Colored pencils are a favorite media for new portrait artists. They are inexpensive and available in six, twelve, twenty-four and even larger sets. Pencils come in several varieties and color quality – hobby colors, dry artist colors, and artist watercolors. Which you chose depends on both the financial investment that you wish to make and your style of art. All three varieties can be used together on the same piece of art.
The greatest advantage of colored pencils is their ease of use. They require no special mixing media, no brush, never bleed outside the lines, and can be used on many substrates as watercolor paper, bristol board, chip board, wood and even fabric.
Hobby quality colored pencils are available, usually in sets, at many local craft stores and office supply stores. The most inexpensive of all, they have a chalk base to the pencil core and tend to have a harder density to the pencil core.
Artist quality colored pencils come in two main varieties – wax based pencils and watercolor pencils. The waxed based pencils are very transparent allowing you to mix layers of different pencil colors to create new colors. This style of pencil has a soft core making color application smooth and even.
Watercolor pencils are applied dry, then moistened with a damp brush to create painting effects. Both watercolor pencils and dry artist pencils are available by set or by individual color either online or at your larger arts and crafts outlets. Watercolor pencils can be left in the dry stage just as wax based pencils.
A basic starter set might include: medium pink, cadmium red, light orange, cadmium orange, light yellow, cadmium yellow, light green, medium green, light blue, ultramarine blue, lavender, and purple. This provides all of the primary and secondary colors.
To this set you may want to add five basic shading or tonal value colors: titanium white, carbon black, 50% french gray, black cherry, and indigo blue.
Specific colors for portrait work include: deco peach, mulberry, copper beech, and yellow ocher. Several manufacturers have specific colored pencil sets for portraiture.
Blending pencils, clear wax based pencils, are available and used over a color mix to remove pencils lines and create a more even effect to the pencil work.
Twelve colors create a full hue palette and unlimited mixing potential for new colors. Adding five basic shading tones gives an even wider range for highlights and shadows.
With your colored pencils you will also need a good pencil sharpener, a white artist eraser, artist’s kneaded eraser, transparent tape, and a variety of papers. Heavier weight papers are preferred; thin papers as computer printing paper do not have the strength to carry multiple layers of pencil color.
Watercolor papers with a fine tooth (texture), illustration paper, bristol board and even heavy weight drawing paper work well. Some artists papers come in a range of color tones from soft cream through deep brown and including black. Using a colored paper as your substrate automatically provides a colored background to your work. Avoid heavily toothed paper and polished (shiny) paper as you are learning the use of your pencils.