After getting fed up with broken wood casings on the brand of colored pencil I had been using for the past 20 years, I finally started researching alternatives. I came across the fabulous work of colored pencil artist Alan Woolett and talked with him about the supplies he uses. His results were exactly what I wanted to accomplish with colored pencil... vibrant, realistic, and full of detail!
At Alan’s recommendation, I picked up a set of 120 Faber Castell Polychromos. These are oil based pencils. The lead is bonded to the California cedar wood casings. This means that the lead won’t fall out of the wood casings... unlike the brand I had previously been using.
The lightfast rating on these pencils is pretty impressive. Faber-Castell uses the Blue Wool Scale with 8 being the most lightfast, and 1 being the least. Each pencil is marked with a star indicating what the lightfast rating is. Three stars is equivalent to a 7/8 on the blue wool scale, making it quite resistant to fading. Two stars is equivalent to a 5/6, the lowest rating I am comfortable using in my work. Those marked with a single star I’ve pulled from my collection. Those rank that 3 or 4 on the blue wool scale are unacceptable choices for me. Luckily there were only a couple of pencils in my set with ratings that low.
Eagle - Faber-Castell Polychromos on Bristol Vellum, blended with Odorless Mineral Spirits
My first time using these pencils had me loving colored pencils again. No breakage, no wax bloom, and they sharpened to a super fine point. This allowed me to get the detail that my work was previously lacking. Given that there is no wax bloom, the amount of layering I could do with them is nearly limitless as long as I used a light hand and do not flatten the tooth of the paper.
I can’t even begin to stress how much more fun I had working with a pencil that never breaks! I could sharpen these either in an electric sharpener or a cheap hand-held $1 sharpener and still have great results either way. That was totally new for me!
The only thing I don't love about these pencils is the white. It is extremely translucent. I would recommend picking up at least one white pencil from either Prismacolor or Luminance (the Luminance is the better of the two in my opinion).
In the piece above I had airbrushed my background. I needed white feathers to overlap onto the darker airbrushed portions of the paper. The white Polychromos didn’t show up at all. I had to switch to a white Prismacolor for those portions. I ended up ordering a couple of white Luminance at this time and went back over a few more areas with that and the white appeared even stronger with the Luminance areas than it had with the Prismacolor white.
Many of the Polychromos colors are more transparent than Prismacolor or Luminance colored pencils. This is not an issue for me at all given I primarily work on bright white paper, but if you prefer to work on dark colored paper, these pencils are not going to be the ideal choice for you.
Polychromos and Luminance on Fabriano Artistico Extra White Hot Pressed watercolor paper.
These oil based pencils work beautifully alongside your wax based Prismacolor Premier or Luminance pencils. If you already have a full set of those pencils, don’t feel like you have to choose one or the other. I like mixing them both for various effects.
This piece really shows off how well these pencils work together. Polychromos is ideal for the fine details in her hat, hair and eyes. The Luminance allowed me to get the soft look I wanted for her skin. I used both odorless mineral spirits to blend and burnish.
And here is my video comparing Polychromos to the Prismacolor Premier line:
Utrecht Art Supplies (USA) also stocks them.