Color Spree

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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pencils

Derwent Fortnight #7: Tinted Charcoal Pencils

When I discovered these new Derwent specialty pencils on the Derwent home page, I couldn't wait for Col Art to bring them to my USA art suppliers. I'd already tried Derwent Graphitints and thought they'd be something similar, only charcoal pencils. Finally, I found a supplier that had the full 24 color range and ordered them.

These are unique. Nothing else like them is available from any art supply manufacturer. They are typical of Derwent's wicked inventions intended to get me ordering more must-have pencils when I've already got lots: they fill a gap in my supplies and add to my range of possibilities for sketching. Used dry, they were exactly what I expected.

Charcoal pencils, with a nice firm smooth soft compressed-charcoal texture and a bit of a tint. Not much, the tints are very subtle and most of the colors are soft. The color shows up most in light applications and especially in smudging. But blending and smudging are one of the great techniques for charcoal. Charcoal pencils have a stronger value range than other types of sketching materials.

They're dynamic, quick, shade easily whether by hatching, use of a tortillon, light marks or finger smudging. Any sort of pastel blender will work to blend these charcoal pencils, they have that lovely dry powdery texture that gives strong intense darks and delicate muted lights.

The full range set includes a good white charcoal pencil and three degrees of softness in black charcoal pencils, plus several gorgeous light colors that fall into what I'd call a medium value range in pastels and a long range of thrillingly varied darks. If you use these in conjunction with pastel pencils, you can extend the dark range around the spectrum and produce sparkling varied shadows. Details that stay within the hue and temperature of what you're accenting or complement it are another great use for these pencils, as accent darks.

They are watersoluble. That's where the comparison with Graphitints vanishes. Unlike the Derwent Graphitint range of soft dark tinted graphite pencils, Derwent Tinted Charcoal pencils do not brighten or intensify the color when washed. They retain their original colors perfectly.

It's useful to know how any watersoluble product shifts when washed. So before using them in paintings, do a color chart and wash half the sample of each color. Each of the dark colors is a wonderful deep monotone with a long value range, even the light colors have a good value range other than white, which has a long value range on dark or black paper.

These are perfect for multimedia techniques in dry media, they handle like charcoal. Their great advantage is that whisper of color. It can be used to great advantage in nature sketching, where you may need cool winter shadows on snow or tawny golds and browns in a deer but really want to keep the whole palette muted. Easy smudging makes them a good fast sketching medium, and that's what I mostly use mine for.

You can only get them from Derwent. If you like charcoal pencils, you will probably love these. If you use charcoal pencils for accents in your pastel drawings, you may start finding them a necessity for those times when very deep accent darks look so much better with a hue than without. Use them exactly like other brands of charcoal pencils but enjoy the range of subtle tints for any time you need just a hint of color.

I'll be keeping my set restocked because having these around encourages me to sketch more. Below is my life drawing of the corner of my drawing table with a blue glass coffee cup as the central element. One great advantage of charcoal pencils in general over other sorts of sketching pencils is easy scanning! While light tones in graphite may drop out, charcoal and these tinted charcoal pencils tend to show up clearly in all their tonal gradations.

Coffee Cup
4" x 6"
Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pencils on white ProArt sketchbook paper
From life, blue glass coffee cup on a corner of my drafting table with supplies, edge of the table and drawers under the table.


  1. I have begun to really enjoy charcoal lately, mainly pencils, and I think I will add these to my collection. Thanks for a good detailed review.

  2. You said, " They are typical of Derwent's wicked inventions intended to get me ordering more must-have pencils when I've already got lots" LOL! My sentiments exactly! I keep wanting to say to Derwent, "STOP! I can't keep up with all these new wonderful pencils you keep making!" HaHa! Thank you for this review. I always value your opinion and you've helped me make up my mind about ordering these.