Color Spree

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Derwent Pastels

Derwent Fortnight continues with #5: Pastels.

Derwent Pastels are medium-hard sketching pastels. Comparable to Prismacolor's NuPastel, Color Conte sticks, Cretacolor Pastel Carre, Richeson Semi-Hard or Faber-Castell Polychromos, these pastels are versatile for both painting and sketching. Like the Derwent Pastel Pencils, these pastels have been reformulated for softer, more consistent texture and greater lightfastness in some colors. I haven't got the old formula to compare, but I like these very much and consider them as a probable improvement on NuPastel, which has lightfastness issues.

I loved the NuPastel texture but didn't like the way some very useful colors were fugitive. Derwent hasn't posted lightfastness per color in this range on the Derwent home page yet, but I'm sure they will later on. They post this information for almost all of their products and this formula's new, which may mean Blue Wool testing is still ongoing.

The earth tones blister pack I tested is a great range for life and nature sketching. The reddish earths would make excellent skin tones for figure drawing or portraits, while the cooler browns and deep darks would help with background elements and deep shadows.

I like the example sketches on the package, but that was done with a larger set since it seems to include a pale yellow or ivory color not in the blister pack. Thus any shading to light I did with these had to be using reserved white on the paper. They smudged easily when deliberately pushed, but weren't so delicate that I wound up getting them all over my hands for a completely muddy surface.

Just firm enough to get a clean line or hard detail, they're soft enough to give a good scumbled texture. Several of the sticks had broken neatly in half when I opened it, so that was handy. I used the side of the stick to block in some areas and found that just as effective as using the tip.

Some of my highlights in my test drawing are reserved, others are created by lifting with a kneaded eraser. Derwent Pastels don't stain the paper in any of the colors I used. I was able to bring back pure white in a couple of spots I wanted to remove color, one of them (the hole in one of the dried leaves) had been a dark spot with a heavy application. Spraying with SpectraFix alcohol-casein based fixative did not dissolve the color or change the colors.

Being compressed, the first stroke with a new stick may be a little light and not lay down much color. The solution is just to scribble a bit till the color comes up. If you have scrap pieces of sanded pastel paper or sandpaper, one swipe will take off that outer compressed layer revealing the working core.

They have uniform softness without grit or hard lumps in them. None of the sticks crumbled under hard pressure or on being squeezed, something that happens sometimes with other pastels in vigorous applications. They are nicely pigment-rich and have a texture very close to the American Prismacolor NuPastels.

The range is only 36, but like other short range Derwent products, it's got a good balanced spectrum of brights and some great earth tones. A short range is the only drawback, but then, if you're on a tight budget a smaller set that's good artist grade quality is going to make it a lot more affordable.

I hope that in future Derwent does choose to extend the range to 72 and beyond, since these pastels are wonderful for so many uses. Every application I listed for the color Conte crayons applies to these. You can use them for sketching, sketch under pastel paintings without changing the texture, paint with them from beginning to end or do an underpainting by blocking in large masses of color and then rubbing them smooth to provide a base for softer pastels in later layers.

Corresponding with Dick Blick, I discovered that the current stock is the old formula, somewhat harder Derwent Pastels. The distributor has informed them that this new formula will be available in June or July 2010 and presumably that's when the rest of the USA suppliers will have them. I've written to them for an old formula sample, so I can tell exactly how much softer these new ones are. The texture on these is splendid, consistent and firm without being dry or brittle. If you like the older formula, stock up on them while Blick still has the previous ones. Derwent might also have changed some colors in the range.

Here's the test sketch I did this morning with my six-color earth tones blister pack. I like the palette for nature sketching and feel it'd be glorious for figure drawing. Definitely something to bring along the next time I find a group of artists doing life drawing. All whites and lights are reserved, smudged light applications or erased out -- this range is better for white or light paper unless you accompany it with a white pastel pencil.

Bone and Gall
8 1/2" x 11"
Derwent Pastels (six color earth tones assortment)
White ProArt sketchbook paper
Sketched from life.


  1. Excellent article about pastels and Pastel art. I mostly prefer paintings with pastels. It will be awesome looking.

  2. Hi Robert,

    Great review.

    I bought a set of 12 recently and liked them so decided to get a full set of 36 in the new formulation. The blending white is quite good too - it does lighten the colours but not as much as the Titanium white.

    The LF ratings (presumably Blue Wool) are now available at A few colours are low and some very low. I'll probably just bin any below BW4, although BW6 is the recommended limit. On the other hand if I just use them for sketching in my Fabriano journal then why worry?