Some of my favorite coloring tools

I’ve had a few people ask about essential coloring tools recently, and since I just put together a new case of said tools, I thought I would share them with you.

I have a decent mix of colored pencils  (not nearly as many as some of my colorist pals, but decent) and I like to organize them by color instead of brand and store them in zippered cases which are much more protective and convenient to use in my humble opinion. Organizing by color works well for me, though I know others prefer organizing by brand and keeping their pencils in the original containers. There’s no right or wrong way, of course—do what works best for you—though that may change over time as your needs and habits change.

Most of my colored pencils are a mix of Caran d’Ache Luminance, Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Lightfast, Derwent Coloursoft, Derwent Procolour, Tombow Irojiten, Holbein, and Prismacolor Premier. I don’t have full sets of any of them, though the Polychromos are very close. I have a few other brands but rarely use them. I like to order pencils individually (as opposed to full sets) through Blick open stock to see if I like the way they work for me, and I only buy the colors I need or want to try. I also rarely have the money to purchase full sets and am currently saving up for my next big, desperately needed ticket item, a new computer. This puts a crimp in my pencil and art supply obsession, but so it goes.

I’ve been working with my Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils quite a bit the past few months, so I ordered a pencil case especially for them and for the tools I seem to use most often. I find the Polychromos work very well on the somewhat toothy paper my Amazon coloring books and 2020 Creative Companion (which I use daily) are printed on.

The Polychromos pencils are a solid, must-have in my collection. They are versatile, hold a great point, blend well and have a decent light-fast rating, yet are not as expensive as the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils (which many of you know I really love working with, too).

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Polychromos rainbow coyotes in the 2020 Creative Companion

I normally keep all my colored pencils in cases organized by color family and keep them up on a shelf above my work space. Since I have to stand up from my chair each time I need to grab a case of colors (and since I don’t have a ton of desk space to work on) I thought it might be smart to finally put the stuff I use on a daily basis in one “workhorse” case that can live on my desk.

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Greens; browns; purples; reds, yellows and oranges; blues; gel pens; and two cases of watercolor pencils on the shelf above my desk area

The case I ordered through Amazon, a grey RiLiKar with 184 slots, turned out to be the perfect size for my most-used tools, flips open and has “pages” like a book, and has a carrying handle which is a nice touch. My other pencil cases are made by Soucolor and BTKSY (also found on Amazon) and so far, with heavy use, they have been holding up quite well.

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The first “page” of my workhorse case holds my brush (essential for getting rid of pencil dust and crumbles and is much better than wiping with your hands); a Sakura Sumo Grip eraser (love it); and fine and extra small, black Faber-Castell Pitt pens. I also keep a metal dental tool in my case. It is perfect for so many things like digging broken tips out of pencil sharpeners, scraping paint splatters off my desk, prying watercolor pans out of their tins, etc.. I’ve even used it to tighten the itty-bitty screws that hold my eyeglasses together. Pretty sure I’ve had it since the 80s.

Next is a pencil extender (the only one I have and it really hurts my fingers after a while, but it’s okay in a pinch), then my Tombow Mono Zero eraser and tube of refills. Really great for tiny spaces. Next to the triangular architect ruler is my Rotring Tikky mechanical pencil, and then an odd “picker” tool I’ve had forever but have no idea where it came from or what it’s technically called. Basically, it’s a wood handle with a long needle jammed into it. Next is a Derwent Academy sketching pencil, and then a collection of Sakura Pigma Sensei pens.

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Pages one and two

Page two holds a white Uniball Signo pen, several Prismacolor Colourless Blender pencils, and a Lyra Splender blender which I just got and have not have much of a chance to work with yet. Not sure if the Splender blender will stay in the case. A few Sakura Souffle gel pens (I seem to use the white, turquoise and blue the most), a few coveted Caran d’Ache Blender Bright sticks (I use these for burnishing all the time), an Artist’s Loft blender (that probably won’t stay because it is useless), a Papermate “Tuff Stuff” eraser, a few Gellyroll sparkle pens and a Ubrands sparkle pen, then two more Pitt pens.

Page three has a mix of some of the non-Polychromos pencils I use a lot or want to keep handy for the current project I am working on. There’s something I love about the Pumpkin Orange Prismacolor and it seems to sneak into a lot of my work. Same with the Aquamarine and Light Aqua Prismacolors. The short dark pencil next to the Pumpkin Orange is my coveted Rexel Cumberland Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine 65 pencil. It is getting smaller. I have had it forever and cannot seem to find an exact replacement which is a shame. The color is so deep and rich I’d really love to find another one. The longer dark pencil next to it is a Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine 65 and it’s just not the same. I keep a few Irojitens on hand for detail work, and also a few of the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium pencils which I love for blending over the small designs and patterns I often draw over colored shapes in my work. There is something magical about the ingredients that make up this particular pencil—there is nothing quite like the feel and blending ability of 801 Buff Titanium. Another Pitt pen (I use them a lot) and a white General’s Pastel Chalk pencil which is useful for lightly sketching on black paper.

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Pages three and four

Page four is the start of my Polychromos collection. I just ordered the last missing pencils from my set from Blick, so in a few days it will be complete. Almost. I didn’t order the Gold or Silver because (sorry Faber-Castell) I don’t like the metallic copper pencil at all. I want to like it (copper is one of my favorite colors) but it just doesn’t work for me—too hard? Not enough pigment? I also didn’t order the Cadmium Yellow Lemon by mistake.

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Pages five and six (above) and seven and eight (below) fit the rest of my Polychromos collection. And yes, I number them myself since I have a hard time seeing the tiny gold lettering on the barrels. I just wrap a piece of washi tape around the top, write the number with a Pitt pen, then wrap that with a piece of clear tape. I’ve also numbered a few with a white Signo pen.

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Aside from being a handy way to keep these heavily-used tools close and organized on my desk, it’s easy to zip up the case and bring it along to wherever I want to work for the day.

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Polychromos color chart from the 2019 Creative Companion

Finally, since I am using my 2020 Creative Companion to keep track of all my art projects, books, and other important tasks, I took the Polychromos color chart out of my 2019 Creative Companion and plan to trim it down and laminate it (back to back) so I can keep a color chart in my workhorse case as a quick reference.

Last, but certainly not least, my treasured handmade watercolors by Karen Spencer: these I keep in special tins inside a metal tray inside a plastic box near my workspace. I pull them out almost every time I start a new piece because not only are they beautiful to work with, but I find the colors so incredibly inspiring. The ceramic-coated tray is super handy because I can mix colors directly on it, and my extra half-pans with magnets on the bottoms stick to the tray, too. Why do I keep paints and pans in yet another box? Dog hair and parakeet feathers. Remember that little picker tool I mentioned above? Perfect for picking junk out of paints and brushes. 😉

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Some of my treasured handmade mica and watercolor paints by Karen Spencer