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!

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

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!

Header for Cloud’s Blog WIP

cloud-header-sketch-watermarkedLast Thursday I shared a sketch for my new header design.  Today I’m happy to show you a sketch for Cloud’s new header design!  \(^o^)/  And again we have a nice gradient background, so the sketch isn’t so monochrome; I think even a splash of color helps bring an image to life.

Just like Strike A Spark’s design features comic!River, the new header for Cloud’s World Of: features comic!Cloud!  I think her design turned out very cute, and somehow more elegant than River.  Maybe because her hands look a little better. . . ?

By the by, Cloud helped me with the concept for both our headers.  That’s why they match, which I am ridiculously happy about!  \(^o^)/

I’m hoping to finish up the coloring on both pieces within the next week or so.  It largely depends on whether I can continue working around that bug.  For now, plugging in an external keyboard seems to have fixed it, so we’ll see~ !

Art from the Archives: Kimono & Moon

Hello hello!  Welcome back the last installment of Art from the Archives!  Today we continue the Eastern-inspired theme, but take a step back from dragons and focus on traditional clothing and the ever-romantic moon instead.  May I present, Kimono & Moon, featuring my original character Choko:

Kimono & Moon by RiverAnother lineless painting!  It seems that past River was very daring. ^o^  In actuality, I did not set out from the start to make it lineless.  I happened to switch off the lineart about half-way through, and liking the result, I left it off from there on out and adjusted the painting accordingly.

With more opaque and solid objects, I took a different tactic with this piece.  The flat colors were laid down first, with highlights and (more often) shadows laid on top.  The points I am most proud of, here, are the shading on the fabric and the reflections on the floor.  While I missed my chance to paint in traditional tatami-mat or wood flooring, I do like the shiny effect in this piece and feel that that and the curtains give this piece its East-meets-West feel.

One more thing needs to be said before we close this installment: Though I am presenting this as a finished piece, it’s actually still a work-in-progress!  I planned to add a butterfly motif to the kimono, and have butterflies perch on her finger and on the flower posies.  While I think the piece works as it is, my eye misses the butterflies. TT_TT  One day, I shall add them and re-release this piece.

Thank you for joining me for this journey through the Archives!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  While this is all I have to share for now, I’ll keep an eye out for more old, neglected pieces and revive this series when I find some more. 🙂

If you missed the previous installments, or just want to see them again, click here!

Until next time~!