Colored Pencils – my boss, Linda Wehrli says the mere mention brings back a flood of fond memories of her graphic design and fine art college project days as well as childhood coloring marathons with friends.

I was intrigued to learn more about this fun medium. Since we’d never published a Product Review blog on them, I suggested it to Linda. She enthusiastically approved. I’m pleased to share this story with you.

While colored pencils were once considered to be primarily for kids, throughout the years they have been steadily gaining respect among artists, galleries, and collectors. Artists are exploring the creative potential of this vibrant medium, while art collectors and enthusiasts are marveling at their creative efforts!

So, what exactly are colored pencils and who invented them?  Here’s the story, courtesy of

Colored Pencils are pencils with a core of colored pigment inserted into a protective wood casing. While standard pencils have a core of graphite and clay, a core of most of the colored pencils is made of wax, pigments, additives, and binding agents. Other colored pencils are oil-based, water-soluble and some are even mechanical.

I was surprised to discover that the invention and development of these pencils goes back over 200 years!

The Ancient Greeks used wax-based crayons and Pliny the Elder recorded that Romans also used colored crayons based on wax.

The first colored pencils appeared in the 19th century. They were used for checking and marking rather than for fine art.

Staedtler, a German company owned by Johann Sebastian Staedtler invented colored oil pastel pencils in 1834.

Production of colored pencils for art purposes started in early 20th century. The first fine art color pencils were invented in 1924 by Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache.

In 1938, Berol introduced Prismacolors; they are sold in sets from small primary colors to the full 120 color box. They are one of the most popular brands today! Our Colored Pencil curriculum uses them exclusively.

Other manufacturers that made colored pencils during the late 1930s and early 1940s include: Derwent, Progresso, and Rembrandt. Few manufacturers claim that they invented the first watercolor pencil.

At one time, these pencils were designed with the intent of making the world’s most expensive and highest quality pencil. The goal of highest quality was achieved, and thankfully for artists, they are very affordable.

I had no idea that there are different types of colored pencils depending on their intended use.
Artist-grade pencils have higher concentrations of high-quality pigments than student-grade colored pencils. They also have measured and defined characteristics like “lightfastness” (the ability of a pigment to retain its original color appearance under exposure to light i.e. resistance to UV rays in sunlight), core durability, break, and resistance to water.

Student and scholastic grade color pencils are of lower quality than artistic ones. They are made of lower quality pigments with less lightfastness. Although they are not artist-grade, they are erasable and better suited for beginners.

I find it fascinating how far the pencils have come from their initial development to the wide array of not just colors to choose from, but also pencil sets that mimic watercolors and oils. This medium can and has fooled some people into thinking they are looking at a painting, and not a drawing. Love when art fools the eye!

Watercolor pencils (or water-soluble pencils) are pencils that can behave as watercolors. A damp brush blends the colored pencil illustration. The illustration can be left dry with just parts wetted with the brush for a variety of styles.

Mechanical colored pencils are basically colored lead refill for standard mechanical pencils. They are produced in a much narrower range than standard colored pencils mostly for drafting purposes.

Today, colored pencils can be used on a variety of surfaces. Sketch paper, Bristol board, and Pastel paper are great canvases for the colored pencils. They’re easy to travel with, too.

Curious to learn how to use this colorful medium?
Pastimes offers a Colored Pencil extension course after the Gray Colored Pencil Course.
Call for a free consultation or enroll in Drawing Classes with Linda today!
Safe in-studio instruction or on Zoom.

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