Robert Jones reviews Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 Permanent Pencils.
I was sent a box of 12 of these pencils to try, comprising:
- Prussian Blue
- Pthalocyanine Blue
- Light Cobalt Blue
- Grass Green
- Spring Green
- Lemon Yellow
- Permanent Red
- Perylene Brown
- Anthraquinoid Pink
Although I’ve been painting in oil, acrylic and watercolour for some 50 years, I rarely use coloured pencils. Coloured pencils were rough and ready affairs when I was a lad, so I never really got into them. So using these Luminance pencils was something of a voyage of discovery.
Price: £46.79 for a set of 12. Larger sets are also available and pencils can be purchased individually.
Where to buy: Art Supplies with Painters Online
This set came in a sturdy card box, lined with a set of channels which held the pencils firmly in place – a useful consideration if you’re receiving them by post: they could tolerate a good shaking.
The pencils themselves are cased in cedarwood, making them handsome artefacts in their own right, which means they are pleasant to hold and also makes them beautifully easy to sharpen.
On the occasions I’ve used coloured pencils in the past, the one thing you could rely on was that the wood would splinter, whether exposed to craft-knife or sharpener, and the ‘leads’ would shatter. This is certainly not a problem with these quality pencils, the leads are just about the strongest I’ve found since the demise of Berol pencils.
Luminance pencils are also lightfast.
The range of colours supplied in this set – I did not attempt to supplement it with other brands – would be good for portraiture (better, if there were a yellow ochre included) and are adequate for landscape work. I could have done with a more basic brown, i.e. a somewhat duller one, than the perylene brown, which has notes of crimson.
As always, with any make of coloured pencil, I find some of the names given to the colours a little weird; why specify anthraquinoid pink, or perylene brown, and then label your greens ‘grass green’ or ‘spring green’? Is this trying to tell us something about the components of the pigments, or not? And why offer Prussian blue and pthalocyanine blue in the same set – when an ultramarine would have given us a red-leaning blue?
These are however just quibbles – any trial set will offer a representative sample of the colours available; there are many more offered by Caran d’Ache (the full range is 100 colours) and a medium is available to use with them, which they say enhances the colours, and makes them more readily blend-able. I may well treat myself to that...
Testing the pencils
To test the pencils, I used them with ink on laid paper and on their own on two makes of 200gm paper, one somewhat rougher than the other.
I found they worked well on all three papers, laying down colour which was vibrant from the start, and offered a creamy consistency: reminding me slightly of using oil pastels.
They take erasing, not that I did much of that, resist water and are very resistant to smudging. This means they’re more suitable for layering than for blending.
Working them with a tortillon gives them a burnished look – which I don’t much like! But it’s a perfectly good look if you do like it – if you enjoy ‘polishing’ your drawings, they work well.
You do need the black if you’re aiming for any sort of precision or hard, sharp edges – or you can add ink of course.
Have they converted me to coloured pencils? Well, no, but I’d certainly use them for quick sketches and colour notes outside.
This isn't a critisism of Luminanace though, there’s not a coloured pencil invented that would turn me into a devotee of a material which I find takes quite a lot of work and doesn’t flow in the way that paint and ink do.
However, I do recognize a good pencil when I see one – and these are certainly that!
In Drawing Number One, on String and Space 200gm A4 paper, I used the pencils full strength, fairly heavy-handedly, to convey trees by a thin strip of ploughed field.
The waxy nature of the pencils revealed itself in this heavy application. It was my first attempt with them, and that shows! However, it was a good test – the colour is strong, easily darkened, but I should have reserved some lighter parts; I tried a touch of putty rubber, but soon abandoned it – it works well on darker colours, but not so well with the mid-tones, especially the greens: tends to smear them.
Drawing Number Two, of two old trees by a path (plus rat) worked a lot better.
Using the same paper as previously, I was a bit less gung-ho – took more time and gave the process more thought.
I used a very slight touch of carbon black ink, but the black pencil was quite adequate to achieve more precise, and darker, patches. I actually like this one!
Drawing Number Three, on Canson Graduate 200 gm multi-media paper, A4, shows a different approach.
I drew this small harbour scene based on, but not entirely true to, a “luck”, at Gurnard on the Isle of Wight, with a much lighter touch of the pencils – as in, VERY much lighter. It’s an approach I much prefer, and the colours are easily strong enough to stand this treatment. If I were to continue using coloured pencils, and especially these, this is the technique I would use.
Drawing Number Four, also on Canson paper, shows why I prefer a lighter touch!
This is a much heavier approach again and is based on someone else’s very old painting of the River Yar, with the Downs behind.
This heavier-handed approach does show what the pencils can do, the depth of colour they hold, but I made the same mistake of not reserving an area in which I’d wanted to show some detail – specifically, the foliage to the bottom left of the foreground tree.
Drawing Number Five is a combination piece, on A5 Fabriano Classic Artists Journal – laid paper, which is much lighter but still tough.
Here I’ve included ink and white gel pen. This was even more of a play with the materials than the others, but does show what can be done – the pencils’ opacity was useful here; they can be used transparently, it’s just a matter of how much colour you apply.
Drawing Number Six is a beach scene featuring heavy use of the pencils, Rotring ink and white gel pen.
Drawing Number Seven, again on A5 Fabriano laid paper, is of an old store house down the road from me. Once again I combined ink with the coloured pencils.
Having not lathered on the colour, I like this one and I think it works quite well.
And finally, Drawing Number Eight – which is a bit of a horror!
I combined a Japanese brush pen with as much coloured pencil as I could squeeze into it. I did this one just to run a full range of experiments, and I’d rather you didn’t judge me on it….
In summary, Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 Permanent Pencils are a high-grade product and, in the hands of professional coloured pencil artists, would be certain to improve their work.
They can be used full strength, or quite delicately.
I’d like to try them on watercolour paper, both rough and hot-pressed (especially on the latter) on their own or in conjunction with watercolour, ink, even gouache and acrylic.
There are hours of experimentation and fun ahead for anyone who’d like to try them!
About Robert Jones
Robert has been painting seriously for over ten years and sporadically for at least 50.
He has been a member of the National Association of Painters in Acrylic since 2015 .
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