What is a coloured pencil?

This may seem a funny question! But it isn't!

If you take your art seriously, it is sometimes necessary to understand what otherpeople regard as coloured pencils.  When you paint or draw for your own benefit and pleasure you can freely use any art products you like that produce the result you desire.When you produce art for other people  - and particularly for exhibition in competition with other artists, people need to know what you have used, as different art media need to be handled, and displayed, in different ways.

If you enter a competition or submit a picture for exhibition where there are prizes and awards, the organisers will wish to have every entrant observe standard rules.    Even on fairly relaxed social media group sites such as Facebook , the administrators may well have rules to ensure that all the members observe the same conditions ( you may be required to only submit one picture a day, a group may require the picture to be at least 50% coloured pencil ).

National Coloured Pencil Societies run annual exhibitions which may be ‘Open’ ones ( open at anyone subject to paying a fee ),  or thay may be available just for members to enter.   The exhibition directors will require all entrants to observe the same rules so that prizes are awarded fairly.

This is where definitions come into play.For many years, developments in Coloured Pencils have created debate and some difficulty for societies in keeping up to date with new products.  When I first became involved with Coloured Pencils, it was enough to define coloured pencils as wax or oil pencils and pretty much anything else as not acceptable.

Things have changed in recent years and there have been attempts to make some of the new products acceptable while still keeping other pencil products at bay.Pastel pencils are still not acceptable as a pure product though I note the UKCPS define a coloured pencil work for open exhibition as one which contains at least 50% wax/oil coloured pencil and the balance can be other media.

In the USA

The largest market for Coloured Pencils and the home of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA).Not ony has the Society worked to define lightfastness in coloured pencils with the USA standards laid out in ASTMS 6901, the CPSA have also laid down some clear guidelines as to what a Coloured (or colored) Pencil is for competitive purposes.

These guidelines are established for the entry of pictures for awards in their open exhibitions, and are NOT therefore internationally observed.  They have been noted, however, and more and more organisations in the Coloured Pencil world are using them as a basis.I have copied the guidelines below, but if you need to know more, you should read the data fully in the website of the CPSA.

The following text is copyright to the CPSA and is re-published here as an aid to understanding.

Colored Pencil Defined

Colored pencil is most easily defined by its very name. The proliferation of new art materials, however, can make it difficult to determine exactly which products are truly colored pencils. The appearance of the material is not a deciding factor, nor is the technique used for application. Instead, the artist should consider the nature of the color-producing material it contains. The part of the colored pencil that applies color onto a surface consists of pigments and/or coloring agents combined with a binder (wax, oil, water-soluble gum, or combinations thereof) and other additives. It is the ratio of binder to pigment that matters here. The medium of colored pencil falls about midway along a continuum of drawing materials that goes from very dry with minimal binder (e.g., soft pastels and pastel pencils) to softer with a higher ratio of binder to pigment (e.g., oil bars, oil pastels, water-soluble paint sticks).

Once a product qualifies as a dry drawing material, it must meet three additional requirements to be considered a CPSA-approved colored pencil

CPSA-approved colored pencil materials must come in a solid, hard, dry form.

This includes regular wood-cased colored pencils, woodless colored pencils and sticks, and water-soluble pencils and sticks. It excludes materials at the soft end of the continuum, including materials that come in soft, malleable stick form, such as oil bars, oil pastels, encaustics, and water-soluble paint sticks.

CPSA-approved colored pencil materials cannot be brushed off.

This requirement excludes materials at the very dry, minimal-binder end of the continuum, including soft pastel sticks, pastel pencils, and dry (unbound) pigments. While it is possible (and recommended) to brush off stray crumbs of colored pencil left behind after layering colored pencil on a surface, the layer of colored pencil that was applied, when brushed, will be left completely intact and unaffected.

CPSA-approved colored pencil materials must dry completely.

Colored pencils, when used dry and without heat, will deposit one or more cohesive, blended layers of color that are dry to the touch and cannot be easily gouged or otherwise marked with the hand. It is permissible to manipulate the pigment layer(s) of colored pencils with water and other solvents or with heat, and colored pencils will once again be completely dry to the touch after the solvents have evaporated or the layers have cooled.

From the above definition, you will see that taking a simple view, in the eyes of the CPSA, pastel pencil work is excluded but watercolour pencil work in its various forms is permitted.

As I read it, in the UK, the United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society currently  ( 2019 ) allow watercolour pencil as a part of the artwork provided that is has been used entirely dry, or if water has been used as a solvent then the watercolour pencil component must be less than 50%.

I am not sure that we have yet reached a point where everyone is singing on the same hymn sheet.I used to think that defining coloured pencil was a bit like herding cats…. as quickly as you think you have everything under control and understandable, another problem crops up !

I used to have a long page on the old website that tried to make sense of the rules for exhibitions.I then eliminated it in favour of a suggestion that you contact the Society Exhibition directors if you had a question.  I think we are getting nearer a consensus, but care is still required if you exhibit competitively.

If you just paint for fun, it doesn’t matter a jot,  you can please yourself ,and if you paint for sale then you just have to please your public.