What I Used for Inktober 2016: Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencils

Last September, flushed with excitement at the thought of doing my first Inktober challenge, I splurged on some new art supplies.  Since I usually worked digitally, I thought it was a good opportunity to try out some different traditional techniques.  One that I was really looking forward to was using blue pencil like animators and comic artists, so after doing a little research I picked up a pair of Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue animation pencils.  Though they were expensive (around $8 for a pack of two) I am so glad I did – they ended up becoming my favorite new tool of Inktober 2016!

Before we begin, a quick note: The main reason to using non-photo blue pencils is obvious: So that they will not show up in photographs and scanned images, or at least be easy to remove digitally. I’ve found that it is possible to photograph non-photo blue, but it shows up very faintly.  All the photographs in this review were digitally enhanced to show the blue more vibrantly.  So the color is a bit different than it is in real-life or in unaltered photos.

The Pencil

First, let’s take a look at the pencil itself:

Close up of a Caran d'Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil.

I’ve already used up most of the eraser. . . TT-TT

As you can see, the pencil looks like a standard erasable colored pencil, aside from the fact that it says “Non-Photo Blue Pencil” on the side.  The eraser it comes with is nice and soft, and erases the pencil well.  The blue lead is fairly soft and doesn’t crumble, meaning that it is easy both to lay down a soft line with a light touch and a darker line with a heavier hand, without fear of those stray marks you get when a pencil breaks.  The only downside to the nice, soft leads is that the pencil will be used up fairly quickly – something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget.

Color and Eraser Tests

Next let’s take a look at how the pencil performs:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Test Page

On this page, I performed five tests:

  1. Varying how hard I pressed to vary the intensity of the color.  There are actually three or four of the lightest lines there on the left, but they are quite faint and hard to see.
  2. Tilting the pencil on its side to create a wash of color.  Again, I pressed harder to the right to deepen the color.
  3. Eraser test #1: With a deep wash of color, how well does it erase?  I traced a line three times with the eraser.
  4. Basically #2 again, but with an eraser line. Again, I traced the eraser line two or three times.  As you can see, the lighter the blue pencil is, the easier it is to erase.
  5. With a deep wash of color, I erased three lines.  The top line was one stroke of the eraser; the second line, two strokes; the bottom line, three strokes.  For a deep wash of color, one needs to erase more firmly and more times than a lighter line.

I tried to experiment with different things, but what I think this mainly proves is that the more lightly you press, the closer to a true “non-photo” blue it is.  The harder you press, the more like a standard blue colored pencil it is.  However, there is an advantage over colored pencil in that the Caran d’Ache pencil is easy to erase, which is good for me as I tend to press down hard, haha.

That page may be a bit hard to see, so here’s a close-up of the first four examples:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Tests Close-Up

As you can see, the lighter the line is, the more likely it is to vanish when photographed or scanned.  In the original photograph, the lines to the left in examples 1 and 2 were almost too faint to see.  They are only visible now due to the digital enhancements.

And here’s a close-up of the fifth test, the eraser test:

Again, the three eraser lines are as follows: The top is traced only once, the middle twice, and the bottom three times.  The harder you press, the more thoroughly you will have to erase.  (For a light line, going over it once or twice is usually enough.)

The Sketch + Thoughts

Now the fun part!  Here’s the picture we’ll be following throughout this series.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Editing Comparison

I’ve included a comparison of the original photo and the edited version, with white balance adjusted and colors enhanced.

This piece worked up quickly in about two hours.  I used the Caran d’Ache pencil for each step from the blocking out to adding the details.  (Drat, I should have photographed each step. orz  Next time!)  I know some people only use blue pencil for the roughs and blocking out, but as I am not confident in my inking yet, I prefer to add details at this stage.  Already you can tell how well the non-photo blue pencil erases / disappears, as the skeleton stage has been mostly erased.  Can you tell that it’s there?  No? 😄

Inks lay fairly well over the Caran d’Ache blue pencil.  Here’s the River sketch after inking (on the left) and after erasing the blue lines when the ink was dry (on the right):

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Inked Comparison

Inked using the item we’ll review next week, the Prismacolor Premier .005 illustration marker!

Can you tell the difference?  It’s subtle: The blue pencil lines are faintly visible on the left, and the black inked lines are clean, if slightly lighter, on the right.  Though inks lay very well over the Caran d’Ache pencils, there is a slight waxy residue.  If you need to erase, small itty-bitty specks of ink will disappear as well.  However, it is not enough to both me, especially as you can’t really tell in the photograph.  It’s a non-issue if you plan on digitally removing the lines, anyway.


I actually forgot to scan in the River picture before inking (oops), but I wanted to cover that as well.  So I quickly made another sketch and scanned it in.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Review Cloud sketch edited

This picture hasn’t been edited at all, so as you can see, the blue pencil disappears very, very well when scanned.  Only the darker shades are truly visible; the lighter lines are faint or have vanished completely.

To make the colors more visible, I actually had to darken the image:

So you can rest assured that the blue lines vanish easily, and any that remain you should be able to edit out.  🙂

Last Thoughts

As I said in the beginning of the post, the Caran d’Ache Non-Photo Blue pencils quickly became my favorite new tool last Inktober.  They’re easy to use, lay down color beautifully, and erase so easily it’s hard to believe it’s a colored pencil at all!  Though they are a bit expensive, I’d say that’s well worth the price if you can afford it.  I would definitely recommend the Caran d’Ache brand to other artists.

Have you used non-photo blue pencils before?  What is your favorite technique to use with them?  Are there any other brands I should try?  Let me know in the comments below!  And don’t forget, I’ll be back with another review next Tuesday!  See you then!

A Little Announcement: What I Used for Inktober Review Series Starts Tonight

Starting tomorrow, I’m pleased to begin a series of reviewing art supplies!

We’ll start with the supplies I picked up last year for Inktober.  As I started NaNoWriMo right after Inktober ended, this series is a little late in the game, but hopefully my review will be useful no matter what time of year it is. :3

As last October was the first year I challenged Inktober, I had only a few inking supplies: a few calligraphy pens, a set of Prismacolor pens, some gel pens from the dollar store, and a box of Crayola markers left over from my school days.   While technically that was more than enough to do the challenge, I saw an opportunity to go shopping and I took it. :3  I was able to try out a few supplies I’ve had my eye on for a while, so I’m glad for that!

These are what I bought last September:

  • Caran d’Ache Non-Photo Blue Pencils (like animators use!)
  • Tombow Dual-Brush Pens in Grayscale
  • Sakura Gelly Roll Pen in White

Added to my Prismacolor markers and colored pencils, I had a lot of options for the challenge.  :3  Since then, I’ve picked up a set of Lestrat AquaMarkers and ProMarkers and a set of Staedtler colored pencils, so I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with those as well.  I’m pleased that I’ll be able to share them with you!

Since I have supplies that cover the whole drawing process from sketch to final touches, I thought it’d be interesting to use all the supplies to draw and paint a picture (or two!).  Here’s a sneak peek of what I’m working on, starting with the blue animator pencil:

Sketch for the review series – comic!River!

Reviews will start later tonight with the blue animator pencil and will be published every Tuesday for the next few weeks!  (Posts on Friday / any other day will continue to be “what I’m working on” and process posts. 🙂 )  I hope you enjoy!  And if there’s any art supply I’ve used before and you’d like it reviewed, let me know and I’ll add it to the pile. :3


Colored Pencil Painting: Portrait

Worked traditionally with colored pencils for a change of pace!  Portrait of a girl I saw in a dream – I’m pretty sure she has a story to tell, but I don’t know what it is yet. . . .  But kimono remain one of my favorite things to draw, so I’m happy!  I got to draw a hakama too. (^u^)  I was a little careless, so the paper got a little crinkled, but otherwise it turned out quite well!

This time I used a new brand of colored pencils, the Staedtler brand.  They seem a bit softer than Prismacolor Premier pencils, and I liked them a lot.

Here’s a close-up:

I enjoyed working on “Portrait” a lot, more than I thought I would.  It was very relaxing. . . I’d like to learn more colored pencil techniques and try them out, too.

Time: 10 hours


  • uCreate sketchbook with 75lb paper
  • Staedtler colored pencils, 48 pack

Blogger Recognition Award

Recently I had a lovely surprise: Claire of Once Upon a Yarn nominated me for a Blogger Recognition Award!  Thank you very much, Claire!  Once Upon a Yarn is a lovely mix of crochet and amigurumis, crafty stories (check out her current book project, Unraveled!), and fandom-related posts.  Please do head over to Once Upon a Yarn and give Claire some love!

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  2. Make a post about the award
  3. Give a brief recap of how your blog began
  4. Give two pieces of advice for new bloggers
  5. Select 15 other bloggers you wish to give the award to
  6. Comment on each blog, letting them know of their nomination and providing a link to the post.

The Beginning

In the winter of 2010, Strike A Spark was born when I began writing and publishing reviews of what I was reading, watching, and playing.  Since then, the focus of this blog changed quite a bit:  I began sharing the stories I was writing rather than the ones I was reading, and then started sharing my artwork too.

A digital painting of a woman modeling a tiger-eye pendant. Made with GIMP 2 by River.

Artwork like this!

There are a lot of stories I’d like to share with the world, and I hope to be able to do so through my writing and art.  I’ll chase that dream ’til the end, and Strike A Spark is my way to document that journey!

If I’d Known Then What I Know Now

It’s a little difficult for me to give advice.  I’d like to think that any advice I give will be helpful, but it’s hard to say when you know nothing about the situation.  However, this award demands two pieces of advice, so even though I can only speak from my own experience, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned here.  This is the stuff I wish I could tell myself seven years ago, when Strike A Spark began!

Point #1: Blog What You Love

Do what you love and success will follow.

First, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned so far, is to blog what you love.  If you love what you’re writing about, you’ll be excited to come back to it day after day and week after week and continue building something amazing.  It’s akin to when people say, “Follow your passion:” Do what you love and success will follow.

Having said that, I can think of a couple reasons why you might blog (or write or draw. . . ) something you aren’t that interested in.  For example:

  • Because someone else asked you to, like a request from a reader or even a school assignment
  • Because you think it will garner a lot of views and discussion
  • Because money
  • Because it’s what you’ve always done

Excluding the last example, they’re all good reasons and they all have advantages.  Requests help you connect to your audience, so are a marketing tactic; views and comments are a great indicator of how well you’re connecting to and engaging your audience; and making a living via blogging is awesome and something I hope to achieve one day.  Still, they are just tactics.  You control them.  Don’t let them control you.

The last one, though, that’s the one I’ve had trouble with.  Strike A Spark started with book reviews, and I tried to sustain that even after my enthusiasm drained away.  I somehow managed to keep posting week after week, but then it got harder. . . and then I took a blogging break, and it was hard to get back into it, so I kept putting it off.  If this sounds all too familiar, remember that it’s okay to step back and re-evaluate your blog’s theme or style or whatever!  Change it up until it feels comfortable and exciting again – or start a new blog about whatever new subject lights you up now.  Blog about what makes you happy!

Point #2: Popularity Isn’t Everything

The second thing I’ve learned is that popularity isn’t everything.  It’s easy to fall into that trap that views and follows = success, especially when you’re just starting out.  The first year of Strike A Spark, I was ecstatic with each new view and follower, but when the number didn’t go up exponentially, I became depressed and stopped writing for a while because, after all, why post anything if nobody is reading?  That wasn’t a healthy way to blog!

These days, though I still celebrate every time I have a boost in views and every time someone new likes my work enough to hit the “Follow” button, I try not to think of it as the most important thing.  Now I’m able to relax and work on the things I want to, rather than worrying about what will garner the most views. . . because while that’s important, Point #1: Blog What You Love still trumps it. 😛


Here are the other bloggers who inspire me and whom I’d like to pass the award onto. Please do check out their blogs!

  • Cloud of Cloud’s World Of: The blog of my little sister and partner-in-crime! Cloud posts cute artwork (including our collaborations!), short stories and poems, and ramblings.  Unfortunately, she’s been really busy and hasn’t had much time to post recently, but I happen to have insider information that she might be picking things back up again soon~!  :3  Look forward to it!
  • Dragonsashes of The Dragon’s Cave: Dragon makes absolutely adorable amigurumi!  Each design is so cute – I especially love Galaxy, a beautiful dragon made out of hand-spun yarn.
  • NanaM of Dreamcatcher-BJD and **I’m Sew Blessed**: NanaM and I connected over our mutual love of ball-jointed dolls (BJDs).  At Dreamcatcher-BJD, she posts about her adventures within the BJD hobby.  I always enjoy her project posts – the love and care Nana puts into each outfit, wig, and faceup is inspiring.  She’s also recently started a second blog, **I’m Sew Blessed**, where she posts about her human-sized sewing projects.
  • Millie of Millie On Her World: Millie makes adorable designs come to life in crochet!  From amigurumi food to cute dolls, her work has been another inspiration to me for years.
  • Yami Usagi of Never Outgrew Toys: Yami Usagi is a figure collector and skilled photographer.  Each time she posts new photos, I just stare in amazement.  Also, the photo stories are hilarious!
  • Dreamparticle of Of Dreams and Particles: Another fellow BJD hobbyist, this blog is a delight to follow.  I especially like how Dreamparticle is able to tell a story with each photoset!
  • Veronica of Owl Wonder: Veronica is a picture-book author and her current Shapes Adventure Challenge looks like a lot of fun!
  • amylu7 of Shiawase Days: The tagline reads, “a photo blog of charming desserts, delightful eats & lovely encounters,” which sums it up perfectly.  Each post is a feast for the eyes, and I really must make some time to try some of her recipes!
  • Sissh of Sissh Art: Sissh works in calligraphy, watercolor, hand-lettering, and digital, and each piece is beautiful.

The more speedpaints I watch, the more I am convinced that art is magic: A few thoughts on speedpainting videos

The more speedpaints I watch, the more I am convinced that art is magic.

One of my favorite things to do when I have some downtime is to watch speedpaint videos.  It’s always amazing to see how other artists work Speedpaints are magical: In a few minutes you can see a picture evolve from blank canvas to beautiful, fully-rendered image.  It’s so magical, in fact, that you almost have to wonder what pixie dust they’re using. . . .  😉

By Hyanna Natsu.

To learn from a master, one does not ask for explanations. One must steal their secrets.

The biggest appeal to a beginning artist is that maybe they can learn something from watching speedpaints by their favorite artists.  I always think, “Maybe I can steal a few tricks here and there 😈.”  Of course, the 10x speed and the fact that many speedpaints lack step-by-step explanations make that a little more difficult – but it’s not impossible, is it?  Surely, it must be possible to decipher the dance of brush and color, and come away more enlightened than when the video began. But where I am right now, all I can do is marvel at the confidence and beauty of each video.

By Shilin Huang. Check out her webcomic, Carciphona!

Once again, the dance commences, different each time and just as magical.

With these thoughts in mind, I pull up yet another speedpaint on Youtube and settle in for the show.  Under my delighted gaze, another picture comes to life. . . pulled into being with only the will of the artist to thank.  And even if I already know the brand of pixie dust (it’s called “Dedication”) and can find the answers to my questions among the hundreds of tutorials on the web, there will always be a special place in my heart for speedpaints.  I am grateful that there are so many artists willing to share their process, their techniques, their secrets with the world. . . willing to make the magic come alive.

By Johanna Tarkela aka Lhuin

Falling (Digital Painting WIP)

Falling (WIP) by River. Digital sketch produced in GIMP 2.8 using a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet.I was going to add this to a sketchdump later this week, but as I finished the inks today, I thought I’d go ahead and post it. (^u^)  Here is the finished inked version of a new print, “Falling”!

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (one of my favorite books), this print features a girl falling in a dream.  I wonder if she was watching Alice in Wonderland before bed?  Or is she Alice, herself, falling down the rabbit hole. . . ?  I haven’t quite decided yet, so we’ll see what happens when I color it. \(^o^)/

Fun fact: This piece took me three days to ink.  Whew!  All those little details were quite intense.  Any bets on how long coloring will take. . . ?  Haha.


  • GIMP 2
  • Wacom Intuos 3

Sketches and Ramblings

Work is going slowly this week. I don’t have any finished pieces to share, so here’s a page of sketches I shared on Twitter:

(This is probably a good time to mention that I usually post daily sketches on Twitter.  They just seem to fit better on Twitter vs this blog.  But maybe I should do like a  weekly round-up of sketches?  A sketchdump?  What do you think?)

Art is a funny field.  Each piece takes a long time, and I only want to post something when it’s ‘done,’ so if it’s still in-progress, it’s hard for me to share. . . On the other hand, there’s this sort of pressure to “post weekly at a minimum” and I produce more sketches than anything else, so on weeks when painting is going s l o w l y, I end up posting sketches anyway.  In that respect, I wish I had a style that lends itself better to quick, finished paintings – or maybe that’s not dependent on style, but rather workflow.  So in that case, I just have to keep on drawing and the speed will come.  With practice.  Yeah.

Then there’s the fact that I love both writing and drawing.  I enjoy both, but I haven’t yet reached a balance where it feels like I’m doing enough of either.  When I’m drawing, I think about all the stories I want to tell, and when I’m writing, I’m thinking about the pictures I want to paint.  And of course, most of my stories are longer-term projects and aren’t “done” yet, so I can’t share those with you in the meantime.  It’s not frustrating exactly, and I’ll probably find a balance one day; it’s just that I wish there were more hours in a day so I can do ALL THE STUFF instead of just part of it, haha.

Oh, even though I said I can’t really share story-stuff with you guys. . . I’ve been revisiting my NaNo project this week & trying to work out some of the kinks.  I think the basic plot is okay, just need to flesh out my characters a bit more. . . and figure out a good logline. . . . Anyway, I should have a few things to share soon!  Like, working title and characters’ names and so on.   So look forward to that!