Colored pencils are usually made with a wax-based binder holding the pigment together. After some color layers have been applied to paper, the wax can be dissolved with a light wash of solvent to produce a smoother-looking blend and eliminate “speckles” from paper peeking through. It doesn’t make the color bleed, it just drops it in place.
Two popular solvents used for this purpose are Turpenoid Natural (citrus-based) and Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits). Turpenoid Natural is popular with artists who are concerned about toxicity, but when I tried it it added a yellowish tinge to my colors, and never seemed to evaporate completely, leaving a slight oily residue. Gamsol, on the other hand, doesn’t affect the pigment color at all and evaporates quickly and completely, with no noticeable residue.
See below my test on a small piece of Stonehenge paper: P = Pencil only; T = Turpenoid Natural; OMS = Odorless Mineral Spirits (Gamsol). Left column: medium pencil application; center column: heavy pencil application; right column: light pencil application. As you can see, the Gamsol didn’t change the color at all, it simply smoothed it–the heavier the pencil application, the more smoothing possible (since there’s more pigment to drop into place).
I’m liking Gamsol a lot–now what shall I do with this whole bottle of Turpenoid Natural?
Professional-grade colored pencils can run more than $2.50 each when bought singly from an art-supply store, and although they’re cheaper online, you’re stuck paying for shipping, which more than offsets the savings unless you’re placing a big order. So, you really want to wring as much life as you can out of each pencil! But they start getting difficult to hold and use once they’re down to a certain length. What to do?
There are two solutions:
- Glue a new pencil of the same color to the end
- Use a pencil extender
I’ve never tried #1, I’m simply reporting here that it’s possible because I’ve read about it. It involves taking a new, still-unsharpened pencil of the same color/grade and using a small amount of wood glue or super glue to secure its business end to the top of the worn pencil. Then as you continue to sharpen over time, you eventually pass through the glue seam and on into the new pencil. The con is that you have an extra-long pencil for awhile.
Personally, the idea of an extra-long pencil sounds as unwieldy to work with as a too-short one, so I went with #2: pencil extenders. Any art supply store should have them. They’re simply a tube with a split on one end that makes it just wide enough to receive a standard-size pencil, and a metal ring to pull into place to secure it. The cons are that they cost money and you still don’t get to use all of the pencil. But you can get darn close!
A pencil wearing an extender
A pencil all used up