Coloured pencils – reprise

After 2 years of school, we’ve tried out and discarded multiple brands of pencils, crayons, felt pens and all manner of writing implements. The goal is to find the brand that will deliver pencils that are:

  • soft
  • easy to sharpen
  • easy on the hands
  • possibly EU-made
  • available in nice, strong colours

For the “place of origin” I’ve disqualified immediately ASTRA (Polish brand, but everything made in PRC), Maped (simply made in PRC) and several other brands, including all cartoon-branded Disney stuff. The same reason.

What is left that we haven’t tried last year?

Lyra Osiris. These some in 6, 12 and 24 packs, short and long versions and also an aquarell option. I’ve simply bought the standard 24-pack and we’re really happy with them. The colour is vivid, the leads are soft, triangle shape makes it much easier to grip. Also, they are made in Germany. All around – yay! :)

Histar Supercolour. They were added to something else, a gift from family. No idea of country of origin and I can’t manage to google them, which is weird. 6-sided, good colours, slightly harder than comfortable. Good backup set.

Zębozaurus TOMA. Name means “Tooth-o-saurus”. Supposedly bite-resistant and slightly bendable (but definitely will break if you try hard enough). Really good colours, but lead slightly hard. Ok for drawing, not that good for filling in bigger areas. Made in Poland (hopefully). Non-wood cover made from resin. No splinters when broken.

BIC Conte Evolution. Big mistake. Also break-resistant (or so they say, they apparently haven’t tested this on 8-yr olds). The drawing is a PAIN. Colours theoretically very nice, but not much is left on the paper. Apparently in the pursue of bendable leads they lost the point of pencils actually drawing. The same goes, sadly, for their normal pencils. They all behave as if they were slipping on the surface, instead of “catching” on it and leaving a trace. A grownup will focus and find the right angle to make use of them. A kid will give up.

Staedtler Erasable. This was one of the best buys of last months. Coloured pencils you can erase? Perfect :) Wood from managed forests (a plus), really rich colours, reinforces against breaking (no idea if it works or not). Earasability is good, some ghost of a colour is left, but it depends on how hard you pressed when drawing. Good for bigger surfaces and, of course, for anyone who has some problems with stability and needs to erase this or that. Con: 6-sided.

Lyra Groove Slim. Very good choice. Grooves for easier grip, triangle shape, really good colours. These were used up to stubs before I even noticed. Will buy again. Soft, thick lead, really nice colours. Leaves thick trace of colour on paper, no need to press.

Lakeland round pencils. I found only one stub of these in our “leftovers” drawer (tiny drawer for pencil stubs – too short to use them comfortably, too long to just throw away). Means he used up a 12-pack before I even noticed it. Soft lead, but not the softest in this review. Nice coverage of the surface. If they made triangles, we’d go back to them.

So, finally? Lyra. I think the triangle shape and options offered win this time. Will buy more Lyra for the 3rd grade.

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Coloured pencils

I can’t draw. Not really. Of course, I can draw basic shapes, or a simple picture, but people or animals (or shading, or anything more complicated than filled outline) – nope. But I love collecting all kinds of crayons, pastels, pencils and charcoal. Basically, I’m a craft-pack-rat.

At school some classmates used to sing “Kolorowe Kredki” (“Coloured pencils”) at me, as a joke on my pencilcase. Here’s the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg_8euYa5dM

My son, now 7, likes drawing, as most kids do, and produces all kinds of train and car and house compositions, with wonky suns, huge blue clouds and whatnot.

Now, as school requires kids to carry coloured pencils, I just bought a pack of thins and a pack of thicks ;), thin regular ones and thick triangle. Turned out, this isn’t that simple. Until last September, he was mainly drawing on loose sheets or in my notepads, but now he’s filling in pictures in books and it turns out most pencils marketed for children are so hard it’s not easy to use them to properly fill in bigger areas without lot of pressing (which makes school books’ pages distort). Most brands’ leads are so hard that however sharp or used up they are, the trace they leave is very thin and has very little colour.

So, what could I do? I pulled out my collection of pencils, including my just-bought Magic Koh-i-Noor box, Faber-Castell Aquarelle and 20-year old Giotto Naturale. We’ve tested and tried and checked to find the optimum solution for little hand, issues with eye-hand control (which I know very well from 25 years ago) and wayyyyy too much pressure applied. And lack of patience.

Solution 1: Use Aqua-pencils, whichever brand. By nature they are much softer than equivalent pencils from the same brand. We checked Faber Castell Aquarelle, which I bought one by one at some sale long ago in Empik (pencil clearance, if you can believe). Very good colour  coverage also is given by Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth Mondeluz (I have a box of 12 only). But in any case, watercoulour pencils are always a bit more expensive than standard ones from the same producer. Also, picture will get spoiled anytime the kid has somewhat wet hands, which is often in first grade.

Solution 2: Use very, very specific pencils for drawing that advertise their hardness. May come more expensive per item than aquarells, but will last longer. In this case, I tested Derwent Coloursoft. They have a great set of colours available, called a bit fancifully sometimes (“Cloud Blue”), but giving great possibilities. I bought them “for home use”, this way making sure they won’t get lost at school by accident, and providing both my son and myself with great drawing mediums, for which my wrists are very grateful every time I have to colour something when scrapbooking. Unfortunately, level of softness here isn’t equal (ie. “Indigo” has lead much softer than any other I tried, and I’ve bought 26 colours by now).

Here’s just one batch of them – you can see the colour codes (the ones shown actually have reasonable names).

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Anyway, it still leaves us with something to put into the pencilcase in that cute little backpack. This way we arrived at the point when I have ordered, quite randomly, several different drawing mediums (a pack of felt tip pens, some oil pastels and some coloured pencils) at Merlin, one of main Polish book-and-everything-else online shops. All made by Stabilo, and so guaranteed to meet EU safety/chemical content etc standards. Turned out these pencils were The Thing. Not to mention they are ecological (wood from managed plantations, eco-friendly varnish and packaged in 80% recycled-paper box; they have FSC certificate).

Solution 3: Stabilo Green Colour. Soft. Nice colours, including more-or-less-flesh (no more pig-pink people). Very easy to sharpen, no splinters or breaks. And if the price is slightly higher than for standard pencils of +- equal brands, I still like them so much I’ll order another pack, just to have them in the drawer. Just in case. This is already waiting for me to pick it up at one of Merlin’s “shops”.

As you can see, yellow is getting used up quite faster than the others.

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I wonder how much better my own eye-hand coordination might have been, had I had such lovely tools these 30 or 25 years ago. Well, at least I can make sure my son doesn’t suffer of palm cramps due to nasty, hard leads and indulge in my own addiction by buying a ton of cute coloured pencils. Below my 4 litre box of pencils. Really, 4l. Not full at the moment, as I’ve taken some Derwents out for photos and I also keep my pencil purse in it, which is now out to show the pencils.

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Accidental additional discovery: felt-tip pens, which are in most cases also dry and hard, can be soft and easy to use. Again, Stabilo “no drying” ones, linked above. Yay!