Color Spree

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set

I first noticed the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set back in 2004 surfing a Jerry's Artarama seasonal catalog. It was on sale for the holidays for about $7.99 or something like that - a plastic lead holder and six 5.6mm fat chunky leads in a little plastic case. Portable, handy, and protected, the color range is pretty similar to a classic Conte stick set with a cool addition - graphite.

The six sticks from left to right are soft 4B graphite, firm compressed Charcoal, Dark Sepia, Light Sepia, Sanguine and White Chalk. The basics for "Trois Couleurs" style sketching on a brown or gray page are all there. Both Sepia sticks have a dry firm feeling a lot like a Conte stick or Polychromos hard pastel. Sanguine is a little different. Waxier, it's an oil based formula that has the texture of a very soft colored pencil. White chalk has the same texture as the compressed charcoal and the Sepia sticks.

The leads are very fat, not like the usual size of graphite leads for a lead holder. The lead holder is accordingly fat and fits nicely into the hand a bit like a marker. It keeps my fingers clean with these powdery, smudgy mediums - even the Sanguine smudges beautifully - and it can all go in a shirt pocket with a pocket Moleskine for sketching.

The leads are in a sturdy, heavy little plastic box with snap-on lid. I'd probably put a rubber band around it or tape the lid down if carrying it vertically, but it has a thin foam pad under and folded over the sticks under the label to keep them from breaking. Very good little leads case, sturdy and dependable. The only thing that would improve on it would be hinges, but those sometimes break off and you're left using a rubber band on a Conte case anyway. This is that same sort of clear heavy plastic as the Conte crayon boxes.

I thought of this set as a redundant whimsy since I have full ranges of soft and hard graphite pencils, plenty of charcoal and Conte crayons for sketching. But I've always been fond of lead holders for their cleanliness and this set did prove to be as convenient as I thought it would be. Bring along a tortillon or stump for smudging though, if you want to take advantage of the holder to keep your hands clean!

I've done three sample sketches in Dark Sepia, Sanguine and Charcoal in the photo and posed the little set with a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" hardbound sketchbook for scale. You can see how compact this setup is. The lead holder has a four prong clutch grip and opens easily by pressing the top button. Leads slide out for easy replacement.

When they're used up, all the Cretacolor drawing leads are available in boxes of six at Jerry's Artarama. There are a few others: Soft and Medium Negro leads which look darker than graphite and are probably a carbon-graphite mix, Sanguine Dry, which presumably has the same texture as the Sepia colors, 2B and 6B graphite and either a Soft or Medium charcoal, the hardness that wasn't included.

These are just six of the most popular leads and I can see why they are that popular. The oil based Sanguine lead has a great texture in itself and lets you try that texture when the Sepia leads already have the compressed drawing stick texture. These, a kneaded eraser and a sketchbook are great for those moments of inspiration.

Current regular price is $10.83, but the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a perennial sale item. I recommend it to anyone who likes sketching and drawing for its convenience, variety, sturdy packaging and compact size. This might live in the pocket of my Blick canvas sketchbook cover, since it's got everything I need for sketching in a form that'll fit into it neatly.

Cretacolor also has a variety of other sketching sets and kits including the Black Box and the Monolith Black Box, Creativo, Artino and Teacher's Choice sets. Look for the sketching set that suits your habits and budget, they're all high quality supplies and usually in good sturdy tins or cases. Any of them make great gifts.

The Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a good gift choice too for a friend who sketches, or as a small gift to self along with a new sketchbook. I'm enjoying it a lot and wondering why I took so long to buy it. This is great.


  1. I have the same lead holder, but it is branded Koh-I-Noor. It is not so good, anyway, the lead gets stuck at times. Culprit? The plastic jaws of the clutch mechanism. It was very cheap so I guess I shouldn't complain but next time I will buy the 5.6 mm Versatil or the Cretacolor version. Great set of items for its money, nevertheless.

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  6. Great detailed review!
    I know this post is old, but still I found this article very useful. I'm gifting this set along with some other art supplies to my sister, so I'm glad to know they are of good quality.