after she saw a coloring book artist painting out black lines. Here’s her question.
Hi Carrie, I saw a completed coloring book picture where the colorist used a white paint to cover the lines in order to create a different outcome. It was brilliant! What kind of white paint will cover lines (or my mistakes) that I can use colored pencils on top of? Thank you.
Before I answer Donna’s question, I need to say that the only paint I’ve ever tried under colored pencils is oil paints and watercolor paints. The oil paints didn’t work at all. They were just too slick for colored pencil to stick to.
Watercolor works great, but it’s transparent, so it doesn’t cover anything. Even if it did, I have only a few colors and none of them are white.
So the answer that follows is based on observation of other artists, and accumulated knowledge of the characterisitics of the mediums.
Having said that much, lets discuss a few possibilities.
What White Paint Can be Used Under Colored Pencils?
The only white paint I know of that I think would work under colored pencil is gouache.
Gouache is essentially opaque watercolor. Use it the same way you use watercolor, but when it dries, it’s opaque. It would probably cover the lines in a coloring book.
Since it’s a form of watercolor and since you can layer colored pencil over watercolor quite easily, you should be able to layer colored pencil over gouache with much the same results.
Remember, I’ve never used gouache before, so I have no personal experience to back up my suggestions. But if I were to try it under colored pencil, I’d use it as thin as possible. If that didn’t cover the area, I’d let it dry and add another layer. My experience with other forms of wet media has been that thin layers work better than one thick layer. Especially if you need the surface to be smooth enough to accept colored pencil once it’s dry.
Touch-Up Texture is a liquid and Titanium White is straight pigment. The same kind of pigment used in white colored pencils. When you mix the two together, you end up with a fluid white you can brush onto a drawing like paint.
The best part is that these products are made for colored pencils so colored pencils stick to them very easily. You can even layer these products and colored pencils more than once if necessary.
When it dries, it accepts colored pencil quite easily.
I’ve used it a couple of times, most notably on the Blazing Sunset piece, which is the basis for the Blazing Sunset Tutorial.
White India Ink
India Ink is another possibility. I’ve used brown India ink as an under painting medium and it works quite well. All the colors but two are transparent, however. Which two are opaque? Black and white.
So you might be able to do some “cover up” work with white India ink before you start drawing. I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink and have been quite happy with it.
The only downside to this is that I don’t believe it can be used over colored pencils.
But then you probably won’t be able to use gouache over colored pencils either.
2 Things Not to Try
I wouldn’t use acrylic paint or oil paint. Both dry with tough film surfaces that colored pencil will not stick to. Oil paint is also likely to stain your paper with an oil stain.
A Final Caution when using White Paint Under Colored Pencils
Whatever paint or other media Donna tries, I suggest she practice first on scrap paper. Nothing is more irritating than trying a new technique on an important piece of art and ruining the art. Don’t do it!
It’s far better (and far less frustrating) to practice first, and then try any new tool, method, or technique on important artwork.
A reader recently asked a question that included a comment about waiting for that Ah-Ha moment. The main question has been answered in a previous post on this blog.
But I also want to respond to this comment. It seems like a lot of artists spend a lot of time waiting for that elusive Ah-Ha moment. I base that statement on personal experience and observation.
Mostly, I’m afraid, personal experience.
Waiting for that Ah-Ha Moment
There’s nothing wrong with looking for those moments when everything seems to come together. They do happen in all parts of life. The fact is that most of us have experienced those wonderful “ah-ha!” moments.
The problem comes when we stop doing things and start waiting. Don’t wait.
All of my important break-throughs in gaining colored pencil skills came from drawing. The more I drew, the better I got. The more I learned, the more ready I was to learn more.
Yes, there have been a couple of times when I completed a piece and could see I’d taken a huge step forward. There was something about that piece that far excelled everything I’d done before. This piece is one of those. As soon as I finished it, I knew my skills in drawing landscapes had taken a big step forward.
But behind every one of those break-through pieces were dozens of so-so pieces, or pieces in which I advanced just a little bit.
There were even a lot of bad pieces; artwork I thought was a failure of one kind or another.
The more you practice the skills you already have, the more you’ll improve. For most of us, improvement comes one step at a time. Some day, you’ll look back at these two pieces and be able to see just how much you have improved.
Stop Waiting for those Moments
Embrace them and celebrate them when they happen.
But put in the hard work between break-through moments. And yes, even after the Ah-Ha! moments happen. You have to work hard to make those advances, and you have to continue working to repeat them.
That’s really the best way to make sure you have break-through moments, and have them more often.
Drawing hair in colored pencil is our topic for today, and it was suggested by a reader question from a few weeks back.
That question was specifically about drawing long, curly hair, and I intended to find a sample of long, curly hair and do a tutorial. But other obligations got in the way and rather than holding this topic until time allowed for a tutorial, I decided to write about four basic principles that apply to drawing all types of hair.
Including long, curly hair!
Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil
Hair looks like a perfect subject for colored pencils. Pencils are perfect for drawing lines, and lines are the perfect way to draw hair. Or so it seems.
But there’s more to drawing realistic hair than just making lines. In fact, if all you do is make lines, the hair you draw will not look like hair, or it will look very stringy. If your style is realistic, you want hair that looks natural.
Here are a few tips for drawing hair that looks touch-ably real.
Choose the Right Stroke
One thing I tell readers and students often is take a good, long look at your reference photo, then choose the type of stroke that will produce the best results. For example, if the hair you want to draw is long and straight, use long strokes when you draw that hair.
But don’t stroke from one of the hair to the other end. Strokes should be only as long as they need to be to draw the part of the hair you’re drawing.
Take a look at this example.
The horse’s mane is long and straight, so I used long, straight strokes to draw it. But there are very few strokes that go all the way from the root of the hair to the hair tip.
Instead, the strokes in the darker values cover only the darker values. The highlights were made either by adding darker colors around them, or by using lighter colors within them. When I used lighter pencils, the strokes are only as long as the highlights.
Yes, there is some overlap, but only enough to keep the edges from being too straight, and to keep the mane looking natural.
Avoid Extreme Detail When Drawing Hair with Colored Pencil
Unless you’re goal is hyper-realism.
Instead of drawing individual hairs, look for hair groups. Block in those larger shapes first, then break them down into smaller details. Don’t draw every hair. That’s not only frustrating, it’s unnecessary. A few shadows and middle values in the right places, and a few highlights are all you need. Get those right, then add other details.
This example looks like I drew every hair. I did draw a lot of hairs, but what makes these shapes look like hair is the movement in the lines, the shadows, and the few “stray details” along the top of the neck, and toward the ends of the hair.
Also remember that glossy surfaces show more dramatic values. The shinier a surface is, the darker the dark values look and the lighter the light values look. That’s part of what makes a surface look glossy or reflective when you draw it.
Healthy hair is glossy. The highlights should be bright, almost intense; especially in direct light. Shadows appear also deep and intense. Depending on the color of the hair, you may also see other colors in the main color.
The bright highlights and dark shadows in this example give the hair a high-gloss appearance.
Note also that the shape and placement of the highlights gives movement to the hair. It’s not just hanging there; it’s blowing in a strong breeze.
The type of strokes (straight or curved or wavy) help define movement, as well.
Use Multiple Colors
Always use a minimum of three colors: light value, medium value, and dark value.
But even for white or black hair, you want more than just shades of gray. For the black mane above, I used different values of blue and brown in addition to black. Those colors are not obvious, but they provide depth for the black, and create a more lively black. Hints of them are visible in the actual drawing, and they provide the illusion of sparkle.
To see the colors in hair, look closely at the highlights. Secondary colors appear most closely where the highlights transition into middle values and shadows. Add those colors throughout the rest of the hair.
It’s helpful to look at hair in natural light. Strong sunlight is best, since morning or evening light often produces a golden glow.
Pay Attention to Your Reference Photos
When it comes to drawing hair, we all too often set our reference photo aside and wing it. We all know what hair looks like, after all. We see it every day in one form or another.
But what your brain tells you hair looks like, and what the hair looks like in your reference photo may be two entirely different things. If you want to draw hair that looks real and that looks like your subject, pay attention to the large shapes, the values, and movement of the hair in the photo.
Then draw what you see; not what you think should be there.
Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil
I think the thing that scares most artists about drawing hair is that it looks so complicated and detailed. Water has much the same affect on us and so does glass or any highly reflective surface.
But break it down into more basic elements, and then draw it the same way you draw anything else.
Go slow. Draw carefully. Break the hair down into sections and, if it helps, think of it as an abstract subject.
Remember, all hair is basically the same. My examples are horses and I’ve linked to post on drawing dog hair, but the principles talked about in both posts also apply to human hair, and any other type of hair you might want to draw.
Today I’d like to share a few suggestions for drawing people, specifically faces and beards. But before we start, here’s the reader question.
Do you ever do people portraits? I know your main passion seems to be horses, which is cool, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions as far as drawing people, their faces and features. I think I do okay but I’d love to improve on drawing beards and other hair, dimples, etc. Thanks!
I’ve only done a few human portraits, and they were in oils or graphite. Only one of them was a commission piece.
So I can’t answer you from a wealth of information as a portrait painter.
However, I can answer your question in more general terms.
Suggestions for Drawing People
Regardless of the subject you want to draw, drawing is the absolute best practice you can get. The more you draw, the better you’ll get at seeing your subject and reproducing it on paper. It doesn’t matter what you draw. The reason my horse drawings look the way they do is because I’ve been drawing and painting horses for over fifty years. That’s a lot of horses!
But what should you practice drawing? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Challenging or Difficult Features
If a particular part of the face gives you special problems, practice sketching and drawing that feature. A lot.
Some time ago, I was commissioned by a horse owner to paint her portrait in oil. To this day, it remains the largest human portrait I’ve ever done, measuring 24 x 30 inches. The size meant there was a lot of room for details.
And that meant I needed to get the details right.
So I did a lot of sketching. Not of the lady herself, but of the more important parts of the portrait. This sample shows you some of what I did in working out the shape of the eyes.
I also sketched other parts of the portrait such as her handbag, one of her feet, and some of the background elements.
The reader mentioned faces and beards, so that’s what I’d start with. Sketch eyes, noses, and mouths. Sketch different types of beards and hair. Get a sketch book and fill it up with sketches!
I did my sketching with graphite, but you can also sketch with colored pencils, charcoal, conte, or whatever medium works best for you.
Sketch Some Fun Features
Don’t limit your sketches to the hard parts of the face. Have some fun!
One way to do this is to draw amusing, odd, or funny expressions. How many different expressions can you convey just by sketching an eye, for example? Or a mouth?
Find a Good Teacher
Find a portrait artist whose work you admire and who is doing the type of work you want to do. Study their work and their methods. Try their methods. Keep what works, and discard what doesn’t work for you. If something almost works, then experiment with that technique until it does work.
Chances are that you won’t ever draw exactly like someone else, but you will accumulate a wealth of knowledge and out of that wealth, you’ll be able to develop your own specific methods.
Finally, if your favorite artists offer courses, I strongly recommend you consider taking one. Tutorials are great, but what you really need if you want to improve is the type of course that gives you direct feedback.
The first person to come to mind for me is John Middick. He’s a great portrait artist and he has a set of video courses that will get you started. The collection of portrait and basic courses* he offers is amazing.
He also mentors, and his group, Monthly Sharpener, is a great forum where you can post work and get feedback.
Most of the artists there are portrait artists, but there are also lots of animal artists and landscape artists. I’m also a member there and have found that particular resource invaluable. Even on the free side.
Suggestions for Drawing People
I hope that helps. There really isn’t a shortcut to improving your work that works any better than learning everything you can learn from other artists who are doing what you want to do, and drawing a lot.
For a bit more information on this subject, read How to Draw so Things Look Real. I share a few basic principles in that post that will help you draw anything you want to draw more realistically.
Today, I’d like to share three keys to help you draw so things look real, no matter what you like to draw.
This topic was suggested by a reader who asked about drawing realistic feathers. Here’s the reader question to get us started.
I have been struggling with trying to create the head and chest feathers of Scarlet Macaws and hummingbirds. I have watched several tutorials and I just can’t seem to get It.
I’m starting to get the hang of the wing feathers, but I cannot get the head and chest feathers to look right.
I completely understand if this question remains unanswered. I just thought I would ask, because I have watched and purchased every tutorial I can find and this is the only place I haven’t tried, yet.
Dustin asks a very good question. But the answer I’m about to give applies to every subject, not just feathers.
How to Draw so Things Look Real
The keys to drawing so your subject looks real are basic. In short, you need to:
I confess that these principles are a lot easier to write about than to do. Yes, even for established artists like me.
So let me go through them one at a time and explain more fully what I mean.
Key #1: Really Look at Your Subject
Whether you’re drawing feathers like Dustin, some other animal, a still life, a landscape, or a portrait, it’s important that you really look at your subject. You need to do more than just take a quick glance and start drawing. Study the subject.
Studying your subject is just as important if you’re drawing something you’ve drawn many times as it is if you’re drawing something for the first time.
Let me use myself as an example.
I did portraits of horses for over forty years. It would be pretty easy for me to draw a horse in the right pose without studying the reference photos from each client. But when I draw that way, I’m drawing a generic horse.
Drawing a generic horse might turn out as a pretty good portrait, but it will be a portrait of a generic horse; not a portrait of the client’s horse. There is a big difference.
Why? Because every individual is different.
Every horse is unique. Every cat or dog is unique. Let’s face it; every landscape, still life, and piece of fruit is unique in some way. Creating realistic art means finding and drawing those unique qualities and characteristics.
Key #2: Disregard What You Think You Know about Your Subject
This key is most important if you specialize, like I did.
Those of us who have a favorite subject and tend to draw that subject over and over again start thinking we know enough about our subject to draw it blind-folded.
As I pointed out above, you may be able to draw a very nice generic version of your favorite subject. But if you draw only what you know about your subject, your artwork will start looking the same.
Sometimes, you have to ignore what you think you know in order to see each subject as an individual subject. If you have difficulty grasping the importance of this key to drawing realistically, then refer back to Key #1.
Key #3: Draw What You See
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of studying each subject and disregarding what you think you know about that subject, the next step is drawing what you see.
Not what you think you see.
Or what you think should be there.
This means referring to your reference or references often.
Don’t glance at your reference photos and then draw for twenty minutes (or even just five or ten minutes.)
Obviously, the larger your artwork, the more detail you can draw. But even when your artwork is small, it’s very important to draw enough detail to make your subject look real. To do that, you need to see the important details in your references and draw those details to best of your ability.
That means knowing what colors to use, what values to draw, what strokes to make marks with, and so on.
How to Draw so Things Look Real; Yes, Even Feathers
What does all this have to do with Dustin’s original question about drawing feathers?
Dustin wants to know how to draw feathers, and the short answer is that he can draw realistic feathers the same way he draws any subject so it looks real. By studying the subject, disregarding what he thinks he knows, and drawing what he sees.
Yes, the techniques might differ as far as making marks on the paper, but everything else is basically the same.
And some subjects are more difficult than others, so patience and persistence are also very, very important.
I recommend a post I wrote on my art blog, Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers, that goes into those basics in a little more detail. That post includes a mini-tutorial, so I hope you’ll take a look at it.
But even if you don’t draw birds, and you’re not interested in drawing feathers, I hope the three keys I’ve shared in this post help you draw your next subject so it looks real.
Today’s question comes from a reader who struggles with choosing titles for art. She wants to know just how important a catchy title is. Here’s what she had to say.
I finish a drawing and then try to come up with a title for it that is quirky enough to make a viewer take another look. Not always successful. How important do you think is a good title ? How much can it add to the overall drawing? Sue
Clever titles can add an extra dimension to artwork. There’s no denying that.
But you’re right. It can be a lot of work to come up with interesting titles.
Whether or not they’re actually important is a difference of opinion. So I’ll share my thoughts on titling work, and then Kathryn Hansen will share hers.
Carrie’s Thoughts on Naming Artwork
I’ve been an artist for decades, and for most of that time, I was a commissioned portrait artist. For many years, I painted a minimum of twelve portraits each year in my spare time. I had a full-time job, so creative time was at a premium.
Consequently, I didn’t spend a lot of time naming my work. It was always the name of the subject, with names like Blizzard Babe and Mercury: Portrait of a Blue Roan. Not very exciting, but the titles were as much for my record keeping as for the clients. It didn’t require a lot of cleverness because the work was already sold.
I don’t do portrait work very much anymore, so my titles have gotten a little more clever, but the only claim to fame I have in the cleverness department is this piece: Christmas Tree-O.
And I don’t consider it a very good piece.
For the most part, my titles these days are descriptive rather than clever. Most of the time, I have a title in mind when I begin a piece, but sometimes that working title gets changed after a piece is finished. The titles work for me and gives potential buyers some idea of what the subject is.
Besides, the artwork has always seemed more important to me than the title.
But that is only my opinion.
Kathryn Hansen’s Thoughts on Choosing Titles for Art
Kathryn Hansen, the featured artist for the August 2021 issue of CP Magic, is very good at coming up with imaginative titles; the kind of titles that prompt a second look at the art work. So I asked her to comment on this subject. Here’s what she had to say:
“Personally I think titles are very important, and consider it part of my whole art package from conceiving the original idea for the piece to the title, to the images I take of it along the way, to how I market it…it’s very well thought out. And followers/fans/collectors have now associated me with puns and clever titles for my art and in my marketing posts/newsletters…so I stand out from the pack so to speak of other artists.
“So, in a nutshell, I think it’s very important. I find it very boring and lacking in creativity when I see unimaginative titles on pieces or when an artist asks followers for ideas about titles. I don’t wait till I finish a piece and scratch my head wondering what I’ll title it. I thought about it in the beginning or along the way. It’s the energy of the piece then as it’s getting created.”
This is one of Kathryn’s pieces, Let it Bee. After seeing some of the other titles of the work she provided for CP Magic, I spent a lot of time looking for a bee in this piece. Can you find it?
Neither could I.
So I asked Kathryn if there was a bee. Her reply?
“Yes there is…no physical bee…just a play on bears, honey and bees…I had Winnie the Pooh in mind when titling it!!”
So is Choosing Titles for Your Art Important?
I have to agree with Kathryn that it is indeed important. Her artwork is so beautiful, it’s easy to spend time looking at it.
If your creativity runs in that direction as well as in creating the art, then use a clever or catchy title.
But if you’re stressing over finding exactly the right title, then you’re probably better off with a more typical or descriptive title.
But when a title keeps drawing you back to the artwork, as happened to me with Let it Bee, then the title is important.
Thanks to Sue for asking this intriguing question and to Kathryn for sharing her insights!
Today, I’m comparing Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils in response to a reader question. Here’s the question.
Crayola Colores of the World: These are supposed to be skin tone colored pencils. Recently purchased. How do they compare with Prismacolor?
First, let me do a general comparison, brand to brand.
Then I’d like to share a few thoughts on skin tone colors.
Let’s get started.
Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
I only recently came into possession of a large batch of Crayola colored pencils, and have experimented with them enough to discover that they’re great coloring book pencils.
But they’re not very useful for fine art. I show you why in a moment.
The reason is that Prismacolor pencils are artist quality pencils. Despite all their quality control issues, they have more pigment so they lay down color better, faster, and more smoothly. They also contain less fillers and binding agents than Crayola, so they’re easier to use.
However, every pencil works differently for each artist. A lot depends on what you hope to accomplish with your art (is it just for fun, or do you hope to sell it,) your skill level, and your dedication to long-term colored pencil use.
So what works for me may not work for you, and what doesn’t work for me may work wonders for you.
A Couple of Tests
I did a couple of shading tests with Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, just to see how they performed side-by-side.
First, I made three color bars with the heaviest color at the top and bottom of each bar, and the lightest in the middle. The Crayola color bar is first, followed by the Prismacolor color bar.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I got smooth color and transitions with both brands of pencils. The Crayolas were actually a bit smoother. That surprised me. I expected the scholastic grade pencils to be a lot less vibrant in color, and more difficult to use. They were neither.
What I did notice at once was that it was difficult to make color stick to previous layers of color with the Crayola pencils. The difficulty was most pronounced where I’d used heavy pressure, but it was noticeable even in the lighter pressure areas. I couldn’t even get blue to show up layered over yellow.
The Prismacolor colors layered beautifully, top to bottom.
My conclusion? Crayola’s are good for putting down saturated color (no paper holes showing through) if you don’t intend to layer another color over the first layer. You can get value transitions by changing the pressure with which you apply color, but that was about the only way.
I tested that theory further by alternating layers of yellow and blue, choosing comparable colors in each set. Once again, the Crayola sample is first, followed by the Prismacolor sample. I used light pressure for all layers with both types of pencils.
As you can see, there isn’t as much difference between the two brands of pencils when I used them this way. However, although these two samples look very close in a digital format, the Prismacolor sample is slightly more green in real life.
What’s more, it was quite a bit easier (and faster) to get to this level with the Prismacolor pencils.
I conducted both tests on inexpensive paper (a medium-weight sketch pad, in fact.) I haven’t used the Crayola pencils on better paper or used them enough on the sketch pad to know how they would perform in a drawing.
However, it’s my opinion that any artist who intends to blend color by layering should probably not start out with Crayola colored pencils. They will be frustrating to use for that purpose.
Thoughts on Skin Tones
I’m always a little hesitant to recommend sets of “skin tone colors,” for the same reason I hesitate to buy sets of landscape colors or portrait colors.
The reason is simple.
There are so many variations to consider that no set, not even the Colors of the World set from Crayola, can accurately produce every type of skin color imaginable.
I took a look at the set online and even with 24 colors, it barely scratches the surface of possible skin tones.
However, colors are arranged in three basic color groups, and the set includes a selection of gradations within each family. So they provide is a nice line of base colors.
Or coloring book colors.
The fact that it’s difficult to alter the colors by layering other colors over them further complicates the problem.
But even the marketing for these pencils indicates they’re designed for about First Grade students. In other words, artists who won’t know much about layering or blending and will most likely apply color heavily to cover the paper. These pencils are perfect for that.
Prismacolor does not offer a similar set of colors, but they do offer similar colors available open stock. The cost will be higher, but not significantly. If you want to layer and blend colors, Prismacolors will be a much better buy in the long run.
Final Thoughts on Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor
Since this reader has already purchased the Crayola colored pencils, I suggest trying them out with a few drawings or sketches.
It is my opinion, however, that any artist interested in doing human portraits is better off buying similar Prismacolor colors to get started. You can also more easily test other brands by buying open stock.
Better yet, one of the medium sized sets of Prismacolor would be an even better purchase overall.