Hello! One of my creative interests is to draw with coloured pencils. Here is an example of my most recent drawing, which I did according to a Virtual Instructor tutorial here, using Derwent Lightfast pencils, on an A Graphic-Alexander Hendry Watercolor Book paper.
Because the above picture was done on a hot press watercolour paper, which is no longer available to me, I decided to search for a paper that is currently available and of archival quality, if possible. I wanted a paper that will allow me the ease of pigment application and blending, that will showcase the colours nicely, one that will withstand application of multiple layers of pigment, and an overall smooth look, rather than a grainy one. Nothing wrong with grainy, of course, it's just that at this point in time, I'm interested in attaining a smoother look. Obviously, everyone will have different preferences and needs, so what I like, you might not and vice versa. However, I like to check out other people's reviews and read about their experiences with different art supplies, so that I can make an informed decision that suits my needs at the time. Here, I am sharing my personal observations, arrived at in a rather limited type of exercise.
I decided to use two different brands of pencils on eight different papers, by drawing a simple sphere of approx. 2 1/4" in diameter, using mostly four colours. (Note: this specific exercise in blending and layering by drawing a sphere comes from an online course at Kirsty Partridge Coloured Pencil Academy. I decided to apply it for this comparison, because it is a relatively fast and simple exercise).
I decided to use two different types of pencils. One, Faber Castell Polychromos, an oil based pencil type. The other, Caran d'Ache Luminance, a more waxy type, which is thicker in laydown than Polychromos. On each photo showing two spheres, the one on the left was drawn with Polychromos and the one on the right was drawn with Luminance. All spheres were drawn using similar amount of layers and same layering technique. For blending, I used Prismacolor colorless blender and burnishing. After I took the photos of all samples, I applied two different types of solvents just to see how they perform. I used Webber Turpenoid Natural and Gamsol. All samples tolerated solvent well, except for one.
I decided to try eight different papers, from Bristol to hot pressed watercolour. They were:
1. Strathmore Bristol Vellum, 300 series
2. Strathmore Bristol Smooth, 300 series
3. Strathmore Bristol Vellum, 500 series
4. Legion Stonehenge, White, 250 gsm
5. Legion Stonehenge Aqua, Hot Press
6. Fluid 100 watercolour paper, Hot Press
7. Arches watercolour paper, Hot Press
8. Bockingford, White, watercolour paper, Hot Press
Results and Findings
1. Strathmore Bristol Vellum - 300 series
This is a good, basic paper. Pencils blended and layered nicely. Laydown can be somewhat uneven. Colour saturation good. Not too crazy about the grainy texture (I just prefer smoother papers), but it can be easily evened out with solvent and more layers.Overall, I like this one, but I wish it was made of cotton fibers. Its 500 series counterpart is 100% cotton, but I prefer the texture of this one.
2. Strathmore Bristol Smooth - 300 series
Because I was looking for less tooth than in the vellum version, I thought I'd try this one out. Although one can definitely draw on this and produce some nice results, it was a bit of an uphill battle for me. It was just too smooth for the type of pencils I used. The Polychromos saturated very quickly and wouldn't layer easily beyond approximately 7 layers. The colours came out a bit pale, and the pencils just felt like they were skating on the paper from the start. It was also more difficult to get an even laydown. Because Luminance pencils are waxier and stickier than Polychromos, they adhered and layered a bit better. Interestingly, the Polychromos pigment easily rubbed off with finger, while Luminance did too, but not as much.
3. Strathmore Bristol Vellum - 500 series, 100% cotton
An archival quality, cotton counterpart to its 300 series cousin. However, what a difference between the two! This one has a much more pronounced tooth (it is a bit reminiscent of some cold press watercolour papers), resulting in a very grainy appearance, which in turn required more layering and use of solvents. At first, it was easy to achieve an even laydown, but when it came to Luminance, on the subsequent layers, the pigment began to noticeably stick to itself, making it more difficult to blend evenly and resulted in a very saturated and waxy looking colour. Because the tooth is so pronounced, I used up a big chunk of my pencils rather quickly.
Close up of the Luminance sphere on Strathmore Bristol Vellum-500:
4. Legion Stonehenge, White, 250 gsm, 100% cotton
This one feels slightly more rough than Strathmore Bristol Vellum-300, but gave me somewhat less grainy results. It was rather easy to achieve a uniform laydown. No problems with layering or blending. I noticed that the colours of both types of pencils (especially Luminance) came out relatively more saturated. I like that it's 100% cotton, but wish it was just a bit heavier. (Please excuse the wonky spheres, I was tired when I drew them).
5. Legion Stonehenge Aqua, Hot Press, 100% cotton
This one has a similar feel to Stonehenge White, 250 gsm paper. I mainly worked on the rougher side of the paper. The colours came out less saturated than on its non-watercolour counterpart, but still rich enough. It was quite easy to achieve an even, smooth pigment laydown, no issues with layering or blending at all. Any graininess was easily evened out with solvent. I tried the smoother side, too, with just a tiny sample and, as expected, the colours were a bit less intense.
6. Fluid 100, Hot Press, 100% cotton
This one also has a smoother and rougher side to it. Overall, it felt too smooth for the Polychromos. The pencil skated on the paper too much and subsequent layers had a tendency to lift off some of the existing pigment, which resulted in a rather uneven laydown and pale colours. Using solvent helped a bit, but not enough for my needs. When it came to waxier, stickier Luminance, the performance was ok.
7. Arches Watercolour, Hot Press, 100% cotton
I heard of this one being used for coloured pencil drawing, so I decided to give it a try, too. I did a small sample on the rougher side and did not particularly like it, so I drew my spheres on the smoother side. It has a very similar feel in tooth to Strathmore Bristol Vellum - 500, but the laydown is less grainy than Strathmore.
I noticed that in some hot pressed cotton watercolour papers, there are every so
often tiny bumps in the texture, which tend to "catch" the pigment
of the pencils, resulting in clearly visible darker dots upon laying the first two layers. These were more pronounced with the Arches HP paper, especially when using waxier Luminance. This, however, can be "hidden" by laying more pigment and using a solvent.
Below, you can see a close up of the first layer of Luminance on Arches HP paper. The darker green dots is where I felt the bumps during drawing.
8. Bockingford Hot Press, White
For me, this one just wasn't a very good choice for these coloured pencils. When it came to Polychromos, it was just too smooth. The pencils skated on top and consequently, it was a bit difficult to achieve a smooth, even laydown. Also, the color payoff wasn't great, as the paper didn't lend itself to multiple pigment layers. The solvent didn't help much in smoothing out the pencil strokes.
While with Polychromos, the result was pale and very desaturated, the opposite happened with Luminance. On the first layer, achieving a smooth and even laydown was easy, but on second and each subsequent layer after that, the pigment was sticking to itself, forming something akin to clumps, giving an impression of even more pronounced pencil strokes. The colour suddenly became very intense and saturated. I also used up my pencil very fast on this paper. When I used the solvent on this, the pigment got lifted off very easily, leaving even more mottled appearance. Photo below is before applying solvent:
Like I mentioned before, everyone will like and be looking for something different. You may get totally different results based on which type of pencils and papers you use. Most of the papers I tried were generally good and offered a reasonable, solid performance. I really enjoyed the true and tried Strathmore Bristol Vellum -300 and both Legion Stonehenge papers. I hope this will be of use to some of you in making your own paper/pencil choices.