I'm new to the colored pencil game and the learning curve has been steep! I have always admired the photo realism that a few monstrously talented artists can achieve. I wanted to retain my painterly affection for smooshing colors together (very technical term) and using tones one wouldn't think of for people or animals, but I needed to understand how the heck those masters achieved textural perfection.
Naturally I turned to YouTube.
In case you're curious, I've linked a few of my favorites here:
Each of the specific videos I've linked covers different styles, materials, and preferences. I had no idea how many options are out there before browsing videos.
Paper is Everything
In my years of oil painting, I learned that you can get by with less expensive materials, particularly brushes and canvas. Synthetic brushes can last some time with the proper care, and achieving detail and textures isn't very inhibited by a more economical choice. Paper for colored pencils is an entirely different game.
Left to Right: Stonehenge paper with 11 yo Berner subject, sketch paper with Berner puppy, Strathmore toned paper featuring Kevin
The key to finding the right paper involves a lot of trial and error and is greatly up to personal preference. Some artists swear by Stonehenge, but the texture doesn't work for me. It's similar to watercolor and I find that I'm not good at wearing down the tooth (texture that grabs pigment). Pastelmat gives a very luxuriant texture, but some of the detail is sacrificed in exchange for a blended look.
I've landed on toned paper with a smooth finish for now. It's far from the most expensive option, but I love the way colors pop and the way textures play on the page. Unfortunately, because of the lack of tooth, color will smear and smudge, so I take extra care during the shipment process.
Colored Pencil Brands Do Matter
Paper is important but not necessarily expensive. Pencils on the other hand... I'm finding you get what you pay for. Right now I'm loyal to Faber-Castell Polychromos. I've tried discount brands and not so discount brands, and I'm in love with the pigment and texture I can get with Polychromos.
The key to texture and pigment layering is an ultra sharp pencil. See the first video I linked above for excellent pointers.
It's not that the drawing of "Champ" is bad. In fact, I rather like the wilder colors. However, the amount of detail I've found possible with the Polychromos on smooth paper is amazing. For example, the little bumps and texture on Kevin's nose are fascinating. I genuinely thought I was having some hand-eye coordination issues during my first several rounds with colored pencil, but changing the pencil brand was life altering.
I even texted my mom. Seriously. The change was amazing.
Because having a sharp tipped pencil is so critical in this form of art, I recommend putting some thought into a pencil sharpener. I've found that even the best brands last through only 15-20 portraits, so bulk or auto repeat ordering makes sense here.
Derwent or Faber-Castell erasers are best so far.
Lastly, I really like my Faber-Castell 60 color tin. I burn through some colors much faster than others, and simply order those in bulk online and then place them in the tin when I'm ready. My dog, Kevin, enjoys walking on my stuff and I don't enjoy busted color fragments in my pencils. The tin helps!
Do you have any brands you prefer or questions about details I've left out? Please comment below.