Color Spree

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

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.


  1. Thanks for this review Robert, I have a set that I've been afraid to try, probably because there's not much room for correction (if any). I've been thinking about doing more with ink & colored pencil, so this was just what I needed to inspire me!

  2. Thanks Robert,
    Excellent review. i cant wait to try these out

  3. Very nice review. I like the pencil holder as well.

  4. My daughter loves these and is hoping for a set for Christmas.

  5. thanks for this review, I felt like I fumbled when trying to explain to my uni student son about these over the telephone so emailed him a link to your brilliant review instead, he kept asking about something for his assignment explaining about the brighter graphic style colours but sort of translucent and these sprung to my mind straight away. I've ended up with my own set too now and love them very much.

  6. I am so glad I found your excellent review! I just ordered the 72 pk through Amazon. I am a scrapbooker/cardmaker and plan on using these mostly with stamped images. Reading your review has curtailed the slight buyers remorse I was feeling after hitting the "order & pay" buttons last night. Now I can't wait to start coloring & creating