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The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

What are the best sharpeners for colored pencils? That’s our topic for today’s post. I want to thank Jack, who asked about sharpeners. Specifically, sharpeners for Prismacolor pencils.

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics on my art blog, and I get questions about them on a regular basis. With so many people starting to use colored pencils every day, this is a good time to share with you the three types of sharpeners I find work best with Prismacolor pencils.

Why Prismacolor Pencils in Particular

Before we begin, let me explain why so many artists have difficulty sharpening Prismacolor pencils. I won’t go into detail about quality control and all that, because that is not the only issue.

Quality Control

Yes. Quality control is always important. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making colored pencils or beef stew. The better the ingredients and the more attention you pay to the details, the better the end result. Right?

There is room for improvement in both areas when it comes to Prismacolor pencils. Problems with breaking leads, cracked wood casings, and pencils that aren’t straight all contribute to problems sharpening them. Changing sharpeners isn’t likely to help.

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils
The cracked wood on the orange pencil is both a result of sharpening, and a problem for sharpening. Either way, you will lose valuable pigment working with a cracked wood casing like this one.

Enough said. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, take a look at Why Prismacolor Pencils Break So Often, published on my art blog.

Soft Pencils

Prismacolor pencils are also soft. Color application has been described as “buttery,” “creamy,” and “smooth.” Those descriptions require a fairly soft pencil so that color goes onto the paper easily.

And Prismacolor pencils do layer color smoothly! We all know that.

But with smooth pencils comes the tendency to break during sharpening, and to crumble while drawing. Especially if you draw with heavy pressure.

A pencil sharpener will not help you resolve either of those two problems.

But the sharpener you use can reduce the amount of breakage and still give you nice, sharp points.

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

I’ve used a variety of sharpeners over the years, and have had decent success with all of them. My collection of old sharpeners includes electric, battery-operated, mechanical, and hand-held sharpeners, and even a trusty X-acto knife!

These days, I’ve narrowed the selection down to two types of sharpeners.

Old-Fashioned Sharpeners

The best sharpener I’ve ever used is an old-fashioned sharpener like the ones that used to be in school rooms. It’s a crank sharpener designed to be bolted to a wall. The one shown below has different sized holes for different sized pencils.

My husband bought this sharpener when he was in school. It’s an APSCO Premier Standard. It’s easy to use, fairly portable, and easy to clean. What’s more, it’s all metal! No plastic parts.

You can still find them on online auction sites if you’re patient and persistent. You might also find them in estate sales and antique shops, but beware! Prices in those outlets could be high.

This sharpener is great with all of my pencils. Yes, even Prismacolor. I think the reason for that is that the opening for the pencil has a small spring device that holds the pencil. The pencil doesn’t wiggle, turn or twist, so the sharpening blades do not put excessive or unnecessary pressure on the pencil.

That’s just a guess on my part. I’m not an engineer, but that explanation makes sense.

Hand Held Sharpeners

These sharpeners are available in the school and office supply sections of most grocery stores and discount stores. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some have containers to catch shavings and some haven’t, but they all have one thing in common. You hold them in your hand.

I currently have two styles. Both of them come with shavings containers and both were very inexpensive. Under $2 each.

But one sharpens pencils to a short point, while the other sharpens a longer point.

Sharpeners like this are very portable in addition to being inexpensive. I throw one into my field kit or pencil box when I plan on drawing away from the studio.

One tip: If you have problems with breakage with a sharpener like this, hold the pencil stable and turn the sharpener. I’ve been able to sharpen the more stubborn Prismacolor pencils without breaking them by this simple trick.

The Two The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

Yes, even Prismacolor.

Remember that these are what work for me. They’ll probably work for you, too, but that’s no guarantee.

Try any sharpener that catches your eye, inexpensive or expensive. Test each one with all of your pencils if you use more than one brand.

Also listen to what other artists say about the sharpeners they use. Hearing what other artists have to say is helpful in finding the right sharpener for you.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

We’ve been talking about blending recently, so today’s post is a follow up on some of those discussions. This time we’ll talk about whether or not colorless blenders cause wax bloom. Let’s begin with the reader question.

Do you know if colourless blender pencils cause Waxbloom?

Kind regards, Sabine

A lot of artists new to colored pencils ask about colorless blenders and how best to use them. They’re a handy tool, but they can cause problems.

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

Do Colorless Blenders Cause Wax Bloom?

The short answer to this is yes. Colorless blenders do cause wax bloom and the reasons are simple.

Colored Pencils with No Pigment

Colorless blenders are basically a colored pencil with no pigment. The “lead” is all binding agent, which is a combination of wax, vegetable oil, and other materials. In a colored pencil, these things help hold the pigment together, keep it in the “lead” form, and make it possible to apply color to the paper.

A colorless blender doesn’t apply color, but since it’s 100% binding agent, it helps move color that’s already on the paper. That’s why they’re such a great blending tool.

Several companies that make colored pencils also make colorless blenders. Prismacolor, Lyra, and Utrect are among those that do. The formulation varies company to company, but all colorless blenders work on all types of pencils.

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news.

Because colorless blenders are nothing but the binding agent, you’re putting a lot of the binding agent on the paper. Since all binders for colored pencils include some wax, that means you’re putting wax on the paper.

And wax causes wax bloom.

Colorless Blenders are Burnishing Tools

Equally important is that colorless blenders are burnishing tools. You can blend with them using medium pressure or lighter, but they work best when you burnish.

Burnishing is a method of blending in which you “grind” layers of color together by using heavy pressure. When you burnish, you use a lot of pressure. That puts even more wax on the paper.

Are Colorless Blenders a Big Problem?

That depends on how you use them and your thoughts on wax bloom.

For some, wax bloom is a major irritation and something to be avoided at all costs. Those artists should avoid colorless blenders as much as possible.

For other artists, the benefits of blending with colorless blenders far outweigh the risk of wax bloom. Though the wax bloom may be an inconvenience, it’s not a problem.

So you’ll have to decide whether or not to use colorless blenders in your work.

If you do, know that wax bloom is easy to control. When it occurs with a work-in-progress, lightly wipe your drawing with a piece of paper towel or tissue. If you use tissue, chose a type that does not contain lotion. I fold the paper towel into quarters, then lightly stroke it across the drawing. It removes the wax bloom and I can continue drawing.

Use the same method to remove wax bloom on a finished drawing. Then use a final fixative made for colored pencils or dry media. The tissue paper removes wax bloom that may already have developed.

The fixative keeps it from coming back.

I’ve written a full tutorial on blending without solvents that includes more in-depth information on colorless blenders and wax bloom. If you want to learn more, see Blending Colored Pencils without Solvents here.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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How to Use PanPastels and Colored Pencils

How to Use PanPastels and Colored Pencils

Have you used PanPastels and colored pencils? If so can you offer any suggestions on type of paper, solvents, techniques? Thanks. Louise


I haven’t used PanPastels with colored pencils, but have seen some wonderful work done with that combination. I’ll begin by sharing some of the basic principles I’ve picked up, then share tips from other artists who have used them.

PanPastels and Colored Pencils

The Basics

The first thing to consider is the paper you use.

Pastels require toothier paper. That’s because they don’t have a binding agent to help them stick to the paper; at least not to the same extent as colored pencils. Artists rub pastels into the tooth of the paper to make them stick. The same is true for PanPastels, so you need to use a pastel paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes is probably the “smoothest” paper I’d try. Most of the artists whose videos I’ve watched are using Pastelmat or something similar.

The second principle I’ve observed is that most artists use PanPastels in much the same way they use water-based media. That is, they do the pastel work first (usually the background,) then do the colored pencil work. One or two artists add the background with PanPastels after doing the subject, but not often. I’m not sure why that is, but it does seem to be a common practice.

And that leads me to the third principle.

Most of the artists I’ve watched combine these two mediums do not layer one over the other. That is, they do the background with PanPastel because the pastels are fast and easily blended. They work around the subject of their piece and save that clean paper for colored pencil.

I’ve never seen anyone use solvents on PanPastels, but I haven’t watched that many videos. In the videos I have watched, artists simply apply the PanPastels and blend them.

So that’s the limit of my knowledge on PanPastels. Time to ask some experts: Artists who use them!

The Voices of Experience

I posted a question on the Monthly Sharpener, an art forum for colored pencil artists. Several artists answered my questions, and I’ve summarized what I learned.

  • Many artists use PanPastels for backgrounds because they blend so easily and are ideal for blurred or bokeh-style backgrounds. But many of the artists who answered my questions also use them under colored pencils, and one adventurous artist used them over solvent-blended colored pencil when she didn’t like the look of the blend.
  • If you use PanPastels under colored pencils, use the pastels sparingly. You need to leave enough tooth for the colored pencil to stick to.
  • One or two artists mentioned using fixative with PanPastels. Those who use fixative most often use it after finishing their work. Pastels of all types are rubbed into the tooth of the paper to make them stick, so fixative is usually unnecessary. In addition, fixatives sometimes darken the colors of pastels, so test on a sample paper first.

The most interesting information to me was the comparison between PanPastels and Powder Blender. Both blend color smoothly, but PanPastels stick to the paper without the use of fixative. Powder Blender is not permanent without the use of fixative.

In other words, you can get much the same affects with PanPastels as with Powder Blender, but without the additional step of sealing your work.

PanPastels and Colored Pencils

If you’re interested in learning more about PanPastels, check out the company website. The website includes a helpful resources section, where you can watch videos on getting started, basic tips and techniques, and tutorials. Kits to get you started are also available.

The November 2020 issue of CP Magic also includes a tutorial by Cathy Antkes Choyce, in which she combines PanPastels and colored pencils.

Final Thoughts

When I began answering this question, I had no intention of trying PanPastels. After doing a little research and asking questions, I’m rethinking that notion. PanPastels are available open stock and in a variety of sets through Dick Blick and other art suppliers.

For further information, the following artists have published great tutorials (real-time and time lapse) on using PanPastels with colored pencils.

Lisa Ann Watkins of Animal Art by LAW

Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art

Jason Morgan Wildlife Art

These are artists from whose videos I’ve learned a lot on a variety of colored pencil techniques. If you don’t care for the YouTube ads, all three of these artists have Patreon page links on their YouTube channels.

And don’t forget the videos at the PanPastels website.

PS: Thank you to the fine people at PanPastel who provided the images I used for this post!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about using Powder Blender with colored pencils, beginning with the reader question.

How is powder blender used with colored pencils?


Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

What is Powder Blender?

Powder Blender is a dry blending tool developed by Alyona Nickelsen, founder of Brush & Pencil. She needed a way to blend smooth color without using solvent, and Powder Blender is the result.

Powder Blender is a very fine white powder that is non-toxic and archival. It allows artists to blend color without solvents. It works best on rigid, textured surfaces such as sanded art papers, but you can use it on traditional papers after priming them with gritty, acrylic gesso.

The technical information on the Brush & Pencil website indicates that powder blender works best with oil-based colored pencils such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, but I have used it with a mix of pencils, including Prismacolor. Most of my work is with Polychromos, however.

I’ve only recently begun using it, so am still in the learning curve. But I can tell you I’ve had good results with it so far.

The tips that follow are limited to my personal experience.

How to Use Powder Blender

The recommended use is applying a small amount of Powder Blender to the surface of your paper before you start layering color. Apply it with a brush, sponge applicators, or your finger if you wear a cot to protect the paper from skin oils.

Powder Blender is white in the container, but when you spread it onto the paper, it practically disappears.

It doesn’t take much powder blender, so use it sparingly. You may be tempted to use too much because it disappears so quickly. Resist that temptation! I used a bit too much the first time I tried it, and color nearly fell off the paper when I blended it.

Layer color normally after you’ve applied Powder Blender.


The neat thing about using Powder Blender is that you don’t have to be especially fussy in layering color. The illustration below shows my initial color layers, and how blotchy they look. That all blended out.

Blending is as fast and easy as color application. A brush, sponge applicator or your finger make good blending tools (don’t forget that cot!)

I tried this when I did the drawing, Blazing Sunset. This illustration shows unblended color (top) and blended color (bottom.)

After blending, continue layering color and blending until the color looks the way you want it. You don’t need to add more Powder Blender.

Lifting Color

Powder blender allows you to easily lift color to lighten an area or remove mistakes. I tried this, and color lifted more easily with Powder Blender. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo, so I can’t show you the result, but I can say that it’s possible to remove color almost completely if you start the drawing process with Powder Blender.

Color is easiest to remove with mounting putty, but you can rub it off with a clean sponge applicator and lighten it with a soft brush. This makes correcting mistakes very easy.

But it does have one slight disadvantage.

You can move color around or remove it until you seal the layers, but you don’t have to seal color between every layer. You can even finish an entire drawing without sealing it. But you must seal it afterward or the color will never be permanent.

Fortunately, there’s a tool for that, too.

Sealing Color

ACP Textured Fixative is designed for works-in-progress. It seals the color layers beneath it so they become permanent. You can use solvents over it and the solvents do not soak into the sealed layers. Fresh color layered over Textured Fixative can be lifted without disturbing the color under the Textured Fixative.

Textured fixative also restores surface texture, so any new color you apply over it is almost like drawing on a fresh sheet of paper. This allows you to layer indefinitely, seal layers as needed, and create luminous color and subtle detail layer by layer.

Powder Blender and Paper

Powder Blender works best on non-absorbent surfaces like sanded art papers. I’ve used it on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Uart, and Lux Archival, all of which are sanded surfaces.

I’ve read that you can use this product on traditional papers primed with acrylic gesso, but I haven’t yet tested that. I’m not sure I will either because of the work involved. However, applying two or three thin layers of acrylic gesso may be the way to go if you want to use Powder Blender, but don’t want to use sanded art papers.

My Observations on Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Powder Blender is a very versatile tool. You can start a drawing first with Powder Blender, or use it only when you need to. It makes correcting mistakes or lifting color for any other reason extremely easy, and it allows you to blend seamlessly between values and colors or both.

It certainly speeds up the layering and blending process, especially for larger areas. I plan to use it for some larger pieces as time allows.

It’s the closest thing to painting with colored pencils that I’ve found yet. Once I get proficient with it, I will be able to create art using the Seven Step method used by the Old Flemish oil painters!

If you don’t like blending with solvent or cannot use solvents for health reasons, Powder Blender may be helpful.

For more specific information, get Alyona’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. It describes other ways to use Powder Blender with colored pencils.

The Blazing Sunset Tutorial describes in detail how I used Powder Blender and ACP Textured Fixative for a complete landscape on Lux Archival paper. Read more about that here.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Solvents are useful tools for colored pencil artists, because they work with most pencils on most papers. But today’s question comes from a reader who asks a very specific question about Gamsol and smooth paper.

Can you use Gamsol O.M.S. to blend colored pencils on Strathmore smooth paper with no tooth?

I have tried the Finese Blender Pen, but It just removes the color from the paper. I’ve tried rubbing alcohol and it just muddies the colors. I have tried baby oil and it blends, but the colors loose a lot of their vibrancy. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is odorless mineral spirits.

Am I having these Issues blending because I am using paper with no tooth?

Most artists deal with blending issues at one time or another. I’ve been using colored pencils since the mid-1990s and still sometimes have difficulty getting the look I want. So take heart! Problems are part of the process!

Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Gamsol can be used on most surfaces from Bristol to sanded art paper. It works to varying degrees on different types of paper. For example, as a rule, I don’t use solvents on Bristol because it doesn’t often handle moisture well.

However, I don’t recall having used Strathmore smooth paper, so I can’t offer advice from personal experience on this paper.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the paper, I did a little research. If I looked at the right paper (Strathmore 400 Series Smooth,) it’s only 80 pounds in weight. That’s not very heavy.

You may be able to do a little bit solvent blending on paper this light-weight, but I don’t recommend it. The paper may buckle or soak through altogether. Paper tears are also a possibility.

Solvents and Smooth Papers in General

The reader mentioned other blending methods that failed for one reason or another, so let’s talk about those.

The Finesse Colored Pencil Blender is made specifically for waxy colored pencils like Prismacolor. Since all colored pencils contain some amount of wax in the binding agent, it’s possible this tool works with every pencil. But since it’s specifically designed for waxy pencils, it’s also possible the problems this reader experienced are because of the pencils, not the paper or the blender.

At one time, rubbing alcohol was my favorite blending solvent. It was easily available, inexpensive, and perfect for light blending or softening of colors. Muddy colors were never a problem, but I also never blended different color families together. Any solvent is capable of creating muddied color if you blend too many colors together, or if you mix complementary colors.

I did one test blend with baby oil (shown below.) The reader is right. It blends very well. My test involved Bristol, a very smooth almost slick paper, and the baby oil blended it smoothly.

But I don’t use baby oil because it’s not archival. It also can stain more absorbent papers. A major problem with art you want to exhibit or sell.

In Closing

Whenever you use solvent on any smooth, light-weight paper, proceed carefully. Dip your brush in solvent, then blot it on paper towel before touching the paper. In most cases, you don’t need a lot of solvent to blend colored pencil, so use the least amount possible.

Make sure the paper is taped to a rigid backing of some kind before you use solvent on it. The additional support of a rigid backboard may help you.

Let the paper dry completely after you’ve used solvent.

It’s always better to try solvent on a test piece of the same paper first. If that works out, then try it on your drawing.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The reader who asked today’s question wants to know about the best surfaces for colored pencils.

I am fairly new to colored pencil work and I … would greatly appreciate some guidance as to the best papers or surfaces to use for colored pencil work.

Thank you for your consideration to this request.

Sincerely, Marie

Thank you for your question, Marie. You’re not the only new artist who has asked about the best paper for colored pencils.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you one paper that works best for every artist, every style of drawing, and every method of drawing. There are just too many variables.

There are so many different drawing methods and styles the paper that works for me may not work for you. The best paper for you is the paper that gives you the results you want, and fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival to be useful or marketable. I also include art you make for your own enjoyment in this category.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but the improved quality costs more.

The best surfaces for colored pencils may not be what adult coloring books are printed on.
Unless you get individual pages you can download and print, you’re limited to whatever paper the publisher chose for their adult coloring books. Check the information about a book you want to buy, and see if it tells what type of paper the book is printed on. If you like that paper, you may be able to purchase it from an art supply store.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few different papers and see what you like best. Buy small pads for the best buys and least expense.

Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge, Canson, Strathmore and others all make papers that are sturdy and archival. Some of them also come in a variety of colors so you don’t have to always work on white.

Portrait of a Blue Roan, Colored Pencil. I painted this portrait with colored pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is a sturdy, highly textured paper that works with with dry colored pencils, dry blending, and solvent blending.

What to Look for in Drawing Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Surface Texture

The first thing most of us think of when we consider drawing paper is the surface texture. Most drawing papers are quite smooth. Stonehenge has a velvety feel if you buy full sheets. Canson Mi-Teintes is more textured. But there are also sanded art papers that might fit your drawing style and preferences better than regular drawing papers.

For example, I’ve used Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes for years, but my most recent work has been on sanded art paper of one type or another and I’m moving away from previous favorites.


The weight of a paper refers to its thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 120lb paper.

Thicker papers can usually handle more abuse. They take more layers of color, and can often be more easily erased. So if you do a lot of layering, look for papers that are sturdy enough to stand up under lots of layers.

Heavier papers are also helpful if you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or if you like to use heavy pressure with just a few layers of color.

Ability to Handle Dampness

Some papers buckle or tear when they get wet. If you want to use solvents to blend, stay away from these types of paper.

Most good drawing papers stand up well if you use small amounts of solvent to blend. I know Stonehenge can be wetted a little and will dry flat if it’s taped to a rigid support before you start drawing.

Other papers don’t perform well with even small amounts of solvent.

Drawing Surfaces to Avoid

Avoid drawing surfaces that are too thin. Newsprint is good for sketching, but not suitable for long-term colored pencil work. It yellows with age and often gets brittle.

If you want to do fine art as defined above, avoid papers made with cellulose fibers. Yes, cellulose-based papers are less expensive, but they not as archival as cotton fiber-based paper. These papers are great for craft art.

How to Find the Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

You have essentially two options for finding the best surfaces for your colored pencil work.

The first is to ask other artists who are doing work similar to what you want to do. Most of them will be happy to help you, and some will already have produced articles or videos talking about their favorite papers.

The second option (and the best in my opinion) is to try as many papers as you can afford. It won’t take long to discover which paper gives you the best results. For more tips on this subject, read Getting Started with Colored Pencils.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Prismacolor Verithin Pencils

Prismacolor Verithin Pencils

Today I want to talk a little bit about Prismacolor Verithin Pencils and how best to use them. The topic was suggested by a reader question, so let’s begin by taking a look at the question.

I am very much a beginner and enjoy your weekly blogs immensely.

My preference is starting to go towards [the] Prismacolor series, and I’m learning layering and scraping or slicing… whatever it is called.

When I layer the Verithin pencils I have, I seem to have zero effect for [anything but] skinny stroke lines. Am I doing something wrong or is this normal because of the softness and/or hardness of the lead?

Am I never going to be able to use my Verithin pencils with my Premier?

Thank you


Thank you for your questions. My experience has been that not many people use Prismacolor’s Verithin line of pencils or know the best way to use them. I have Verithin pencils and have used them quite a bit, but even I have moved away from them in favor of other methods.

However, they are still very useful for certain techniques, so let’s talk about what these pencils are, how they differ from the Thick Core line of Prismacolor pencils, and how you can make the best use of them.

Prismacolor Verithin Pencils Box

Comparing Verithin and Thick Core Prismacolor Pencils

Verithin and Thick Core pencils are both manufactured under the Prismacolor name. They use the same pigments, and they share color names. Dark Brown in Prismacolor Verithin is the same color as Dark Brown in Prismacolor Thick Core.

That’s about all they have in common, however.

Most of us are very familiar with the smoothness and softness of Prismacolor Thick Core pencils. That’s what most artists think of when they think “Prismacolor.”

Prismacolor Verithin pencils are thinner, harder, and less waxy. They sharpen to a very fine point and they hold that point much longer. They also leave less wax on the paper.

But they do not layer as easily. Nor do they create the same kind of rich, saturated color as their thicker, softer cousins.

They also come in a limited collection of 36 colors.

It is possible to create complete works of art with Verithin pencils, but they will have a totally different look than the same art created with the same colors in the thick core line.

Because of these differences, they don’t perform the same way as Prismacolor Thick Core pencils.

But they do perform extremely well in certain applications.

How to Make the Best Use of Verithin Pencils

Fine Details

Because they are thinner, harder, and hold a sharp point longer, Prismacolor Verithin pencils are perfect for drawing fine details. For years, they were my go-to pencil for drawing long, flowing manes on my horses, or for adding detail to grassy fields and similar applications.

Etching Details

Sharp tips and hard lead also make them great etching tools. You can “slice” through heavy layers of softer color with a Verithin pencil AND leave a bit of color in the mark at the same time.

You can’t do as much detail work this way as you could do with a Slice tool or knife, but adding subtle details is much easier with a Verithin pencil.

And you’re less likely to cut through the paper!

Under Drawings

Even today, I most often use Verithin pencils at the under drawing phase. They leave less wax on the paper, so I can add almost as many layers of color as a I want without filling up the tooth of the paper.

It’s very easy to layer softer pencils over them to finish a piece.

Sanded Art Papers

I’ve even found them useful on sanded art papers such as Clairefontaine Pastelmat and Lux Archival. I don’t use them as much for under drawings on sanded art papers, but they’re excellent for blending layers of color and for adding details over layers of color.

In fact, in the last horse portrait I did, I used Verithin pencils over many layers of color to add flyaway hairs in the mane and forelock, eyelashes, and other details.

You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong with Your Prismacolor Verithin Pencils!

Prismacolor Verithin pencils can be extremely useful if you understand what they are and how they work. They have a very specific area of usefulness.

Once you find that place in your drawing process, you’ll be able to create wonderful art with them by themselves or in combination with other types and brands of pencils.

So continue practicing with them, and try a few of the techniques I described above.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

A Beginners Guide to Under Drawings

Today’s post is a quick beginner’s guide to under drawings, and it’s prompted by a recent reader question. Here’s the question to get us started.

I am a beginner to the art of colored pencils. You may have covered my question in a previous post but I could not find it.

My question: What do you mean by under drawing? An example would be helpful as well as I learn best by observation.


This is a great question. When you’ve been doing art for as long as I have (over 50 years,) it’s easy to take for granted that everyone knows what I know. That is so not true, and I thank this reader for bringing the question to my attention.

Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

In it’s most basic form, an under drawing is the first layers of color you put on the paper. The under drawing is also sometimes called “base layers.” This illustration shows the under drawing or base layers for a recent landscape.

To further complicate matters, some artists work over all of their drawing at each phase, while others finish one section at a time.

Whichever way you work, you most often probably start with the same colors that you’ll finish with, as I did in the sample above. Blues for a sky, greens for grass, and so on. That’s the way I worked when I first began using colored pencils back in the 1990s.

But I was also oil painting at the time and learning a painting process that involved starting with an umber under painting. With that method, I roughed in the painting with brown tones, followed by gray tones, and ending with color glazes.

When I got serious about colored pencils, I adapted that method to colored pencils.

So when I speak of an under drawing, I’m talking about a method of drawing that begins with a color other than the final colors of the piece.

Different Kinds of Under Drawings

There are different ways to do under drawings, so let me share the two I use most often.

Umber Under Drawings

An umber under drawing is an under drawing done in shades of brown. I do a lot of landscape art and brown tones are natural for landscapes.

I also like browns of all sorts, so starting with an umber (or brown) under drawing is my favorite way to begin many drawings.

This is an umber under drawing for a landscape.

A Beginners Guide to Under Drawings

I used Prismacolor Light Umber for this under drawing. Light Umber is a nice, medium-value, warmish brown that produces fairly dark values and extremely light values.

As you can see, there’s already a good sense of distance in the drawing because of the difference in values and details.

This is also a good way to double-check a composition before getting too far into a project. If I find mistakes at this stage, it’s easier to correct them. Then I can layer more browns or start glazing colors.

Here’s the finished landscape.

I did this piece as a demo piece for the first article I wrote for EmptyEasel, so you can start reading the step-by-step here if you’re interested. It’s a two-part series. I’ve linked to the second article, which contains a link to the first article.

Complementary Under Drawings

I have also used complementary under drawings, also usually for landscapes. With a complementary under drawing, I choose a color that’s opposite the final color on the color wheel. For greens, the under drawing would be some shade of red, for example.

Here’s a landscape started with a complementary under drawing.

I used a couple of shades of red for this under drawing; darker red on the main group of trees, and lighter red everywhere else.

But I used the same basic under drawing method for this piece that I used for the umber under drawing sample above. I drew a little bit more detail and darker values in the center of interest, and fewer details in the other parts of the landscape. Even though the colors look “odd” to us, there is still a feel of distance in the drawing.

I could also see the composition was working quite well, though I did make one change at the end of the project.

This is the finished landscape.

I described the drawing process in depth in a three-part tutorial for EmptyEasel. You can reach the third part here, and link to the other two parts from that article.

Tips for Under Drawing

The following tips work for me and I offer them with the hope that they may work for you, too. They are not absolute by any means. Merely suggestions.

Start with Harder Pencils

Before I bought Polychromos pencils, I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for under drawings. Verithin pencils are harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. They contain less wax, so they’re ideal for under drawings because they leave less wax on the paper. It’s easier to layer softer, waxier pencils over them.

They also are less pigmented. It’s very difficult to get too dark when you use a Verithin pencil, though it is possible.

And they also erase much more easily than waxier pencils. If you find a mistake in the under drawing, it’s easier to remove or correct, and then cover.

Now I use Polychromos pencils for under drawings, and for all the same reasons. They don’t erase quite as a well as Verithin pencils, but they do lift more easily than waxier pencils.

Plus they have many more colors: 150 colors compared to 36 colors in the Verithin line.

Use Light Pressure

Light pressure is always important. It’s even more important at the under drawing phase. Color applied with light pressure is easier to correct than color applied with heavy pressure, no matter what type of pencil you use.

You also have more control over values with light pressure. You may still get too dark, but drawing dark values bit by bit helps avoid that.

Evaluate the Under Drawing Before You Glaze Color

I’ve found it helpful to let a drawing sit overnight when I think the under drawing is complete. I can evaluate it with fresh eyes the next day. If I see things to improve or change, I make those adjustments before starting color glazes.

Of course you can make adjustments throughout the color glazing phase, but getting the under drawing as accurate as possible before you start color glazing makes color glazing that much easier.

Why I Start with Under Drawings

I often start with an under drawing for landscapes, because I can work out the shapes, values, and even some of the details without also having to make color decisions.

The earth tones or complementary colors also keep the greens in the landscape from getting too bright or artificial looking.

And I simply find it easier to develop a drawing without also making color choices in the early phase.

That’s my Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

There is much more to under drawings than that, but it would take a couple more posts (or a very long one!) to cover everything.

If you’re interested in trying any of the under drawing methods, I encourage you to do so. Start with something small and fun. Maybe even just drawing a series of balls with the same final color glazed over several different colors. That’s the best way to see whether any of these methods work for you or not!

For more information on layering color, read Layering Colors with Colored Pencils.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best way to blend colored pencils. Here’s the question.

Please tell me which is the best way for blending colored pencils and what you are thinking about solvents?
Thank you, best wishes!

The Best Way to Blend Colored Pencils

The most basic way to blend is by layering as you draw. Each time you layer one color over another, you’re also blending. The two colors blend visually, creating a new color. That happens because colored pencils are translucent in nature. The light passes through each color, bounces off the paper, and back through the layers of color. Your eye doesn’t see the individual colors. It sees a color that combines all those colors.

That is my favorite way of blending because it happens automatically as I draw.

There are other ways of blending colored pencils, of course. You can use a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) to smooth colors and blend them together.

You can also use paper towel to smooth color. Fold a piece of paper towel into a small square and rub it on the area you want to blend. The paper towel smooths out the color somewhat and softens pencil strokes.

And you can burnish.

To burnish, you use either a colorless blender or a colored pencil with heavy pressure to “grind” the layers of color together. If you need to tint the color, use a colored pencil for burnishing. Light colors work best.

Burnishing with a colorless blender “grinds” colors together. It also flattens the tooth of the paper, so burnish when an area is nearly finished.

My Thoughts on Solvents

Solvents are also an acceptable way to blend.

A solvent is any liquid that breaks down the binder in colored pencils and allows the pigment to be moved around. Rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine are all solvents. Each of those solvents blends to a different degree.

Use solvents with caution and in well-ventilated areas, since they all produce fumes that are harmful.

Solvents make blending faster and allow you to work more quickly, and many artists use them for that reason alone.

I don’t use solvents often because I prefer the look of colored pencil blended without solvent. But if I need to finish something quickly, or if there’s no other way to get the result I want, I use solvents.

My preferred solvent is Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits, but any artist-grade odorless mineral spirit works the same.

For more information on blending, I’ve published a tutorial called Blending Colored Pencils without Solvents. You can read more about that here.

So Which Way to Blend Colored Pencils is Best?

That differs from one artist to the next. As I mentioned above, I prefer not to blend with solvents. But other artists couldn’t use colored pencils if it weren’t for solvents because solvent blending takes a lot of pressure off the hands.

If you’re new to colored pencils, learn everything you can about the ways to blend.

Then try the blending methods that appeal most to you. Experiment a little bit. It probably won’t take long to discover the method or methods that work best for you.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Getting Started with Colored Pencils

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

There are a lot of new colored pencil enthusiasts in this audience. There are probably many others who are interested in colored pencils, but haven’t yet taken the plunge. So I want to talk about getting started with colored pencils.

Let’s begin with the reader question.


What would be a good starting point for doing color pencils? I am not much [with] drawing skill.


Thank you for your question, Steve! I’ve used colored pencils for so long, I often forget what getting started was like!

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

When you first start thinking about using colored pencils, it looks like there’s a lot to learn. And there is.

There are also dozens of tools and accessories on the market, and more are launched every month.

So where do you begin?

The truth is that you can start using colored pencils with only the basics. What are the basics? Pencils and paper (and a sharpener!)

When it comes to getting started with colored pencils, focus on the basic necessities.


You have to buy pencils, but everybody’s budget is different. The number and type of pencils purchased differs from artist to artist.

However, the best thing you can do isbuy the best pencils you can. That’s why I always recommend you buy the best you can afford.

I also suggest you buy a few colors open stock (single pencils instead of sets.) Each pencil will cost more, but you can make a good start with half a dozen artist-grade pencils.

Why artist-grade?

Because artist-grade pencils contain more pigment and perform better than scholastic- grade (grade school quality) and student-grade. You’ll get a better feel for the medium with better materials.

And if you decide colored pencils aren’t for you, then you haven’t spent a lot of money on a full set of pencils.

Another alternative is to buy smaller sets. Most brands and grades of pencils come in 12-color sets and 24-color sets for a fraction of the cost of full sets.

So find the best combination of quality, price, and selection.


Paper is the same way. Skip the fancy or colored papers. Start with a pad of good, white drawing paper, and go small. A 9-inch by 12-inch pad of paper is the largest size I’d suggest. Smaller is better. They’re usually less expensive, and a better fit for sketching, doodling, or just experimenting with your new pencils.

But don’t skimp on quality. As with pencils, starting with good paper is your best option for getting a true feel for the medium.

If you can, try a pad of Bristol and a pad of regular drawing paper like Strathmore or Stonehenge. Bristol is very smooth. Regular drawing papers have a bit more texture and a softer feel. By trying both, you’ll discover which basic type of paper gives you the best results.

Dick Blick offers a wide selection of good drawing pads and they’re customer service is excellent. They also sell pencils in sets and open stock!

I Don’t Have Much Drawing Skill

Steve also mentioned not having much drawing skill. That’s okay! You don’t need drawing skill to experiment with colored pencils. You need pencils and paper!

But there many options available to you if you want to try colored pencils that allow you to begin without having a lot of drawing skill. Here are three ideas.


If you have an adventurous personality, try just playing with your new pencils and paper. Make marks on the paper. Try drawing lines, and shading shapes. Doodle!

You can learn a lot about colored pencils just by shading one color over another, by pushing the pencil against the paper with different pressures, and so on. If you have a question about how a pencil performs under certain conditions, then try it and see!

Believe it or not, you can learn enough about colored pencils through this kind of experimentation to know whether or not colored pencils are a good fit for you.

Adult Coloring Books

If you’re not adventurous by nature, or if you prefer trying your new colored pencils with pictures, designs, and patterns that someone else has drawn, try adult coloring books.

Adult coloring books are available in all subjects from very simple patterns to complex, draw-by-number versions of Classical Masterpieces. Some specify colors. Some allow you to make your own color choices.

The biggest disadvantage to adult coloring books is that most of them are not printed on a good drawing paper. For the most part, the paper is good enough to give you a fairly accurate feel for colored pencils, but that’s all.

However, some books are available on higher grade papers, and they are a good way to learn colored pencils.

Then there are free coloring pages. Simply search for “free coloring pages.” Chose one you like, and then download and print it. You can print designs as often as you like on any paper your printer will print on.


Tutorials usually offer you a line drawing to start with. They also provide a color list, so if you haven’t yet purchased pencils, a tutorial gives you a place to begin!

Beyond that, if you prefer learning a new medium with a specific project, tutorials are the perfect place to begin. When you buy a tutorial, you get a project, step-by-step instructions, and a supply list (usually quite inexpensive.) You also can choose beginner, intermediate, or advanced level projects.

And the best part is that most tutorials are under $20!

A variety of tutorials are available right here, at Colored Pencil Tutorials, including tutorials for beginners. But many artists and companies publish tutorials. Ann Kullberg is one such artist. Dozens of beginner tutorials are available by a number of artists. The collection includes a selection of projects designed for beginners.

Getting Started with Colored Pencils Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

Or expensive.

Start small and with the basic supplies.

If in doubt about what supplies to purchase first, take a look at tutorials, choose a subject, and then see what supplies you need for that project.

You can always buy more colors and tools as you need them.

However you start, just starting is the most important part. After all, you can’t come to enjoy colored pencils as I do if you don’t start!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.