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Working with Pencils (Dry Technique)

May 17, 2010

As promised, I have been putting together something for you on pencil techniques. There is a lot that can be done with dry pencils, various techniques to try out and to chose from. But, before we go there, let’s talk a bit about the different pencils on the market.

You will not be lacking from choices here! There are numerous coloring pencils on the market. Of course, since we are talking about parchment craft, Pergamano has their own set – a mix of oil-based and water color pencils — some are oil based (the “B” pencils) and some are water color pencils (the “A” pencils) — called Pergaliners. Some of the other major brands are Prismacolor, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent, and Lyra Rembrandt. There are many different brands available, and one could, as a beginner, use your child’s/grandchild’s coloring pencils until you get the hang of these techniques and want to spend money on a good set.

Patterns will tell you to use a “blendable” pencil. And here, I can tell you that there is a slight difference in the different major brands of pencils, in how they are made. The Polychromos (which I use) and Lyra Rembrandt are an oil based colored pencil, while the Prismacolor and Derwent are a wax-based color pencil. What this all means is that the a company will use either an oil or wax formula to produce the color leads. My experience is that the wax-based pencils don’t blend as easily as the oil-based pencils.

Polychromos and Prismacolor PencilsI have used both the Prismacolor and the Polychromos. What I have found is that while Prismacolor color pencils seem to have more pigment, I felt the Polychromos blend together much nicer. This isn’t to say that the Prismacolor doesn’t blend together, I personally preferred the way the Polychromos blended together easily creating a graduated shading in my work. There are some folks that I know who can make their Prismacolor pencils virtually sing with lovely shading, and some folks that can do the same with their Polychromos. I can’t say this enough, but you should pick your tools based on what you feel most comfortable with, and which give you the results that you like best. Never forget, an artists tools are highly personal!

The second thing we need to be concerned about is a pencil sharpener. I know, you are sitting at your computer reading this and thinking to yourself that I’ve lost my mind. Be concerned with a pencil sharpener? Well, I’ll tell you why. In most of these coloring techniques, we need our pencil as sharp as sharp can be, the sharper the better. Thus a good sharpener is a must-have accessory, and you may have to try several to find one that gives you a sharp point. Also remember that the blades of a sharpener will eventually dull with use thus you will need to replace it from time to time. On the down-side, constant sharpening runs down your pencil pretty quickly. To save my pencils, as they can run into quite a few dollars (pounds, euros, etc.) to replace, I will use a sandpaper block to keep a sharp point, until the lead gets close down to the wood. If I run out of sandpaper, and that has happened here at Chez Chiara, I have also used one of the large emery boards that remove rough skin on your heels (it has fine and rough sides and it’s washable!). There are some good tips here if you are experiencing lead breakage, which, truth be told, I haven’t really experienced (until I did the video for basic pencils!).

That said, lets move on to some of the coloring techniques. One of the easiest coloring techniques with pencils, that has a nice soft result, is coloring from behind. After yoflowercascadeu have done your tracing (in this technique tracing is traditionally done in white pencil) and embossing, make sure your parchment is face down and fill in the area with your chosen color.

In this project, the leaves and flower centers are colored with blendable pencils and smoothed out with natural turpenoid (in Europe, UK, Australia may use white spirit). To spread the pencil color, I use the same technique as I do with the oil pastel crayons in small areas (bamboo skewer tipped in cotton wool with a dab of turpenoid). The flower petals were filled in with colored pencils using a flicking motion from the center to the outer part of the petal. (I hope that I’m using the correct terminology here).

If you look closely at the flower petals, you can hopefully see little spots of red pencil coming through the areas that were not embossed to a pure white. While the easiest pencil technique, it is also a very effective technique. It all depends on your project and your desired results.

Another basic coloring technique with pencils, and the first basic technique on the front of a project which I learned from Nelly, is to fill in the image by holding your pencil on its side. The pointed end will be held with your thumb and forefinger, while the other end of your pencil is between your ring-finger and pinkie. Pencil on the side In this instance, you will first trace the pattern, then you will apply several layers of the pencil, adding more color in the shaded areas. The piece is then lightly embossed. It does have a lovely light effect.

The next basic coloring technique with pencils from the front. You will use 3 shades of your chosen color, a dark, medium and light shade of the same color. In Basic Pencil Workthis technique, please remember two things. First you need to keep the point of your pencil very sharp. Second, you glide your pencil lightly over the paper – don’t press your pencil down onto the parchment paper. This time, there is no tracing of the image, instead you will be working with your parchment paper over the pattern. Starting with the darkest color in the spots that are the most shaded, “flick” your pencil away from you in long/short/long strokes, with each stroke as close to or slightly overlapping the previous. Now, here I will add an addendum: you will want to leave a few “breaks” in-between some of your strokes for additional highlighting, not large ones, mind you, just a pencil width or so and not evenly spaced. With the medium color, starting about half-way down in your first set of strokes, do the same flicking outward motion. As you go over the dark color pencil strokes with the medium color pencil, a new color will be created and dragged across the paper. And then finally the lightest color is applied from the edge outward. The absolute final thing to do, is your embossing. Here is a relatively short demonstration!

A variation of this technique uses two or three shades of a color — a medium or medium-light shade of a color from behind, daffodils and use the darker shade on the front, as you see in this project. The lightest shade may be the embossing. The darkest shades* were applied in short, uneven, flicking strokes with a sharp point (*I also used a little bit of black for added shading).

Let’s move on to a slightly more advanced technique of working with dry pencils. Here you will need 3 shades of a color and white or cream. For instance a dark, medium and light green and cream (yellow or ocher) for leaves. For flowers a dark, medium and light pink and white.

You will start off like you did in the basic pencil work from the front, with your parchment paper over the pattern (no tracing). Starting with the darkest color, using the long/short strokes from the inside

Flowerbasket in pencils

edge of the image. Only this time, your long strokes won’t be as long, as you will working from both the inner and outer edges. and outer edges. Once you have added the color from the inside edge, you will do the same from the outer edge. The medium shade will start from half-way into your darkest shade on both edges, followed by the lightest shade. A section in the middle or nearer to one of the edges (depending on where you feel the light is shining most) will still be empty of color. Finally, the white or cream is applied from edge to edge. This also fills in the slight breaks you should have in your pencil strokes, adding a highlight.

This is most clearly seen in the basket on this project. Once again, your pencil points must be sharp, sharper, sharpest!

The last three techniques I discussed all start with the darkest color first. There are a number of other pencil techniques out there and at least one that I am familiar with (but in no way proficient enough at to begin to explain it properly) starts with the lightest shade of a color. In that technique, the first layer of pencil is spread with a blending medium, and then all subsequent layers of pencil are blended into the paper with a tortillion (paper stump).

No one technique is “better” than another. And, I have seen work by others that have incorporated several of these techniques in different parts of the same pattern, and which are quite effective! Play with the different techniques on bits of scrap parchment paper, first as a way of practicing and second to see which techniques compliment each other in a pattern of your choosing.

If you have any tips on working with pencils, please don’t hesitate to add them in comments!

  1. May 17, 2010 7:30 pm

    Another extremely informative , well written post, C!!! I always look forward to reading your writings. Can’t wait for the next one :))

    • cepet permalink
      May 18, 2010 7:47 am

      Thanks so much V! I keep trying, muddling my way through it all.

  2. Martha permalink
    May 17, 2010 7:37 pm

    Great explanation of colouring with the pencils.. The polychrome are my favorites to use besides the dorsos. I am sure this will help many who are trying to master the technique. Thank you!

    • cepet permalink
      May 18, 2010 7:49 am

      Martha, thanks for the “vote” of confidence. As you can probably tell, this post took me a long time to put together. So much can be done with pencils.

  3. May 18, 2010 12:05 am

    A well written article Chiara, thank you for sharing these techniques.

    • cepet permalink
      May 18, 2010 7:51 am

      Jerri, thanks! I’m sorry if I am competing a bit with your latest post. I didn’t realize that the 5th book was on the pergaliners. I just love your tulip compared to mine!

  4. May 18, 2010 5:23 pm

    A very comprehensive description of pencil techniques. I have both polychromos and prismacolors and for the most part I prefer the prismacolors! Strangely enough I find their buttery consistency easier to blend than the harder polychromos. But as you say, it’s an individual choice. I certainly agree about a good sharpener! Not only do you get a better point but it doesn’t tear at the wood of the pencil like cheap sharpeners. I’ll certainly be pointing my parching friends to his post!

    • cepet permalink
      May 18, 2010 7:43 pm

      Thank you Robyn! 🙂 You are one of the folks who makes those prismacolors sing. I do like the Prismacolor Verithins for very fine, small detail work. I also like the Verithin white for working on black parchment. (will have to show the one good piece I’ve done on black parchment one of these days.) The leads are definitely harder and the point stays pointy longer.

  5. Dawn permalink
    May 21, 2010 4:37 pm

    This is the best article I have seen on various methods of colouring with pencils.

    • cepet permalink
      May 21, 2010 5:07 pm

      Thank you so much, Dawn! 🙂

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