• Bristles – also known as hairs. can be natural, synthetic, or combination of both
  • Ferrule – the silvery bit that connects the bristles with the handle
  • Crimp – the part of the ferrule that secures it to the handle
  • Handle – usually made of wood or acrylic


Brush Quality

It is the handle, the bristle filament or mix there of, the crimps in the ferrule as well as the material used on the ferule and handle, which designate the quality. 

The quality of a brush is reflected in the price. A quality brush has more bristles, properly sized bristles and spaces between bristles, a rust resistant ferrule to secure the bristles and high quality hairs or filaments.

Cheap brushes will rust, loose bristles and will not retain shape.

Sable is hair taken from a mink or a marten, typically found in Northeast Asia. Their hair has been sought after for many generations by painters because of its absorbency and thickness.

Taklon is the common name for a synthetic fiber used in artist-quality paint, makeup and pin strip brushes. It is a smooth, soft, and somewhat fragile polyester or nylon, although proper brush care will extend the life of synthetic bristle. Taklon lacks the surface irregularities of a natural animal hair bristle, making it superior in many ways and easier to clean thoroughly.

White Taklon (or what we call White Nylon) is considered the most pure form and typically displays a more firm quality than dyed Taklon.

Golden Taklon has a mix of dyed carbon fibers as well as polyester fibers with multi diameter filaments increasing spring and snap back. Golden Taklon feel very similar to the sables, and are a little softer than the white nylon. Sables and the synthetic sables or “Golden Taklon” was developed to preform like the sables while surpassing the natural sable in durability.


Handle types

Handles can be wood plastic or lacquered wood. Shapes are the beaver tail where the handle bulges in the middle (soft comfort) or the more traditional artist brush type the rat-tail, with a long straight taper making them easier to hold for detailed work.

If someone sends you flowers, and they come with their stems inserted in those nifty water tubes, here is a great tip for those times when you forget to clean your brushes:

Pour an inch or so of Murphy’s Oil Soap into the tubes. Thread the brush handle through the hole in the tub lids then suspend the hard-as-a-rock bristles in the soap. Don’t let the bristles touch the bottom of the tubes and make sure the top of the metal ferrule is above the soap. The tops of the tubes will grip the brush handles tightly. Prop the tubes up in a container and let the brushes soak overnight.

Next day, clean as you normally would, and voilà, the brushes are as good as new.

Colored Pencils
Colored pencils are loads of fun, versatile to use, and easy to transport. Drawing is the foundation that all art is built upon. It is a great place to start, and a constant area to practice with a goal of improvement. You have used a pencil since you were a tot.

So the pencil is natural to use as an art tool. Be sure to explore Loew-Cornell’s All About Drawing to learn more about drawing basic forms and textures. After using graphite pencils and charcoal to learn shading and value, add a rainbow of hues with colored pencils!

Colored pencils are wax based. The pencil marks are transparent, and when used in layers, can produce glowing results. Solvents like turpenoid can be used on the colored pencil drawing to make a wash, but since we have watercolor pencils, why risk the toxicity of solvents? Colored pencils can be mixed with graphite pencils. Graphite pencils are the standard drawing and writing pencils. Sometimes referred to as a “lead pencil”, there is actually no lead in them. Lead is the term used for the color cylinder housed in the wood casing of the pencil.

Watercolor Pencils
Watercolor pencils feel like colored pencils in use, but are gum arabic based, instead of wax. After drawing with them, the images can be moved, blended and washed by water applied with a brush. Colored pencils and watercolor pencils can be used in combination.

Getting Started
Sharpening Your Pencils
There are many types of sharpeners, from hand-held to electric. The important thing is blade sharpness.

Small hand-held sharpeners give you control, and do not waste too much pencil by over-sharpening, as can be done with an electric machine. Blades need to be replaced when dull. You can tell if the sharpener is dull if the wood around the pencil crushes. Hand-held sharpeners are inexpensive, so if it is dull, it is time for a new one. There are two different sizes of pencil sharpener holes, so make sure your sharpener fits your pencil.

Try not to drop your pencils. The lead is fragile and can break inside the pencils, causing much sharpening frustration. Watercolor pencils should not be sharpened when wet as the lead has been softened and will break and smoosh.

Use a sandpaper paddle to achieve the shape of the point that you wish. This works especially well with watercolor pencils to make a wider stroke line. Some techniques work better with a chisel edge on the pencil. When the sheet of sandpaper is filled, you can dispose of it and use the next one underneath.

Choosing a Surface
There are many fine papers and boards available to use for your drawings. Use a quality paper that is acid-free and not too thin. Beginners tend to use scratch paper to practice, but you may waste a wonderful work if it is not on a good substrate. Colored papers can give your work a whole new look. Try using light pencils on dark paper. In this method you are drawing light rather than shadows. Mat board is a great substrate and takes away all the problems of creases and wrinkles. “Tooth” refers to the texture of the paper. Some tooth is nice because it grabs the colored pencil and lets more layers be applied.

Watercolor paper is also good, especially if you plan to dampen your drawing with water or solvent. Watercolor paper comes in different weights and textures. 90# is light, 140# is a good choice, and 300# is like a board. Price increases as the weight increases. Paper finishes are hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough. Hot-press is smooth, cold-press has some bumpy texture and – you guessed it – rough is just that. Cold-press, or CP, is usually a good choice.

Watercolor paper is usually 100% cotton rag, and will last forever. It has been found in the Egyptian tombs. Try many varieties to see which you like. When choosing your subject, contemplate which paper lets you explore and say what you want.

Making Marks

  1. Stippling. Make little or big dots. The more dense the dots, the darker the value.
  2. Hatching. Short lines in a similar direction.
  3. Cross-hatching. Layers of lines going in a variety of directions. The more layers, the darker the value.
  4. Scribbling. Making little circles to build up value.
  5. Smooth light even value. This is a good way to start. Light pressure on the pencil using any technique 1-4. If color is applied too dark too fast, the paper will be saturated and will allow no more color to be applied. Build up layers of color with lightly applied pressure.
  6. Drawing with heavy pressure is called “burnishing”. Usually no more color can be added over a heavily burnished area, as it is “saturated” with color.
  7. Pencil residue is left in burnishing (#7) and can cause smears and smudges. To smudge on purpose, use your finger, a tortillon or blending stump to pull out soft color. To prevent a smudge, keep pencil particles clear by dusting your drawing surface with a soft brush. Another safety precaution would be to keep tracing paper over surface so your hand does not touch the drawing. This will prevent the oils from your hands from penetrating the paper. Even wearing cotton gloves may help keep paper clean.
  8. Plain, even-tone blue.
  9. White colored pencil burnished over the top of #9.
  10. #10 with blue burnished over the top.
  11. (Top) Dark to light gradation of blue.
  12. (Middle) Light to dark gradation of green.
  13. (Bottom) #13 applied over #12 to blend two colors

Learn About Color
Color Pencil Color Wheel
Colored pencil is transparent and semi-transparent in layers, so that when it is applied in layers it is luminescent. Creating a color wheel is a good exercise to get to know your colors. Each color has been applied with light pressure on the edges and burnished in the center to demonstrate how dark the pencil will go. The light pressure areas are overlapped. New colors are produced by the layering technique. Primary colors are yellow, red, and blue. Start with these three colors in a triangle, equal distances from each other. Secondary colors are green, orange, and violet. Place these between the primaries that are mixed to create them. Tertiary colors are going to be created by the blends and layered combinations that make yellow-green, red-orange, etc.

Watercolor Pencil Color Wheel
If you have never used watercolor pencils before, warm up with a watercolor wheel. Sketch a light circle. Around the circle, put a square burnished patch of each primary color. Place as many squares as you wish adding secondary or tertiary colors in their proper order. With a stiff bristle brush, put water on the edge of one square and try to blend the color toward the center of the circle going from dark to light. Control water with a paper towel. Blot your brush on the towel so that it is damp and does not release too much water onto the paper so as to become out of control.

Play With Color
Fun to try
– “Frottage”, or rubbings, can produce magical drawings in seconds. Find low relief sculpture. Coins are perfect. Other sources might be jewelry, buttons, and decorative plates. Place the item under light-weight paper and rub a colored pencil over the item on the paper. These “drawings,” or rubbings, would look great in collage work or scrapbook pages.

– Use colored pencils on vellum paper. Vellum looks like tracing paper but is stronger. Since you can see through the paper, it is easy to trace with. You can put pencil on both sides and achieve another color that is slightly frosted. It can be cut and layered with other drawings, too. No limit to this idea.

– Draw first with a graphite pencil. This ensures that you have all your values in place. Next add colored pencil. If done lightly, the art can look like a vintage hand-tinted photograph. The old masters used this technique, called grisaille, in their paintings.

– Watercolor pencils are versatile. You can dip the pencil in water and draw. You can draw on wet paper. You can draw, and then wet the line using a brush. Experiment and have fun!

– Doodle. Using graph paper and lined paper are fun ways to think though patterns, and a great way to challenge our brains, too. Colored pencils allow you to play with color themes when planning a quilt to planning a decorating scheme.

Practice and refine your drawing skills with these mini lessons.
Techniques and Effects
– Make a subtle gradient value change from light to dark by pressing harder on your pencil. You can go over pencil in layers to build up darks, too.
– Use a kneaded eraser to “lift” light area from a toned area.
– “Soften” graphite with tortillons, blending stumps and chamois.
– Most forms can be composed of basic geometric shapes: Sphere, Cube, Cylinder & Pyramid. Observe the highlights and shadows.
– Try drawing these basic shapes: Sphere, Cylinder, Pyramid
– Cross Hatch Lines & Stippling. Stippling is created with short strokes/taps of the point.
– The “light bulb” above represents the source of light. All the geometric shapes are lighted by this source. The cast shadow falls away from the light. Now change the placement of the light and draw each shape again. Challenge: Try drawing the manikin from variations of these basic shapes.
– Place a textured surface under the paper for a different effect. This example was rubbed over a nylon bag strap. Try using canvas, screening, etc.
– Scribbling is fun! Make lines in different directions to build up value.
– “Scratch” the paper with something that will incise a line, and apply graphite over the top.

Know Your Pencils and Related Supplies
Size Matters
If we took a cross section of a pencil, we would see the graphite inside. Pencils are coded with letters, usually H and B. Think of “H” pencils as Hard and drawing a light line. “B” pencils are softer and draw darker lines – Think of B for Black lines.

Pencils have letters and numbers to describe the level of dark or light that they draw. The higher the number, the more you get of light or dark. Numbers usually range from 1 to 8. An 8H would be very light while an 8B would be very dark. An HB pencil is in the middle.

Blending Tools
Blending Stumps and tortillons help soften graphite and create smooth blends. Both come in a variety of diameters. Stumps are denser and have points on both ends. They are good for large areas. Tortillons have a point on one end and are not as dense. Try both to get different blending variations. Try using a “dirty” blending tool to apply graphite for a soft look. These tools are inexpensive and are meant to be replaced rather than cleaned.

Taking it off
The light “H” pencils are easier to erase than the bolder, blacker “B” pencils. There are many varieties of erasers available. Two good ones are a kneaded eraser and a white vinyl eraser. Neither leaves marks or little pieces of the eraser behind. The kneaded eraser is meant to be pulled apart like clay, and it is self-cleaning as the graphite disappears into the eraser. When a kneaded eraser is really black with graphite, replace it. The kneaded eraser can be formed to fit the area needing removal. Bonus: It is a great toy to play with while contemplating your drawing – one of my former art instructors claimed that this was a kneaded eraser’s best attribute!

Keep a Point
A good quality metal sharpener is a great help to keep a point. A paddle of sandpaper can be used to flatten, sharpen, or dull a point into just the shape you want.

Keep it Clean!
Cover and protect areas of the drawing from your hands, arms, etc., or when not working. Don’t allow cover papers to slide or you may create big smears. Wearing thin cotton gloves can prevent oils from your hands from transferring to your paper, and keeps your hands clean.

Start Now!
Have a friend pose for you and draw from real life. Photos tend to “flatten” shapes. It is better to work from life even if it is a challenge with moving bodies. The secret is: PRACTICE!

Loew-Cornell®’s Sketching Set gives you a great beginning!

Step 1: Establish an interesting outline shape.
Step 2: Establish the shadow shape within the outline.
Tip: Eyes are halfway between top and bottom of head with the space of an eye between eyes.
Tip for Success: Don’t be in such a hurry! Taking time to get your basic shapes right before moving on to the details will go a long way toward creating drawings you will be proud of.

Discover the possibilities of working with this unique medium.

General Techniques for Using Watercolor Pencils
Initial color was all put down in the same manner. Nothing was further blended or manipulated.

Dry Paper – Dry Pencils
The pencil is used for coloring just as crayons would be used. You can layer colors one on top of another, side by side, or leave white space for highlight areas. Do not lay the color on too heavily, it is often more pleasing to make it loose and irregular. This technique will create natural areas of highlight and shadow. After coloring, blend the pencil color with water and a brush (a Round will usually give the best control.) As in watercolor, do not blend areas that lie next to each other until the first area is dry, or the colors will run together.

Dry Paper – Wet Pencils
This gives a softer, diffused effect, but with strong color, like an oil pastel. However, it also makes the pencils very soft. With all wet pencil work, you need a second set to go back to the dry pencil techniques, or you must let the pencil dry completely before using again. Wet pencils will also tend to break more when sharpening. Item # 993 – 12 colors Item # 995 – 24 colors

Wet Paper – Dry Pencils
Here the paper is wet first, and the pencil color will run a bit when it touches the paper. Colors will run together if they are touching. Different degrees of pencil hardness will determine how much the color will run. This technique is good for blurred effects like foliage and background florals.

Wet Paper – Wet Pencils
This technique will give the most blurred effects of all and is usually best left for backgrounds and very impressionistic styles. You may also want to use a brush for additional blending and softening.