Left: lightfast test on Luminance 6901 Colored Pencils. Yep, since they are already tested it’s sort of a moot point, but I wanted to try it out. Left is the control and right is the exposed sheet. No visible fading. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
People just starting to work in colored pencils can easily be overwhelmed with the choice in brands. Limiting yourself to artist quality pencils (and you really do need avoid all student grade pencils) alone will give you more than a handful of great choices.
My advice to people is to go to a store that sells open stock and test a few pencils in the same colors in different lines. By comparing similar reds across 3 or 4 lines of pencils you’ll begin to see differences that will matter to you: how waxy or dry does the pencil feel upon application; how hard or soft does the pencil feel when you work it across the paper; does it hold a nice point; does the lead tip crack as you are working; how easy is it to blend two different colors; how much does the line you draw smudge when you rub it with your finger; and on and on—all the questions that mean something to you about how you already work or how you would like to work with colored pencils. (Take a piece of your favorite drawing paper with you to conduct your test on a familiar surface.)
With that information you’re able to purchase pencils and begin your drawing adventure.
Well, now added to all of those questions is the recent, in the past 5 years or so, push on the part of the colored pencil companies to respond to colored pencil artists’ requests for lightfast pencils—pencils that have actually been subjected to the same types of testing the American Society for Testing and Material does for watercolor paints, oils, pastels, and so on.
Quite awhile back Talens released a line of “lightfast” pencils in both wax binder and watersouble mode. I never thought much of these pencils. I found they worked up rather pale and wimpy. The feel was always scratchy. They reside in a big box that contains the samples I take into class for students to try out. I have to remind myself to be fair. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that someone else might not love that very thing.
Then Prismacolor released some lightfast colors, not their full range, but a number of colors; and so it goes.
I have to say that I have colored pencil drawings from the 1980s that have not visibly faded. I used Prismacolor (then owned by Berol) and Derwent on those pieces. Some pieces were stored away from light, but a good many were framed and out in the range of light you find in a house. Others were commissioned pieces that were displayed in homes (and in one situation, in rather bright light). They all seem to have held up well.
Because of that and the fact that I like the way Prismacolor pencils work (I like their blend of wax for the way I like to work building up lots of layers with very small strokes) I’m not looking about to change brands, but I do like to pay attention to what is happening with colored pencils.
Over the last several years there has been a push to softer, drier pencils (in the sense that the waxy feel is minimized); a move towards a pastel texture without creating a pastel pencil. It’s an interesting transition and if I had an unlimited number of years before me I would probably spend a lot of time experimenting and even change my drawing style with colored pencils to take advantage of some of these new products.
More and more I feel the need to focus, so that won’t be happening, but it won’t hurt to experiment a bit and see if there are pencils more suited to some subject matter or concept that I might be trying to achieve.
With that in mind I picked up about 8 of the new Luminance 6901 Colored Pencils from Caran d’Ache. This 76 color line has 61 colors earning the highest lightfast rating (I) from the ASTM. It seems that the name of the pencil is taken from the test’s name ASTM D-6901.
For me the most exciting development is that Caran d’Ache has formulated the pencil leads for this line using finely-ground pigments which they list on their chart. Previous pencil lines have had cute or enticing names for colors and you practically had to live with your own blended and tested color chart on hand to know how any of the pencils would work with each other. Now, because of the pigment labeling of these pencils, if you know your color theory, you’ll be able to quickly select pencils that will work well in a given situation.
I find that these pencils feel softer and less waxy than the Prismacolors; less dry and more waxy than the Derwent Colour Soft line. It’s all a matter of degree.
The softer lead allows me to lay down more color, more quickly than I do with Prismacolors. The softer lead also makes blending the edges of my strokes much easier. I find that when I work with the new Luminance 6901 pencils I work looser as well as faster than I do with the Prismacolors. I can think of lots of situations where I might find these characteristics advantageous. I don’t enjoy blending dense multilayered color with these pencils as much as I do with Prismacolors. Part of this is that I haven’t quite got the hang of the color range (I miss the color selection I'm used to) and part of it is the softer pencil tip. Both items are something I could overcome if I put in some time.
Here’s the bad news: these pencils open stock run over $4.00 a piece. Since they are softer I know I’ll run through them quickly, and I have a light hand. I know it will be expensive if I use these on any of the gritty surfaces I enjoy working on from time to time. Lots of things to think about.
Whether you’re just starting in colored pencils or always looking for new choices, I recommend you get a few of these to try out and compare with other brands. See how they feel and how they work for you. They’ve got a lot going for them.
The really bad news? You guessed it: no PB60!
(I purchased my pencils from open stock at Wet Paint. They also sell sets. A Google search will yield vendors if you’re not in the Twin Cities.)