What’s Wrong with Coloured Pencils?

By Karen Middleton in Misc > Art Opinion

As a tried-and-true coloured pencil artist, I was often discouraged by teachers during my high school art studies, frowned upon at college and turned away from galleries I’ve approached (though I might add, with encouraging feedback).

You may wonder why I haven’t turned against my chosen medium, but in fact it’s quite the opposite—I have persevered so much that I now have 2 awards under my belt for my coloured pencil work.

So I’m forced to ask, “What has given the coloured pencil it’s rather frowned-upon image and why does it generate so little respect in the art world?”

A look at its history certainly lends credibility—pencils were amongst the first tools used for making marks on papyrus—and for many of us, they were the first art materials we ever used, often at a very young age.

And therein, I think, lies the problem.

The coloured pencil is very often lumped in with its nemesis, the crayon, and as a result, coloured pencils are very much associated with our schooldays.

The irony is that many fine art projects (whether digital, traditional, or 3-dimensional) start with a pencil drawing or sketch. And not just that, but there are many advantages to creating entire pieces in pencil—here are just a few:

• easy to transport

• no drying time

• take up little room

• relatively cheap

• easy to maintain

• no solvents or chemicals needed

• create almost no mess

• able to work in confined spaces

• no protective clothing needed

All that, yet the skill it takes to create with pencil is equal to the skill required in other mediums. The Great Masters were ALL exceptional in their pencil skills – who can argue against the mastery of Da Vinci and Michelangelo, Cezanne and Rembrandt?

It seems a shame that these wonderful, incredible tools have been reduced to such a seemingly lowly reputation.

With so many different grades and types of pencils, along with the varying papers and complimentary mediums that can be mixed with them, there are nearly infinite effects that can be achieved.

The work of Dirk Dzimersky or Paul Lung show what can be achieved in the right hands. Other experts in this field include Ann Kullberg and Bet Borgeson. Like many, these artists generously share much of their experience and you can find a great deal of advice and guidance from them.

I personally become more enamoured with pencils over time, and I’ve yet to learn their full potential (as much as I like to experiment with them.)

My hope is that these words will inspire you and other artists to look deeper into coloured pencils, both as an enjoyable medium and prestigious art form—because they really are worth it!


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