For many of us—both men and women—pencils were the first makeup tool we ever picked up. But pencils often get a bad rap with pros. Many artists are quick to dismiss the durability and longevity of pencils, tossing them aside in favor of powder or cream liners. Not so fast: a pencil can add deep color, variety, and rich texture to finish an eye application. Plus, with so many choices and formulations available today, pencils are much longer lasting than they once were. While you should let your own aesthetic be your guide as to which ones you carry in your kit, here are some pointers for selecting pencils.
Bold, rich, and available with a variety of undertones, a black pencil is a staple. Usually, it’s the standard for creating both the coveted smokey eye as well as a simple, basic eye. With black, I prefer kohl formulations. One of the great properties of kohl is that it’s a natural bactericide and great for the most sensitive eyes. The pigment tends to be smooth and rich, and kohl is easy on eyes even when applied right on the waterline or lashline.
An easy way to add depth without the striking, center-of-attention demands that come with black liner, browns come in many different shades. I keep both warm, rich, red browns and cool taupe browns in my kit. Brown works well on most eye colors, and it’s easy to pair it with shadows from the same side of the color wheel for a more natural look, or with opposite shades for more of a pop.
For a bold look, blue pencil can be an excellent choice for most eye colors. Deep, dark blues will pull out the gold and amber flecks, and is also amazing for whitening red or tired eyes. On blue eyes, deep blue pencils can add interest and make light eyes appear even more intense.
This color family will vary wildly, and the difference between a soft plum pencil and a rich royal purple is huge. Purples are often a go-to for green eyes, but they also enhance blue and hazel eyes very well. For fairer skin tones, lighter tints in the violet family will look more natural, while deeper tones are more natural on darker skin. Caution: you should stay away from the hue of your own under eye discoloration. You don't want to conceal bags only to bring them back with your eye makeup!
An easy pick for every skin tone and eye shade, soft, cool taupe pencils are perfect for enhancing eye definition in a soft, understated way. Try using a taupe pencil in the crease of the eye when you want soft shading, and you'll be surprised how natural it looks while sculpting out the features.
White: Easily one of the most misused colors, white pencils are great for lining inside eyes that we want to make appear larger. Try it along the waterline or dotted the inner corner for to open up the eye.
Clarifying pencils are essentially those that match your concealer shade of pencil. They give you an open look without the risk of overkill that sometimes happens while working with white. I love using a clarifying pencil to open up a tired eye, to spot conceal, or to highlight small part of the complexion.
One pro tip every makeup lover should know: while there are many pencils on the market, there are actually very few cosmetic manufacturers that create makeup pencils. Find the formula that your prefer, but remember that you don’t always need to spend money on prestige or pro brands to get a great pencil— high and low end pencils often come from the same manufacturer, anyway! Experiment with a variety and choose based on what makes the most sense in your own makeup applications.
Check out Parts 1–10 of James Vincent’s Building Your Kit series here, and stay tuned for Part 12, coming soon!
As Director of Artistry for The Makeup Show, The Powder Group and On Makeup Magazine, makeup artist James Vincent has touched every facet of the industry with his talent. With specialties in film and theatre, television and celebrity work, editorial and runway work, James is foremast a passionate educator, training for brands such as MAC, Stila, CNN and Lancome. He continues to inspire the next wave of artists with his beauty expertise. Follow James on Twitter @JVincentmakeup.