Over the last few years, a lot of art supply retailers have started having ‘house’ brands manufactured for them. These are art supplies made by a reputable (at least in most cases) art supply manufacturer but with the art supply retailer’s name slapped on them. Often these house brand supplies are the same good quality as the real thing but are significantly cheaper. One of the retailers who jumped on this train was Dick Blick, who have – among other things – their own line of coloured pencils. I only ever made one or two orders from them (most of my US orders came from either Jerry’s Artarama or ASW), but one of those included a tin of their coloured pencils in a selection of warm and cool greys (I wanted to try the brand but couldn’t justify spending big on a large set, and this was the only 12 colour set they had in stock at the time).
Here’s the chart for the greys.
The range has 91 colours according to the sticker on the bottom of my little tin, and from pictures I’ve seen of full sets, there’s a good variety of colours, though the range does seem very heavy on blues, greens and yellows. Given that this set seems targeted at those who do a lot of monochrome drawings, it seemed odd and a bit disappointing that a pure white and black pencil weren’t included. I suppose they assumed people would buy this set as a supplement to one of the larger sets of coloured pencils, which all come with a black and white. I did also have about 5-6 actual colours (including a white) from the range somewhere, but I have no idea where they’ve gone. Probably lost forever in the endless abyss that is my art supply cupboard.
According to a post on WetCanvas, Blick’s Studio coloured pencil range was developed to be a competitor for Prismacolor’s well known Premier pencils (which I’ve used but haven’t reviewed yet). They are certainly competitive from a price standpoint; Blick pencils are only about $1 (USD) individually or you can buy a set of 72 colours for around $60-70, depending on sales. Make sure you do order the artist grade Studio line, though, and not the Essentials; the latter is Blick’s kiddie grade pencil designed for school room use.
With the fall in quality of Prismacolor Premier pencils (read the whole thread from that post I linked to above), the coloured pencil market was ripe for an affordable new contender, and I think Blick’s Studio pencils mostly fill that niche pretty well. Though they’re not quite as creamy as the Premier pencils, the Blick Studio pencils still feel smooth to draw with and it’s easy to build up multiple layers as long as you use a good drawing paper. Pigment load is comparable with Prismacolors and Derwent Artist pencils, but the Blick pencils don’t have quite the same level of opacity. For most colours this doesn’t really matter, but for those who like to burnish and add highlights with the white pencil, this will be an issue. It also means they are not particularly suited to being used on black paper. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the lightfastness of the range since I only have shades of grey, but to be honest, it can’t be worse than Prismacolor’s overall lightfastness.
Still, since Prismacolor’s decision a few years back to move production to Mexico, the Premier pencils have become even more prone to breakage than they already were; not only do the leads themselves break, but the wooden casing also tends to crack, not helped by the fact many of the lead cores are off centre. Though I only have a relatively small selection of Blick’s Studio pencils, I didn’t encounter issues with any of them, so it seems they are noticeably higher quality than Prismacolors. For this reason alone, the Blick Studio pencils are worth a look, since you can actually use the whole pencil, rather than having to sharpen it down to nothing because it keeps breaking.
Here’s a sketch I did of my friend’s cat, Blu, based on a photo she posted on her Facebook page.
Since these pencils are only available from an American retailer, the postage cost will push them out of the ‘good value’ category if you don’t live in the United States (though if you do live outside America, you could always throw some in with your next bulk order). However if you do live in the States, Blick’s Studio pencils are worth trying out. Their white pencil isn’t as creamy and opaque as a Prismacolor white, but you could just buy a Prismacolor white (or any other brand you like) separately and put it with a set of Blick Studio pencils for a good quality but reasonably priced set of coloured pencils.