Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils

Faber-Castell created the Polychromos System, matching colors on their hard pastels, colored pencils and Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils for ease in using their products together on mixed media. Polychromos colored pencils are medium-soft, nowhere near as smudgy and easily blended as Prismacolor or Coloursoft, but much softer than student grade colored pencils. They're pigment-rich and have a slight slippery feel on the paper, blending well with firm pressure. Unlike wax-based colored pencils, they aren't subject to wax bloom.

I bought the 120 color full range tin, you can see half of the range in the Global Classic leather case that I keep it in. The pencils are enameled all the way down with a little gold band near the dipped ends. They're round, but narrow enough to use a standard sharpener and will hold a very fine point well, just like Prismacolor Verithin. I think they are more pigmented than Verithin and find them more opaque. Not quite as opaque as Coloursoft, but more than many artist grade brands.

Another great advantage of the Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils is that they are all labeled for lightfastness. Everything in the range has either * for lightfast, ** for good lightfastness or *** for excellent lightfastness. If you're looking for a large set and concerned about archival quality, Polychromos is a good choice. Price is about mid-range for a good artist grade colored pencil.

The full color 120 pencil tin also comes with a CD of art instruction that is the same CD for all the Polychromos products. It includes a tutorial on using colored pencils, on mixed media, on watercolor pencils and on pastels in a variety of language. The techniques in the tutorial are more impressionist than the fine-detail colored pencils realism that's so popular, but very striking and I found the tutorial useful.

These pencils work well on colored papers like Canson Mi-Tientes smooth side, just translucent enough for the paper color to affect the whole but opaque enough that complements can be brought to full brightness on it. Many of the examples in the DVD tutorial were done on tinted paper in strong colors.

Like Derwent Artist's colored pencils, Faber-Castell Polychromos are very good for a tonal drawing that uses the white specks of the paper for shading. They will hold a fine point and with heavy pressure can be used to incise a fine line to work lightly over with softer pencils or with lighter pressure and darker Polychromos pencils. Their medium softness gives them versatility allowing both hard-pencil techniques and soft-pencil techniques to work equally well and strong pigment makes them very good for opaque passages and pure color when needed.

Faber-Castell Polychromos will blend well with odorless mineral spirits, Bestine rubber cement thinner and turpentine substitutes for wash effects. I prefer using them on fine-grained papers with a vellum or toothy surface. Stonehenge is great with them, but smooth side Canson mi-Tientes is also good and I've had good results with sketchbook paper which I think is similar to cartridge paper in tooth and surface.

The color range is strong on brights and seems to relate to a designer's range, there are many even hue divisions around the spectrum, red-oranges and blue-greens and blue-violets one step farther along the range. It's evenly divided around the spectrum with a lot of yellows, oranges and reds. There are a few useful tints, pinks and light blues, but no extra-light tints in the range. For extra-light tints, go lightly and burnish with white.

The earth tones range is beautiful. Cool blue-grays, warm grays and nearly brown French grays each have several values, then there's a nice variety of yellowish, reddish, pinkish and dark browns. They include a couple of skin-tone highlight colors and ever-useful Cream. Greens include some muted hues, gray-greens and olives as well as spectrum bright greens. Deep darks are represented around the spectrum if you consider several shades of yellow ochre as the dark range of yellow.

The large range with its emphasis on spectrum brights demands a little knowledge of color, mixing and creating values by pressure. It has fewer convenience colors than other large ranges, what it has is pure tertiary hues with high intensity. For someone who loves to mix colors, this set is a joy. You can always mute a color by adding a little of its complement or near-complement, but you can never mix a color as bright as starting with a pencil that hue -- and if you need exactly that yellow-orange for a detail in a flower center, that's a convenience too.

If you're a beginner, the Faber-Castell Polychromos large set will teach color mixing and tonal value adjustments. The pencils respond beautifully to any degree of pressure, laying down well with feather-light touches for a dry glaze that barely changes the color of the paper and burnishing several layers with a heavy application or incising lines with a very sharp point to work around. For an intermediate to expert colored pencil artist, these are good archival oil-based colored pencils that may have exactly the right texture for your hand and your style.

Try a few of them from open stock or a small set of 12 or 24 before investing in the big set. All of the artist grade brands that have a 120 color range are good in their own ways for different styles. Polychromos is one of the most versatile -- if you learn to mix colors and use light pressure and white burnishing to create pale tints.

Here's an example of a drawing I did with Faber-Castell Polychromos, done from life on white sketchbook paper for a Scavenger Hunt event on I used a soft tonal layer for the shadow of the brush and two or three layers of blended golds and browns for the brass, the black part of the handle is done with black, dark blue, dark green, dark red and a couple of cool grays under the highlights. The fine points gave me beautiful precision for the lines in the brush head and tiny details along the handle. I love these pencils but they may not be for everyone, so try a few before buying the big set.

Travel Brush
4" x 7"
Faber-Castell Polychromos on white sketchbook paper, from life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blick Artist Watercolors

I've learned to trust "house brand" art supplies from Dick Blick. Inevitably they are priced for the frugal but use the best pigments and meet a high standard of quality for the medium. Blick Artists' Watercolors are no exception. Priced from $3.99 to $5.99, these watercolors come in generous 14ml tubes in a range of 54 colors.

They're pigment rich, smooth, fine grained and strong. They're as good as other artist grade brands, but for the price of a 5ml tube of a series 1 earth color, you can get a 14ml tube of real Cadmiums and Cobalts. I couldn't believe that pricing. So it was a happy surprise when I decided to try some of them and found out how excellent they are.

If you paint large, these watercolors can seriously help your budget. I chose Lemon Yellow, Raw Sienna, English Red, Quinacridone Rose, Ultramarine, Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, Hookers Green Deep, Burnt Umber, Titanium White and Paynes Grey. The three colors sitting by themselves in the top tray of the palette are a triad of Da Vinci watercolor samples I got as a freebie for ordering Watercolor Artist magazine.

They reactivate quickly if allowed to dry in the palette, which is my preferred way to use tube watercolors. I rarely just use them neat from the tube although many artists do. These are very strong, so if I did, I would have the tinting strength for dark blacks with the Paynes Grey or even the blues and greens.

Much of what makes an artist grade watercolor better and stronger is good choices of pigments -- mineral pigments chosen for intensity and purity, chemical pigments made well in consistent strong batches. Details of exact pigment composition and lightfastness for each pigment whether it's a single pigment color or multi-pigment color are listed on Blick's website with each color, along with a good sized swatch both pure and thinned to a 50% wash with water.

The other secret to artist grade paints is fine milling. The smaller the pigment particles in the binder. The smaller the particles, the more of them fit in the same quantity of binder, the thicker, richer and stronger tinting the paint is. Binders are usually gum arabic or other gums, possibly mixed with honey or other ingredients to make watercolors. Most makers keep their binder recipes secret. Blick's got a good recipe, they must have spent quite some time researching it because these watercolors reactivate to exactly the same quality as I got when painting when they're fresh out of the tube.

That isn't always true, some watercolors crack or peel or do funny things if they're lumped up in a palette, or they'll have insoluble chunks in them. None of these colors had any inclusions, specks or chunks, the consistency of all of them was exactly the same although transparency varied per color.

Be sure to check the color name against the pigments listing. Some colors that are sometimes single pigment colors such as Raw Sienna, are created as hues by mixing other pigments. Raw Sienna in Blick's line is actually the Raw Sienna pigment. Raw Umber is Raw Umber pigment mixed with Yellow Ochre pigment. Vermilion is two different Napthol Reds, Quinacridone Red and Hansa Yellow Medium... not the roasted lead color a medieval painting book described how to create. So it's a bit safer sometimes to have pigments that are hues.

The color names are more of a convenience, but the pigments listed are good ones and the mixtures are very effective. In the case of some colors I think the hues may actually out perform the originals in permanence and lightfastness. However, Blick Artist Watercolors do include geniune Cadmium reds, oranges and yellows, so they have the working qualities artists demand from Cadmium colors.

I'm very happy with my Blick Artist watercolors and for anyone with a tight budget, trying these can make the shift to artist grade watercolor a bit less painful. Also, I seriously recommend beginners try these rather than get student grade watercolors. Transparent watercolor is a difficult enough medium without the struggle to overcome problems caused by lower pigment concentration or colors that don't mix the way the book or your teacher says they do.

Pick up a primary triad to see if you like them, replace a standby like Ultramarine that gets used up fast, or try a new color just for fun. These are definitely good artist grade watercolors at remarkably low prices -- it's enough to tempt anyone to get rolls of Arches paper and think about working huge.

Here's an example of a painting I did with my Blick Artist's Watercolors.

Green Orchid I
8 1/2" x 11"
Blick Artist's watercolor
Lama Li watercolor journal

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blick Folding Palette Box

Sometimes, incredibly useful tools are also loony cheap. I've tried a variety of palettes over the years. One of my favorites is the Blick Folding Palette Box. It comes in two sizes, 8" x 8" open and 10 3/4" x 11 3/4" approx. Both of them have plenty of small slant wells.

The white plastic is sturdy and easily cleaned. I'm not sure why, but some plastic palettes and mixing trays seem to resist stains better than others. Blick uses the best type of heavy white plastic for resisting stains. In the photo, you can see mine in use full of paint that I'll review in another article, since there's two brands in the palette together. I've used all five large mixing areas often including with such all time staining favorites as Pthalo Blue and Alizarin Crimson.

I had no problem cleaning the mixing areas back to pure white even after using staining colors. Sometimes a little residual color was left after initial washing, but pressing firmly with a damp tissue always scrubs the last of it out. That matters a lot when I'm mixing colors. I don't want the apparent hue altered by the color of a stain in the mixing area -- if I'm building a delicate cool pink, a pthalo blue stain could push me to make it way too warm or make it look like mud.

I like the 8" x 8" size for its portability. I love stuff that's small and easy to carry, since I like to be able to work anywhere I want in the house or bring supplies outdoors in good weather. The Blick Folding Palette Box also snaps shut firmly and stays clamped shut. A problem I've had with some similar folding boxes is that the plastic tongue or clip that holds it shut breaks off. In a year and a half of very heavy use, this one's never broken.

A narrow handled watercolor brush can be put inside, but if it's too wide the folding palette box won't close. However, there are three small holes next to the thumb hole to store brushes vertically while it's open. Both those and the thumb hold are very handy if you like holding everything in one hand while working with the other. All you'd need is a hanging water bucket on your easel and you're good.

The large Blick Folding Palette Box is $5.43 with 24 small slant wells and five big mixing areas. It also has a brush compartment across the length of the top tray, so that might be a better choice if you want to store a brush or two in it with your watercolors. Also eight of the slants are on the top tray.

The small Blick Folding Palette Box is $3.58. It's got 20 small slants and five mixing areas. That's the one I find the most convenient for the way I use mine. At this price, I'd like to have more than one set up with different specialty palettes.

Using tube watercolors is often a lot less expensive than half pans, whether student or artist grade. Some of the good artist grade watercolors come in quite large tubes. If you prefer working from pans as I do for their cleanliness and convenience, one or more of these inexpensive folding palettes can solve the problem. Just choose the colors you want to load it with, fill the small slant wells with colors and let them dry in the palette.

I wash out my mixing areas sometimes, other times I'll leave a mixture available to reactivate and use again. But if I want a fresh start I really like having a palette that comes clean even if I let a wash dry in it months ago. I use such a variety of mediums that any art supply or product I use has to be able to stand up to being stored and left alone for weeks or months, sometimes even years if I don't have the space to set up for the medium.

I'm happy to say this palette performs as well as many more expensive palettes and with a lot more convenience. The plastic is much thicker than the covered table style palette I bought years ago. I'm less worried about it cracking if something heavy is piled on top of it or if it's banged around in a bag with other supplies. At this price I could easily replace it if anything happened to it, but I haven't had to.

So be kind to your wallet and your watercolors. The more convenient they are, the more likely you'll paint often and get better at painting!

Below, if you're curious, is the painting that I posed in my photo of the palette. I usually put in an artwork done with the product I'm reviewing, but in this case it wouldn't look any different from a watercolor painting done with a different palette. So I just chose it to give scale -- you saw my Moleskine journal in a previous review and this 8" x 8" palette folds to stack perfectly on the 5" x 8 1/2" Moleskine with an inch or so to spare. It's about 4" wide when closed. What you'd save by purchasing a good, inexpensive palette could get you another color of paint or make the difference to let you afford a great travel journal like the Moleskine.

Near-Black Callas, Calla Series #4
5" x 6"
Daniel Smith watercolors
Moleskine watercolor journal
Photo reference by Faafil from

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Winsor Newton Field Box

Winsor & Newton makes a variety of 8 to 12 color pocket sets to suit any budget. There's the cute little 8 color Cotman Mini that flips open like a cell phone, there is a very inexpensive Cotman 12 color Sketch Box that's got 12 half pans and a good Sceptre pocket brush inside, there's the 14 half pan Compact set in both Cotman and Artist ranges and a beautiful metal box pocket set of 12 Artist's half pans with water bottle included. Out of all this variety of pocket sets, W&N's best for taking anywhere from Renaissance faires to camping trips is the Field Box pictured above.

I first bought a W&N Cotman Field Box in 1978 or 1979 at Flax in San Francisco. It was horribly expensive for a 12 color watercolor set and the same colors were available with a brush in that simple Sketch Kit. I bought it for the water bottle and included brush and water cup. I bought it for the case, plain and simple.

That felt like a dumb decision at the time. $40 more to get one that includes a water bottle and flips open to hold on your hand with a thumb ring? It was a gadget, not a serious artist supply, let alone a necessary one. I felt like an idiot overpaying for a gimmick as I walked out of the store.

Then I went camping with friends and the Cotman Field Box went in my pocket. I did my best to do a watercolor of the lake at the campsite, and got a good watercolor painting of one tree branch and a line vaguely resembling the horizon. I kept at it, but somehow when I would decide what to bring on trips or going to the park or going to medieval events or Renaissance faires... it was my "Renaissance Polaroid" that would wind up in my pocket.

Usually with its water bottle pre-filled and its water cup nicely washed out because I got in the habit of cleaning and refilling it immediately after every use. Sometimes it wound up with me in places I didn't expect to get an opportunity to paint, like trying to do flowers in a friend's garden. It was already in my pocket. It lived in my coat in more climates than I can count.

Eventually a windfall in the summer of 2003 convinced me that I was ready for artist grade watercolors, so I gave my trusty thirty year old Cotman Field Box to a friend and bought this one, the Artist Field Box. I would actually recommend getting the Artist version from the start, but either one is a joy to use.

It's an expensive little gimmick that will trick you into doing more plein air watercolors than you ever expected to. It fits in any pocket or bag, women artists probably keep them in their purse at all times. It's about the size of a pack of tall cigarettes, the 100's length. A little thicker. It fits in a shirt pocket.

And it has the water included, plus the brush. The little metal W&N pocket box doesn't include a brush. The whole thing folds out neatly and has three mixing areas. They do wash perfectly clean, especially if you go over them with a dampened facial tissue after they stain. The included brush is a very small one, a size 0 or 1 round, so you may get used to painting rather small.

I discovered a fondness for doing miniature portraits with it. This set shines for doing miniature portraits or ATCs. You could cut a stack of ATC blanks, put them into a fat top loader or each into a soft sleeve, rubber band the lot to your Field Box and paint on break at work. I did that more times than I can count, because this sometimes wound up in my pants pocket back when I had my typesetting job.

The gimmick actually makes sense.

Because it does include everything you need except the paper, it takes no trouble to prepare for any outing. Just shove it in your pocket or leave it in your pocket and you're good to go. The result is that over time, I got very used to my Cotman Field Box. I owned a lot of other watercolor sets, but that was the one I'd use up and need to refill more often than any other. That was because of its sheer convenience.

The little flat white plastic bottle that forms the third mixing area holds a lot more water than you'd expect. I can fill the water cup from it two or three times or more, depending on how deep I fill it. I like to leave some space to the top so that I can dump it when it's dirty and pour in clean water. The half pans are excellent quality.

Winsor & Newton's Cotman paint was so much better than anything else I used at the time that I didn't realize it was student grade. The set had an unusual palette -- lemon yellow and a warm buttery yellow, orangy red and Alizarin Crimson, Sap Green and Winsor Green, Ultramarine and Winsor (Pthalo) blue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Chinese White. I got used to having white for painting on dark paper, though didn't use up the white as fast as the other colors. I got used to mixing black. That is a good lesson for a student to learn!

Much to my surprise, when I upgraded it to Artist Field Box in 2003, I found out I had to do without my favorite Sap Green but they'd added Ivory Black to the lineup! I guess professional artists do monochrome value sketches with Black and know better than to use it in mixes, but they also replaced the Burnt Umber with Raw Umber, which I didn't like as much. It took me a while to get used to the new palette.

Recently on, I met some other artists who use my favorite field box. I saw it in one of my watercolor books as the author's example of "a handy pocket box." I wasn't the only one who loved the convenience of having water, at least a small brush and a place to put the water along with the mixing areas in a 12 color half pans watercolor set.

My Artist Field Box is still in its original state. A small natural sponge gets included. This is important for doing any washes or big areas. I think most artists who use this kit get used to using the sponge where you'd want a larger mop or bigger brush, or they lose the sponge and rubber band a larger pocket brush to it.

The trick is though, that you can add two more half pans if you move the sponge from its little compartment to keeping it in the empty water cup instead. So as of this Friday, I'm actually modifying my palette. I ordered a half pan of Permanent Rose and another of Quinacridone Gold, noticing Hookers Green is just a mix of Winsor (Pthalo) Green and Quinacridone Gold -- that gets me my warm green again with a simple mix but also gives me the very useful Quinacridone Gold for all the other mixes I love it for. Everyone's favorite palette is different.

If you invest in a Winsor & Newton Field Box, it will last a lifetime. My old gray Cotman one was still in perfect shape after all those years. I replaced the little brush once and replaced the half pans many times. Later on I learned that I can just refill the half pans with tubes, which saves my getting half pans of Artist watercolor except for the first time, when they'll fit in the box.

The palettes in both sets are well chosen, but you can easily purchase half pans to swap them out if a favorite color is missing. I plan on swapping out the Ivory Black for Payne's Grey, Raw Umber for Burnt Umber and maybe drop Yellow Ochre in favor of another color, possibly swiping the spare Chromium Green out of my Lukas 1862 half pans set since it had two of that color. An extra green might be handy. I can do that, because the Winsor & Newton half pans are standard sized.

So if you have favorite half pans of another good artist grade brand like Lukas 1862 or Schminke or Sennelier, nothing's stopping you from customizing your Field Box. Every artist develops a personal palette based on favorite subjects and favorite mixes. But don't lose the little bitty sponge. If you do, cut a new one from a larger sponge and keep it handy, because that small Sceptre or Kolinsky brush will not be large enough to fill in skies or do broad masses of color.

Below is the first page of my watercolor journal, including a color chart and a self portrait I did entirely with the Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box. It's very good for any subject I've ever run into and it's got that incredible advantage of being so self contained. In a jacket pocket or purse you can put a small Moleskine watercolor journal rubberbanded to it and have that available no matter where you go.

This watercolor set has withstood all tests of space, carelessness, laziness and hard usage. I recommend it 100% -- it's worth the initial investment to start out with the most convenient pocket set there is. That alone may trick you into painting more, just the way it did me. This is something to last for a lifetime. Just refill as needed.

Color Chart and Self Portrait
5" x 8 1/2"
Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box watercolors
Moleskine watercolor journal

Monday, March 22, 2010

Art Spectrum pastels

Art Spectrum pastels 60 color Pure Tones set, consolidated into one of the two 30 stick boxes it came in by breaking the sticks in half.

Art Spectrum soft pastels are dense, pigment-rich, heavy and firm. They fall into the medium softness category, much softer than hard pastels like Richeson's square sticks, color Conte or Sanford NuPastels, but harder than Mount Vision. Cost is low to medium compared to other artist grade pastels and they are available in open stock or sets ranging from six to 154. The 6ix Pack six-color sets have no duplicates and if you collect them one six-pack at a time, you will eventually put together a well balanced range of 72 colors.

The round sticks are wrapped with a perforated plastic wrapper to keep your hands clean, you can peel off just a little of the wrapper and leave the last bit on to have the color number. Color number is also printed handily on both ends, so it doesn't matter which end you use.

Packaging -- the cardboard box set has excellent packaging. Heavy slotted foam around the pastels and another layer under them ensured my set arrived unbroken. I was able to break them deliberately and not lose as much that way. The box would make a good plein air box filled with short pieces and half sticks in up to 100 colors once these wear down a bit. Wood box sets seem to have the same type of foam padding from the photos on various websites.

I was attracted to the six-packs for years, with such cleverly named color collections as Moody Blues, Firey Warms and Stone Tones. What I finally bought was a 60 color Pure Tones set on Clearance from ASW -- since Art Spectrum added more pigments and colors to their range, my Pure Tones set doesn't have all the new pure tones. What it does have is a glorious range of midtones, a few Deep Darks and a few Extra Lights to fill out the box since there were less than sixty Pure Tones at the time of its making. A photo of my set is above, all colors consolidated into one of the two 30 stick boxes by breaking all the sticks in half.

I was pleasantly surprised by the rich texture of these firm pastels. They are very pigment-rich and some of the pigments are unique to Australia and to Art Spectrum. Flinders Red Violet and Flinders Blue Violet are rich colors from the Flinders mountains and I've found those as indispensible as my teacher Charlotte Herczfeld. All of the Deep Darks are extremely rich and colorful but very dark, there's an entire set of those available.

Texture varies between colors a bit because they're not formulated for uniform texture by adding fillers, the Art Spectrum pastels are pure pigment. So some colors are softer than others, some are a bit more crumbly than others, but all of them are very strong and blend well. They work fine on a non-sanded paper, as you can see in the sketch I did below on the smooth side of Canson Mi-Tientes. On Colourfix sanded pastel paper, these artist grade pastels sing. There's something about their texture and the Colourfix texture that works perfectly together, not too surprising when they're made by the same company.

With the sale set in my possession, now I'm dreaming of picking up the full range of Art Spectrum, 154 colors in a wood box set. There are also 60 and 120 color wood box sets available. Colors and their names are well organized with letters for whether they're tints, shades, extra light tints or pure tones. Art Spectrum also makes a series of twelve Super Soft whites, actually near whites with just a little pigment to them so you can give a golden or pink or violet cast to your white highlights.

Some of those extra light near whites are in my set, and I can attest to how soft they are and how useful it is to have tints that light for "white" highlights. Using a complementary highlight can make something pop, even if the color's not noticeable by itself. Even the actual white comes in Warm or Cool, the cool white being a very bright cold white and the warm white a gorgeous pale white with a creamy cast.

I found the range I got in this set really worked because I can mix the extra lights gently over pure tones to get intermediate tints, and the Deep Darks are so useful. Some of the Australian colors like Australian Green are splendid in foliage and a nice change from the Pthalo greens -- it helps to have a lot of pure pigment greens that vary in warmth, intensity and value. I was very happy with the variety of greens available.

Art Spectrum also makes a half stick set of 20 colors that precisely match the Art Spectrum Colourfix papers. This can be so useful for sky holes if you're using a blue paper for background and not painting the sky, or subtly connecting a painted area with the bare area with a texture change. They're an interesting limited palette by themselves, some of those hues came up in my box as Pure Tones.

Overall, I would recommend Art Spectrum for the medium-softness workhorse pastels over Rembrandt. I will review Rembrandts later on, but I found I liked the Art Spectrum a lot more. These are a good all-around pastel for sketching, for serious painting with many layers on sanded paper, for pretty much anything you want to do with pastels. Try them with a few sticks from open stock or a handy six-pack, and watch for sales or coupons online.

Hay Bale Study One
8 1/2" x 11"
Art Spectrum pastels
"Ivy" Canson mi-Tientes pastel paper, smooth side
Photo reference by Paula Ford for March 2010 "Spotlight" challenge on

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Moleskine Watercolor Journals

Back in 2007, my daughter gave me a Moleskine watercolor journal for my birthday. She knew I liked hers and I was overjoyed. A few months ago I picked up the small format one so that I'd have a pocket version for going out. A sumptuous leather-bound book with 36 heavy, strongly sized pages laid out in a panoramic format with the binding on the short end and an elastic band to hold it shut, the Moleskine watercolor journal seems like the sort of book people paint in on trips to Europe or Africa. In fact, it is.

It's exactly that. The cover is strong leather designed to handle all kinds of trouble and spills. The back cover has a passport pocket with a little note from the company, so you'll never lose your identity papers. The pages are perforated, so you can remove one if you happen to be on the skids and someone offers to buy a painting or commissions you on the spot. This is important if you can paint well. You never know when you'll be broke and people will always offer to buy a painting you like too much to want to let go of, or get you to paint this idea they had.

I thought that with only 36 pages, I'd fill it fast. That was in 2007. I didn't take into account how much time and work I put into even small watercolors sometimes, or that with the panoramic shape I'd sometimes put two or three or four small paintings on a page. I didn't realize the heavily sized pages are so thick and well-sized that you can paint on the back of a painting without ruining the one behind it. I have an Inktense watersoluble ink pencil sketch on the back of the page that's showing, and even with two or three loose washes right to the edges, that Inktense sketch didn't activate at all. It stayed dry exactly as I intended it.

Moleskine notebooks come in a variety of sizes and types. There's the blank-page, gridded page, lined and storyboard versions with many more pages in thin tough paper too. I have a small blank one that's also half full because it has 192 pages. My watercolor journal got two pages painted and then got mislaid on a bookshelf till April 2009, when I found it and decided to start using it a lot.

My goal with mine is to do an art and text journal of my life, like the field scientist's journals in all the movies. You know the ones. Perfect watercolor studies of nature neatly labeled, actual things from day to day life with a little text, well laid out pages with botanical and other life drawings. I drifted from that and included painting challenges I do online because going online is part of my life. This isn't the 1860s. Photography and photo references are part of my life and times.

For an expensive, sumptuous treat that inspires you to greater creativity, I can't recommend this journal enough. It's a bit under $20 for the bigger 5" x 8 1/2" one, a few dollars less for the small 3" x 5 1/2" one that fits in your pocket. The small one, with a pocket set of watercolors can go in a suit pocket, T shirt pocket, jeans pocket or woman's purse anywhere you want to go. Moleskines are perfect for the sketch crawl, lunchtime painting, plein air excursions including going to parks on your lunch, or taking anywhere.

They've become legendary because a few famous painters, writers and directors used them for their professional creative works. Hemingway used and filled a lot of the writing ones, don't know if he used the lined or blank ones. Various famous painters have used the plain paper or watercolor Moleskines. But that's not why I like it.

The reason they kept getting them is that they are so sturdy. They are worth the money for the quality of both the paper and the way they're put together. The elastic band helps a lot. Your watercolors will flatten out again even if you slosh enough water on it that it cockles. My used pages have a little bit of warpage, enough to tell they're used looking at the book from the side. Nowhere near as much as a stack of that many watercolor paintings left out on the desk though, because the elastic band presses them flat and reduces it after the book's closed.

The leather covers are very tough. They do stand up to coffee spills, cigarette burns or other small accidents like your cat grabbing it with claws to pull it off the table. Moleskine journals may get a little scarred but they don't rip. They can be stepped on. They are designed for people who travel and go to places where they might get rained on or chased by rhinos yet want to be able to tell what the painting they did of it before the earthquake was after retrieving it.

They're a luxury. But they're a luxury that makes sense over time. If you get one, you may find yourself doing a lot more lunchtime sketching, experiments and studies. They're so easy to carry around that it's a frequent reminder to do life painting and sketching.

I use my Moleskine watercolor journal as the place for all my color charts too. I used to do color charts of new paints as soon as I got them on loose pieces of paper. They'd get lost, used as bookmarks and never be where I needed them when I wanted to decide which red to use for the shadows in that pink flower. Since I did them in the Moleskine, I've been able to find them every time. Once this one's filled I'll have to keep it handy just for finding my charts again, or duplicate them in the back pages of the next.

If you're into pastels and pastel pencils, you might try painting over some of the pages in a Moleskine watercolor journal with Colourfix sanded pastel primer in various colors. I wouldn't recommend painting on both sides with pastels, but you could tape or glue a piece of glassine to the back of the preceding page to protect pastel sketches and turn it into a pastel journal easily. For that I'd use the bigger one, or one of the even larger ones they make. I don't know if the bigger sizes come with leather covers but I trust the pages and construction will be just as good.

If you ever wanted to try art journaling, treat yourself to one. It'll stand up to being lost, kicked around, shoved under stuff and treated badly. Even if you get distracted and ignore it for a few years, it'll still be good and you'll be happily surprised at how much better you paint. In the time you fill one, you'll be very surprised at how much better you paint.

Date everything you draw and paint in it, that's always good for morale. And sign it, you might be famous someday and then everyone thinks the awful sketches in your first one done while you learned are worth a lot of money. Considering that the awful sketches are likely to crowd up at the front of your first one with lots better ones at the end, it's well worth getting one and dating everything in it.

Here's a scan of one of the paintings in my photo, just to show it up close and give you an idea of the texture of the paper. It's a creamy off-white, a warm white rather than a bright cold white. It has a cold press surface with just enough texture for broken color and drybrush effects, but not so much you can't do fine ink and wash studies in it. Watercolor pencils of all kinds are a joy in it. You can wash and lift and scrub without wrecking the paper -- or the drawing on the other side.

White Callas -- Calla Series #3
5" x 6"
Derwent watercolour pencils and Daniel Smith watercolors
Moleskine watercolor journal
Photo reference by Sharrm from Weekend Drawing Event March 19-21, 2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Daniel Smith Watercolors Color Map Set

Daniel Smith watercolors are strongly pigmented, easily soluble and easily reactivated artist grade watercolors. Available only in tubes, you can only get them at, which also carries proprietary oil and acrylic artist grade paints. I haven't tried their oils and acrylics, but I got hooked on their watercolors several years ago.

They come in big generous 15ml tubes, there is no trial size like the 5ml tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist's watercolours. The prices look steep at first, but not compared to the quantity of paint you get in 15ml tubes. For price comparisons, look at tubes of similar size. They aren't the most expensive or the cheapest, but they're artist grade at artist grade prices. Being able to use fewer single pigment colors and make the paint last longer because it's stronger makes these artist grade paints very cost effective.

They're as rich and wonderful as Winsor & Newton Artists' Watercolours. Daniel Smith also has a number of proprietary colors, some mixtures and others single pigment colors in their immense range of 239 colors. They are continually adding more. You can get the full range in a "Grand Voyage" set for $1,433 if you treat watercolors the way some of us do colored pencils or pastels and love having everything there is. It might take a long time understanding how each of those colors performs though!

One of the Daniel Smith specialty lines is their Primatek colors. These are pure natural mineral pigments chosen for their lightfastness and often ground from semiprecious stones. Garnet, amethyst, tiger's eye, bloodstone, lapis lazuli (the original Ultramarine) and other gemstones wind up in the watercolor range with surprising and beautiful results. Among these gorgeous Primatek colors, two stood out as so bright and clear that Daniel Smith included them in the ten-color Color Map set.

Rhodonite Genuine and Natural Amazonite Genuine are pure bright high intensity near complements. A violet-cast rose sits across from a gorgeous rich blue-green just short of turquoise in the palette -- yet these lightfast colors are not lab-created chemical pigments but ground from beautiful natural gemstones. I've seen rhodonite and amazonite in rock shops and museum exhibits -- they can be that bright. Daniel Smith must be getting very high grade minerals to produce these single pigment colors in this intensity though.

Below is a color chart of my new Daniel Smith Color Map set. I had four duplicate colors but finally surrendered to the current sale price on this set instead of collecting it a tube at a time when I swapped some art supplies to a friend for extra Derwent pencils including my Metallics set. It just arrived yesterday, so I charted it in my Moleskine watercolor journal and then tested it this afternoon with a painting on the same page.

I had high hopes for the set based on the luridly bright color chart dots on the website, but colors aren't always true online. Once I opened the tubes and tested them on good white paper, I was happily surprised by something weird the Rhodonite did. Wet, it looked dark and a little less intense than say, Quinacridone Rose. I thought for sure I'd have to augment it with Permanent Rose from Winsor & Newton or the right Quinacridone hue to get the effects I wanted.

Then it dried. It dried brighter, cleaner and truer than it looked wet. I've seen watercolors lighten as they dry, but not one that comes out with a cleaner hue. This one does, it's just a funny side effect of the crystals or something. I love the color once it dries and it's proved to be as splendid a mixer as Permanent Rose. It's quite strong too, like all of the Daniel Smith watercolors it has a lot of pigment because the particles are ground much finer than in some other brands or especially in student grade watercolors.

For once I had a set of artist grade watercolors with the incredible brightness and intense clear hues that children's watercolor sets have. This means that all the palette tricks I've learned in pastels or done with cheap children's paints can be done with the Daniel Smith Color Map set. Those who hesitate to get artist grade paints because they don't want to shift to a more muted palette ought to check out this set -- they really are that bright.

Yet I can mix anything with them, even black and deep darks, with perfect control depending on how I balance complements and near complements. It's easy to mute a color, impossible to brighten beyond the pigment's original intensity. I came close in the red and green peppers I did for Derwent Drawing Pencils by using juxtaposition, but this set allows me complete control of any muted hues and lets me use bright pure intense accents around the spectrum.

So naturally the subject of my first painting had to be a bird with a strong dark red head I'd normally do in Alizarin Crimson, black and white areas, blue shadowed belly and sitting on a brownish-grey tree trunk. That painting pushed the mixing qualities of this set to the extreme. Quinacridone Burnt Orange with Ultramarine makes a splendid black, as good as Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine but a little more transparent when thinned to grays. Quinacridone Gold and Imperial Violet created a rich brown and I shifted it toward gray in stages with Manganese Blue Hue and Ultramarine for the tree trunk. Details on the tree trunk were done with the black from the bird's back.

The woodpecker's head is a mix of Rhodonite Genuine and Quinacridone Burnt Orange, which darkened the mix enough to give a base color not far from Alizarin Crimson. I warmed it a little for the first glaze and then charged both colors in again here and there, finally adding some of the purplish mixture I got by mixing some Rhodonite on the palette into the gray leftovers of the bird's back.

Below is the woodpecker painting by itself, so you can see it in detail and see the hue shifts where I charged in Rhodonite and the other colors. I am completely happy with the Color Map set. It's complete in itself and if you purchase a small folding palette, it can be just the thing for plein air painting or anytime you want a complete small palette that doesn't take much space but provides infinite mixing possibilities. Every one of these pigments is great.

I also seriously recommend the Color Map set for beginners.

I'm not kidding.

If you don't know how to paint, using better paint will give you better results as you learn. Very often beginners get discouraged by student grade paints that fade a lot as they dry, don't mix in predictable ways by the color wheel or have other problems caused by the paint quality more than by anything they did. It takes an expert to make cheap paints jump through hoops and do their tricks.

Real beginners have a lot easier time with stronger paint and pure clean hues. This Color Map Set is color theory in a box, it's got everything you need to mix all your blacks and muted colors. Beginners need to learn those mixing techniques, so giving them sets with black in them or hookers green or other convenience colors can cheat them of valuable lessons that'll give them much more control of color.

Also the uniformly soluble and rewettable texture of Daniel Smith watercolors makes lifting easier. Beginners don't even understand sometimes that watercolors can be corrected -- that you can get back a light area nearly to white if you're using good paint on strong high quality watercolor paper. So that's another advantage to the Color Map set.

It's currently on sale for $59.95, 40% off regular price for the tubes in it. Daniel Smith watercolor paints are not cheap, but sets and triads bring the costs down into line. I started out using Daniel Smith watercolors with a Primary Triad that proved just as useful and mixable as this Color Map set and came with free shipping. Watch the website for free shipping specials, the shipping runs a little high but specials are frequent. Also sign up for Daniel Smith's email coupons, that's how you can get new triads with free shipping at extremely low discount prices.

If the colors you want are not in the sets and triads, there's another way to save because Daniel Smith also does a Watercolor Passport savings plan. If you buy enough tubes for each level of the plan, you get certain colors free and a discount on all the tubes you bought. So as with most online purchases, watch for coupons, plan out large orders if possible and order when the specials give you the best bargain.

In future I will be reviewing other Daniel Smith watercolor sets, lines and the excellent Daniel Smith watercolor sticks. Till then, enjoy -- and if you want to be able to do anything in only ten tubes of extremely high quality artist watercolor, snap up the Color Map set when it's on sale. I've seen the sale more than once too, so if you miss this one, watch the site.

Red-Headed Woodpecker
3" x 5"
Daniel Smith watercolors Color Map set
Moleskine watercolor journal
Photo reference by Sharrm from for Weekend Drawing Event, March 19-21, 2010.

I love this set and still use it constantly. It's a complete palette in itself, a wonderful set for a beginner. Still available at Daniel Smith. Click the image to visit their website.

Daniel Smith Fine Quality Artists' Materials

Friday, March 19, 2010

Derwent Drawing Pencils

Derwent Fortnight concludes with #14: Drawing Pencils.

I saved the best for last. Derwent Drawing Pencils are my favorite Derwent pencils by a nose. It's a tough choice because so many of the others are unique and indispensible -- Inktense, Graphitint, Tinted Charcoal pencils are not available from any other manufacturer, Coloursoft is the most opaque soft colored pencil and clay-based Derwent Artist's colored pencils have a tricky but rewarding texture that I love. But these are my favorites.

Back in the 1980s, a monthly art workshop group I founded went on an excursion to an art store that was closing down for good, to get as much clearance goodies as we could. About half the group were serious colored pencils artists doing breathtaking realism. One of them, a good friend of mine, shrieked and jumped up and down like a little kid.

"Come see this, you've got to try these. I can't believe they're only a quarter! Get as many as you can. I'm not going to be greedy and just buy the box, everyone needs to get these."

She dragged me over to a bin I'd overlooked that had open stock pencils ... and only six colors left. Black, white, two earth reds, brown and gold, big round oversize pencils.

"They're from England. You can hardly ever get them here and they're usually two or three dollars each. I know there's only six colors, but they're worth it. Wait till you try them. This is the best black. This is the best white. And those other colors are insanely good for portraits."

So I bought two or three each of the earth tones and half a dozen blacks and whites, because I was doing a lot of illustrations. They needed to be reproduced for our fanzines on office copiers. I found out rapidly that she was right about the black Derwent Drawing Pencil. Anything I sketched with it came out copying exactly as I'd drawn it, broken color or solid black areas.

The white was creamy, dreamy and opaque. I began using it for tonal underdrawings whenever I worked on black or dark paper. A couple of years ago I gave in and bought a box of a dozen white Derwent Drawing Pencils because I wore through them that often. White is the most opaque white colored pencil made anywhere. Even the Coloursoft White isn't quite that strong.

Then around 2004 or 2005, Derwent answered all of our wishes by extending the range from six earth colors to 24. All of a sudden I had soft greens, blues, grays, violets and yellows with an expanded group of earth reds, oranges and browns. The drawing on the tin inspired me, a seascape with breathtaking detail and accuracy all done in these strange, slightly muted but incredibly mixable colors.

Even with the original set of six, I was improvising yellow by going over Brown Ochre with white and improvising implied blues by using white over black. I got pinks and oranges out of reds. I knew that with a short range these pencils blended better than anything else I'd ever used. The set still doesn't have the traditional spectrum bright colors of most colored pencils sets.

But that's okay. They can be implied by juxtaposing complementary colors to intensify them and using the Derwent Drawing Pencils range gives a beautiful, consistent range of natural hues for anything I want to draw. Derwent recommends them especially for animals and nature. I can agree with Derwent on that, because I did a cheetah with those and a non-photo blue Prismacolor back when I only had six of them that came out better than any other animal I'd ever drawn.

However, my friend was right too -- these are great portrait pencils. Light Sienna is a perfect highlight color for pale skin and easily shadowed with Mars Violet and the earth reds and browns depending on the person's complexion. Dark people of course are incredibly easy to match with the Derwent Drawing Pencils range.

Deep darks enhance the range of almost any large set of colored pencils, including Ink Blue, a great monochrome color. The black is a glorious mixer, easily taking blends with other hues to deepen them still more. I used to carry the six-pack anywhere I went, in case I wanted to sketch from nature. Now with the full 24 color range, I sometimes tuck the full set into my Sketch Folio and bring it along.

They are worth every penny, no matter what you have to pay for them. The price has come down over the years, especially online. They're only $1.57 at Blick in open stock, and Blick now carries the full range in open stock. For a couple of years you had to get a set of 12 or 24 in order to get the full range, now you can replace the Ink Blue or Olive Earth if you use it up faster than the rest.

For those who don't like muted colors and expect spectrum brights, at least try a white one or a black one. They still hold the crown as the best white and the best black colored pencils I've ever handled -- and this includes the Pablo and Spectracolor Soft ones that a friend sent me to test.

They're good for all colored pencils techniques. The earth reds and browns are great sketching pencils for sanguine life sketching. All the darks are good sketching colors, each with a different character. Using the range together on white in a "pencil drawing" style whether loose or meticulous produces wonderful tonal variations and textures. Yet these pencils also shine for layer-and-burnish realism techniques.

They sharpen to a good sharp pinpoint and will hold that point. Being soft, it'll wear down but it doesn't just fall off because it's sharpened fine. The thick 4mm core and extra wide case protects them from internal breakage, so does something about the formula. These pencils are tough!

My original six-color handful survived being thrown around in the bottoms of bags and boxes, shoved in my pocket, dropped off my desk or table dozens of times, stepped on, kicked across the room and otherwise abused. I got internal breakage on one, and that was after a particularly nasty fall in a pencil that was already worn down to a three inch stub and had been mistreated all its life.

Now of course, I treat them more gently. They live in their sturdy Derwent tin with the cover snapped on and even turned on its side to shove into a messenger bag or folio, they don't fall and bang into each other. I'm not recommending you abuse your pencils. More remembering that even at my most careless, they survived some conditions I'd never subject an artist grade pencil to now.

Here's the drawing I did today to show some of what can be done with the soft muted range of Derwent Drawing Pencils. I used most of the set to shade these two peppers, with a loose technique in the shadow and heavier blending and layering on the fruits. I even had to lift and erase the white highlights on the green peppers to get them brighter. I'd filled the paper tooth with green and then gone over the highlights three or four times with white and light blue, then decided they weren't bright enough.

They'll lift all the way back to white unless they're dug into the paper so deep you're incising. I just lifted back to bare paper with a kneaded eraser, restated the highlights starting with the white and then went over that with the darker colors and the light tints I wanted to shade the highlights. If that green hadn't already had a half dozen layers or if I'd been working on Stonehenge, I probably wouldn't have needed to restate it -- but I had filled the paper tooth.

This concludes our Derwent Fortnight. I hope you enjoyed it and I'll review new Derwent products as they appear and come into my possession. I hope you had as much fun as I did. I'll be back tomorrow with something completely different.

Bell Peppers
5" square
Derwent Drawing pencils on Burgundy Canson Mi-Tientes, smooth side.
Photo reference by |_Heather_| at from Weekly Drawing Thread challenge in the Drawing and Sketching forum.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Derwent Artist's Colored Pencils

Derwent Fortnight #13: Artists' and Studio colored pencils.

Derwent Artist’s coloured pencils have the largest range of Derwent’s pencil lines. 120 colors range from traditional bright spectrum hues to soft muted colors, light tints and a good variety of earth tones, muted greens, blues and grays. Mars Black and Ivory Black are different pencils, one cooler than the other. It’s definitely an artist’s palette. Some of my favorites, like Water Green, can’t be found in any other company’s range.

Derwent Artist’s pencils are 8mm wide with a fat 4mm core. Derwent Studio coloured pencils are described as having the same color strip but thinner, hexagonal pencils that fit in a standard sharpener. However on the Derwent home page, I checked the product listings for lightfastness ratings. They vary a lot between the two types of pencils.

Studio pencils mostly aren’t lightfast. Some hues that are listed with very poor lightfastness in Studio are listed as fully lightfast or with maximum lightfastness in Artist’s. All I can think is that the Studio range may be made with an older formula and they’ve been working on upgrading lightfastness in the Artist range. It’s possible they just haven’t updated the website with new formulas for Studio, or they’ve consigned most of the fugitive colors to the Studio line and kept the best for the more expensive Artist line.

In the USA, the price difference isn’t that pronounced. Sometimes Studio can come up more expensive than Artist, especially if there’s a sale on Artist pencils. I bought my full range wood box set on sale at ASW for $99 in 2005, but while I haven’t seen it that low again, I do still sometimes see it on sale there. The full range is only available in the wood box set.

Smaller sets in tins of 12, 24, 36 and 72 are available and I think they may also offer Derwent Artists pencils in a six color blister pack like so many other pencils. Studio colored pencils are also available in 12 and 24 piece Color Collections along with six or eight sticks of the same colored core material, drawing sticks similar to Prismacolor Art Stix with the Derwent texture.

The texture of Derwent Artist's pencils is completely different from any other artist grade pencils I own. They are hard pencils, about as hard as Prismacolor Verithin, but they are more pigment-rich than any hard student grade pencils. They have a "dry" texture very similar in feeling to an HB graphite pencil or perhaps a B or 2B. Color goes on quite strong with a firm pressure and they will burnish to a fine waxy gloss. Where they really shine to me is when they're used for a "pencil drawing" texture where values are created by pressure and most areas aren't burnished down solidly, the grain of the paper still shows through in white flecks.

Derwent also makes not only one colorless blender but two. These are available in an accessory pack with two Burnishers (hard) and two Blenders (soft), which are probably made with the Artist's binder in the Burnisher and the Coloursoft binder in the Blender, their textures are comparable. The formula for these pencils contains a little clay, and that's what gives them the "dry" feeling that comes closer to graphite pencils than most colored pencils do. They're less waxy.

It's not a bad texture, it's a different texture. I loved it from the first time I tried them, and I took advantage of it in the drawing I did below. For some reason every time I open this set I want to work on birds and flowers, something with a lot of color and texture but done with a lighter touch and often a background left blank or just shaded rather than fully burnished.

These are pencils you'll either love or hate. My suggestion is to try a sample, a good dark monochrome color or a handful from open stock, or a small set before investing in the full range wood box set. It is beautiful. I thought it would've been worth the money even at full retail.

The box is downright sumptuous. It's well made with brass fittings and a dark cherry finish that I love. Inside, the pencil trays are the same dark stained wood with a flocked tightly gripping series of notches to hold each pencil firmly. You have to pull them out, they snap in and out and hold without banging against each other. Foam strips protect the varnished blue wood finish of the oversize pencils and two of the trays lift out with strong woven black cloth tabs, not just little cardboard ones or something hard to grip.

If you want a set of colored pencils you could set out in a formal, traditional living room, perhaps with a nice hardbound or leatherbound sketchbook beside it, this is the set to put with your Victorian furniture and antimacassars. It seems like something that belongs in a mansion and yet it's often on sale at ASW or other online art suppliers.

One problem in the USA though is that Blick and others discontinued carrying these penils in open stock. ASW still has them if you buy a box of a dozen of the same color, but there's nowhere I know of to purchase individual replacements. I'm trying to let the whole set wear down evenly by choosing the longer pencils every time, so that when it gets too worn down I can replace the set with another set. It's possible that this difficulty is with the distributor level rather than the online art supply stores themselves, since all Derwent products enter this country through one distributor.

Despite these problems, I love this set. They're the best hard pencils I have and like Prismacolor Verithins, are fantastic for fine details. Even more than Verithins, they are splendid if I want to do a careful tonal gradation and texture individual feathers on a hawk's back or some similar subject. The more I work with colored pencils, the more I enjoy having a variety of textures and find the best styles to work with each brand rather than trying to force them into techniques they're not suited for.

It would take more work and especially more physical effort to do a heavily layered blended realism painting. However, it can be done. I got a good fine-burnished texture without white specks in the toucan's bill and did burnish over the highlight with white. What may help for that style is to use the softer Derwent Blender over them if you want to smudge a very light tonal layer into a smooth light tint.

Here they are in action, with a drawing I did today on Stonehenge paper. I'm happy to report that Derwent Artist's pencils work as well on Stonehenge as any other and I could get thirteen or fourteen layers on a color area while still feeling as if I could layer more if I wanted to change the color. Stonehenge may still hold the crown as "best white paper for colored pencils" ever. But we'll get to that in another review. Enjoy!

Keel-Billed Toucan
5" x 7"
Derwent Artists' colored pencils
Rising Stonehenge paper, white.
Photo reference from Reference Image Library on, posted by Ceci.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Derwent Collections and Gift Sets

Derwent Fortnight #12: Collections and Gift Sets

Above is a photo of the Derwent Sketching Kit. I think that's what it's called. I bought it on sale even after I already had a 24 color set of Graphitints because I use my Graphitints often. Having an extra set of twelve with all those other supplies at a price well below the combined price of everything in it looked handy and convenient. It proved to be a good choice.

If you can find one of these, snap it up. The leather or faux leather zippered case is structured like the Global Classic leather cases, with a series of loops to hold 8mm round pencils in place neatly. That keeps them from banging into each other and helps prevent internal breakage, it also makes it easy to organize them by hue. This side has 13 pencils -- all 12 Graphitint pencils and the Light Wash Watersoluble Sketching Pencil, plus a handy A6 hardback sketchbook with a proprietary design by Malcolm Glover.

The other side, shown in the last review covering the Derwent Waterbrush, has four more pencil loops for a total of 17 pencils in the kit. It's also got the waterbrush, a white eraser, sharpener and handy plastic mixing palette for when you want larger amounts of wash. The other two Watersoluble Sketching Pencils, Medium and Dark Wash, are back there, also two Derwent Charcoal Pencils in Light and Dark.

Almost every year Derwent will create some interesting gift sets for the holidays, bundling an assortment of pencils, usually something to draw on and other supplies into a clever case. Right now at Blick, the Derwent Aqua Pencil Library gift set is on clearance -- a clever arrangement of 12 Watercolour and 12 Inktense pencils in cases that look like books along with a good hardcover sketchbook in an aqua colored library box. Snap this up while it's on Clearance.

Every year there's a new clever gift set idea and sure enough, if no one got it for you, wait long enough after the holidays and you can gift yourself for St. Patrick's Day or your birthday or your unbirthday or just because you love your art. They're usually good samplers in an extremely convenient form. Someone who works in an office might really enjoy that Aqua Library because it can be set neatly on the shelf with the law books and other references, then pulled down at lunch for some sketching and painting.

Derwent's also introduced some Combo Sets, you can get 24 Coloursoft with 12 Derwent Drawing pencils or 24 Watercolour with 12 Graphitint pecnils in a 36 pencil tin. These are great if you want to try more than one type of pencil at once, or are fond of using those pencils together. Both are well chosen combinations.

Derwent Drawing Pencils are super soft and opaque, they blend well with Colourfast so much that they're almost an extension of the range. Coloursoft has the brights the Drawing range lacks, but Drawing has even more opacity and all the muted nature colors that can give you misty distances and tawny furs.

Derwent Graphitint are muted and silvery when washed, dark tinted graphite dry. Watercolour are bright, soft in their new formula and supply a needed bright yellow in combination to complete the spectrum. These are both good combination sets and may allow you to try more than one product at once without stacking up your shelves with Derwent tins the way I have. Though if you're a true pencil addict like me, you'll probably add some of these convenience sets on top of the full range for when you want to work somewhere other than your studio.

It's okay to do that.

It tends to help keep the big sets from wearing down as fast and it does make for better convenience. It's also good for experimenting with a limited range, a set of 120 colors can leave you spoiled for choice sometimes.

Derwent Watercolour pencils now also come in a 24 color wood box. I like the design of it, twelve pencils above and below in a clamshell arrangement with a little catch to hold it together. That could be a good choice for someone who likes wood boxes but doesn't have the space to spread out two big trays or the budget for the full range wood box set.

Speaking of wood box sets, back in 2008 or 2007 I had a young student named Eric. His mother on my recommendation bought him a wood box version of the Sketching Collection on sale. I'd noticed it at Blick, regretfully decided against it for myself but when he wanted to start drawing lessons I realized that would be perfect with its assortment of charcoals, earth tone pastels, charcoal and graphite and wash pencils. It was a great set in a wood box. If you find it anywhere, snap it up, that box turned out to be a great way to organize sketching supplies. I should've gotten one for myself while they had it.

The sketching collections in the tins are nice too, they bring a variety of supplies together at a good discount even when they're not on Clearance. The tins are well organized and the larger the tin, the more little extras like sharpeners, sandpaper paddles, stumps and putty erasers wind up in it.

Derwent's Color Collections and Pastel Pencil Collections are just as convenient. The 24 and 12 piece sets are in handy tins with styrene sectioned inserts. The 24 color Pastel Pencils set has a putty eraser and sharpener included along with pastel sticks and pastel pencils, the 12 piece set has six of each in non-duplicate colors. It's a good way to find out if you prefer sticks or pencils for detailing.

Derwent Color Collection comes in 12 or 24 piece sizes too. Those have a product I have not seen sold separately anywhere. Derwent makes color sticks out of pencil cores that are comparable to Prismacolor Art Stix. I wish they'd make a set of those available by itself, since I've already got the pencils, but I might pick up a 24 piece Color Collection to be able to try them. Perhaps they've only made them in that range of eight colors, but it's a useful range for blocking in that includes black and white. Included in the 24 piece set are a sharpener, metallic pencils, HB graphite pencil and 11 Studio colored pencils.

That might be another handy take-along set for doctor's appointments or plein air excursions if I want to work in colored pencils. For someone who wants to try the Studio colored pencils and get some drawing blocks similar to Art Stix, the Color Collection could be very handy. It's also a nice gift.

All of these make great gifts if you know and love another artist. They're good ways to surprise family members and friends who mutter about how they wish they could draw too, an introduction that'll give them a good start with varied supplies.

Derwent also created a number of manga kits. Most recently they've come out with the Master Steampunk Manga set. It includes 12 Inktense, a paint brush, a spiral bound A4 sketchbook and a CD with a 20 page set of instructions for three fascinating Steampunk characters created exclusively for Derwent by Hayden Scott-Baron(Dock).

Unfortunately, not all of these sets make it through the distributor to reach the USA. Steampunk Manga isn't here yet, but a similar set for Master Chibi Drawing is available at Blick while supplies last. Listed on the Derwent site are a couple of other Manga sets.

Also listed at Derwent's home page are a series of DVDs with lessons by Fiona Peart and other great UK artists. You can see free clips of them at this link: Derwent DVDs. One of the DVDs was included with a 24 color Inktense set I bought that was an introductory bargain, and ever since I got that I've wanted to get hold of the rest of them.

For these DVDs or the Steampunk Manga set or anything else that's hard to find in the USA, your best option might be to pay extra shipping and order from a UK online supplier. I am seriously considering saving up for one order and putting all the Derwent products that Col Art, our USA distributor, doesn't carry together in one. That may save a little on shipping. But sometimes if I wait, Col Art will add a product I have been watching and I can get it at Blick.

Derwent's new pack of Essential Tools with two embossing tools, rubber shaper, fan brush with another rubber shaper on its tip and stipple brush sounds well named. I think if I can get hold of that, it'll rapidly become essential. Finding the right tool to inscribe fine lines for reserved white cat whiskers, grass blades and other things in colored pencils is a continued search of mine and I trust Derwent's quality.

So watch for the collections, gift sets, accessories and other products Derwent creates. Each new combination set is well thought out, has a good color range even in limited ranges like the six color blister packs and generally costs less than buying those supplies separately. If you haven't tried any of Derwent's products yet, a collection or gift set will let you try out several at once.

Blick does carry the good battery operated Helix multi-point sharpener. It can handle pencils from 8mm to 11mm diameter and takes four AA batteries. I have heard raves about this sharpener from friends who use it, but I haven't bought it since I have a good X-Acto electric that has a wall cord. It still may be worth it sometime for handling the extra wide Derwent Artist, Graphitint and other oversize Derwent pencils. I have plenty of them and it would save my thumb some blisters!

Below is an example of something I did with a combination set, my pictured Derwent Sketch Kit.

I brought my zippered Derwent Sketch Kit on a visit to a farrier school here in Arkansas last summer. It was perfect for doing a life sketch of one of the horses, an ill-tempered but beautiful reddish brown mare named Misdemeanor. In reality I had a fence between me and the horse, which helped a lot. I was able to settle down on a stool and give myself a good ten or fifteen minutes to draw her well. This is one of the first times I got horse anatomy and proportions decently, my daughter the farrier approved of these sketches.

So this is a good example of how bringing a collection or gift set with you on an outing can be a lot easier than juggling multiple tins, sketchbooks and other supplies. I could've easily washed this drawing with the Derwent Waterbrush included, just chose not to since I liked the way it looked dry.

Horses from Life
A6 size (about 4" x 6")
Derwent Graphitints on Derwent hardbound sketchbook.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Derwent Waterbrush

Derwent Sketch Kit gift set included a Derwent waterbrush.

Derwent Fortnight #11: Waterbrush

Derwent has created a waterbrush as good as the original Japanese versions. I first tried a waterbrush when I got one in a Sakura Koi pocket set of watercolors. I loved it for its convenience -- a nylon round watercolor brush with a hollow soft plastic handle. Fill the handle with water and you have convenience.

The brush stays wet. Just touch watercolor pans or tips of watersoluble pencils to pick up color and you can paint. It means not going to the sink to wash out brushes and refill water cups if I'm having a bad day. It means not having to carry a water bottle if I go out and want to sketch in watermedia.

I loved that first one and bought several more in different brands. Unfortunately, some of the brands other than Sakura gave me problems. Water would drip too fast through the brush or not come out without some serious squeezing, the flow would be uneven. One brush lost bristles and went from too little water to too much. They're not always well made.

My original Sakura Koi ones from the small and large pocket sets were perfect, so is the Niji one I tried.

Right up with them is the Derwent waterbrush, with its elegantly shaped reservoir. Derwent redesigned the handle with a graceful curve and a little extra width up near the tip. This does two things. It holds more water and if you set it down on a slanted surface like a drafting table, it won't roll off because the fat bit is flattened. The top snaps neatly onto the back end so it won't get lost, something that I can't always do with some others.

Derwent actually takes top prize for my favorite waterbrush because of that little innovation. None of the rest have the no-roll extra width design. Sakura and Niji come very close with good products that have excellent flow, last a good long time,
and serve the purpose just as well. So there are three brands I'd recommend and Derwent tops the list because of its handle shape.

You can also fill a Derwent waterbrush with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits or Bestine rubber cement thinner. Don't use the same waterbrush for thinners and water, it's like using the same brush for oils and watercolors. Keep one for watermedia and one for thinners. Using a Derwent waterbrush with thinner will let you use your Coloursoft or Artists' or other colored pencils as if they were watersoluble, give you wash effects between layers or to smooth a final layer.

My Derwent Waterbrush came in a Derwent Sketch Kit gift set. I found it on Clearance at Blick, where I think it was one of those nice annual limited-edition gift sets. I bought it to get a dozen spare Graphitint pencils in something like a Global Classic case, and was intrigued by the waterbrush. It included Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils in Light Wash, Medium Wash and Dark Wash as well as three values of Derwent Charcoal Pencils and a dozen Graphitints.

It also has a very nice hardbound sketchbook with perforated pages in case I wanted to rip out a good sketch to give someone.

Derwent Watersoluble Sketching pencils are great. I like watersoluble graphite pencils, they allow me to fill areas in graphite sketches quickly with a wash or to paint a monochrome in pure graphite. Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils come in three degrees of hardness.

Light Wash is HB, your standard pencil hardness. Medium Wash is 4B, a good soft pencil for darkening or doing sketches that scan better. Dark Wash is 8B, almost the softest a graphite pencil can get, wonderful for smudging or washing. With the Derwent Waterbrush, it became easy to paint with graphite just touching the points of these pencils with the wet brush tip.

Here's an example painted mostly in Medium Wash and Dark Wash Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils with the Derwent Waterbrush. I drew no sketch lines anywhere on this, it's strictly a wash sketch done with the brush. Whether you like painting or washing over drawings, the Derwent Waterbrush is one of those small accessories that become essential as soon as you try one.

It is a bit hard to find in the USA, but worth the price if you see a Derwent waterbrush by itself or included in a gift set. For some reason it's slow or impossible to get some Derwent accessories in the USA despite how good they are and how popular they'd be if available. This is something to do with the distribution process.

So if you really want one, hunt for it and possibly be prepared to place an order with a UK online or mail order company. Then again you can always put together a list of all the Derwent items you can't find in the USA and do that all at once in an out of country order. It's worth paying a bit extra in shipping or price for this one because of its quality.

Pine Cone and Pillbox
4" x 6"
Derwent Sketch and Wash graphite watersoluble pencils
Painted with Derwent Waterbrush on Derwent A6 hard cover sketchbook paper.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Derwent Aquatone

Derwent Fortnight #10: AquaTone

Available in open stock, sets of 6, 12 and 24 colors, Derwent has created a soft woodless watersoluble colored pencil. The colors are very strong and bright. Pencils are unusually long compared to the Cretacolor AquaMonolith and used dry, they have a soft creamy blendable texture in a category with Coloursoft and Prismacolor. My photo shows the entire 24 color range and a color chart I made with them, showing both wet and dry shaded applications.

They may have a short range of only 24 colors, but those colors are well chosen for mixing and the sheer quantity of pigment you get with AquaTone makes them a great bargain, especially when you want to do large works and need to cover big areas. I've noticed that all three of the woodless colored pencils I have tend to wear down slower than wood-cased pencils. It's not that they need sharpening less often, it's that they don't need as much sharpening to restore the point.

Also in some ways they do need sharpening less often. When I want to fill a broad area, I'll turn the point on a shallow angle so the side of the entire point touches the paper. Wearing it down that way gives a chisel edge to the tip that's useful for doing fine lines and details. When I do that, I don't even need to sharpen them at all.

Because these are watersoluble, even the shavings are useful as watercolor. Collect them in different palette wells, add a drop or two of water to liquefy them and you have good clean watercolor hues. That versatility makes the AquaTone pencils a good choice for a field kit. The big woodless angled points also make it a little easier to pick up a lot of color with a wet brush or waterbrush for direct painting.

Each of the pencils comes in a wrapper matching its color. You can peel back the wrapper a little at a time as it gets shorter or let the pencil sharpener shave bits of it off when you reach it. If you remove it entirely, breaking the pencil into smaller pieces allows handling them like pastel sticks -- using the width of a piece to create a big bold stroke on rough paper.

Washed, the colors are nearly as strong as Inktense. They are completely rewettable. If I get an area too dark, it's easy to wait till it dries, touch with a wet brush and pat with a soft cloth or tissue to lift color almost all the way back to white. They're great in combination, glazing over Inktense is very effective when you want loose soft-edged wet in wet effects combined with hard details that don't soften or wash away.

They are a little expensive per pencil compared to other Derwent products and artist grade colored pencils, but still very economical because each pencil has five or six times the usable pigment of wood-cased watersolubles.

Most of the colors are lightfast with a Blue Wool rating of 6, 7 or 8. More importantly, the full spectrum is represented in lightfast colors, with some nearly lightfast useful hues in between. Magenta and Crimson Lake rate at only 5 for lightfastness, but a touch of Dark Violet with Deep Vermilion may serve when a cold red is needed.

Whether you like these as colored pencils may depend on your hand and preferred softness. They're also an incredibly convenient form of watercolor, just as handy as pan watercolors for carrying along when going out.

They dissolve to good strong transparent watercolor, as shown in my example painting. I kept a few linear elements especially in the stems, but went over my drawing washing it and then added dark violet shadows by pulling a wet brush along the point of the dark violet pencil.

You can find the lightfastness chart and examples of art done with Derwent AquaTone pencils at Derwent's home page. Like most of Derwent's pencils, I love these and use them often. Incidentally, a 24 color tin fits neatly into the big pocket of a Sketch Folio portfolio available at ASW, which is often where this set lives.

Yellow Iris
4" x 6"
Derwent AquaTone watersoluble woodless pencils
Lanaquarelle hot press 140lb watercolor paper
Photo reference by Helen on posted for March 12-14, 2010 Weekend Drawing Event.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Derwent Inktense ink wash pencils

Derwent Fortnight #9: Inktense

These pencils first appeared in 2005 or so, close to when Derwent invented the Graphitints. They are well named. Inktense are intense -- the color is very strong, much more like using colored inks than watercolor. They're weird and unique because the color can't reactivate once washed.

They only wash once, unless they weren't completely activated the first time. That can happen on heavy applications especially if you're not using much water. Lay them down by touching the tip with a wet brush and you've got a strong color that will not lift or move when you glaze other colors over it.

Derwent Inktense are my favorite underpainting pencils, whether I'm using pastels, colored pencils or anything else that I want a strong, vibrant underpainting for. It took some time to get used to the strong color. Less is more, and if it dries quickly you can't always correct blossoms or overpaint to get a smooth effect. This makes using Derwent Inktense wet an exciting, risky endeavor compared to using the AquaTone or Watercolour Pencils.

The results are well worth it though. Inktense create drama in almost anything I do with them. I started with a 24 color set that I passed on to a friend when I bought the full range of 72. You're seeing it in a Global Classic leather case because as soon as I opened the first tin and tried them dry, I knew these pencils ought to be pampered.

They're soft and strong when used dry. Their texture came pretty close to Prismacolors, which makes them a good choice for a dry colored pencil as well. Just be careful about spraying or splashing water near your dry piece, because that will activate them and create bright spots of wet texture. The colors are good and bright when dry too, so you can get some lovely traditional colored pencils drawings with Derwent Inktense.

Lightfastness varies. Check the Derwent Homepage for exact lightfastness on specific colors. Most of the greens, blues and browns are lightfast but there's a gap in reds and violets so choose the nearest to lightfast for anything that's going to be framed and hung. Earth tone warms may be a better choice than the bright reds, or treat the painting as fugitive and protect it with museum glass.

Derwent Inktense are available in open stock and sets of 6, 12, 24, 36 and 72. 24 color sets include the Derwent Outliner, I'm not sure if the 12 color set has an Outliner. This is a tremendously useful waxy graphite pencil that's completely nonsoluble. It's soft, somewhere in the B range of softness for graphite pencils and will not dissolve in even the wettest washes.

If you've tried using normal No. 2 graphite pencils or other graphite pencils for accenting a waterbased wash, you've found that some of the graphite drifts out of the lines to tint the colors. This can get seriously annoying. So the Outliner is the perfect sketch pencil under any form of water media. You can get the Outliner separately in open stock.

Certain colors like Chinese Ink and other blacks in Derwent Inktense are very good for doing traditional sumi-e style painting. Just scribble some on a porcelain plate with the pencil, add a little water to mix it to different values of ink.

Be sure to keep brushes wet and rinse them clean immediately when painting with liquefied Inktense or washing over an Inktense drawing. If you let it dry on the brush, it will stain the brush. I use The Masters' Brush Cleaner and Conditioner to wash my brushes and condition them after using Inktense, since that will get out the stains on nylon and sable brushes well even if they've soaked in. Stains don't necessarily ruin the brush, but it gets annoying when the hairs turn some weird combination of purple and brown.

Derwent has recently created a Steampunk Manga Kit that includes 12 Inktense pencils, a brush, a spiral bound A4 sketchbook and a CD with a 20-step lesson in drawing three great steampunk characters by leading Manga artist Hayden Scott-Baron(Dock). A couple of previous Manga collections also featured Inktense pencils.

The reason for this is that Inktense are a perfect coloring medium for any type of comics art. The colors are strong and with practice you can get fully saturated areas of pure flat wash colors easily by doing a smooth tonal layer and washing it. The Outliner provides clean graphite outlines that don't move when washed, although you could also do your lines for manga or comics art with any non-watersoluble ink pen. Or even do them with a dip pen and an Inktense wash, just mix some shavings in a palette cup with water and dip to draw your lines.

While not all comics artists like a manga style, the manga sets would be good to familiarize yourself with the medium and practice for using them on a Western comics style. The processes are very similar - pencil a good drawing, then ink and color it. Color or inking can go first, depends on which works better for you.

I've got a graphic novel project that I'm planning to script this April and will definitely be using Inktense for coloring its final pages, should I get good enough at comics art to do the story justice. The strong colors, ease of applying a watersoluble pencil and the way I can glaze over previous layers without reactivating them make them my choice for that style of art.

And for anything where I want very strong wash effects and don't care about lifting to lighten. You can still blot and lift while it's wet, but once it's down it's permanent. That is so great if I want to say, do some blue detailed foliage effects in dry brush and then wash an earth yellow over all of it to get different varieties of green. Inktense are a lot of fun. Try them in a small set and give yourself a chance to find out how strong and dramatic a wash medium can get.

Below is a tropical fish that I drew and painted in Derwent Inktense. All of it is washed, but some linear elements are strong and I only washed over them lightly. The background was done entirely by touching the points of pencils with a Derwent waterbrush and painting.

Tropical Fish
6" x 7"
Derwent Inktense used wet
Derwent spiral bound watercolor book 90lb watercolor paper with a wove texture.
Photo reference by AlainJ on for March 5-7 2010 Weekend Drawing Event.