Wednesday, December 10, 2008

catch the breeze and winter chills

A couple of oldies here, from my Everyday Matters challenges. Or maybe, they are newies to the newcomers to my blog.
draw something yellow
Either way, there is a point (sorry for that awful pun) to me posting these. There is a question I've been meaning to ask ever since I started this blog. I do love to use colour pencil, but it often gets sidelined it for pen. I want to do a series of drawings in colour pencil soon. So I've started getting warmed up again. But, every time I do start using them I remember exactly why they got sidelined in the first place. And, that is the matter of them always always ALWAYS bloody snapping and breaking when being sharpened. It's just so annoying.

draw your palette
I've come to the conclusion it must be down to the pencil sharpener. It doesn't happen ever with graphite. And, as it would be a bit of a coincidence if every single colour pencil I own (from many different brands) were snapped before I'd bought them, I think it has to be the sharpener. So any pencil sharpener advice would be very welcome. The type of sharpener you use? The brand? How long they last? There's a fiver in it, for you. Cheers, folks.


Parrish70 said...

Hi Andrea, I also have a love/hate relationship with colored pencils. I use an electric pencil sharpener and then I keep a drafting pencil sharpener on hand to just sharpen the tips a little at a time as I need them. It is just a pencil sharpener screwed onto a cylindrical base that catches the shavings The only thing that I know about the leads breaking is that if you drop your pencils or tap them against something it will break the lead inside the pencil and then you are doomed to breakage for the life of that pencil. =( I also sometimes use sandpaper. I am sure there are others way more experienced than I who can give you better advice. Hey! How about those colored pencils that are all lead and no wood? maybe that would be better. =)

winna said...

The only time this ever happens to me is if the pencil got dropped and the quality of the pencil matters too. Your drawings are so intensely observant!

Amy said...

I use an electric sharpener(X-Acto brand) and don't have breakages very often. Pocket hand-sharpeners ALWAYS broke mine, too.

Mind you, my coloured pencils are a 72 pack of Derwent Artists I've had since I was about 15.

I don't use coloured pencil much ;)

Bonny said...

Hi Andrea, I remember discussions about this topic before on EDM. Lots of people found that buying pencils in Open Stock is better than a set for 2 reasons
1) It's usually cheaper and more importantly,
2) you can look at the TOP end of the pencil and see if the coloured 'lead' is centered in the wood part of the pencil. If it seems to be more to one side -closer to one edge - choose another that is centered. The off centered pencil has more stress on it as you sharpen it causing a torque (twist) and it snaps.

Also, for what it's worth: I use the old fashioned crank pencil sharpener like what we we had in grade school. With that type of sharpener I control how sharp the pencil should be and I don't waste as much as when I used an electric sharpener. Those things EAT pencils VERY quickly!!!

Hope this helps you some.

Anonymous said...

I understand the frustration with color pencils. I like the lack of clean up, but keeping a point on them is a pain.

1. get a centered lead - it does matter

2. best sharpener for me has been a little hand one with a cover to catch the shavings. The good news is that it's portable. The bad news is that it fills up quickly.

3. Recommendation from the girl at the shop - don't let them rattle around in the pencil bag (purse or whatever) because it breaks the lead even though the pencil looks fine. She put them in a little bag and then wrapped them up like a burrito.

Good luck.

unfortunatelyme said...

I don't think i can suggest anything like the others. I just wanted to tell you that i'm so glad that i've found your blog and seen your artwork. Ever since i found your blog, i've been visiting it religiously every single day hoping that i could see something beautiful. You inspire me a lot, i love your style and love how you could crosshatch so well. I'm excited for your new coloured pencil drawings, keep them coming. Thank you for your art work. thank you.

Mixing-Katie said...

I started sharpening with a razor - I use one of those box-cutters to do it. I think it causes breakages less often, but it is kinda messy. I like the point that I get with my hand sharpener (the prismacolor one that has a cover) but it fills up fast and I think it eats the pencil faster than when I sharpen with the blade.

Anonymous said...

i use cutter to sharpen my is such a stress reliever for me.

Peachtreeart said...

Loving it!

wagonized said...

Do you know that since that shavings drawing a couple of years ago (or so), i have not sharpened a pencil and seen the shavings fall without thinking of you? I kid you not. And every time, i think "there is no way in hell i could draw those".

Our Castle Rock Farm said...

I chime in along with those that use a razor to sharpen the colored pencils. It is a bit meditative to carve the point just so...

suzanne cabrera said...

I have the same issue...I'm interested to read the ideas other have for solutions....

Terrific drawings by the way...such a clever twist on the palette!

Alison said...

I always use a blade - it wastes much less 'lead' and never causes breaking.

Alex Louisa said...

Hi Andrea,

My Coloursofts never break. But my Prismas always do - skinny leads. But then, I do use my coloured pencils as if I'm trying to carve the wood with them, rather than draw with them. I use one of those tiny little silver sharpeners. The "KUM" brand has worked best for me.

Have a quick peek at what I did to my green pencils recently, if you like! Here:

And oh, I love these two drawings. I hadn't seen them before, and coloured pencils are so close to my heart!

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea, I'll echo the above comments; if your lead is not centered, you'll have a problem with colored pencils breaking. Prismacolors have been the ones I have the biggest problems with. I use a Panasonic electric auto stop pencil sharpener to get extra sharp leads when needed. The other pencil sharpener I found that works is the Dahle 155; it's not electric so it doesn't sharpen as sharply as the Panasonic. But, the hand helds drove me crazy. Have you visited If you want to know anything about colored pencils, these artists know it. Plus, its a nice, friendly forum.

Felicity Grace said...

Andrea, I'd just love to see more colour in your drawings (I love your pen drawings but I always remember that mushroom you drew and the gorgeous use of colour) - don't give up! Hope no-one else is reading this ;) because I'll say it straight - Prismacolors are crap. The Ratners of colour pencils! Try Polychromos (or anything else!) and use a bog standard Kum sharpener. They seem to always be sharp and they cost nothing. (Mind you, cp's ARE annoying if you like sharp points, I agree.) How Prismacolors pass trading standards I'll never know and everyone says they break, be careful about lead centering etc - you don't hear that with European brands and we wouldn't buy them if they were made like that. I have a box of Prismacolors I can send you if you like but they are all in bits!! ;) Love the drawings btw!!

Doda said...

Hi Andrea. I use karisma coloured pencils. And I sharpen mine with the old fashioned hand crank sharpener, which works great. I bought mine in Lidls for about 2.99 last year. I'm sure they'll have them in again sometime.

Anonymous said...

I had exactly the same problem. I figured maybe it was to do with the softness of the lead (much softer than a HB) so I bought one of those eyeliner pencil sharpeners. Never had a problem since.
Of course, you can't get a super fine point, but a bit of sandpaper or an emery board soon sorts that out :)

Emma said...

That was the problem that used to put me off using coloured pencils, back when I was using cheap and nasty ones (not that I'm suggesting you are using cheap and nasty ones!). But since I bought my Caran d'Ache Pablos I haven't had any probems.

Anonymous said...

sharpen with a knife, and never drop them. if you drop them, and the leads are broken... omg its not even worth trying to sharpen them!
i agree with the pen thing - i always go back to my pen. but i find in my case its a sense of impatience - with pen things happen immediately, while drawing in pencil requires work that i don't have any patience for these days!

Purrplekatt said...

I keep reading the other comments about dropping them and that may be what is causing the leads to break, which makes me wonder how often the box of Prisma color pencils I bought was dropped before I bought it. I don't even use all of the colors, but the ones I do use break every time I sharpen them and I've never dropped mine. This is very frustrating!!

Awesome drawings by the way!

Ann said...

I think everyone has already covered the pencil breaking problem very well - I can only echo what has been said. No to prismas, and get a good sharpener. I never have trouble with my polychromos and coloursofts breaking. I like the little hand held sharpener Faber-Castell makes, it's nice for colored pencils.
Awesome drawings here!

Stephen Hall said...

Time to move into paint ... Wah ha ha!! you so know you want to, go on... :-) xx

vivien said...

I use one of those little barrel type pencil sharpeners that hold the shavings - they have a slot specially designed for coloured pencils with no end to it. It means that the 'lead' isn't pushing against the end of the sharpener and they never break.

Well worth trying

I mainly use Polychromos but have a mix of other bits and pieces

I use paint more :>)

Robertson Studios said...

I don't use them myself, but from memorye the CP rock starts over at seem to use electric sharpeners.

melissa said...

I didn't read all the comments, so perhaps someone else covered it:

1. look for centered leads when you buy colored pencils
2. when pencils are dropped, the lead inside gets broken and that's why the little pieces come out even though you've just sharpened.
3. in college we used utility knives to sharped, and that worked well.

good luck!

Ariela Steif said...

First I want to tell you how much I love your work - everyday I look forward to checking your blog.

As far as sharpening pencils, I had this problem for a long time too. At a certain point I was even using those pencil sharpeners made for makeup (like eyeliner pencils) because they seemed to break less. But eventually I picked up the trick of using knives to sharpen. Exacto knives work, but I find they feel a little bit flimsy; the best ones that I've found are utility knives. Very sharp, strong, and no chance for slicing off a finger when rummaging in a bag.

Good luck! Looking forward to seeing more work!

andrea joseph's sketchblog said...


Wow. Well, thank you ALL!!! I know you guys are good but I wasn't expecting this kind of response! I guess it's one of those times when I've touched on one of those subjects that really hits a nerve.

I'm quite overwhelmed and am not sure where to start. This is great though, really.

A few of things that I've got from this;

1. it could actually be that ALL my colour pencils are actually broken? that is a shocker!

2. don't buy Prismacolour. I use Karisma (which seem to have been distcontinued) and Faber Castell - which are still all broken.

3. being extremely accident prone (clumsy) I've ruled out sharpeneing them with a blade.

4. 'centred lead' I had NEVER heard of this before.

5. and then there's the miicrowave suggestion. i'll definately give that a go and report back on it.

My problem is that I like a super sharp lead for super detailed drawings. Hmmmmm.

I'm just going to go through all this info again. Thank you SO much.
You are stars!

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea,
I can second the recommendation for the Dahle 155. You can get it at Dick Blick in the US, not sure about your side of the pond, though.

Jenny said...

Andrea, your drawing of the pencil shavings is fascinating. I'm always amazed with your ability to do such wonderful detail.

I use Prismacolor pencils and prefer a very sharp point. I treat my pencils like glass Christmas ornaments to protect the leads, and I use a KUM hand-held pencil sharpener (tiny, silverish). Since it's difficult to locate replacement blades, I bought a bunch to last me forever (less than $1 each). Prismacolor once included this sharpener with their pencil sets, and I think it is now encased in their new hand sharpener with the lid and shavings holder. My electric sharpener eats them.

Any hand-held sharpener should have an opening at the point end so the point is protected from jamming.

Monette Satterfield said...

Love my primacolor pencils though they sometimes break. I don't seem to have an extensive problem though. I can't say that my pencils get special treatment either.

I use an electric sharpener - Boston brand. It's not a fancy model, just one from the local store.

I have noticed that it works much better when you sharpen a soft graphite pencil every so often to keep the mechanism working smoothly and empty the shavings very often.

Edgar Cabrera said...

my goodness! when i see this kinds of drawings i realize how lazy i am whenever it comes to draw. nice!

Anonymous said...

My theory on why coloured pencils break whereas graphite do not is the colour pigment (am I the first to answer this question you posted?). Pigments are powder to begin with, and so when they are compacted, they are constantly working to get back to their powder (earth) state of being. A more breakable colour pencil, given this theory is correct, might mean more true pigment and less medium. This is just a guess. I stick with Prismacolours because of the brilliance I get out of the pigment. I don't care that they break. In fact, if the pencil splits down the side, I extract the "lead" and use it like a conte crayon. Then you can rub the drawing with a sideways colour pencil if desired. Keep going strong, Andrea. You're work is as brilliant as ever. -Micah

Anonymous said...

Might want to try a Koh-I-Noor 983 3 hole sharpener/pointer ( thinner core pencils. One of the holes sharpens just the wood leaving the core untouched. Rotate the sharpener and use another hole to to put a fine point the core. Third hole works like plain single hole sharpener. I have been using mine for about 20 years now with good results.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea,

This is my first comment, so first let me thank you for your blog. It's so nice to see such wonderful work on a regular basis!

I'm afraid I don't have any pencil sharpening tips for you, however I do have a tip for you and your readers:

Derwent pencils have a factory in Keswick, Lake District. I've only ever bought my drawing pencils from the 'seconds' bin there. You can get pretty much any of the Derwent pencils you want for a fraction of the retail price. They're only seconds due to cosmetic faults such as illegible lettering etc. and all the ones I've had from there have been great! Plus, it's always a good excuse to take a trip to such a beatiful area.

Once again, thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you Andrea.
your drawing is really beautiful.

Bronwen said...

Hi Andrea,
I have just discovered your work via Parka Blogs and I am loving it. I'm working my way through your blog from the beginning ( I do this when I find a blog I like- The last one I read was Geninne Zlatkis.) Anyway, breaking leads- yes it's a pain, but I have recently taken an online artclass with Val Webb and she suggests putting the sharpener in your left hand and turn that towards you instead of turning the pencil. Apparently this technique puts less pressure on the lead which can twist inside the casing.
Right, back to reading your blog, there's lots to catch up on. Yep, i'm that sad, but happy with it :D