All the pencils (that I can find at the moment)

All the pencils (that I can find at the moment)

This little red Utrecht dot took me by surprise.

This little red Utrecht dot took me by surprise.

I recently found a lone, out-of-place carmine red Utrecht pencil in one of my Niji pencil rolls with the fancy Polychromos, Luminance (touted for their lightfastness), and Pablo pencils. I’m sure I put the red pencil aside at some point when I was looking for a good proofreading markup pencil, after finding the Pilot Color Eno pencil lead to be much too faint and waxy, and before discovering the Mitsubishi Erasable vermilion pencils (a little soft and smeary, but writes over a lot of laser-printer inks) and an old Sanford Col-Erase carmine red that belongs to the desk at the office where I freelance; both of those are perfect for the current gig of marking up endless, endless (endless, oh jove, endless) printouts. The Utrecht pencil surprised me with how nicely it draws and how nice it feels to use when compared to the “superior” pencils. A little hard, but not scratchy. Since I like a little control, rather than a very soft line, I felt like I’d found a bowl of just-right porridge.

I gathered all the colour pencils I could find in the art drawers and arranged them by brand. Now there are Niji rolls everywhere. (I’ve given up the dream of having a home with a room just for arting and art supplies where they can be laid out on work tables and readily to hand, instead of crammed into drawers in a corner, but maybe for the next few days I can get away with calling the unrolled rolls holiday decorations. Maybe if I string lights on them.)

This post will be about the dry pencils only. I’ll get back around to the watercolour pencils later.

Utrecht Light Orange pencil core with a patch of yellow. That's odd, right?

Utrecht Light Orange pencil core with a patch of yellow. That’s odd, right?

Utrechts as a brand name have been discontinued–they’ve been rebranded under the Blick name, though they’re purported to be manufactured still at the same Koh-I-Noor pencil plant in Czech Republic (the same plant where some of my antique pencils were made). The Utrechts can be found in open stock at Dick Blick stores, but they’re running out.

The verdict is still out on whether the Blick-branded pencils are the same as the Utrechts, and I don’t have a set of Blick pencils to compare. I do have the Blick blender, and I can definitely say that the Blick blender pencil was not as good as the Utrecht blender. The Blick was scratchy and did a mediocre job of it; the Utrecht, though presumably older stock, created a smoother blend. The Blick blender was equally as scratchy as the Caran d’Ache Full Blender pencil–which costs considerably more, crumbles into flaky bits, and overall has turned out to be a disappointment.

Utrecht/Blick pencils can be had for as low as 85 cents each, as opposed to US$3-$6 for the high-end pencils. At that price, the next time I’m downtown I can nab a few Blicks to compare to the Utrechts. If the Blicks hold up, they’re a reasonable budget pencil; you won’t have to feel twitchy about using them down to a nub.

SIDE NOTE: A reasonably priced brand that I’ve had trouble with lately is Prismacolor.
Some online reviewers say that new formulation has made the cores brittle, and substandard casing makes them difficult to sharpen. I’ve experienced that myself, until I just gave up on two Prismacolors at the halfway point, as I couldn’t get them to sharpen without constant breakage and splintering of the case. They seem to hold up until anything disruptive happens, such as dropping a pencil, or simply using it a lot.

These are the Utrechts:


And a little Damon scribble to try out a pale skin tone, just scribbled, not burnished to evenly smooth (the chin isn’t quite his):


The quality, ease of use, and waxiness vary from colour to colour. They wouldn’t be my first choice in brand–Polychromos probably wins–but they’re not so bad, they sharpen well, the points don’t wear down quickly. I managed to do a decent drawing of Iusta with them on plain Moleskine paper. They erase without a fight.

The assortment of colours I have in each brand is a bit random, rather than a thought-out palette. The easiest to use were the Faber-Castell Polychromos; I scribbled a little column in a garden, and that was that. I felt like I had to fuss with the Caran d’Ache Pablos until I’d overworked the image, then tried again, and fussed again. Polychromos and Pablo are oil-based pencils; the Caran d’Ache Luminance and Utrecht are wax-based. Some of the columns are a little tipsy.

(click on any of these images to see them larger)


Overall thoughts? I want to love the Luminance the most, for their vivid hues and lightfastness, but the Polychromos behave the best, have a nice smoothness to them that I appreciate. When I’m just doodling, playing with concepts or scribbling something I’ll later toss out, the Utrechts are a great option. I’ve been known to be up all night with insomnia and Netflix, drawing ideas and poses and wonky stuff that isn’t worth keeping. I fret about using up supplies, but I don’t have to tie myself in knots about using up or misplacing an inexpensive pencil; and it’s an inexpensive pencil that isn’t frustratingly waxy or hard to blend. Maybe it’s because pencil isn’t my primary medium, so I’m a little less exacting, but Utrechts don’t make me feel like I’m wasting energy not going right to top-of-the-line materials to doodle in a notebook.