As l get asked this question all the time l thought l would answer it here. This is of course only my personal opinion, but l will give you my reasons.
Anyone who knows me will know that l use several brands of pencil (and if you want to read about the other brands and see a comparison photo click the link at the bottom of this blog). I love colored pencils, each brand has its own unique textures, many unique colors and each has things l particularly like them for.
But if you could only purchase one set, which set would that be? Without a doubt, hands down, Faber Castell Polychromos!
Why? There are so many reasons. This pencil has very high pigment levels and the color lay down is very smooth. It is very difficult to overwork the layers with these pencils. Some of the other brands you need to be careful because you can easily build pigment to a point where you can’t add more layers, the color just balls up on the surface. I have never had this happen with Polychromos.You can layer, upon layer, upon layer, which l found really useful as a beginner when layers perhaps didn’t turn out quite the right shade or to look quite how l wanted them to. It does take more layering than some of the other brands to get the vibrancy, but you can get it and learning the patience of layering is no bad thing.
The color range is excellent and they blend beautifully either by just letting the pencils do the work or with a little odorless mineral spirits. So new colors are easily made and shading is seamless.
They sharpen to the finest point of any of the brands that l use and best of all they hold that point really well. No other pencil l use is as good for fine detail. The Panther Chameleon you see above was worked almost entirely with Polychromos- it was the only pencil that would hold a fine enough point for the detail l needed to get. Every piece l work on the edges and detail will be sharpened with my Polychromos. This is especially helpful when you are a beginner and you feel awkward anyway. Trying to get really fine detail with Holbeins feels a bit like trying to cut a slice of bread with a carpenters saw!
They are very good value for money, much more affordable than the other brands l use. And for those that are thinking that you can get a full set of Prismacolors for a third of the price of the Polychromos - you can, but you won’t save any money. In two and a half years of drawing l have used up only eight Polychromos completely (excluding black and white which l go through a lot of), l can use half of a pencil on one piece with Prismacolor because they are so soft they just vanish. I watch them disappear in front of my eyes! And that is if you haven’t lost half your Prismacolor trying to sharpen it before you even begin! Long term the Polychromos are much cheaper. (And it is easier to get a good result).
Polychromos are also widely available to buy open stock in all the colors so you can easily replace just your favorite color not have to buy a complete set of pencils.
So, if you can only buy one brand these are the ones l would choose.
Now here is a funny thing l hadn’t really thought about until this week and drawing this Grasshopper. I mean l had thought about it a bit, but it dawned on me properly this week, that l love texture!
One of the big appeals in drawing birds and fish and lizards and insects is their varied textures. How do you make pencil look textured?
Someone pointed out to me this week that l don’t work in the usual tiny circles, they said that l, ‘use dots, dashes and lines’. I had never thought about this, but actually it is true. I don’t think l ever use tiny circles (unless l am creating the bumps on a lizards skin).
What l realized for the first time this week was that l don’t just like the appearance of texture, l like real texture, that you can see. It is true that you can only see it if you hold it at the right angle in the light, but it is there.
l was probably thinking of this because this grasshopper is so full of texture.
One very subtle way of creating texture that l always use (and is why l never work in little circles) is simply by making your pencil strokes follow the texture. So for a cats fur you work strands of fur in the direction of the fur, at the length of a strand of fur. An eye wants to be smooth but by working in curved lines of the shape of the eye ball you create a subtle roundness along with the smoothness. The upper body of this grasshopper was very dimpled looking, so l worked in dots.
But l have found that more and more l am creating texture then adding color. So on this grasshopper wing, l drew in all the veins and dots in pale colors, working with very heavy pressure to emboss them into the paper (there is a link below to a step by step guide for doing this showing you exactly how l did it and a complete color list).
When l draw feathers l often use a pale color to emboss the paper with individual strands. With lizards l will emboss small circles. With fish l will emboss tiny dots to make the texture of the scales.
At the end when a piece is burnished and you hold it up to the light all that embossing adds a little three dimensional quality to the beautiful, magical sheen that you get with colored pencils. It is subtle but beautiful. If you haven’t tried a little embossing on your work, you really should try it at least once and see if you like it.
Another week has flown past and l thought l would finally get around to talking about something l have never really talked about before. Paper. Perhaps because l have at last written a page on it (l will put the link at the bottom of this blog).
I get asked a lot which paper l use? So my page will tell you which ones l use, or have tried, and my opinion of them.
There is really only one important thing about the surface you draw on with colored pencils (unless you want to sell your work or are otherwise worried about longevity, when you will need to choose acid free, archival quality paper), and that is .... it must be able to take lots of layers.
Many papers on the market either will not take all the layers you need to use or will buckle or tear as you use more pressure.
Colored pencil work is tough on paper. And some of us are harder on paper than others. I often use a very sharp pencil to emboss texture and certainly as l reach the last layers l use fairly heavy pencil pressure. Many papers simply can’t take this.
Nearly all paper, even that, that looks and feels smooth has some sort of tooth to it. Tooth is just the proper term for the tiny dents and dimples that make up the surface of the paper. To get a nice, smooth color layer all the tooth - or little dents - must be filled with color.
Strangely it is not always the case that the smoothest paper covers the most easily. It may depend on the pressure that you use, the pencils that you use, your blending techniques or the amount of layers you like to use.
Then too you have to think about the finished piece, do you like the texture of the paper to show or not?
The paper that you will like best will definitely be to your personal taste and style. But, and this is something l learned very quickly working on good quality paper makes a big difference to the ease with which you can achieve the results that you want.
l know people think that good quality paper is expensive, l used to think so too. But then l worked out the cost per piece of art, and l use one piece of paper a week - the cost is less than buying a cup of coffee! So don’t skimp on paper.
To see which ones l use click the link below.
Finally before l shut up for the week, l am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this from Feedspot!
Can’t quite believe it, but thank you so much to Feedspot and to all you lovely people who read my ramblings!
Are you like me? Do you expect yourself to do everything perfectly, all the time - even though you know it isn’t actually possible! I hope some of you are like me! I can’t be the only one! It has been one of the hardest lessons of my life and l am still learning it! Why do we expect perfection of ourselves and yet make allowances for others? I am so hard on myself at times and l have been like that over the past week with this piece. It just won’t do what l want it to do. And l have spent sooo long working on it. Far too long. Going back and back. Adding layers, adding color. And at the end of it all, it still isn’t quite right and l have no idea what to do about it!
On one hand there is an upside to relentless perfectionism - it pushes you to progress. I never want to lose that desire to get better at something. But the downsides really outweigh the up. Being continually dissatisfied with what you do is not a good place to be. There has to be balance. Whether it is art or life finding balance is so difficult.
Somewhere along the way we have to learn to accept the way things are, recognizing that we cannot always make them the way we want them to be. A few things in life can never be changed by us (the advance of time, the cost of living, the idiot at work who treats everyone badly), but most things can be improved with persistence and determination. By picking yourself up and trying again.
I was thinking it is like a baby taking its first steps, and it takes two little wobbly steps and falls over! We don’t say, ‘two steps! And you have fallen over already! You might as well not bother, you will never walk!’. No, the camera comes out and photos and videos are made and granny gets rung up and everyone is excited because baby is ‘walking’. The truth is baby is on the floor more often than baby is walking, but we see only the progress. We need to start thinking of ourselves like that. Be excited about each baby step of progress. Keep picking ourselves up, make another baby step and be excited about that too.
So my flower didn’t work as well as l wanted it to. I will pick myself up, draw my next piece and move on, and the next time l draw a flower it will be better - not perfect, but better! And l am ok with that.
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