The Colored Pencil Craze


Portrait in Colored Pencil

Portrait in Colored Pencil

I’ve been puzzled and amused by the recent fad for “Adult Coloring Books”. Apparently, the popularity of these books has led to a shortage of colored pencils to buy! (See for example this article.) As a result of using them at school, it took me many years to realize that colored pencils were not “just for kids”.

My school experiences with colored pencils led me to rather a cynical view of the results that could be obtained, because our teachers required us to use them, but didn’t teach us how to use them. From the teachers’ viewpoint, pencils were naturally preferable to paint, because they didn’t produce so much mess. The problem was that, because we were never taught appropriate techniques, most of the results were very poor.

My experiences with coloring books were also not positive! Relatives would sometimes buy me coloring books as presents when I was young, but I don’t recall ever using one. My view (which apparently went unconsidered) was, “Why would I want to color in someone else’s drawings, when I’m churning out my own drawings every day?”

Nonetheless, later on, in the 1980s, when I was studying Illustration at St. Martins School of Art in London, I invested a sizable sum in a set of 72 Derwent colored pencils (my “life savings”, as my instructor described it). Despite that, the only finished work that I ever produced solely with colored pencil was the portrait at the top of this post. I was quite pleased with the results, but found the technique very time-consuming.

Since then, I have sometimes used colored pencils for concept sketches, such as that below for a fictitious piece of jewelry.

Sketch of Fictitious Jewelry

Sketch of Fictitious Jewelry

I’ve also used pencils in “mixed-media” illustrations, but never as the only medium for a finished work.

There are some excellent artists who specialize in producing photo-realistic colored pencil art. I’m left in no doubt that colored pencil can produce excellent-quality art, but only very slowly!


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