l don’t know about you, but if l have spent a lot of money on an expensive pencil, l want to use every last bit of it!
But there comes a point in a pencil’s life when it gets awkward to work with, and worse still it is too small for my beloved Carl Angel 5 sharpener. So l wanted to share with you what l use to get every last precious millimeter l can from my much loved pencils.
lf you haven’t tried pencil extenders yet, you really should! They are inexpensive and save you so much money in the end because you get to use every last bit of pencil. (I still have some l can use on the longest one in that photo!).
Up until this week l have been using Derwent pencil extenders and they were ok. But l got some Artnfly extenders to try and l have to tell you l absolutely love these.
Firstly, you get 5 instead of a skimpy 2, but, and this is the most important thing, these grip the pencil so much better than my Derwent ones. Not once have l had to retighten them after putting them on, they held fast even when sharpening.
They fit all my brands of pencil EXCEPT my Caran D’ache Luminance (which the Derwent extender will take). So l have tried them on Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran D’ache Pablo’s and Supracolor and Holbeins and Prismacolors.
My Derwent ones have to be constantly retightened and have an annoying habit of working loose when you want to sharpen them. These grip the pencil fast and l can sharpen right down until the sharpener touches the grip of the extender.
I won’t be without these in future that is certain.
But of course once a pencil has to go into an extender it won’t fit my amazing Carl Angel 5 sharpener (if you want to read about that l will put the link at the bottom of this post).
I can’t tell you how many hand held sharpeners l have tried. Some are amazing, like the Faber Castell one. But, like the Faber Castell one, last me a month or two at most before the only thing that can be done with them is to throw them away. This is expensive and horribly wasteful.
l finally found the Alvin Brass Bullet.
Now the Alvin Brass Bullet feels like a quality sharpener. It is a heavy little thing, beautiful to hold. Made in Germany. It puts beautiful points on all the brands of pencil l use. And best of all you can replace the blades. A blade on one of these usually lasts me several months (and l do a lot of sharpening). You need to make sure you have a little jewelers screwdriver to hand when you want to replace a blade, but it is very easy to do.
Replacement blades are readily available on Amazon and very affordable. So not only do you save money, you save the environment too. No more plastic waste. Now that has to be a good thing.
Six days! Six days l spent drawing a piece l am not happy with! I have wanted to draw a toucan for such a long time, and now that l have, l don’t like it!
I suppose l wanted to share with you the simple truth that not every piece we draw works out even close to what we were hoping for. I know sometimes we look at other artists work (especially on social media) and assume every piece they do works out well. I am sure l am not alone in having pieces that don’t work though. I am happy with myself for finishing it, something l really try hard to do. And l made myself finish it properly, l didn’t rush.
But l learned some things here. I really hate working with black! Even though l layered other colors with it so that it wasn’t flat black, l still hated it! It makes me feel miserable. I mean, l knew before this piece that l don’t enjoy working with dark colors, but l thought there were enough other colors in this piece for it to be ok. Turns out that there weren’t!
l had all kinds of issues with this piece. I can’t stop it looking cartoonish. Is that just because toucans do look a bit cartoonish? It won’t pop off the paper and l am not sure why! And l had huge problems with black pencil dust muddying up the other colors! It didn’t matter how much l brushed and erased, or that l kept Glassene under my hand, that black got everywhere! Except where l wanted it! It kept disappearing from the birds body!
l think on reflection l should have made the green leaves much more green than they were in the photo. The only bit that worked quite well for me were the stringy bits on the branch, which turned out better than expected.
So l got myself quite low over this piece. I start to feel that l just don’t make any progress. That l will never be as good as l want to be. I am not trying to be the best in the world (which is just as well as that is an unattainable goal for anyone), just the best that l can be (which is also unattainable really as we can always be just a little better!), and l felt like l had gone a few steps backwards with this piece.
l just wanted to share that with you because not everyone thinks every piece they do is awesome. It is normal to feel not good enough sometimes. It is normal to have pieces that don’t work out so well. It is ok to say this wasn’t as good as it should have been. It is normal to lose your confidence at times.
The important thing is not to give up. Finish that piece however hard it is. Learn something from it. Even if all you learn is to pick your subjects more wisely or that you shouldn’t work with black!
Then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start on a brand new piece! That is what l am doing. Back to my favorite subjects for a little while to get my confidence back!
And l will be back very soon with some new pencils l am testing out, which is always exciting. So watch this space! And keep drawing, even if it isn’t always quite what you wish it to be.
Today l wanted to share this photo with you. This is a sleepy little chipmunk that l drew in 2016. I was looking through some older work the other week and l pulled out this piece and looked at it. What l realized was - it wasn’t bad but it could look much better.
I wanted to share it because l often get asked by people what they can do to improve their art. And often when l see their work this is pretty much what l see. Something like my 2016 piece. There is nothing really wrong with it. The drawing is accurate. The colors are accurate. The fur is the right length and direction. The composition is nice. It just doesn’t pop off the paper. The good news is that this is such an easy problem to correct.
So l looked at my piece from 2016. I decided not to redraw it, but to spend more time working on the 2016 piece. I realized that with a few more layers, a lot more contrast and the edges sharpened it would look so much better. And this is really fun to do. The hard part and the boring underlayers are already done. All l had to do was tweak! I added more (and stronger) color to the fur. I sharpened and refined all the edges and then l really ramped up the contrast. I hope you can see from these two pieces just how important contrast is to make a piece 3d and for it to pop off the page. It has taken me a long time to learn to be bold with contrast. But l am learning that it is almost impossible to overdo contrast. So if you aren’t loving a piece you are working on, don’t bin it! Take an hour or two to punch up the color, sharpen the edges and whack up the contrast, you will be amazed at the difference!
l promised to review these Arteza marker pens. I was really excited to try them and thought this peacock would be a really good way to see how they perform.
l have the box of 48 colors. I have to say l thought there was a really good selection of colors, but l never talk too much about color selection when reviewing products because the colors you want and use are unique to each individual. I find it irritating when reviews say there aren’t enough greens or greys or a perfect red. It depends what you draw! I would say with any set of art materials - pencils, paint, markers, look at the set and decide if it has the colors YOU want.
The packaging for these pens say that they have excellent lightfast properties, but l could find nothing to say they have been lightfast tested and no ratings on them. Personally l would really like to be sure of their lightfastness as l don’t feel l can sell art made with these pens unless l am. But to put that in perspective l recently discovered that my expensive Copic markers are not lightfast either. In fact l have spent a little time looking and can not find hardly any lightfast pens on the market. So this is certainly something to think about if you are concerned about the life of your artwork or want to sell.
The pens have a brush tip and for once the brush tip really feels like a brush, with the flexibility of a brush. Annoyingly each one l used had an odd stray hair preventing a perfect stroke, although I am sure it could be trimmed or pulled out. So l don’t know if l was unlucky or if that is an issue.
Now what l really, really love about these markers is that they are water based. I used the Arteza water brush pen to blend (l absolutely love that pen - and it has no annoying stray hairs either!). It is really, really easy to blend out the color and control the strength. Just like watercolor paint. It is also really easy to blend one color into another. The water base gives you a much longer time to work the color than alcohol or ink based markers which l really loved because l am not used to using markers and don’t feel confident in my ability to blend fast enough and skillfully enough yet.
Once it was dry l worked over with colored pencil and here for me was another huge plus. You can work light color pencils over a dark base so well. I had no trouble getting my light blues and whites to show over the bright blue base l put down.
The pigments are really vibrant. My only issue with these pens (and this is my issue with nearly all pens on the market) is that l can’t see how much ink is left in the barrel. I always worry that l will run out midway through a piece. I wish they would at least make a clear window in the barrel so you can see how much is left.
The pens are not available open stock so you do need to replace a full set when you run out of one color, but they are also much, much more affordable than brands like Copic or Faber Castell Pitt pens so whilst it is something to consider l don’t think it should be a deal breaker.
If they were lightfast tested and rated l would use these a lot. But l think just about any artist would have fun with these pens.
For more pencil reviews click the link below.
When l decided to blog about my favorite colors l thought it would be one short blog post! As soon as l started to pick them out though l realized that no way could l fit them all into one blog. I did my lights and darks, well, here l have my favorite greens.
The colors l pick out here are colors that don’t really have duplicates in the other brands l use. There are certain colors that appear almost consistently across the brands - everyone has the color l call ‘yukky yellow’, they all have a similar orange, they all have umber and whichever brand you own you will have those colors. But there are some colors where only a Holbein or only a Pablo or only a Polychromo will do because they are the only ones that do that color. These are the colors that l want to share with you because you probably have a set of favorite pencils and you don’t want to buy another full set of another brand with many near duplicate colors. If you can pick any of these up open stock they will definitely enhance the collection you already have.
l was really interested to see that when l picked out my greens they are heavily weighted in favor of Caran D’ache Pablo’s. I have to say if you work with greens a lot this range has the best choice of greens of all the brands that l use - and that includes so many unusual ones.
l am going to try and go across in the order of the photo, left to right (as you view it).
The first colors are all Pablo’s:
Light Green - l can only describe this as a true mint green, think mint choc chip ice cream.
Lime Green - a yellowier version of mint. I can’t tell you how often l use these two colors.
Spring Green - a true lime green, bright and yellow and crisp.
The next six are all the Olives - yes, six versions of Olive and they get serious use. Light Olive, Olive Yellow, Olive, Olive Grey, Olive Brown and Olive Black. The last three are amazing for shadows and contrast on greens.
Then we are onto Faber Castell Polychromos:
Leaf Green - this is the color that my head sees when l think of green. You would expect to find this color in ever set, but you don’t. A true greens, green. The color of peas and lush grass. I often use it over other greens to make them more ‘green’.
Earth Green - because it is soooo unique. A grey green, sagey and soft.
Chromium Green Opaque - the perfect dark olivey green for contrast and shadows.
Chrome Oxide Green - about as dark as green gets before going black and without the yellow tones of the olives.
And finally the Holbeins:
Opal, Willow and Misty Green - the palest of pale greens with very subtle differences between them, but l love these colors.
And last of all Leaf Green - the color that is almost there in many ranges but actually is never quite right. This is is a perfect yellowy green without the muddy undertones so many of the nearly there colors have.
So that is it for greens, l hope that you have found one or two to tempt you or that will be that color you have been searching for.
l am very excited today because l have been testing out some new pencils. The excitement of new pencils never wears off! I have only worked a tiny piece of the picture yet but l wanted to share with you my initial thoughts.
l will tell you that Arteza very kindly sent these to me to try and that l told them, the same as l tell everyone that l will be totally honest in giving my opinions on a product. After all if l am not going to be honest what is the point in writing a review of anything!
Well, first things first. These are very affordable pencils. Under $30 for the full set. The pencils come in a nice tin. I hate my pencils arriving in boxes, simply because they do not wear as well as tins. There are 72 colors.There are some really nice and unusual colors in there (not many pales which is typical of most brands) and the colors are both numbered and named.
l was particularly excited about these pencils as not only are they very affordable but they are, so Arteza say, lightfast tested. This is a huge deal in an affordable pencil. Neither the tin nor their on line descriptions say they are tested. Those descriptions say that they are made using lightfast pigments. Call me pedantic, but being made with lightfast pigments is slightly different to being lightfast tested. (For example l can make a cake with 20 delicious ingredients but it doesn’t follow that my cake will be delicious, especially if the 21st ingredient is a teaspoon of curry powder!). I queried this with Arteza who have told me that they are lightfast tested. They have the standard star markings on the barrels. One star is the lowest and three the highest.
I am really interested in this because they have a number of pinks with three star ratings. Pink is notoriously unstable and of all the professional brands l own only Caran D’ache Luminance has a three star pink (and that is not a great pink).
So onto the most interesting thing. How do they perform?
First things first, they sharpen to a beautiful point. They hold that point well. I read some reviews saying they had problems with them breaking as they were sharpened. I use a Carl Angel 5 sharpener and even my Prismacolors don’t break when l use that! I had no breakage at all. The lead is harder than Prismacolor but not as hard as Polychromos. Polychromos still hold the best point. But you can get pretty good detail with these. Certainly you can get detail far more easily than with Prismacolor.
The laydown is very waxy, and l found it hard to get the many layers that l like to get. I quickly got wax build up. But the color is reasonably vibrant and l think for the amount of layers that most people do this would not be a problem. And if you use a little OMS you could probably add more layers. I did get the vibrancy and saturation l wanted in the end, it just took a little more work than the more expensive pencils.
I did find l got a lot of stray color dust, it blew off quite easily, but you definitely need to be vigilant about blowing or brushing it away.
When it came to blending l had very contrasting results depending on how l was using the pencils. For ordinary shading, like the wing of the butterfly above, l struggled at first. They reminded me of working with Prismacolors and l struggle with those too. So this could be me and not the pencils. The annoying white dots were hard to cover and the blending was not smooth. So l tried a little OMS and this worked beautifully, the colors blended together like paint. (I had not yet used any OMS in the shot above).
Strangely though, working the fluffier parts like the body (which you can’t really see in this shot) the pencils worked amazingly well, the fine lines blended beautifully with each other whilst keeping the definition l wanted. I really enjoyed working the little fine hairs with these pencils.
l completed this whole piece using only the Arteza pencils, apart from using one black Polychromos to sharpen the edges. (And to be honest l use Polychromos to sharpen the edges with all the other brands l use).
Overall they require a bit more work to achieve the results, but then they are only a tenth of the price of the top brands. And l do think that it is important to remember that.
Well l know this should be part 2 of my favorite colors! But l haven’t got around to taking a photo! So instead l am sharing a sneak peak at my latest piece. Still working on it as l type. Well, not literally! I haven’t learned to type and draw at the same time yet!
I wanted to tell you that l really don’t like it at this stage. Not that there is anything really wrong with it. It is just boring! Actually after taking this photo and seeing how boring it looked l nearly put it behind the cupboard of no return! I was soooo tempted to just stop and start a new piece.
You are wondering why l want to show you a boring picture that l don’t like? Well, l have a good reason.
The reason l am telling you is this, l often have stages in my drawings where l look at them and think they are not really working. It is really hard at this point to push yourself to work more on a piece.
Anyway l got as far as removing this piece from my easel and hovering near the cupboard of no return. Then l gave myself a good talking to. Reminded myself how long l had already spent on it, remembered how often a piece has stages l don’t like and told myself to give it one more day. (Plus l had already taken photos for a brand new eye tutorial - one photo left to go, but l will put the link at the bottom of this blog).
It still isn’t finished yet, but l did put in a good day on it and you know something magic happened for me in that day. I started to like it. It began to look more interesting. And although l still have a day to go to finish it l am really looking forward to getting in to my art room and working on it.
So l wanted to say don’t give up on pieces. Finish them. This has happened to me so many times and l only have one piece l pushed myself to finish that still really doesn’t work (and even that l know l will pull out again one day and do something with it). Sometimes with colored pencil the magic takes a long time to happen, but if you keep working and layering it does happen. Finish things. You never know you might get a happy surprise!
Do you have favourite colored pencils? You know those colors that you just use over and over, that get used at some point in nearly every drawing? Or colors that just don’t come in any other brand that you just have to have? I thought l would share some of my favorites with you, really useful colors that if you can buy open stock will enhance any sets of pencils that you already own. When l look at these pencils l can’t say that they are mostly the prettiest colors, but as you see from my photo they are very well used!
l realized that l would have to write this blog in parts though - there are too many for one blog. So l thought l would begin with the darks and lights.
So beginning with the very lightest, my white selection. I really wouldn’t want to be without any of these, as they are all useful in different ways.
Faber Castell Polychromos White - not very good as a white over other colors, but sharpens to, and holds, an amazing point, so absolutely wonderful for embossing detail such as tiny hairs or whiskers. Other colors used over the top miss the embossed area leaving it white (a bit like doing a bark or coin rubbing when you were a kid).
Caran D’ache Luminance White - excellent when used with heavy pressure at resisting other colors used on top, so l use this where l want to keep an area white or l add a layer with a lighter pressure first where l want a very pale pastel color.
Caran D’ache Pablo’s White - the best white l have found for working over other colors. It doesn’t come out bright white, but will usually show up.
Caran D’ache Luminance Buff Titanium - this is an off white, an amazing color for blonde hair or fur, but l have also found that it often shows better over darker layers than any of the above true whites. This is a great color as it isn’t cream or yellow tinted. I always keep lots of these in my spare stash!
Faber Castell Polychromos Black - always used very sparingly - but always used! This pencil never makes it back to the tin. One of the darkest blacks, but hands down the best because of its ability to hold the sharpest point. For sharpening edges and pulling out tiny lowlights, the best by far.
Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Indigo - as dark as blue gets and used often for shadows when l want to avoid blacks and greys. Much more lively to look at.
Caran D’ache Pablo’s Indigo - l absolutely love this color, more purply than the Polychromos Indigo above, but used in the same way. A color that isn’t in any of the other sets l use.
Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Sepia - the darkest brown l have found and again often gives a nicer result than blacks and greys.
Holbein Raisin - really hard to describe this color but like a rich black cherry, stunning for shadows. Completely unique to this range, l have nothing near it in any of the other brands that l use.
Holbein Grape - a very dark purple, again used for shadows and darker than any of the purples in my other brands.
So there you have the lights and darks l would hate to be without.
For more about the brands of pencils l use click the link below.
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.
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