Friday, June 13, 2008

Colored Pencil Art?

Wow! Where dose the time go? Here it is the middle of June already. I have been out enjoying our beautiful vistas and painting up a storm. I hesitate saying storm since we have been experiencing many showers this spring, as the growth of the weeds in my garden are attributed to.
Recently I have been experiencing confusion about colored pencil art as a "fine" art medium.

Webster defines painting as "to produce in lines and colors on a surface by applying pigments". Most colored pencil artists refer to their work as a painting because of the application of color washes as well as the color layers that are applied. These washes are not wet as with conventional forms of paint like oil or watercolor but are used in much the same way. Some even use paint brushes, as I do to blend color.

A little colored pencil history: Available since the early nineteenth century, a moderate range of 15-20 colors was manufactured in both America and Europe by the early 20th century. The pencils, however, were not highly pigmented and did not contain as much wax as today's products, nor were they marketed for artistic use. A circa 1905 catalog refers to "commercial colors for checking and marking". By 1924, colored pencils in over 60 colors were being sold for artistic use by A.W. Faber; that same year Caran d'Ache, a leading manufacturer of artists' colored pencils, was founded in Switzerland, with Schwan Stabilo in Germany following a year later. In America, Berol Prismacolors, advertised for their velvety texture and wide range of laboratory tested colors, were introduced in 1938. Today's artists have at their disposal an enormous range of colored pencils to choose from, in both water and organic solvent soluble varieties, as well as a professional organization to represent their interests, The Colored Pencil Society of America.

Most people when they think of colored pencils. think of the hard, pale colored pencils of childhood, the ones they used in school to color cell diagrams in science classes. Colored pencils have come a long way. It is the proportion of pigments, which are fairly expensive, versus filler material that separate artistic grade colored pencils from other colored pencils.

In the late 1970’s, after years of testing, light fastness standards were written for oils, watercolors, acrylics, and alkyds. Since then, paints suitable for fine artwork (IE: will not fade over time) are marked with Light fastness symbols I and II, providing artists the option of choosing materials that have been stringently tested for light fastness. In the early 1990’s, a standard for gouache was written. Testing has just begun for a pastel and ink jet ink light fastness standard.

In the early 1990’s, with the founding of the Colored Pencil Society of America, CPSA, and the increasing use of colored pencil for creating fine art, it became necessary to have a standard of light fastness for this medium. The impetus for a standard from artists and CPSA was overwhelming.

Research began in the early 1990’s and has just culminated in 2003 in the writing of ASTM D6901 Standard Specification for Artists’ Colored Pencils.

Artists choosing light fast colored pencils as their medium can now work with confidence in knowing that their art will not fade. Public awareness of this fact will increase their artworks value and profitability.

Some people will tell you that oils are the only valid medium for realistic paintings. Colored pencils are fairly new to the fine art world compared to oils. The exploration of this new medium has just begun and I think we will see much more in the years to come.

For more information about colored pencils go to