Here I will answer some of the questions that I asked as I began to work with colored pencil.
Before you even put pen to paper......
Prepare your mind! Yes, really! Colored pencil is one of the slowest mediums that you can work with. You simply cannot produce a beautiful work of art in an hour or two, or even a day. It takes many, many hours over many days and sometimes even weeks to make a great painting. So prepare mentally to be patient. Get yourself comfortable, get your workspace organised, put on your favourite music or an audio book. Being mentally prepared for the time it will take makes it much less likely that you will become frustrated or rush through parts of your piece.
What equipment do I need?
Very little. A few good quality pencils (see below for tips on which pencils and paper etc. to purchase), some decent paper, a good pencil sharpener and an eraser are really all that you need. A few other things are nice to have but are not essential.
What coloured pencils should I buy?
With colored pencils the old adage definitely proves true. You do get what you pay for. Pencils can be just a few dollars for a whole tin or over $5 for a single pencil. It is far, far better to have a few good quality pencils than to have 200 cheap ones. Why? Cheap pencils contain less pigment and are made with cheap ingredients. This means that colors will not be so vibrant nor cover the paper so well. Using a nasty, scratchy, wishy washy pencil could put you off working with pencils forever or make you think that you are just no good at it. Even the most amazing artists will struggle with poor quality pencils. All good quality pencils are available to buy as open stock items, which means that you can buy just a few colours and buy more as you can afford them. Or buy a small tin, but remember when making your first purchase to think about the subjects that you want to draw. A tin of neon brights will be useless if you want to draw landscapes, a box full of greens a waste of money if you want to draw portraits. I began with loose pencils simply because I could choose the exact colours that would be most useful to me and gradually added colours according to their usefulness to me. I cannot stress enough the difference that using a high quality pencil makes to both the ease of working and the finished result. I personally use five brands of pencil these are some of the best professional colored pencils you can buy. Faber Castell Polychromos, Caran D'Ache Luminance, Caran D'Ache Supracolors, Caran D'Ache Pablos and l recently bought a full set of Prismacolor Premieres to try as so many artists start out with these.
Faber Castell Polychromos
If I could have only one set of pencils, it would be these. They are an oil based pencil, all but two colours (Light Magenta and Manganese Violet) in the range of 120 colours have good lightfast ratings. Why this is important is discussed below. The colour range is excellent. The lay down of colour is beautiful and smooth. Being oil based there can be no wax build up. They have a harder lead than wax based pencils and can be sharpened to the finest point which does not break. The leads are bonded to the wood casing, so if you should happen to drop and break a lead it will only loosen at the place fractured. The pencil will still be useable, unlike poor quality pencils which are not bonded. If you drop those the whole lead will slip out of the case and render the pencil useless. I have never had a Polychromos lead break. The colours can be rich and vibrant or used as a glaze. They are beautiful all round pencils. Except for the white pencil, which is all but useless. If you buy Polychromos, purchase a white Luminance or Supracolor or Derwent Drawing Chinese White to use in conjunction with them. The Derwent Drawing Chinese White is quite thick and waxy, it is very difficult to get fine detail with it, and it does not hold a point very well, but it does cover pretty well, so it is nice to have.
Caran D'Ache Luminance
The Rolls Royce of coloured pencils. They are expensive, but, yes, they are worth it. These are a wax based pencil, but unlike Prismacolor I have never, not ever, had wax build up or bloom with these. The colour lay down is smooth and creamy. They are more opaque than Polychromos. The lead is slightly thicker and does not hold its point quite as well as Polychromos, so it is a little more difficult to get superfine detail. The colour range is more limited. However, there are some beautiful and unusual colours in this range that are not available in Polychromos, especially the paler ones. The white in this range is one of the best that there is. All the colours are lightfast and they work really well in conjunction with the Polychromos. I really would not like to be without these pencils and use both these and the Polychromos in every piece of work I create.
Caran D'Ache Supracolor
This is the only other brand of pencil that I use. Technically they are watercolour pencils, I never use them with water. I blend them along with my other pencils using odourless mineral spirits. The range does not have as good lightfast ratings as the Luminance pencils, so you need to watch for that, but it does have some incredible and unusual colors. The pencils themselves sharpen to a very fine point, which holds fairly well. They are better for fine detail than the Luminance. I really like these pencils. I particularly love the white, often the only white that will show up over many layers, and again I use these in every single piece of work that I do. I find that they cover extremely well and the lay down is very smooth. Like the other two brands I use there is never a problem with wax bloom.
Caran D'Ache Pablos
Caran D'Ache Pablos are a more recent addition to my collection. They have the exact same color range as the Supracolor pencils. But several artists have mentioned how good they are to use in conjunction with Polychromos, so l wanted to try them. The first thing l noticed was how beautifully smooth the lay down of these pencils was. They are creamy and soft, yet the lead is hard enough to hold a good point. The point does not hold quite as well as Polychromos, but good enough to get fine detail. They do work beautifully with the Polychromos. They also blend amazingly used alone (see my yellow Gem blog post for a piece worked with only Pablos). Personally l like them better than both the Luminance and the Supracolor. They are more expensive than Polychromos.
Prismacolor Premiere These are my most recent addition, bought mainly to see what they are like and because so many artists begin with them. They are by far the cheapest of the pencils that l use and they have the worst light fast ratings. A third of the 150 colors are not lightfast. But they are probably the most accessible and certainly the most affordable of the artist grade pencils. They have problems, they are hard to sharpen, my Carl Angel 5 works beautifully on them, but my manual sharpener can eat half a pencil as the point just breaks off repeatedly. The core breaks very easily and it is not bonded to the wood, so if a core breaks unless you are prepared to try microwaving tips etc that you might find on the net, you have lost your pencil. They are very soft and wear down fast. They do not hold a point. They suffer badly from wax build up and nasty little balls of color lift from your paper. On the good side in the early stages they blend nicely. They are the softest and creamiest of all the brands that l use. But it becomes hard to add more layers very quickly and you need to use methods to remove some surface before you can continue layering. They are terrible for fine detail. They have some nice colors and a good range. If money is tight and you really can't stretch to a few Polychromos these are an option. I am happy to use them in conjunction with my other pencils, l am not sure l would like these to be my only pencils. I would rather have a few of any of the above than all 150 of these. But some of the most amazing coloured pencil artists in the world use them, so the issues with them can certainly be worked around.
What paper should I use?
Coloured pencil can be used on a wide variety of surfaces and papers. Test out lots of papers to see which you personally prefer. Do take into consideration that the smoother the paper, the fewer the layers you will be able to apply. Never skimp on paper. Coloured pencils are tough on paper. Cheap paper can stretch and warp. If you want to preserve your work for years to come, and most especially if you want to sell your work you will need archival quality paper. These papers are acid free and help to maintain the original colours of your artwork. Remember that a buyer will not be happy if the gorgeous piece that they purchased fades before their eyes! I usually use Stonehenge or Fabriano Artistico papers. If it seems expensive remember that a great piece of coloured pencil art is going to take many, many days to complete. You are not going to be using huge volumes of paper. The cost of the paper is really nothing compared to the time spent.
What type of eraser should I use?
Bad news first, coloured pencil is difficult and often impossible to erase whatever type of eraser you use. There is often a light layer of pigment left on the paper. The best erasers I have found are either the kneaded erasers (although don't spend a lot of money on one, they are in truth just Blue Tac) or Faber Castell do an ink eraser. I like the pink tipped one better than the white, and that tends to be the eraser I use the most. The best tip I can give here is to try not to make mistakes! Take your time, be careful. Make sure that your line drawing is accurate so that you are applying colour in the right places to begin with. We do all make mistakes though and usually enough pigment can be removed so that subsequent layers cover it. The cleanest I ever get the paper again is actually by using sticky tape over the area I want to erase and rubbing the tape with a pencil to lift the pigment off.