Stonehenge Aqua Review Part 3—Color Pencil on the Hot Press Surface

March 4, 2019

This is part three in a multi-part review of Stonehenge Aqua. Please click here to view part one. If you wish to read part two please click here. At two future posts will deal with the hot press version of this paper and a wrap up.

Quick sketch in red color pencil on the hot press version of this paper.

If you think I’m fussy about which brand and surface of paper I use for my ink sketches I’m even fussier for color pencil work.

The additional fussy level comes into play because color pencil sketches are usually more labor intensive. If I want things to turn out a certain way I want to be sure to use a paper that will do what I want it to do.

Due to a lot of factors, mostly the time commitment, I no longer make photorealistic color pencil drawings.

But I still do sketch, upon occasion with color pencils. Mostly for sketching I like Berol Prismacolor. (I actually like Karismacolor but those don’t seem to be available anywhere any longer.)

I grew up using Derwent Color pencils when I was in Australia. I find them a little more dry than I like to work with. Beryl Prismacolors are hard so I can get a good point on them, but the pencil smooths onto the paper easily. 

Tip: Picking a Color Pencil Brand

With inferior pencil brands if you find that you can’t get saturated color on your paper realize it’s because they have too much wax or binder in the pencil. Nothing you ever do with inferior grade pencils is going to be easy. Upgrade to quality pencils as soon as you can.

Got to an art supply store where they have open stock for several lines of artist quality color pencils. But a red, blue and yellow pencil (or 3 of your favorite must use colors) from each of the lines of pencil you want to compare. In this way you’ll be comparing apples to apples because some colors simply are harder to lay down, even in quality lines.

Take your pencils home and set up a testing page on your favorite paper—have squares or circles which you fill in the same types of strokes with each color. Be sure to label them. (Organize by pencil brand or by pencil color—whichever works for you.) During this process you’ll come to work with each pencil brand and find things that you like about it compare to the other brands. Take notes. Then repeat the work on a different type of paper. Again take notes.

At this point you’ll have worked at making strokes with each of the brands for some time and you’ll know what they can do, and how they work on two of your favorite papers. Now you can buy a set of pencils with confidence that you’ll enjoy working with them.

Be sure to save and date your tests. Brands change over the years and you may need to revisit your brand choices depending on availability. I had to give up Derwents when we returned to the US because Derwents were simply not available in the US at the time. During the interim I learned to prefer Spectracolor, and then Prismacolor. 

Papers I Like Using for Color Pencil Sketching

As I’ve already stated I don’t do a lot of sketching with color pencil any more. When I do sketch with them I prefer papers which have a little bit of softness to their surface. This means that I don’t normally sketch on watercolor paper as the sizing on most watercolor papers makes them a little too stiff for me for this purpose.

Detail of color pencil sketch on Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press.

I love using color pencil on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper. I have, over the years, and through a change in technique, come to enjoy working in color pencil on Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper. (You’ll find reviews where I say I don’t care for to work on that paper with color pencil and at the time that was true. But our approaches change, and supplies change, and I also moved further away from papers I loved working on in color pencil. Be prepared for changes in your own approach. And when reading the blog, look at the most current posts on a topic first to see where I am currently.)

I will also work on Strathmore 500 Series VELLUM Bristol. (I do not like the slickness of plate Bristol for pencil work. I rely on a paper having a bit of tooth to that the color into itself.)

In general I avoid working on cold press watercolor papers because the textures are so pronounced you have to work hard to get coverage into the depressions of the texture. Of course the paper color that continues to show through can be used as a feature, but I tend to like solid color coverage without resorting to heavy pressure applications or burnishing.

Many other drawing and printmaking papers are also suitable for color pencil work and I encourage you to experiment with them as you settle on which brand of pencil you want to use.

Testing on the Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press Watercolor Paper

During my testing period I didn’t test color pencils on the cold press paper. It has a fairly smooth texture and you might enjoy doing your color pencil on that paper.

I did however test color pencils on the hot press paper in this line. Despite that fact that it’s a watercolor paper and sized for watercolor I enjoyed sketching on it (making quick, unrefined sketches not finished drawings).

I found the texture of the hot press paper of this line is smooth enough that dense application of color is possible without resorting to heavy pressure application. However, I found it to be a curiously “heavily” textured hot press watercolor paper. Compared with TH Saunders/Waterford Hot Press watercolor paper for instance this paper has a more pronounced texture, visible when you work in this medium. If you click on the detail image to see a blow up you’ll see what I mean about the texture coming through.

If you enjoy this amount of texture on your paper you’ll probably enjoy working on this paper with your color pencils.

Additionally you can lay in watercolor backgrounds for first layers and cut your pencil layering time down.

This will not become one of my go-to color pencil papers, but I can see that I will not shy away from using color pencil on it if I’m working with this paper.

I encourage you to experiment. You might encounter a paper that meets your needs.

Coming Up

In additional posts of this multi-part review of this paper line I’ll look more closely at the hot press surface.


    • Tina Koyama
    • March 4, 2019

    Thanks for this, Roz. A friend just gave me a sheet of Strathmore 500 MM paper, so I’m looking forward to trying that with colored pencil, and thanks for your recommendation of Canson Heritage Hot Press — I’ll give that a shot, too. I’m currently trying Stillman & Birn Zeta, which is heavy enough to take a fairly wet wash when using watercolor pencils. I kind of miss the CP texture I’m used to, and the sizing is different, so another thing to get used to. As you say, there’s no such thing as the perfect paper for everything. (But I enjoy experimenting. That’s what a sketchbook is for, right?)

    1. Reply

      I hope you’ll have fun with the Strathmore 500 MM paper. I’ll be interested in how you like it. I didn’t like the Zeta from S & B, for so many reasons it simply wasn’t fun for me. I’ve been working in a lined notebook as I recover from my eye surgery and can only do very broad things and am so grateful that YES a sketchbook is for experimenting!

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