Color Spree

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

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.


  1. Thank you so much for taking time to write this review and post the picture. This is the best piece of advice I have found after hours of browsing the Internet. The toucan looks awesome, too :)

  2. With practice and training, I found that almost anyone can learn to draw, and using Prismacolor pencils facilitate this process, particularly because of their wide selection of colors, hardness and composition. With a wet brush for a composition designed with crayons soluble in water, gives an artist to create watercolor effects, as in his drawing. I found a fun way to introduce the painting to a drawing class.

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