Product Review - Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Museum Art Set

Koh-I-Noor Museum Art Set

Koh-I-Noor Museum Art Set, photo by Robert A. Sloan
Koh-I-Noor Museum Art Set, photo by Robert A. Sloan

#28 of 30 Hubs in 30 Days Challenge!

#28 of 30 Hubs in 30 Days. I started my challenge on July 25th, so it ends on August 24th at the end of the day. Only two more needed to finish!
#28 of 30 Hubs in 30 Days. I started my challenge on July 25th, so it ends on August 24th at the end of the day. Only two more needed to finish!

Colored Pencils in a Lead Holder!

Woodless colored pencils are efficient. Every bit of the core material is used, especially if instead of sharpening you wear down the point filling in larger areas or glazing to a chisel point to use for details. Koh-I-Noor also produces a set of 24 woodless colored pencils, the Progresso Hardtmuth line, which is an inexpensive artist grade product I find indispensible. 

Yet lead holders are also a convenience of their own. Lead holders are permanent, the clutch type are like fine pens and handle well with drafting equipment. You can extend the point a little longer when drawing with a ruler or template, sharpen with sandpaper to any shape desired or by always holding it at the same angle, create a chisel tip good for both fine lines and broad tonal layering where a blunt point is more useful. 

This set was on Clearance at Dick Blick for some time. I looked at the price -- still over $60 even on Clearance, and was dubious about paying that much for something that only has a range of 24 colors. Blick didn't carry refills either. Eventually though, my fondness for clutch type lead holders convinced me to try it on a windfall. I'm now very glad that I did.

The leads are very soft, comparable to Prismacolor colored pencils or the Prismacolor Art Stix. They are subject to wax bloom, the same way that Art Stix and Prismacolors are. This problem is easily solved by one or two light coats of workable matte fixative over the art when you're finished. It doesn't impair the briliance of the colors or the flexibility of an extendable lead.

Below you can see the wax bloom on the sides of the sticks. When the set was sealed in shrink wrap and I first opened it, these were as bright as the barrels of other colored pencils. So this is a direct warning -- treat them like Prismacolors and give them the fixative! If you see this pale waxy coating develop on a colored pencil painting, just gently wipe it off with a soft cloth and then apply fixative to prevent it recurring.

It happens with softer wax colored pencils more often than hard lead ones because the pigment grains drift downward through the soft wax and oils drift up to the surface creating the "wax bloom." It doesn't affect permanence or anything else, it's just inconvenient to remove -- and a sign that the pencils really are that soft.

Colored leads showing wax bloom

24 colored leads showing the whitish coating of Wax Bloom, easily prevented on a painting by using workable matte fixative after you finish or after gently wiping off the wax bloom.
24 colored leads showing the whitish coating of Wax Bloom, easily prevented on a painting by using workable matte fixative after you finish or after gently wiping off the wax bloom.

A Well-Chosen Range

The 24 colors in the Museum Art Set are well chosen for good mixers and can be combined to produce any hue desired. I was happy to see two pinks and no peach or light flesh color since it's much easier to get good skin tones using a reddish brown and combining it with white, browns, pinks and yellows to match the individual's skin tone rather than relying on a flat Peach or Flesh color. Pinks are also more useful for rendering flowers and commercial products.

There's a warm and cool version of each of the primary and secondary colors -- yellows, oranges, reds, violets, blues and greens. In addition there are both warm and cool light greens. The set includes four different browns -- a golden ochre, reddish brown comparable to Venetian Red or Burnt Sienna, light golden brown and deep cold brown, plus gray, black and white. The white is fairly transparent. Below is a color chart of each of the leads.

Color chart, Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Leads

Color chart of Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Museum Art Set
Color chart of Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Museum Art Set

Qualities and Set Contents

The white is not very opaque, as you can see on the color chart. After extremely hard pressure over an inked black patch, I burnished the light end of each shading bar on the color chart to see how well it worked for burnishing -- it's a wonderful burnishing white. Somewhere between a colorless blender and a white, it lightens slightly but will deepen most colors if used as a blender.

If you want a very strong opaque white, I would recommend using a white Derwent Drawing Pencil with the set or using a white grease pencil on dark or black papers under the lighter colors. On white papers, the colors gleam and laydown is very soft and smooth. It was easy to get full saturation with only medium pressure, yet light tonal layers were also easy to get with lighter pressure. 

My scanner darkened the red-orange to red, but the colors are distinct in person and you can get very good effects blending the different reds and oranges together with the yellows. A smooth red-to-yellow gradient isn't hard to achieve. The white is mostly a mixing white more than an accent white, but this can be an advantage in the field if you reserve white for accents in a sketchbook and use less pressure over areas you want to lighten.

The "Polycolor" designation is important, this is Koh-I-Noor's artist grade colored pencil, distinct from some of their other lines. Mondeluz, Progresso and Progresso Aquarell are also artist grade. Triocolor is also listed in the insert as artist grade. 

The set includes a black Gioconda Negro wood-cased sketch pencil and two graphite leads, along with a 4B Progresso woodless pencil, a sandpaper paddle for sharpening and three chunky clutch tip lead holders. The clutch tips have four flaps, not three, so the grip is a little more secure. They are heavy and solid in the hand, protecting delicate leads from breakage and allowing use right up to the last half inch or less unlike wood cased pencils.

Below is a photo of the set's entire contents.

Art Set contents

Contents of the Museum Art Set tin, open.
Contents of the Museum Art Set tin, open.

Excellent tin, not very portable though.

The tin has a hinged lid and is very sturdy, it shuts well and the styrene compartmented holder inside has finger grip holes to pull out all of the products easily. It's fairly deep and fits in solidly. Some tins have styrene trays that are flimsy or not fitted well to the tin shape so the products can come loose and roll. Not this set. I've had no trouble transporting it or tilting it on its end or sides.

Included is a corrugated paper protector sheet that I kept inside to keep the leads from jumping out of the tray, otherwise I'd have had to put a piece of felt or foam pad in to protect the products from jumping out the way they do in Prismacolor tins. This is one of the better tins I've seen on any colored pencils product.

Unfortunately, the set does not include a more portable leads tray or holder. In older descriptions it supposedly had a test tube with a rubber cork so that you could put the leads and lead holders in your pocket. I would like to see a product like that or like the heavy plastic lead boxes that Turquoise graphite leads come in, so that the set could be more portable than most 24 color sets of colored pencils. 

Its main disadvantage is that I don't know where I can get refills for the leads. Not having open stock replacements makes this a curiosity more than a practical set. It's pricy but artist grade, it's amusing and the lead holders are quite permanent. They may work with other brands of graphite leads long after I've used up the colored leads or I may find a supplier that carries the color leads in open stock. I wouldn't even mind having to buy them in boxes of a dozen because they are so high quality and I know I'd go through them fast on large paintings if I had them stocked up at home.

Whether you prefer this set or the Polycolor wood cased pencils is personal taste. The core material is probably the same and the manufacturer has very high standards. Despite the price, I'm very glad I bought it and enjoy working with it on any type of colored pencils painting where I'd use Prismacolors.

Cobalt Blue Eyedropper Bottle

Cobalt blue eyedropper bottle rendered in Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Art Set leads on white paper by Robert A. Slon
Cobalt blue eyedropper bottle rendered in Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Art Set leads on white paper by Robert A. Slon

The best part -- painting with them!

I set out a cobalt blue eyedropper bottle that used to hold ginseng tincture on a piece of white paper to capture the rich blue radiance within the shadow, then drew and burnished it with Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Art Set leads. It was easy to set out three colors at a time in the separate lead holders, going back and forth between blue and violet-blue and sky blue till I had the hues within the bottle just right. I swapped out one of the blues for black and added some deep darks, then swapped out the black for white to burnish.

I went back in with the original colors again to brighten up the burnished areas and then returned to white to strengthen some soft highlights on the bottle. They handled beautifully the way Prismacolors do, the texture is very similar. I could easily have gone into many more layers if needed. The lead holders are very comfortable in my hand and a little easier to grip than thinner pencils, without demanding special sharpeners. 

I sharpened the points mostly by burnishing, something that just doesn't work as well on wood cased pencils because eventually I get down to the level of the wood. The sandpaper paddle was useful for blunting a blue down to a slanted chisel point for filling in a large area on another painting. Each of the leads comes pre-sharpened. 

The leads are thicker than a rotary lead pointer can handle though, so don't try using one to point them. The sandpaper paddle gives more control of shape anyway. 

I enjoy this set a lot even though I don't view it as very portable and do hope a USA online supplier will carry the replacement leads. That would just about make it perfect, as I could always design a portable lead carrier by using a Dremel to rout grooves in a hinged pair of wood blocks. If you purchase this set, it's definitely not a waste -- you'll get plenty of good use out of it and the lead holders are good permanent tools.

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Comments 3 comments

Grapevine 5 years ago

You can get polycolor leads from an ebay seller who ships from the Russian federation.


Mariam 19 months ago

John,Thanks!Miniature art is one of my favorite types of art. I love doing small work and clrooed pencils are ideal for that. Right now, I'm headed in the opposite direction, planning a half dozen large (16 20 or larger) landscapes in oils or clrooed pencils, but I hope to squeeze in some minis.Carrie


Andre 19 months ago

Steele asked, I too was curious if you have caetred any sort of set schedule/routine for creating or working (or both!) I've been thinking about doing so for myself. I think I would accomplish more and develop myself more if I did. With a little (well, big) 15 month old running around it's easy to get sidetracked!I was also wondering, how do you create such a lovely gold color? Do you have any tips for blending, like, which colors you used? Or do you use an actual gold paint over/under the watercolor? I love gold almost as much as I love neon and would love to know your way of doing it! It came out great! Thanks, Katie!

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