Monday, February 5, 2018

Hard and Soft

2/2/18 Omega and Pablo colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
In my review of vintage Try-Rex Omega colored pencils, I left the sample sketch unfinished to show how far I got with those very hard cores. Halfway through, I realized that the cores didn’t contain as much pigment as I like for building up rich, complex hues. I could have kept on adding more layers, but I was getting frustrated.

Lately when I make small still lives, I’ve been choosing one brand of pencil and using only that one brand to finish the sketch. My frustration with the Omegas reminded me, though, of a strategy I had experimented with last year when I was writing my series of reviews of contemporary colored pencils. What I had learned then was that both hard and soft pencils have their virtues, and if I use both types in the same sketch, I can take advantage of the best attributes of each.

The hard Omega pencils were excellent for covering the Stillman & Birn Alpha paper’s tooth relatively quickly in just a couple of layers. The crisp, thin cores were also good for drawing fine details like the tomato leaves.

2/2/18 Omega colored pencils
When I saw that they weren’t pigmented enough to build strong hues, I switched to Caran d’Ache Pablo, which is one of my favorite soft-core pencils. With just a couple more layers of similar hues, I was able to deepen the colors of the tomato and pear without much effort or time. Since the harder Omega pencils had done the work of covering most of the tooth, I didn’t have to work the Pablos much, yet their higher pigment content made a difference. (Finished sketch at top of page; sketch at right shows the sketch before I added the Pablo layers.) 

For comparison, shown below is the sketch I made for my erasing demo. This tomato sketch was done entirely with Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils in the same Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook. As you can see, the paper’s texture is much harder to cover completely with the Pablo’s softer core, even after multiple layers. Sometimes I like the sparkle of the white paper showing, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when I want to cover more of the paper, it’s faster and easier to start with a harder pencil and then finish with a softer one.

1/24/18 Pablo colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook


  1. I really like the effect of volume you have with the reflected light and soft edges. You have been making better use of the indoor sketching season than I have,I think. Sigh.

    1. Thanks, Sue! Still lives aren't my favorite, but they get me through the doldrums.


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