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Introduction to Three Types of Colored Pencils

Colored Pencils: Intro

There are three main types of colored pencils available on the market today that I am going to speak of. These include wax-based pencils, which are the plain colored pencils available from most any discount store all the way up to the fine art supply stores. There are also oil-based pencils, which are often used in the related craft of Pergamano. And, the last type, gaining popularity among the rubberstamping community, is the watercolor pencil. All of these types can be purchased at art supply stores and often craft stores as well, I believe RubberArt carries the wax-based and the watercolor pencils as do other vendors on this list. If you are having difficulties locating any of these, feel free to let me know and I will try to steer you in the right direction. There are other types of pencils on the market as well, but I felt I did not have sufficient experience to comment on them.

Colored Pencils: Wax-Based

As I mentioned in the introduction, wax-based are the standard colored pencils that can be purchased anywhere, in any degree of quality. There are generic brands, Crayola makes small and large sets, as does Prang, Prismacolor, Derwent and the list goes on. If you are hesitant about using colored pencils with your stamping I'd suggest trying a smaller set of the Crayola. They are really quite good pencils for the cost. I think those and the Prismacolor are the two more popular brands among the stamping community. I myself have a large set of Crayola, a set of Brunzeel pencils and a large set of Prismacolors.

The key to using colored pencils (wax or oil) is to be patient and use layers or what is sometimes referred to as "glazing." With practice, amazing amounts of shading and details can be achieved. You can layer different colors. For example, if you know you want a darker or lighter shade of a particular pencil you have, lay down a layer of black, grey, white or a complimentary color before laying down your main color. You can add more pressure to deepen a color or lighten the pressure to lighten the color. And you can add the additional colors on top of the main color. Just remember that the top layer is usually the most prominent so you may want a light touch when adding the darkest colors. All of these techniques are great for adding dimension to your stamped images. Just remember to be consistent in where your perceived light source is.

When I first started to use colored pencils I did not like them at all. Mostly it was the "streakiness" of them that I disliked so I put them away for a very long time. I did not realize the tools that are out there to be used with colored pencils. The cheapest thing you can use if you finger and a facial tissue or paper towel. The harder you press with your finger the more you move around the color. There are also tools called blending stubs or Tortillons that can produce a similar affect. These can also be purchased from any art supply store in addition to the craft stores. They are quite inexpensive and can be "sharpened" with sandpaper and come in a couple different sizes. The other wonderful tool available is a blender pen (this is different from the ones you use with watercolor markers like the Dove Blender Pen and the Tombow Blender Pen). I only know of the ones Prismacolor puts out, but there may be others. They are the same thing as the Colorless Blender for the Prismacolor markers. They are alcohol based and that helps break up the wax and make it more blendable.

WARNING: If you are using a wet blending technique for any of these types of pencils you need to be sure to use a permanent ink and follow all directions for making it permanent, such as heat setting (if required). You may also emboss the image.

I strongly urge playing with your colored pencils without any real result in mind. Try layering different colors, try layering the same colors, try using cross-hatching or making dots to blend colors. Experiment and most importantly, have fun! Also remember, in most cases, if the tools you are using are mediocre the results will be mediocre. (Think of this in terms of an instrument. For instance, if you play a piece technically flawless, it's gonna sound bad if the piano is out of tune.) So, if you are feeling comfortable with your Crayola set and think you still like the techniques involved with colored pencil, but would like a bit better outcome, you may wish to upgrade to Prismacolor pencils. There is a distinct difference.

Colored Pencils: Oil Based

Oil Based pencils have lead that is oil based - similar to oil pastels. In general the same rules apply about laying down your color and creating depth and dimension. The main difference is that instead of using a colorless alcohol-based marker as a blender, you use turpentine or the odorless turpentine (Turpenoid is one of the "brands" if I recall correctly). I like dipping a Tortillon in it, but you can use a cotton swab, cotton ball, facial tissue, paper towel or anything else you can think of to apply it. As in the case of the wax based colored pencils the turpentine breaks down the oil slightly, making it easier to blend.

CAUTION: These blending materials are harsh chemicals and can be very hard on the skin. You may wish to wear latex or rubber gloves when using the chemicals. And use them only in well ventilated areas or with the use of an approved vapor mask.

As I mentioned in the intro, this is a common medium for using in Pergamano. Usually they lay down color almost like a wash in watercoloring and use the turpenoid to blend it so it looks soft just like watercoloring. It doesn't wrinkle the vellum because it's much drier. It is also a medium that works well on wood.

I have seen small sets of maybe 6 or 8 colors available in the craft area of Wal-Mart near the wooden shapes and wood burning tools for a reasonable price. Also, some of the stamping stores or web sites that also sell Pergamano supplies sell sets. These generally don't come in as wide a variety of colors as the other two types of pencils discussed in this article.

Many of the tips and techniques out there for oil pastels can be applied to the oil based color pencils.

Colored Pencils: Watercolor Pencils

The third and final pencils I will discuss are the watercolor pencils. These are highly versatile pencils and it seems there are about as many ways to use them as there are people that own them. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit.

Again, these are available in a variety of grades, from Crayola to Derwent and Staedtler Karat. If you are uncertain, go ahead and start out with the Crayola. They will serve the casual user quite well and give you an idea if you like their uses.

If you are looking for the effect like that of a watercolor painting, the best technique, IMHO is to lay down a bunch of color, real heavy like on some scrap paper. Then, take a wet brush (not dripping wet, but good and damp) and pick the color up and then apply it to your paper using the same techniques that are used in watercoloring. For me, this is my preferred method as I love the watercolor effect. I also like how this is much more portable than my watercolors in tubes. I can take my Niji Waterbrushes, watercolor paper that has images stamped on it and my set of watercolor pencils and I can amuse myself the whole weekend at the in-laws, or if the traffic isn't bad while riding in the car.

You can also draw right inside the lines where you want the color to be darkest and drag the color inward with a damp brush. This also allows for wonderful depth and dimension and makes the outlines of the images "pop." Kind of like when you were older and still coloring in coloring books and you traced the lines with lots of pressure on the crayon and then filled in the area with lighter pressure. It gives a similar, but slightly more subtle effect.

There are also people who never use the "water" part of watercolor pencils. Many feel they are great for laying down large portions of one color. They do seem much more vibrant with less layering and pressure than the wax-based pencils.

Colored Pencils: Summary and Additional Resources

As with any new medium I encourage you to experiment and play. Become familiar with the medium. Use different pressures, different papers, different patterns for laying down the color, different layering. Combine the different types of pencils for interesting effects. It really helps. But, overall, this is not a difficult medium to work in. When used with stamps, it's not much different than coloring in a coloring book. I swear!

I could go into much further detail on technique and such, but I would just be repeating what others have said. So, I will provide you with links to more information about using colored pencils. Remember that in many cases, the techniques can be applied to the use of any of these pencil types (except, of course, the blending fluids used are dependent upon the pencil used).

More info/opinions on the different kinds (includes brand specific information):

Info on different techniques and how to lay down the color from Crayola:

From Tyra's Cloud 9 Tips and Techniques Files:

From Gingerwood, a tutorial that takes you step-by-step through coloring an image:
  • http://www.gingerstamp.com/pencils/

If you have any further questions, feel free to e-mail me. I will do my best to answer your questions.

Now, for the necessary evil: A lot of time and effort was put into preparing this information. Please do not distribute in any form with out the author's written consent. Thank you.

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