In defense of Prismacolor Premier pencils

Prismacolor Premier Pencils

If you are a working visual artist who makes their living from creating and selling colored pencil art, move on, this post isn’t for you. The same goes for any kind of colored pencil fanatic, because I’m never going to convince you, and I really have no interest in trying!

For the rest of us, those who make art as a hobby, a creative release, a way to get to that Zen-like, in-the-zone state without going all woo-woo transcendental meditation, Prismacolor Premier pencils are actually still a great pencil. Anyone who’s used the Prismacolor Premiers before they moved their manufacturing to Mexico in 2010 will tell you these were the best. They were pricier then than they are now, but they were worth the price because a) they laid down creamy and also blended and layered beautifully and b) they were made in the USA and easily available whereas the other power brands were not.

So, here’s the deal: if you have (or can get hold of) a set of Prismacolor Premiers that were manufactured before 2010, you know that these are great: the pencils are richly pigmented, the laydown is creamy AF and blending colors is relatively easy (of course, if you have the 150 pencil set, you need to do less blending because there are SO many colors to choose from!), and you can sharpen them to a fine point with zero fuss.

The made-in-Mexico ones, on the other hand, do have problems. Yes, I said they have problems. The trouble seems to be mostly one of quality control. Hold up your older Prismacolor Premiers by the non-sharpened end, and you’ll see that the cores (the colored centers) are perfectly centered. Now hold up several of the newer ones by that non-sharpened end, and you’ll note that almost none of the cores are exactly in the centre of the wood casing!

Prismacolor Premier Off-Center Cores
Prismacolor Premier Off-Center Cores

Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, sharpeners are made with the assumption that the pencil has a centered core! So, if you stick that not-quite-centered-core pencil into a sharpener … yep, you’re going to get oddly sharpened pencils if you’re lucky, and plain old broken cores if you’re unlucky. That seems to be the main complaint: these pencils are now very hard to sharpen without breaking off the point, so you use up the pencils very fast without even actually making much art with them!

This is troublesome, of course: you don’t want barely-used pencils being worn to the nub while sharpening! But there’s a solution: just sharpen the pencils using an electric sharpener – the even pressure seems to help. If you prefer a hand-held sharpener, some people recommend holding the pencil still in one hand and turning the sharpener instead of the more instinctive method of turning the pencil while holding the sharpener still. That does work.

I personally prefer to sharpen my Prismacolors by hand using a craft knife like this one. That way, you maintain control over pretty much everything: how much pressure you apply, how much of the core you expose, how sharp you make the point, and how smoothly you shave around the wood casing. To get a fine point on the pencil, you can file it smooth on a sandpaper block. This is how I sharpen my pencils, and the technique works beautifully! If you’re more visual: go check YouTube for videos on how to do the craft-knife pencil sharpening – there are several demos there.

Another issue seems to be that the wood casings on the new pencils are not the highest quality. Sometimes, the casing will split down the entire barrel, leaving you with  a pencil that feels irritatingly uncomfortable to hold. There is no solution to this problem that I’ve found – I go buy a new pencil to replace the old one when this happens!

Lightfast? Not all these pencils are lightfast, so be sure to check Prismacolor’s own lightfast ratings charts if you do want to create a piece of art that you will sell or want to hold on to for a long time. Alternatively, you could do what I do: create the artwork on high quality, acid-free paper (I’ve been using the Arches hot press watercolor paper) using all the colors I want, and then spray the finished work with a UV-spray and/or frame it behind UV-protective glass.

So why did I write this post if the Prismacolor Premier pencils are so problematic? Because, for the non-professional artist, these pencils are still a wonderful purchase. The intrinsic properties of the richly pigmented cores haven’t changed dramatically. Best of all, the price has dropped dramatically now that more people are aware of the quality control issues: at the time of writing this post (and if you came here from Facebook), you can pick up the largest set at Amazon for just over $100 … that’s less than a buck a pencil for a pretty darned nice set of pencils!

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

A new addition to the Caran d’Ache Watercolor Pencils

Supracolor 30th Anniversary Set

If you have been following this blog for any time at all, you know I tend to get very excited about new art supplies, especially when it’s anything to do with watersoluble media. I have tubes of watercolor paint, and pans and half-pans in nifty travel kits. I have watersoluble graphite blocks and watersoluble graphite pencils. And, of course, several lines of watercolor pencils (how else do you get fine detail on your watercolors or do quick sketches outdoors without a whole plein aire kit?).

One of my favorite sets of watercolor pencils is the Caran d’Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils. The set contains 120 pencils, each with splendid rich pigmentation and a creamy texture like all of the Caran d’Ache pencils (have you ever tried their Luminance line?) I was absolutely certain they couldn’t have picked a better range of tints and swore I’d never need another set of watercolor pencils.

But now I have to eat my words. Caran d’Ache is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’ve released a special Limited Edition 30th Anniversary set: 30 all-new colors in the Supracolor Soft line.

 

Yes, that’s 30 all-new colors. These colors are not present in any of the other existing Caran d’Ache sets, by the way, so unless they decide to release an anniversary set of their other lines as well, you’re out of luck trying to get an exact color match on the regular colored pencils.

I’ll admit, I’m drooling. I need to get my hands on those shades of pinks and purples! And that set of greens … I didn’t know I needed that particular shade of almost-dry-grass-green, but now I know I can’t live without it!

So yes, I have just pulled out my very tired wallet and ordered this new set. Do I need it? Well … need is a perception thing, yes? Someone looking at the stacks of art supplies in my home would tell me I definitely don’t need yet another set of watercolor pencils. Only another artist friend would appreciate the “need” I feel to own this set.

So, to all my artist friends out there: will you be buying this fancy new set of watercolor pencils? Just “to round out your collection”, if nothing else? Or am I the only one who has zero sales resistance? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

Sennelier Artist Quality Oil Pastels Test Pack

Sennelier Oil Pastels Test Pack

If you’ve never tried oil pastels, you don’t know what you’re missing! Try this delightful Sennelier Artist Quality Oil Pastels Test Pack and see if you like them.

Light-weight and portable, this little kit contains 6 small sticks of black, white, green, yellow, red and blue as shown in the image. The colours are highly pigmented and lightfast, however, note that like all oil pastels, they do *not* dry easily. You’ll need to spray your artwork with a fixative to prevent damage to your finished painting.

The Sennelier oil pastels go down soft and creamy, with a feel reminiscent of their oil paints. This is nothing like the Crayola oil pastels you may have tried before (I certainly have!), which are dry and gritty and nowhere near as fun to work with nor as capable of creating rich, oil-painting-like final products.

Like all the Sennelier products, this is a top-of-the-line set of pastels. The colours blend smoothly, just like oil paints. And yes, they have the familiar odour of a typical oil paint medium, too, so be prepared to use these in a well ventilated room!

This is a limited set, obviously, but it will give you a good feel for the product and help you decide whether oil pastels are a medium you wish to explore. If you do decide to invest more in the medium, you would probably want to go for the full set of 120 assorted colors which come in the wooden box, or the largest cardboard box set which contains 72 colors.

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

Derwent Water-Soluble Sketching Pencils

Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils, 6 pieces

Everyone learns to draw with graphite pencils. You know, your basic HB pencil when you were in school, and you used to scribble doodles in the margins of all your books? Well, as you progressed in your art, you discovered all kinds of fancy things, like watercolor and acrylics and oil paints. But sometimes, you want to go back to the simplicity of the basic pencil, and still be able to create some nice painterly effects.

You could turn to watercolor pencils … Derwent, Faber Castell and Caran d’Ache all have their watercolor pencil lines and they are fantastic. And pricey! If you’re going for color, you’ll want as many colors as you can get your greedy little paws on … and that will set you back a good $100 at least. And try carrying those large sets on a field trip … they are too bulky and unwieldy (although very pretty).

This is where the Derwent Water-Soluble Sketching Pencils shine (literally … they have a graphite core!). The set of 6 featured here is small enough to be easily portable, and the metal tin holds them securely.

Use these as regular pencils, and you’ll be happy with the quality and the control you get. These are slightly harder than the Tombow Mono pencils, but that is a plus, as you get to use them for fine detail if you want. And if you really prefer the blended, watercolor look – just add water with a brush and blend out the marks you’ve made on the paper.

Note that once you’ve activated them with water, they will not erase cleanly. This is usually not a big concern for me because by the time I add water, I usually have my base drawing completed and am looking to add that wash of liquid graphite.

There are 2 each of 3 pencils in this set: 2 HB (light wash), 2 4B (medium wash) and 2 8B (dark wash) pencils. That  makes a versatile set of grays to give your drawings and line-and-wash sketches that extra range of depth from these deeper tones included here.

The metal tin also includes a sharpener. Take that sharpener out and replace it with a two-hole sharpener, as the included sharpener is far too small for the extra-thick core in these pencils and simply will not work. You can use the sharpener with your regular school-grade HB pencils that have the normal-sized cores.

You may also want to invest in a kneaded eraser for better pickup of your pencil marks. A kneaded eraser lasts a good long time: just knead and reuse!

If you’re going out for a plein-aire sketching expedition with these pencils, remember to grab one of the Derwent Waterbrush sets as well … no need to carry a bottle of water, just fill and go!

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

 

Derwent XL Graphite Blocks

Derwent XL Graphite blocks

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of most Derwent products. I’ve been loving the Graphitint pencils, and recently had the chance to try out the Derwent XL Graphite Blocks. They’re currently deeply discounted (61% off at the date of this writing) at Amazon, so it’s a no-brainer to pick up this set.

I’m officially in love again! Used dry, these are like a giant graphite pencil, but in color. With a distinctive smooth feel and a sheen typical to graphite. These are also a fantastic alternative to watercolor for getting your backgrounds done super fast – just mix with water, using a paintbrush. Like watercolor, the pigment will definitely lift if re-wetted, so this is very different from the Derwent Inktense in that respect – Inktense blocks dry permanent once you’ve applied them wet  and dried them.

There are only 6 colors in the set, and even that is an exaggeration: 2 of the “colors” are Soft and Very Soft, which are basically shades of grey. The colors are muted, nature shades (Olive Green, Dark Prussian, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber), so this set is perfect if you do landscapes. Given that these blocks are  graphite, there is a distinct silvery sheen to your finished work, which is quite appealing.

These blocks work well in conjunction with the Graphitint pencils, with the same smooth feel as the pencil cores. I find myself using the pencils when I want a little more detail than the blocks and a paintbrush can offer (I’m not really good at controlling a liner brush!)

Lightfastness? These blocks don’t come with a lightfast rating. To be on the safe side, display your art behind UV-resistant glass.

Note: as mentioned above, these graphite blocks are all muted colors. If you want bright, vibrant colors in your painting, get yourself a set of the Derwent Inktense blocks instead … there are many more colors and they are stunningly intense! Or, for a starter set, try out the Travel Pan Set: Inktense in a format perfect for plein-aire adventures!

Dimensions: The XL Graphite blocks are 20 x 20mm square and 60mm long

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

 

150 Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils, Soft Core

150 Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

I’m back with another great deal on Prismacolors today: it’s the big honking set of 150 Prismacolor Premier Color Soft Core Pencils! This is pretty much the holy grail set for Prismacolor colored pencil afficionados: soft, creamy, rich pigments lay down smooth as butter on your surface of choice. The wax-based soft core makes blending and layering super easy, and you can use odorless mineral spirits (my favorites are the Mona Lisa and Gamsol) for fantastic blending abilities, turning your drawings into paintings.


Right now, this set is deeply discounted at Amazon, so snap it up … you won’t regret it!

Prismacolor has been the go-to brand for colored pencil artists in North America for several decades now, and for good reason. Let’s start with the fact that, like any good artist quality colored pencils, these pencils are extremely lightfast. And then there is the question of blending: while you can achieve great results with a smaller set due to the easy blendability, the range of colors in this set means that you will spend more time creating the art you love and less time blending colors to get the exact shade you want.

Note that this set does not include a colorless blender, but whether you need that depends on your art technique: as I alluded to above, I much prefer blending with OMS (Mona Lisa is what I have right now, but Gamsol is pretty much identical). If you do want/need a colorless blender, they are very cheap on Amazon as well. Check out the double-2-pack of Prismacolor Blender Pencils (yes, that’s four pencils, rather than just 2).

While working with the Premeirs, keep in mind that erasing is not going to be easy due to the rich pigmentation in these pencils. The best way to work is to start with the lighter colors and build up the intensity and depth of color as you go.

Pro tip #1: Storage: You can keep these in the gorgeous metal tin they come in (6 removable plastic trays), or, better yet, invest in some of the pastel storage boxes I reviewed in an earlier post. Those boxes allow you to have all the colors in plain sight, which makes it much easier when you are working on a more intricate piece of art.

Pro tip #2: Sharpening: Due to the soft cores (and occasionally not-quite-centered cores), you want to sharpen these pencils manually. Either use a hand-held sharpener like the Mobius & Ruppert Brass Round Double Hole Sharpener [use the larger hole] and rotate the sharpener while holding the pencil steady with your other hand, or, my favourite technique, use a craft knife to take off the wood casing around the core, then just gently rub the core on a sandpaper block to bring it to a nice point.

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

GoPro Fusion: Try your hand at VR today!

GoPro Fusion

I’ve been eyeing VR-capable cameras for a while now, and the GoPro Fusion seems to blend in the fun of the GoPro with the elements of VR that I’ve wanted to play with.

The package as shipped contains the Fusion camera, the case, a Fusion grip (a.k.a., a selfie stick) with a long thumbscrew, a single rechargeable battery (you may want to stock up on backup batteries, as with any GoPro), mounting fingers, a USB-C charging cable, and one each of the curved and flat adhesive mounts that are standard with the GoPro line.

The Fusion is heavier than the standard GoPro cameras, so make sure any mounts you use are capable of handling the extra weight [you may want to stick with the official GoPro accessories until you are confident of 3rd party accessories].

The camera shoots footage in 360 degrees, giving you an amazing panoramic view of the world you’re passing through. It records up to 5 hrs of footage (assuming you have sufficient storage!) if you have an external power supply to the camera, otherwise the battery lasts approximately 70 to 80 minutes (per the manufacturer’s specs, assuming WiFi is off).

The Fusion also requires two high-performance microSD, microSDHC or microSDXC cards with a Class 10 or UHS-II/III rating or higher. The memory cards are not included, you’ll need to purchase them separately.

You will need to use the GoPro mobile app or the GoPro Fusion Studio app for desktop, and for editing 360 degree videos, you’ll need a 3rd-party app like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere. Keep in mind that because of the front and back cameras, there is no viewscreen, so literally the only way to view the video is using an app!

Note that this camera is only waterproof up to a depth of 5 meters (16 feet), unlike the older GoPros that could be used at depths of up to 10 meters (32 feet) without a housing. If you’re not looking for the VR capability, you may want to save your money (and expand your underwater range) by going for one of the standard GoPro models.

If you’re wondering “where is the VR?”, like I was: imagine this: you take a 360 video of an experience, say a climb up your local hill late in the day, arriving at the top just in time to take in a spectacular sunset. You’re recording every minute of that view all around you. Back home the next day, you edit the video and send it off to your friend, who uses a VR headset to view it … and sees what you were seeing the night before! That’s almost time travel … and very definitely the core of virtual reality.

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

My latest art hobbyhorse: Watercolor Pencils

Art is likely to be a major theme on this blog, because art is a huge part of my life.

There’s almost nothing, no stress, no worry, that cannot be soothed by creating something. The zen-like flow state I go into when I’m working on is very similar to meditation, and I always emerge refreshed and renewed.

Sometimes creating art takes just a few minutes, as in this pigment marker sketch above, and sometimes it takes weeks, as when I work on a large project using colored pencils (my favourites are the German FaberCastell PolyChromos pencils and the Luminance line from Swiss manufacturer Caran d’Ache – you just can’t go wrong with either of these sets).

When I want something quicker, I turn to watercolor pencils. I have been loving the Museum Aquarelle line from Caran d’Ache for the brilliant colours. If you’re looking for a more traditional watercolor look to your art, check out the Derwent Watercolour pencils … they’re an absolute dream to work with!

The Museum Aquarelles are brilliantly pigmented, and the resulting work is not very much like a watercolour because of that spectacular colour. Like all Caran d’Ache products, these pencils have a fantastic creamy core and excellent lightfast ratings, so you can use this set to create works you can sell with absolute confidence.

The Derwent Watercolour pencils, as I said, have a more traditional watercolor look and feel, which, as you’d immediately expect, means more pastel shades and a general softer, more flowing result on your finished work.

Both brands are wonderful, each in its own way, and I’ve been loving using both to create art.

What do YOU do when you’re stressed? Working out and “arting” are two of my favourite stress relief options!

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.