Friday, February 21, 2020

Prismacolor Art Stix: Crayons for Grownups

2/16/20 Prismacolor Art Stix in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

My friend and fellow urban sketcher Roy DeLeon showed some sketches on Instagram that looked like they had been made with crayons. When I inquired, it turned out he was using Prismacolor Art Stix. The next time I saw him, he let me play with the Art Stix, and my inner five-year-old self jumped up and down! A new toy!

Not just any new toy – one that smells like candy! As soon as I opened the package, I got a delicious whiff of Good & Plenty or some other kind of licorice, which is exactly how vintage Sanford-era Prismacolor pencils smell. I don’t even like licorice candy, but the scent puts me in colored pencil heaven.

The material felt familiar because, in fact, it is identical to the wax-based pigment core in Prismacolor Premier (or vintage Eagle/Berol/Sanford Prismacolor) colored pencils except in a chunky stick form. The color numbers match Prismacolor numbers, and they are available open stock. The unencased stick evokes pastels, but without the nasty smearing or dusty residue. When applied, it feels more like a crayon than a colored pencil, but not as waxy.

I brought my rain-spattered pansies back into the house again. After having fun with the looser watercolor pencil approach the other day, I thought I’d try it with the Art Stix, too. The first thing I did was to pull out my 7½-inch square-format Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook because I thought the extra real estate would be handy with the thick sticks. Since the Art Stix are new, they still have corners, which could be used for some detailing, but overall, they are like well-worn crayons. I avoided the corners and let my inner five-year-old gleefully scribble away!

The Art Stix come in a tedious tray that makes the sticks difficult to
remove. I immediately took them out and put them into a small pink box
that once contained Valentine chocolates. 
This isn’t meant to be a full review since I haven’t used them much, but I am already looking forward to taking Art Stix to life drawing sessions eventually. They encourage broad strokes and large blocks of color. (Perhaps my glee in using Stix is a backlash from my detailed botanical work lately.)

A few comments about the Stix themselves: I got my Mexico-made set at Blick, but the old set Roy had was branded Berol, the US-manufacturing Prismacolor brand from the ‘80s. Poking around on eBay, I found several new and barely used sets of Berol-branded Art Stix for about the same price as contemporary ones, so they are relatively easy to find. Although I look askance at contemporary (Mexico-made) Prismacolor pencils due to breakage and other potential quality issues, these contemporary Art Stix seem fine to me. I put quite a bit of pressure on the Stix to make this sketch, but I didn’t break any.

Better than chocolates?

Crayons for grownups!


  1. I didn't realize that Prismacolor was putting these into sets, though it makes perfect sense. In what seems like a different lifetime, we used to call these "hard pastels." You bought them individually, though I do remember small sets being available. I was grinding them into a powder and then smushing that powder into tissue paper to color it but I've still got boxes of them somewhere. I'll have to get them out and try them as a drawing tool.

    1. I've never heard the term "hard pastels"! These Art Stix can be purchased open stock too, but you know me -- I can't resist all the colors! ;-)


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