A peek inside my studio at what I use for my portraits

Pencil Portrait Artist's Materials - Part 1, Coloured Pencils

I’m often asked what materials I use in drawing my pencil portraits. My aim is always to produce the highest quality work possible, and this naturally requires the use of only the finest tools and materials.

In this section I want to talk about perhaps the most important element, the coloured pencils. I use a real mixture of high quality coloured pencils in my work, with the main brands being Faber Castell, Caran D’Ache,  and Derwent, all having excellent colour, light-fastness, and an amazing range of colours.

Faber Castell Polychromos

This pencil comes in an amazing range of colours and blends beautifully with all the other brands. Polychromos are oil based pencils, which allows them to blend with solvents extremely well for base layers or areas of flat colour. The lead feels very firm combined to the other brands that I use, making them great for fine detail. Their leads are wonderfully intense and easy to lay down and layer and again they blend exceptionally well with all the other brands. They have maximum light-fastness, which means they hold their colour on your artwork extremely well, limiting fading.
These are a must have in any coloured pencil artist’s set and a brand that I recommend as an essential part of your kit. If you’re starting out and wondering which brand to buy first, buy these, you won’t regret it.

Faber Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils
Caran d’Ache Luminance

I love this brand, they consist of the most creamy leads, making them beautifully smooth and velvety, which makes them fab for layering and blending. Their range consists of the most beautiful set of vibrant exciting colours. I totally fell in love with them when I first purchased them. Being wax based, they layer and blend slightly better than Polychromos and their colours are more opaque. They are similar to Prismacolor pencils, however they are firmer and leave far less residue on your paper.
These pencils have one of the best light-fast qualities of all coloured pencils, which means they do not fade easily, which is an incredibly important factor to consider when buying a brand.
These pencils are expensive, but they are definitely worth every penny. They are essential for any coloured pencil artist.

Caran D'Ache Luminance Coloured Pencils
Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle

These are wonderful watercolour pencils. They have a high concentration of extra fine pigments and are water-soluble, which means you can blend them like paint with a brush and a drop of water. They have excellent colour brilliance; I just love them, and their black and white pencils are my preferred go-to out of all the brands. They provide a richness in black and white, which I haven’t found in any other, so I definitely would advise you buy these.
When drawn on dry, the pencils perform as well as Luminance, which is surprising as sometimes watercolour pencils do not appear with such colour brilliance. These pencils have an ultra-high pigment concentration, which ensures intense colour and exceptional light resistance. I absolutely love these pencils and use them constantly. They’re a must-have in my eyes.

Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle Coloured Pencils
Derwent Lightfast

These pencils are new to my collection, and I have only been using them for a short time so far. The main reason I was keen to try them is that they promise exceptional lightfastness – expected to last more than 100 years in museum conditions. In use, these pencils do not seem noticably different to the other brands I use, but they have a smooth oil-based feel which creates a rich vibrancy and can be mixed on the page for a paint-like effect. They are superb for layering and cover the surface of the paper exceptionally well. I have also found that they work well with my ceramic knife tool – allowing colour to be removed to allow for additional detail such as whiskers and fine hair.

Derwent Lightfast Coloured Pencils
Prismacolor Premier

These pencils were the first colour pencils I ever bought. I found Prismacolor Premier pencils very waxy and soft, leaving lots of residue on the paper, which is fine for producing vibrant artworks, but I found them unsuitable for fine, light and fluffy fur, as they produced a heavy and non realistic feel. I do still use a couple of their pencils though, as I haven’t been able to find similar colours elsewhere. Their Rose pencil is an essential part of my kit and I tend to use it in most of my portraits and also their Peche pencil is also lovely. I do find these pencils difficult to order as a single pencil in the UK, which is quite frustrating.

Prismacolour Premier Coloured Pencils
How to Buy

As a pet and wildlife artist, I get through a lot more browns, oranges, and greys than other colours. Fortunately, most pencils are available individually, so it’s easy to top up my stocks as required. However, there are savings to be made when ordering a large selection tin, so that is usually where I start; giving me a chance to try the range of colours and find out which ones see the most use. 

All opinions and recommendations are my own, and based on my own experience. I have not been paid to endorse or recommend any specific products. As a member of the Jackson’s Art affiliate scheme, I may earn a small commission when you purchase any product from them using links on my website or social media. They also offer new customers 10% off their first order when you visit via these links.