I don’t know what possesses me to work in colour pencil now and then, but it happens, and as usual all the frustrations and annoyances of working with them set in. You need to get your pencils sharp, while at the same time there’s always an anxiety over just how much pencil you’re eating when sharpening. There are many ways to sharpen a pencil, and everyone has their fave method. I’m not overly skilled at hand sharpening with a knife, so I save that one as a last resort. If you’re like a whole lot of people and use Prismacolor pencils, you’ll find the frustration levels to be very high indeed. A lot of people settle on Prismacolor because they are in the higher range of quality, and somewhat affordable. That said, they are extraordinarily fragile. Being quite soft, it doesn’t take much to break the core, and when a core is broken, you end up with: sharpen, core breaks. Sharpen again, core breaks. Lather, rinse, & repeat until you have about two inches of brand new effing pencil left. When a pencil costs you around $2.00, that tends to make you yelling angry. Some retailers have a specific policy on Prismacolor, such as Dick Blick, where they will replace your stub with another pencil. This does not take away the sheer inconvenience of this little problem. If you’re doing a return and replace at a store, you’ll need your receipt, so it’s always good to hang on to Prismacolor receipts until you go to sharpen them.
You can’t tell if a core is broken by looking. If you start sharpening, and start losing point after point, stop. Prismacolor recommends you place your pencil in a warm, sunny spot for up to 5 minutes, which repairs the break in the core. This is not exactly sterling advice for people who live in places which have 6 months of winter, and often have cool, overcast days in Spring and Summer. Some people swear by microwaving them, but this can be a good way to utterly destroy your pencil, with the often metallic stamping going up in a shower of sparks, and setting the wood casing on fire. There’s much debate about time, too – people say anywhere from 5 seconds to 25 seconds. Another method is using your oven, which is safer. The basic consensus seems to be 5 to 10 minutes @ 250 F. Some people insist the pencil should go in cold (on foil or a baking tin), but my oven takes its time heating, so I wait until it’s at temperature, then put it in for the least amount of time. You definitely should check on your pencil at least halfway through – if the point is bubbling, get it out! On the opposite end, some people claim freezing Prismacolor pencils makes them easier to sharpen. I haven’t tried this.
Storage is very important when it comes to Prismacolor, and all pencils should be treated well. Dedicated pencil holders are truly best, padded cases with elastic to hold your pencils. Tran pencil cases are quite affordable, and work well. I have this one, along with a number of smaller roll ups. If you keep your pencils in a cup or similar, generously pad the bottom with something soft, like cotton batting. Whatever you do, try to place your pencil container in a place where they will not get knocked over. When your lovely Prismacolors hit the ground, you can count on broken cores.
There is one thing which makes a massive difference when it comes to Prismacolor pencils, and that is how you sharpen them with a small, hand-held sharpener. It goes without saying that you should change your blades often, but what coddles your Prismacolor pencil is holding your pencil still, and turning the sharpener. This is counter-intuitive, but it will become habit soon enough. This applies a much lighter pressure, which is less likely to break the core, and it actually produces less waste. Give it a try, you won’t go back. I do this with all my different brands of colour pencils.
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