Watercolorists often grouse, as Rodney Dangerfield might lament, "I don't get NO respect." There's probably nothing new in that. Watercolor has always been a poor stepsister to oil painting. The "king" of watercolor, Winslow Homer, probably had the same complaint. However, as an art medium, watercolor stands head and shoulders above an even MORE disrespected color medium--colored pencils. If watercolor suffers from a "kindergarten complex" think what that means for colored pencils. They're often associated with wax crayons and we put them in the hands of two-year-olds with the admonishment, "don't EAT them" (not that it would hurt them if they did). Now THAT'S an image problem. Worse than that, the average person probably doesn't even realize that colored pencil art as a distinct art medium. If they can get past the Crayola image the next thought that crosses their minds are the cheap little four-inch map coloring pencils with about as much pigment encased in their crappy little shafts as a styptic pencil.

As a fine art medium, colored pencils are a relatively new development. Picasso is said to have used Caran d'Ache exclusively and Jackson Pollock not only used them but experimented with wax solvents in their use. They came into their own as a "clean" color medium in the 1960s and 70s though even then were mostly a curiosity, playing second fiddle to pastels (by then also available in pencil form) until a number of proficient practitioners began publishing "how to" books on their use in the early 1980s. Since then, they seem to have gained the affection of many former pastel artists as a much more "stable" medium especially for portraits.

The pencil itself has been around for over four-hundred years. It was invented in Italy in 1565. It was 1900 before they added rubber erasers, not so much for lack of technology, but because teachers feared they would encourage students to make errors. Colored pencils, on the other hand are less than a hundred years old. The first ones appear to have been manufactured around 1905 though they were not highly pigmented nor very versatile. They didn't come into serious use until the 1920s when Faber in this country, Caran d'Ache in France, and Stabilo in Germany began promoting them for use by graphic designers who demanded some COLOR in their colored pencils. Prismacolors were introduced in 1938. Early colored pencils had peel-away paper casings not unlike today's "grease" pencils.

Like the common crayon, colored pencils are wax based. They consist of a filler (usually kaolin, talc, or chalk), a colorant, (pigment or dye), a binding material (cellulose ethers, or vegetable gums), and wax (paraffin, beeswax, or carnauba). And in case you're wondering just how far removed that makes them from a crayon, you'll be dismayed to know that practically all those ingredient are also present in the wax crayon, only in different proportions. No wonder we who use colored pencils have an image problem. Watercolorists, I don't wanna hear it!