After I conducted my art and craft supply audit, I found I had 829 coloured pencils in my stash. This post explains how I organised those coloured pencils, and how you can organise your coloured pencils by type and lightfastness.
I had gathered a mix of wax-based pencils, oil-based pencils, aquarelle pencils (water colour pencils), different brands of pencils, lightfast and non-lightfast pencils.
It was a whole lot of coloured pencils.
Most of the coloured pencils were bought in sets. As such, I found I could easily reach for a coloured pencil when an art course instructor listed what type and colour of pencil to use.
But I didn’t know what type I had when I used a pencil in one of my own drawings.
I did not know the pencil core colour. I did not know which pencil would be best for the job I was undertaking.
How would I sort them out?
I needed to organise my coloured pencils by type so I could get to know them.
Here is what I did to organise my coloured pencil stash. Here’s how you might be able to organise your coloured pencils.
PART 1 – Physically organise your coloured pencils
1. Keep your coloured pencils in their original set containers
Apart from a few, my coloured pencils came safely packaged in a coloured pencil container.
Some of the coloured pencil set containers were made of tin, and some were made of cardboard. But common to all the sets was that each pencil had its own individual space.
I learned in my books and courses that coloured pencil cores are fragile and they should not be dropped – or treated roughly. Keeping the coloured pencils in a case was an ideal way to store them safely.
2. Sort the coloured pencils by lightfastness
The main reason I look for different pencil types is because of lightfastness.
Lightfast pencils are used when making original drawings to sell, and non-lightfast pencils are used when making drawings to print.
I found that sorting the lightfast pencils was a relatively simple exercise for the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, and the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils. These pencils are all rated lightfast.
As such, I needed to separate the non-lightfast pencils from the lightfast pencils from the mixed sets.
Check the pencil for a lightfastness rating
I found that both the Caran d’Ache and the Faber-Castell pencils have their lightfastness ratings printed on them in a star system, and this made sorting those pencils very simple. The star system is 3 stars marks the most lightfast pencil and 1 star marks the least lightfast pencil.
Unfortunately, no lightfast ratings are provided on Prismacolor pencils, so I identified the lightfastness of the Prismacolor pencils by looking at a Prismacolor chart found on the internet.
I separated the Caran d’Ache Supracolor II aquarelle pencils into lightfast and non-lightfast. I then sorted them by colour and placed them back into their tin.
For the exercise, I measured lightfast as being the following:
Caran d’Ache – 3 stars and above;
Faber Castell Polychromos – 3 stars and above. All colours with 2 or less stars is considered non-lightfast.
Prismacolor Premier – 1 and 11 only. All colours III, IV and V are considered non-lightfast.
3. Organise your coloured pencils according to the colour wheel
Once the pencils are sorted by lightfastness, the next step is to rearrange the coloured pencils according to colour.
I learnt from my books and ecourses that the colour wheel is a beast unto itself, but when understood, various combinations of colour can provide the most beautiful and wonderful results in drawings and paintings.
The acronym I use to remember the colour wheel is to think of a name– Roy. G. Biv. This stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet, which are primary and secondary colour.
I place red at the 12.00 o’clock position of the colour wheel, and the colour move clockwise down the wheel. Green is at 6.00 o’clock. Red and Green are opposite each other on the colour wheel, as such, they are called complementary colours.
You will find tertiary colours in your pencil sets. However, identifying colours is an individual task and I recommend you group colours as you see them. For example, I place tertiary colour yellow green between primary colour yellow and secondary colour green.
You can read further to learn how to create a colour wheel and find colour relationships. The table below shows the colour wheel family places according to the clock.
4. Place your coloured pencils in a container according to the colour wheel
Now put your coloured pencils back in a pencil set container according to the colour wheel.
I recommend you start the top layer with red (the first step of the colour wheel), moving through clockwise through the colour wheel and finish with violet. Keep the neutral colours separate (ie black, white, brown, grey). Once completed, your coloured pencils will be sorted according to lightfastness and colour.
You can now reach for a tin of pencils that meets your needs – either to draw in oil or wax pencils, or if you are drawing for archival or print purposes. You can reach for lightfast or non-lightfast pencils in wax, oil, or aquarelle and easily view the colour assortment.
PART 2 – Organise your coloured pencils according colour
Your doing the 4 steps above is the first part to organise your coloured pencils. After these steps, you your pencils should now be physically sorted according to type, lightfastness and colour.
Now – while this is useful as a quick step to identify your pencils, you still do not have a clear understanding of what colour the actual pencil is.
I recommend that each pencil has a colour swatch that shows the colour of that pencil on paper. While a printed colour chart may be provided by the manufacturer – the printing process changes colour, and you don’t quite understand the individual colour of a pencil.
Pencils are sometimes painted the same colour as the core, but quite often these two colours do not match. Indeed, when you become more familiar with your colours, you might associate a colour name to a particular colour. This can vary brand by brand.
The next steps are to create your colour pencil colour swatches.
Here’s how I created my colour swatches.
5. Draw grid lines on drawing paper
I recommend you get a large piece of white drawing paper – A3 is best. With a graphite pencil and ruler, draw grid lines (vertical and horizontal) into approximately 3 cm squares. Each A3 paper sheet should create about 100 squares.
Make the relevant number of sheets of paper to accommodate the number of pencils you hold. In my case I used about 8 sheets of paper.
6. Colour and mark each grid with one coloured pencil
Now gather your newly sorted pencils and start colouring a swatch of colour in each grid square. Write the brand and name of pencil on each square, and whether the pencil is lightfast or non-lightfast. You can make your own acronym to suit you.
I wrote L for lightfast, NL for non-lightfast, CDP for Caran D’Ache Pablo, CDSS for Caran D’Ache Suprasoft II, PC for Prismacolor, FC for Faber Castell (should have had FCP for Faber Castell Polychromos), CDM for Caran D’Ache Museum and I wrote the corresponding number code for the colour, and the colour name.
You may find this step will take some time depending on the number of pencils you have.
Keep completing the grid until you have a colour square for each pencil.
Once a swatch is filled in, don’t forget to place your pencil back in the tin from where it was removed. This will keep all the hard work done in steps 1-4 above in place.
7. Cut the grid squares and group into colour
Now get a pair of scissors and cut along the graphite lines. I recommend that as you cut, sort your colours into piles according to the colour wheel, into primary, secondary and tertiary colours.
Try and keep your neutral colours together in separate piles – e.g. grey pile, brown pile, black pile and white pile. Please look closely at those neutral colours.
You may see that a colour fits better in a colour swatch – ie some browns may fit better in an red-orange, or yellow-green grouping. You can double check this in steps 9 and 12 below.
8. Separate the colour piles into lightfast and non-lightfast groups
If you have the space, separate each individual colour pile into lightfast and non-lightfast groups.
If you don’t have the space, place each colour group separately into small bags. I used resealable plastic bags which worked well to keep the colours and lightfast grids separate, and worked on separating one colour group at a time.
9. Identify the colours that look the same and place in a group
Depending upon the number of pencils you have, this step will take some space.
Try and find a table or desk that you can work on without interruption for a while.
Start by sorting one colour at a time – say red – and place all your red squares on a flat surface. Look carefully and group together the colours that look similar.
Try to keep 3 or 4 colour swatches in a group. If there are more than 3 or 4 swatches that look similar, further separate the swatches according to the value or intensity of the colour.
10. Draw and cut strips of thick paper
Now get thick white paper and draw lines so that an area appears twice as wide as the colour swatch. Cut the paper into thick strips.
11. Glue the corresponding groups of colour onto each strip of white paper
I recommend you leave space of about 1 cm between each swatch. Write the colour wheel colour of the colour goup on the top left-hand corner of the white strip.
In this step, you will see that you have a swatch of similar colours grouped into lightfast or non-lightfast.
They are not grouped into wax, oil or aquarelle, but they are illustrated to show their similarities.
As you get more familiar with your colours and pencils, you will see from the written advice that CDSS is an Aquarelle pencil, but it can be used in a dry format. Its equivalent is the Caran D’Ache Pablo (CDP). If you’ve been lucky in your colour sorting, these two colour should appear on the same swatch strip of your fan.
Complete this exercise for all your colour piles, and the neutral colours.
Depending on the number of pencils you have, this may take some time – even days. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile exercise, and will help you get to know and identify your pencils at a glance.
12. Double check that the swatch strips are correct
I recommend you now go back over your swatch strips.
Make sure that all your lightfast swatches are on the lightfast strips, and that no non-lightfast swatches have made their way to the incorrect strip.
Now check again that your colours are similarly matched.
Also it is important to write the colour wheel colour that your swatch strip corresponds on the top left-hand corner of the white swatch strip.
Writing the colour wheel colour helps identify how to group your swatch strips in step 15 below.
13. Get access to an A4 laminator and laminator sleeves
Your swatches are now ready for laminating.
I recommend that you get access to a laminator and ensure you have enough A4 laminator sleeves to accommodate your swatch strips. Each A4 laminator sleeve can accommodate about 4 strips.
I had about 200 swatch strips so I used about 50 laminator sleeves.
14. Separate your laminated swatch strips
Use an exacto knife or sharp craft knife and ruler on a self-healing pad to separate your laminated swatches. Leave an area of about ½ centimetre between each strip. Leaving this area will ensure that the laminated swatch won’t separate during future use.
15. Group your swatches together according to colour and intensity
Now this step will take some discretion.
You will have your own view of what a colour is and where it should sit on the colour wheel.
In this step, you will gather your lightfast colour swatches and sort them according to the colour wheel.
Remember writing the colour wheel colour in the top left hand of the white swatch strip in step 12 above?
This is when you need to now gather the swatch strips together according to that colour wheel colour. For example, group all the red together, all the red-orange together, orange together, orange-yellow together – etc.
Do the same for your non-lightfast colour swatch strips.
16. Place your colour swatch strips according to value – in order of lightest to darkest
As you have gone through this process, you will have seen that the groups of colour will be the same colour, but have differing values – ie. some will be lighter than others. Group the lightest at the top of the group, and place the darkest value at the bottom. Do this for all your grouped colours.
17. Punch a hole in the middle of the narrow bottom of each laminated swatch strip
Your colour grouped swatch strips will be tied together according to their colour wheel colour written in the top left hand corner of the swatch strip.
The next step is to punch a hole in the middle of the narrow end of the laminated strip.
You will need a length of string to be threaded through these holes to keep the strips together.
Ensure that the name of the colour written in the top left-hand corner of the white swatch strip is at the upper end of the card – ie. opposite to the end with the punched hole.
18. Tie swatches together
Now it is time to cut the string into strips long enough to tie together, and with enough length to allow the string to be undone in the future, but not so short that it will come apart during use.
Tie your colour swatch strips together – with lightest at the top, and darkest at the bottom.
19. Sort your colour swatch strips according to the colour wheel
You will need to commence at the top of the colour wheel with red, and move through the colour wheel grouping your colour in order and finish at violet-red.
20. Keep swatches together in containers
You need to find a container that will hold your colour swatches securely, and which will also allow you easy access.
I use an ornamental tea container which has three narrow areas. I place the swatches in tied ends first and the colour listed ends facing to the top.
The container I use allows me to hold my non-lightfast colours together, my lightfast colours together, and my neutrals together. I can easily flick through the colour strips without taking them out of the box. However, when I do need to remove them, I know to put them back according to the colour wheel.
After completing these steps, you will have successfully organised your coloured pencils. You will find it easy to identify a pencil’s colour, it’s type and its lightfastness.
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