Color Spree

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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Derwent Graphitints

Derwent Fortnight #8: Graphitint pencils

Derwent Graphitint tinted graphite pencils are another Derwent innovation. They're sketch and wash pencils with a 4B softness. These fat 10mm round pencils with 4mm cores are very rich and soft, perfect for sketching. They have a touch of color used dry but when washed, the color becomes more intense.

Even washed, the colors are still softer and muted compared to watercolor pencils. But they have a unique silvery sheen from the graphite that gives an eerie quality to any painting done with them. Available in sets of 6, 12 or 24, they have been an important part of my sketching arsenal since 2005 when I first bought mine.

There is only one comparable product, it's Australian. Mont Marte, an Australian company with a wide range of student and some artist grade products, came out with Earth Tones pencils in a range of 12. I know of nothing else anywhere that's like these and I prefer the Derwent Graphitint for their greater softness.

One discovery I made with these the first time I used them is that if I draw a spooky subject, it will gain immense power from that silvery graphite sheen. It'll look spookier done in Graphitints than anything else. That eerie quality lends itself to mystical or nature subjects too.

The white pencil has no graphite in it, but everything else does. It's just as soft as the darker ones, so when you're sketching on dark or tinted grounds this makes a good white sketch and wash pencil. Accents sketched over other colors come up well too, it's reasonably opaque and a good lightener.

Combining dry and wet techniques in the same piece can give a lovely contrast, since the washed areas have stronger color. Some artists prefer not to use intense, saturated color and enjoy a more muted palette for sketching.

Derwent Graphitints have an enormous value range in most colors. They blend well and handle like the softest sketching pencils used dry, but the hint of color allows the artist to use aerial recession, use complements for intensity and all the other color tricks without losing that sense of it being a sketch. Any of them would make good monochrome colors, but I prefer the blues since I've got a soft spot for blue monochrome drawings.

Not all the colors are lightfast. Derwent's home page lists the lightfastness by Blue Wool scale for each of the colors in the set. Choose accordingly depending on whether you're doing a serious drawing or painting to frame and exhibit or filling your sketchbook with field drawings and quick color notes from life.

Lightfastness isn't a major issue for sketchbook work. I realized that some time ago and organize my pencils by whether to keep them to the sketchbook or use them for paintings to frame.

Anything that's kept in a closed sketchbook with opaque covers and layers of other drawings protecting it has a good chance of lasting for years even with a fugitive pigment. I understood this when I looked at some medieval books of hours and the brilliant colors in their illustrations, when the same colors in paintings had faded and discolored till they were sometimes absent.

Graphitints shine both for serious pencil drawing to give subtle color variations and for sketchbook use. The 4B softness invites gestures, quick sketching, smudging with a stump, tortillon or finger. Brighter washes can add emphasis where you want them or they can be used for eerie, muted paintings in a watercolor journal or painting.

Port, Juniper, Aubergine, Dark Indigo and Storm are the sketchbook-only colors that rate lower than 6 on the Blue Wool scale. My favorite blue, Ocean Blue, has a rating of 7 which is between "lightfast" and "best lightfastness."

The tin is heavy, sturdy, well made and fits the pencils nicely. They don't all roll to the bottom if it's turned on its side and the lid snaps on well. I'd put a rubber band around it if sticking it in a backpack or messenger bag.

Despite their softness, I've had no trouble with internal breakage on any of my Derwent Graphitints. As with all fine art pencils, I use a sharp fresh pencil sharpener blade when sharpening them. Use the wide hole on a two-hole sharpener or a General's All-Art sharpener for them, or an electric sharpener that handles wide pencils.

While at first I thought these were fun special effects pencils, I started using them more and more. Since I bought the set, a good third to half of my sketches and value drawings are done with Graphitints because I love their softness, hint of color and smooth laydown. They erase exactly like 4B graphite. They shade like 4B graphite. They're top quality 4B graphite sketch and wash pencils that also have a color range, and that becomes irresistible when I'm doing value sketches.

Below is an example drawing I did on hot press watercolor paper. I used three techniques -- washed the sky very heavily over a smooth tonal layer to dissolve to a smooth wash, then washed lightly over stronger marks on the row of bare trees and the pine at the bottom. I let that dry and finished with the almost silhouetted large tree to show how the contrast of textures works so well in a sketch.

Cloudy Day
4" x 6"
Derwent Graphitint pencils
Hot press 140lb Lanaquarelle watercolor paper.


  1. Robert,
    Thanks for all the valuable info. I would have gone for a set of 24 had I read this first!
    You answered all my questions and even some I hadn't thought of, yet :D
    BTW if the photo is posted first, it's easier to get it to appear with the link on fb.

  2. Good review

    Wonderful pencils, but PLEASE Derwent, make a yellow tint! Who's with me?


  3. Just another comment - seems like each time I find a new article on coloured pencils, I have to smile because it turns out it was written by you. :)

    The tones of these pencils really are beautiful. I never saw the graphite as giving pictures a 'spooky' look before, but that is definitely a possibility. Rather I saw them as soft and muted. I've been enjoying using them to shade cartoons/webcomics to beautiful effect... but I'm so sad that these pencils have such low lightfastness rating. (Same goes for Inktense, my other favourites.) I'm lucky that most of my work is designed to be scanned and posted online.

    I've been experimenting with achieving similar effects, and while it's easy enough replicate the actual colours with standard watercolour paints, they just lack that certain 'sheen' the Graphitints have. I tried using the watercolour as a wash over non-coloured soluble graphite, but so far it's just turned to mud.

    Sad that it doesn't seem possible to create a lightfast painting with these pencils, but I love them too much to ever stop using them.

  4. wow..nice art you it..keep it up...

  5. Thank you so much for your very comprehensive review, and for your lovely artwork illustrating some of the different effects and uses. Now I will have to add this set to my increasing collection of Derwent goodies. I adore the Inktense, and have a set of 72 pencils plus a set of 24 blocks (I would have bought the 72 blocks but that wasn't available at the time). I have such fun painting with the Inktense, although I have been disappointed by how quickly some of the red tones fade. However, I have bought Lascaux UV Protect spray to increase the life of my work, because I love the Inktense so much and want to keep using them. I am amazed at the completely unique art products that Derwent invents! Yay, Derwent!