Artwork : coloured pencils

This could better be named ‘musings on coloured pencil’ rather than tips. The wolf’s relationship with coloured pencil has been troubled and fraught, until a 2012 visit to Bob Graham’s studio – and an exciting discovery…

I love the idea of coloured pencils, especially watercolour pencils, but they often don’t work for me. The leads break, crumble and shatter. The paper tears. And watercolour pencils can be a disappointment. I find it hard to wait long enough for the water to dry, so end up scrubbing at the paper – and the colour can spread unevenly and look muddy.

Of course coloured pencils are great for people with patience, especially those skilled individuals who do detailed, realistic illustrations of nature. Working in pencil over DRY watercolour or gouache, enables pin-sharp and lovely work. Eliza Wheeler, Aura Parker and Deborah Freedman‘s work are all highly polished examples of what can be done.

Here’s my pencil setup:


(1) Derwent ‘Artists’. Bought back in 2010 and an expensive treat, these haven’t lived up to my hopes. The colours are lovely but the leads are brittle and hard to sharpen to a point without breakage/waste. I wish I’d bought Faber Castell’s Polychromos Pencils instead – apparently they’re wonderful.
(2) Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils. I quite like these. There’s the occasional breakage, but then I’ve had them for 8 years. However I don’t tend to used them wet, so worry they were an unnecessary purchase.
(3) Daler Rowney Artist Watercolour bought on special in 2012 and a bargain at $12 (rather than $20). I really like these wet or dry (they have a lovely sketchy texture dry), and no breakages yet, but I haven’t used them that heavily.

So, in summary, I have opinions if not expertise when it comes to coloured pencil. However, during the mentioned visit to Bob Graham’s studio in 2012 (arranged by The Maurice Saxby Mentorship program and the kind Bob Graham himself) I noticed some Lyra pencils lying on Bob’s work desk, beside the beautiful, perfect drawings for what was to become ‘Silver Buttons’.

“I discovered them a while ago,” he said, “The colour is just wonderful – really bright and powerful.”

So, when I got back I grabbed a few from my son’s pencil case and tried them out properly, on top of watercolour, by themselves, and with marker. And this is what I discovered:

My favourite pencils: Lyra


Lyra pencils are by far the wolf’s favourite pencil. This is why:

    • The lead doesn’t break or crumble
    • They’re easy to sharpen (with a $3 Lyra pencil sharpener)
    • The colour is thick and creamy
    • … but it can also be light and subtle
    • The colour goes over ink, watercolour etc. very nicely
    • They’re reasonably priced (as long as you don’t buy them in a boutique children’s shop – the type that sells hand-painted pirate ships and the like)
    • Bob Graham uses them

The only annoying thing work-wise is that they’re all the same colour save for the lead, which means it can take a few seconds to find the yellow…

I can’t pretend to be an expert on coloured pencil but Lyra have shown me the way forward. I like to use them on top of COPIC marker (which dries instantly), as my default pencil for storyboarding and sketching, with gouache, and with fibre tipped pen. And never, not once, have I had to chuck one out due to a shattered lead. My main issue is stopping the kids from stealing them back.

Here are some of the doodles and roughs I’ve done using coloured pencil.