Bluntly Honest Review of Faber-Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils

After months of research, asking numerous other artists online, and clicking them in and out of my online shopping basket, I finally took the plunge and invested in a set of 60 Faber-Castell Polychromos. I’ve had them for four months now, created many artworks and a few portrait commissions with them, so I feel I can give a bluntly honest review of what I think about these oil-based beauties.

 

If you’re an eager beaver and can’t be bothered to go into the details, here are my top Pros and Cons:

 

PROS:

Good choice of colours, lots of vibrant shades

Super great for fine detailed work

Allow for the gradual build-up of many layers

Good for blending

Are fairly strong and do not break easily, so can last a long time

Don’t hurt your hands to use if you use lots of light layers

 

CONS:

Not a huge range of skin colours

The smaller sets don’t have a great range of colours – you’ll probably need to buy individual pencils to top up

Some pencils don’t blend well

The white pencil isn’t very bright

The black pencil isn’t very dark

They are expensive

 

If you’re still with me, let’s go into some detail on a few points:

Colour Options:

PROS

I love the vibrant colours in my Polychromos set, and I never have any problem finding the right shades of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, grey or brown. If anything, there is TOO MUCH choice for these colours. (Personally I don’t think you need so many colours to create highly detailed and realistic drawings – so definitely don’t be pressured into buying a larger set.)

CONS

The reason I went for the 60 set is because I wanted a big range of colours, and the smaller sets just didn’t seem to have the colours I regularly use for portrait work, and not enough variety. They also don’t do a good range of skin colours unless you go for the 120 set, so I’ve had to adapt by buying individual pencils and blending colours together to get close to the shade I need.

The white pencil also isn’t very bright, and the black pencil isn’t hugely dark. When I need to draw super bright white detail, I currently use Caran D’Ache Museum Aquaelle Watercolour pencil, Caran D’Ache Luminance or a white gel pen. For a deeper black, I always create depth using red and blue shades, and I find the Caran D’Ache black pencil works better when I need to achieve super dark detail.

 

Layering and Blending:

Quick Note – layering does hugely depend on what kind of paper you’re using, and how much tooth (‘hills and valleys’ in the surface of the paper) the paper has. For reference, I currently use Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

PROS

These pencils are a pleasure to layer with, especially when working on a paper with a lot of tooth. They allow for multiple layers, and I don’t find it difficult to layer light on dark as long as I am using light pressure. Most shades blend really wonderfully together.

CONS

Some of these pencils just really do not blend nicely. I highly recommend the cinnamon or nougat shades (will have to buy these individually unless you purchase the 120 set) as these are lovely for helping to blend colours together. You’ll quickly find out which pencils blend better than others through practise.

 

Durability:

PROS

One thing I LOVE about Faber-Castell Polychromos is that they very rarely break in the pencil sharpener!!! Can you tell how happy I am about this by the amount of punctuation I’m using here!!??

The last thing you want when you invest in high-quality coloured pencils is for them to constantly break whenever you go to sharpen them. You don’t want to be terrified of your sharpener and have your artwork suffer in quality as a result. For detailed work, you need a sharp pencil, so a strong pencil and a decent pencil sharpener are a must.

CONS

A pencil may eventually break or be difficult to sharpen – it happens. In my experience, this has happened once in four months, so isn’t a deal breaker for me.

 

Cost:

CONS

These pencils are not cheap. In fact, they’re one of the most expensive coloured pencil brands to buy. And if you’re a portrait artist or do a lot of detailed work, you need to keep them sharp… which inevitably means certain pencils need replacing regularly.

PROS

I’m a professional portrait artist and I personally want to use only the best materials, which is why the cost is worth it for me. If you’d like to give these pencils a try but don’t have a big budget, I don’t think it’s necessary to invest in the larger sets straight away, as I believe you can achieve amazing results with a limited colour palette.

 

Overall, I love these pencils! I’d love to hear what you think or what your experience of Faber-Castell Polychromos has been, drop me an email or message me on my social media 😊

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TIPS: Are You Holding Your Pencil Wrong? How to Hold your Pencil for Different Techniques

I love this coloured pencil tip so much! It sounded so simple when I first thought about it, yet it is so effective and often overlooked. Read on for some tips on how to make the most of your pencils and achieve different results by holding your pencil in different ways 😊

As with all of my tutorials, tips and advice, this is just what personally has helped me draw realistically. I’m all for experimenting and finding your own style, so if you like the effects achieved doing things differently, keeeep doing them!

 

Layering

I love using lots and lots of light layers to build depth, colour and contrast in my coloured pencil drawings. These layers are done with a very light pressure, so it helps to hold my pencil far up the pencil, like this:

Holding the pencil in this way ensures some control and precision, and at the same time prevents me from pressing down too hard and accidently burnishing (read more about burnishing here).

If I hold the pencil too close to the tip, I find it really hard to press lightly and achieve the effects that I want with my layering. It also starts to hurt my hand and tire out my wrists because layering can take a veryy long time!

Another thing to note: I find it helps to tilt the pencil in order to cover more paper more quickly and create an even layer, constantly rotating to make the most of the pencil.

 

Burnishing

I’ve written a more detailed post about burnishing here. Burnishing basically means covering the tooth of the paper so no paper shows through, and can involve using a heavier pressure than when layering (unless you are burnishing by doing a lot of light layering or by using tools such as paper stumps and tortillions).

When burnishing with a coloured pencil or colourless blender, I usually hold my pencil like this:

I’m not pressing super hard, just enough to get into the ‘valleys’ of the paper so the paper is totally covered with coloured pencil. For realism, burnishing is usually done after putting down lots of layers first, so you shouldn’t have to press super hard. I find it works best to burnish an area using small circular marks with a sharpened pencil (the pencil doesn’t need to be super sharp, just not completely blunt).

 

Glazing

Glazing is done usually when a piece is very nearly complete, as a finishing touch. It means adding a glaze of colour on top of all of your layers to help add some extra depth and make an area pop. It’s done with a similar pressure to when you’re layering, therefore the hand positioning is pretty much the same:

 

Detailing

For precise, detailed work, this is when I always hold my pencil very close to the tip. I’m usually leaning in quite close to my drawing at this stage, really making sure I am getting the right detail in where I want it.

I need full control and precision for fine details, and I won’t get this by holding the pencil further up. My pencil is always super sharp (read my post: How Sharp Does Your Pencil Need to Be? to see if your pencil is sharp enough) and I’m using a medium to hard pressure depending on what detail I’m drawing.

 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed tips like this, please feel free to subscribe to my Instagram or YouTube where I share tips, tricks and techniques for drawing realistically with coloured pencil. Happy drawing! 😊

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TECHNIQUES: Burnishing – What it Means & How to Burnish Effectively

If you’re anything like me, you heard of the term ‘burnishing’ with coloured pencils, did your research, did some more research… and just got more and more confused. Or maybe you’ve never heard the term before, or just heard it once, and don’t know what on earth I’m on about.

Either way, you’ve clicked to read this article, so hopefully I can help 😊

 

In one sentence, what exactly IS burnishing?

Here’s my best summary:

Smoothing out the tooth of the paper so it is completely covered with coloured pencil.

That’s. It. I think sometimes it’s made way more complicated than it actually is.

Most papers suitable for coloured pencils come with a tooth (‘hills and valleys’ in the texture of the paper), and burnishing basically means getting into the valleys and onto the hills and totally covering the surface, so no paper shows through.

 

When Should you Burnish with your Coloured Pencils?

I think of burnishing as sealing in my layers and is the last thing I do before the really fine details. Burnishing helps give drawings that shiny, blended effect and makes the colours richer – but shouldn’t be done too early.

When I first started drawing and had no clue what burnishing was, I often found myself getting quickly to a point where I couldn’t layer anymore or blend colours effectively. This is because I was unknowingly burnishing too early.

Burnish too early, and you’ll find it very difficult to layer more colours onto the paper, because the surface has been smoothed out.

This is when I personally use the burnishing technique in my own drawings:

STEP 1: Layering – Lots of light layers with light pressure

STEP 2: Blending – This happens naturally the more I layer, unless I use blending tools / aids

STEP 3: BurnishingUnless it has happened naturally just from building lots and lots of light layers, it often involves a harder pressure (read below for how to burnish)

STEP 4: Details and Glazing

A finished drawing – I burnished the skin using lots of light layers and a final layer using heavier pressure to help make it shine!

 

And here’s the important part…

How to Burnish with Coloured Pencils

There is no right or wrong way to burnish, just like there are no right or wrong techniques for coloured pencils. If you like the effect created doing different things, keep at it! If you’re struggling and aren’t getting the results you would like, and want to learn more about the burnishing technique, I hope these tips will help 😊

You can generally burnish in several ways:

Blending

This one involves lots and lots (and lots) of light layers with a light pressure. As you build up more and more layers, the paper naturally gets covered with coloured pencil, and enough layers means you can burnish almost by accident. I personally find this technique the most effective and gives the greatest depth and realism especially for portraits, it just takes a lot of patience!

 

Increasing the Pressure

If you’re a bit impatient (like me – sometimes wonder if I’m in the wrong profession), or you’re done with your layering, you can increase the pressure with your pencil and really get into the tooth of the paper to smooth things out. Small, circular movements with a sharpened pencil works well.

 

When I’m burnishing this way, I use a colour similar to the section I’m burnishing that I know blends fairly well, or a lighter coloured pencil such as white or cinnamon. If you do this, however, it does give a tint to the drawing – so make sure you’re happy with the colour you choose to burnish with.

 

Burnishing with Tools

I haven’t personally used any tools to help with burnishing yet and I may try in the future, but I know they can work quite well for some. Tools such as a colourless blender, paper stumps and tortillions might be worth a try!

 

I hope that helps! Any questions please ask. Happy burnishing 😀

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TIPS: How Sharp Does Your Pencil Need to Be?

Might seem overdramatic, but learning this tip (see what I did there…ha) literally changed my life. Or at least transformed my approach to my drawing and drastically improved the level of realism I could achieve.

DISCLAIMER: these are tips that worked for me personally when on the epic search for creating realism and I liked the outcome – if you find you like the results of other methods PLEASE KEEP DOING THEM!

 

Let’s get into it. I would say how sharp your pencil needs to be depends on a few things:

What effect you would like to achieve

Materials you are using

Which layer you’re working on

Your budget (you’ll see why this is a factor below!)

 

This article is aimed at those specifically wanting to achieve more realism in their portraits and drawings. I’m not a renowned expert at realism, it’s just my thing – or I would like it to be my thing anyway. If you’re wanting to draw more realistically, these tips might work really well for you.

 

Materials

I use Clairefontaine Pastelmat and Faber-Castell Polychromos for most of my work currently. Pastelmat is quite a thick paper that has ‘tooth’ (meaning ‘hills and valleys’ on the surface), that can take many layers. I haven’t yet used a smoother paper, but I think these usually can’t take as many layers, therefore the process is slightly different.

To achieve a smoother and more realistic effect – and avoid graininess – the pencil needs to cover the surface of the paper and get into the ‘valleys’ and onto the ‘hills’, which can be achieved by layering, blending and burnishing.

At the different stages of layering in particular, it helps to have the pencil at different sharpness.

 

First Stages of Layering:

I usually start with the base and colour blocking. Light pressure, holding the pencil halfway down. My pencil usually looks like this:

A blunter pencil helps cover more area quickly. If your pencil is too sharp at this stage, use the side of it.

 

Middle Stages of Layering:

My pencil usually looks like this halfway through:

Not blunt, not super sharp, as I am working towards putting more detail in.

 

Final Layer and Detailing:

At this point, my pencil looks like this:

Pretty sharp, right? I’ve found the Polychromos sharpen well to a sharp point, and I haven’t had any break on me yet (fingers crossed). I would highly recommend investing in a decent pencil sharpener… pencil breakage rage is REAL. There is nothing more annoying than your pencils constantly breaking due to a rubbish sharpener, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on high-quality pencils.

I usually use the hardest pressure at this stage and hold the pencil closer to the point (as pictured). It helps to keep turning the pencil as you work to make the most of the sharpness. Basically, if you want super fine detail, you need a super sharp pencil.

 

Warning: Coloured Pencils are an Expensive (Addictive) Habit

There’s no getting round it, decent coloured pencils do not come cheap. As this is my career, I happily invest in them because I want the best quality and to achieve the best results.

But… keeping your pencils super sharp, especially if you like doing a lot of detailed work, means they can get eaten up fairly fast. Just something to consider if you’d like to jump down into the rabbit hole to the beautiful world of coloured pencils. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED 😊

 

Any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask! Happy drawing x