If you work with colored pencils as an art medium, undoubtedly you have experienced the frustration of sharpening your pencils. You try to sharpen them in a handheld sharpener, and they keep breaking again and again.
It’s broken down to the wood showing no visible pigment.
The electric pencil sharpener manufacturers say not to sharpen colored pencils in them.
And, I have even heard another artist say never, never sharpen your colored pencils in an electric sharpener.
So, short of doing a little whittling to get a point or grinding on sandpaper (I don’t recommend either) what should you do?
I will give you my simple advice for how to sharpen colored pencils while at the same time lowering your stress level!
A preface: I no longer stress over sharpening my pencils. That’s because my way of dealing with sharpening is quite simple and time-tested. I have been working with colored pencil for many years, so I speak from experience.
Handheld and Electric – Mostly Electric
Here’s my secret for no-stress sharpening: In general, I either sharpen my pencils in a handheld sharpener to just refresh the point or sharpen in an electric sharpener for more extensive sharpening.
I do this so automatically that I have virtually eliminated all the frustration and guesswork on which way I should go. And more often than not, yup, I use the electric.
I will explain a little later why I think that’s OK (aside from the fact that I have anywhere from 30-80 pencils to sharpen after some of my colored pencil classes. Needless to say I would have no wrists left if I had to sharpen them manually!)
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Handheld Sharpeners – Do They Work?
Basically, I do my colored pencil art with a sharp point through about 75% of the project so I’m sharpening often.
You’d be surprised how fast a point gets dull even doing light layering—especially with brands with softer leads like Prismacolor. (I love Prismacolor but it does need sharpening more often.).
These handheld sharpeners work pretty well, and there are many, many kinds on the market.
If the pencil wiggles around in the hole (i.e. has too much “play”), then chances are it may break as you’re sharpening it.
Sharpeners where the pencil has just enough room to turn work the best.
So my purpose for using these sharpeners mainly is to maintain the sharp point.
If the point is very dull, I don’t waste time trying to sharpen it in the handheld. The reason is that the number of revolutions necessary to sharpen can sometimes break the lead (in my experience.) Plus, it’s just more efficient to use the electric sharpener.
Another thing you can try for the handheld sharpeners is to turn the sharpener, not the pencil, when you sharpen.
Turn it slowly and deliberately holding the pencil tightly, pushing it all the way into the sharpener. This does seem to work maybe 8 or 9 times out of 10.
Not bad, eh? But if you’re trying to save time, the electric is still faster. 🙂
One more note about manual sharpening… The crank-type sharpeners that we had in the olden days in our classrooms as kids is something I never use, nor do I own one.
They are still sold. However, I have read that they are simply too rough on colored pencils to do the job well. I cannot speak from experience, though, since I haven’t tried them.
Electric Sharpeners – Ok to Use?
If the pencil breaks down to the wood during while using a handheld sharpener, I don’t keep trying to sharpen it. I have learned (the hard way) that a 7-inch pencil can quickly shrink to half its size when you keep trying and it keeps breaking.
All that does is shorten the life of your pencil and increase your stress! So, if it breaks to the wood, I simply use the Bostitch QuietSharp Executive Electric Pencil Sharpener
Also, at the end of a work session when I may have multiple pencils, it simply saves time to resharpen all of them in the Bostitch and makes for quick easy clean up.
But what about the warnings about electric sharpeners you ask? One of the main reasons for not using colored pencils in an electric sharpener is because of the binders (wax or oil ). They can clog up the machine, it’s true.
And the softer the pencil you typically use, the faster this could happen. Plus, as the sharpener gets clogged, it can also tend to chew up your pencils (and who wants their expensive Prismacolor or other brand of pencils chewed up, right?)
How do you solve that issue? It has been said that if you run graphite through the sharpener also, it will help clean the blades. So after you are all done sharpening the colored pencils used that day, I recommend running some graphite pencils through it to prevent the clogging issue.
What about Battery Operated Sharpeners?
Personally, I don’t use battery operated sharpeners. I’m sure there are good ones out there. But in my opinion, based on my experience, many don’t have enough power to give you quality sharpening and could chew up your pencils.
Having said that, I did a little research and found a couple to try. Two brands that seem to be better quality and kid-friendly as well are Tripworthy and Office Goods.
Whatever you do, I do not recommend taking a brand new pencil out of the box and start using it without sharpening it.
The manufacturer’s “sharpened” point doesn’t pass muster with this artist!
Plus, after they have been sitting in the store awhile (or on your shelf awhile), the wax binder may “cloud” the point a bit, preventing its true rich pigment from being applied.
This is another reason to sharpen often, too. It refreshes the color!
Keep it Simple
When needing to crank out a commission or art projects for my workshops and classes, I don’t have time to worry or stress over sharpening my pencils.
So I keep it simple for how to sharpen colored pencils. I just pop it into the handheld for a brief turn or two to refresh the point or the electric for dull, broken or multiple pencils.
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Thanks for reading this and here are more posts you may find interesting:
==>Click here to read about Koh-i-Noor Woodless Colored Pencils<==. They are the easiest to sharpen!
Have an artful day…