Crayons are a wonderful, dynamic medium loved by artists and hobbyists alike because they are so easy to use.
In this article, we’ll help you figure out which crayons are right for you – we’ll talk about such important topics as quality, consistency, type, and durability.
Every child already draws with crayons. I’m sure you’ve done it too, and you probably remember those hard pencils with the pale colors – way too boring to get excited about this drawing technique.
Crayons or colored pencils can be used to create expressive drawings – whether abstract, detailed, or photorealistic.
Since colored pencils are partially transparent (also known as “semi-opaque”), you generally work from light to dark. This is how you slowly build up the colors.
Watercolor pencils are famous for their translucent quality. In addition, you can draw glazes much better with them than with colored pencils. Crayons are more suited for applying strong, opaque colors, either by pressing harder or by layering and blending.
This makes them not only versatile but also practical and hassle-free. They’re lightweight and easy to carry, so you can travel with them and draw on the spot. And they are also very durable. You don’t have to worry about the pens drying out, as can happen to any paint or markers. Colored pencils also don’t require any additional accessories as you might need for a medium like oil paint. A set of colored pencils, a sharpener, and a modest sketchbook can go a long way.
Drawing possibilities with colored pencils
Colored pencils can be mixed to achieve smooth tonal gradations. This can easily be done by glazing or polishing or by using solvents, blending pens/markers, and even baby oil. You can create paint jobs that are so smooth that the end result looks like an oil painting.
You can create new shades and gradations of colors by overlaying colors (called optical color mixing). However, you cannot mix new colors directly (as you can with oil or acrylic paint, for example).
Colored pencils are available in a variety of colors that can usually be purchased individually. You, therefore, don’t need to buy a large box to get started – a few individual pencils will do. Colored pencils can also be combined with other media such as graphite, markers, gel pens, watercolors, colored pencils, pastels, and gouache.
Our favorite combination is a mix between pan pastels and colored pencils – the pastels for the background, and then the fine details with colored pencil.
A major drawback to this drawing technique is that you can’t correct, or almost can’t correct. Even the best eraser is powerless with colored pencils.
There are erasable pens, the Prismacolor Col-Erase Pencils.
If your budget allows, we always recommend buying artist-quality colored pencils. They do cost more, but that’s because they contain a higher percentage of pigment, which results in stronger, more vibrant colors.
Artist-quality crayons are also lightfast and usually softer, making them easier to use and blend. They also offer a wider range of colors and can be purchased individually if needed.
Types of pencils
There are three main types of crayons: wax-based, oil-based, and water-soluble.
Note: You can combine and mix these different types of crayons in the same drawing.
Most pencils are wax-based. The right amount of wax gives the pencil a smooth texture that helps pigment flow across the surface. The wax also helps the color pigments adhere to the surface or to other layers of paint.
The only drawback to wax color pencils is what is known as wax bloom, a natural oxidation process in which the wax rises to the surface of the artwork, leaving a pale haze. The color then looks like it has been dusted. Normally, this wax bloom only occurs when you use a lot of heavy, dark colors.
Oil-based color pencils
Oil-based color pencils bind the pigment with oil and spread it on the surface (but they still contain some wax). In practice, this means that they have a slightly different consistency and do not form a wax bloom.
Most oil-based pencils are medium-soft: slightly firmer than many wax-based pencils.
You have to put more effort into coloring areas with them, but they keep a good point longer. The firmer lead also means they don’t break as easily and don’t need to be sharpened as often.
Oil-based colored pencils have some disadvantages, however. They tend to smudge more and are even harder to correct/erase. They also tend to be more expensive and have a limited color range (depending on the brand). Despite the price difference, oil-based crayons are not inherently better or worse than their wax-based counterparts.
We don’t notice much difference between wax-based or oil-based crayons. When it comes to practical concerns like blending and color vibrancy, we can work well with either type. We have found that other factors such as grade, brand, and consistency are much more important than the use of wax or oil in the binder.
That’s why most manufacturers don’t make it clear whether their pencils are oil or wax-based, indicating that it’s not a critical difference.
All art drawings can fade over time as light and moisture break down the molecular bonds of the paints. The ability to resist this process is called “lightfastness” and is an important concern for visual artists who want their work to last.
If you are using artist-quality crayons and are not a professional artist, then don’t worry about lightfastness. Because artist-quality pencils use pigments (unlike supermarket pencils, which fade more easily), artist-quality crayons are sufficiently lightfast for most artists.
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Theoretically, you don’t need any auxiliary materials for colored pencils. You can apply a fixative to finished works to prevent smudging and wax bloom.
Matte clear coat contains fine particles that you can’t see with the naked eye. But you can feel them after spraying your drawing a few times with clear varnish (let each layer dry well, preferably overnight). The varnish gives the paper a very fine, rough texture – a wonderful painting surface for colored pencils. And this way you also avoid that the color layer is so saturated smooth that you can’t draw on it anymore.
You can get a so-called texture fixative in artists’ supply stores that was specially developed for working with colored pencils and ensures that the texture is retained on the individual layers of color. Here in Europe, this fixative is not available.
You should try both: clear varnish, fixative, and no additive at all. The important thing is that you find your own preferences.
6 easy colored pencils tips & tricks – Video
What number of colored pencils should a beginner invest in?
In my experience and professional opinion, starting off with a 24-set of colored pencils is generally sufficient for beginners. It’s exhilarating to have a wide spectrum of colors, however, it’s also easy to overindulge and end up with unused pencils. Based on this, I suggest that you start with an essential set of 24 pencils, and then gradually purchase additional colors individually as required. This approach will prevent wastage and help you understand your color usage patterns better.
How can beginners effectively utilize colored pencils?
There’s a lot to unpack here. Beginners can start by understanding the importance of grasping the different pencil techniques such as layering, burnishing, and shading. Practice makes perfect in this case. Also, learning how to take proper care of the pencils to prolong their longevity is essential. Equally important is knowing how to pick good quality pencils. Finally, experimenting with different types of paper can greatly enhance the final results of your work. It can get overwhelming but remember, it’s all part of the journey and it becomes easier and more natural with time.
Should I commence with dark or light colored pencils first?
Normally, starting with lighter colors is the best course of action. This is a rule of thumb for layering. So even when using your lightest colored pencils, ensure their hues are still slightly darker compared to your markers. This method ensures you attain the right balance and contrast for your art piece, ultimately leading to better final results in your artwork.