Color Spree

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Derwent Inktense Blocks

Derwent Inktense Blocks are the latest wonderful invention from the mad color scientists at Derwent Pencils. They're still only available in the UK, but if you live in the USA or other countries you can get them from Pencils4Artists online.

They're worth paying international shipping rather than waiting for the USA or your local country's Derwent distributor to get them. These sticks are convenient! Available in 24 color tins or 12 color tins, they come in sturdy thick slotted foam within the tin unlike the flimsy styrene slotted holders some other stick shaped products do. It's the same thick soft foam that's in the Derwent Pastels tin and the same good sturdy tin. The lid comes completely off, so you may want to toss a couple of large rubber bands around it to chuck it in your backpack or satchel.

They're ink on the go. Add a Derwent water brush or Niji or Sakura water brush, any of the new water-in-handle nylon water brushes and you can do ink painting anywhere you want. They're also great for sketching.

Best of all, nearly all the colors are lightfast unlike many colored pencils. Derwent has a full color chart with lightfastness ratings on the Blue Wool scale available at All colors except Poppy Red, Shiraz and Fuchsia are lightfast - anything 6, 7 or 8 is considered lightfast for artists intending to sell their works.

So in your sketchbook, use the whole 24 color tin. When you're painting to sell you can mix Chili Red with both lightfast yellows to get oranges, Tangerine to get red-orange or Violet to get a magenta hue. If you purchase the 12 color tin and want all the colors lightfast, you can swap in Chili Red and Violet for Poppy Red and Fuchsia from open stock.

Dry, they handle better than the similar Prismacolor Art Stix. Those are Prismacolor core material formed into a stick, good for use with colored pencils because you can fill large areas with them and use them on their sides. Derwent Inktense Blocks have the same convenience but a slightly different texture, both softer and dryer at the same time. Almost pastel-like, they blend very nicely when dry with less wax in them than the Prismacolor product.

Of course the Prismacolor Art Stix don't wash with water, but you can get wash effects using odorless mineral spirits, Bestine rubber cement thinner and other thinners with colored pencils. They're both quite useful products because they're compact and entirely made up of pigmented material. No waste and you get eight good sharp corners for tight details and thin lines. Self-sharpening too if you wear down the ends at an angle for a chisel point, this also allows some thick-thin calligraphic strokes.

Of course the first thing I did with my set was color chart them. As usual, Derwent has a fine eye for which hues are absolutely essential in a smaller set. I could mix anything with the 24 hues charted here. Notice that all of them did photograph fairly true with my webcam. Some light colors drop out on scanners and photos, but others don't - it may be coincidence but I like it a lot when an art supply's lighter colors don't vanish or turn into the next hue. Lemon yellows should remain yellow, not turn lemon green or vanish to white.

Like Derwent's famous Inktense pencils, these Inktense blocks can be activated once. After wetting and drying, they become waterproof. It's easy to glaze layers over previous elements you painted in without dissolving them, which can lead to a beautiful effect when used with other colors or with watercolor pencils or water mediums. Like Inktense, a little goes a long way. The colors are very strong once washed, the color chart itself shows this. The bottom of each swatch is where I pulled color off the scribbled area into clean white paper and it's still strong.

At the same time Derwent came out with these blocks, they created two good accessories for them that I'll be ordering from Pencils4Artists. A set of three rubber Grippers are handy if you want to keep your hands clean, though the blocks didn't come off on my fingers when I did today's sketch below. They're useful for anything that size of stick, which is similar to the Prismacolor Art Stix and most hard pastels. Grippers could be handy for a wide variety of stick mediums. If your hands sweat, they're a great convenience. Alternately you can just pick them up with a bit of paper wrapped around the end.

There's also a Grate 'n Shake jar with a grater lid. You can scrape the blocks over the grater lid to put Inktense powder in the jar, add a few drops of water and create strong liquid washes for painting - a great convenience for those who want to use these blocks for Japanese ink painting especially.

Like the Inktense pencils, they work fine on any sort of paper and can also be used to paint on fabric permanently. I think that may require heat setting with an iron to keep it from laundering out. The main thing to remember if you're trying that is to experiment on scraps first and make sure the Inktense pencil or block is completely liquefied - heavy dry applications may not dissolve completely and so they'd activate again on the next water wash.

You don't need much to get a strong, beautiful effect with these blocks. I love them and expect to use them constantly - a couple of masking tape tabs on the tin and it'll come with me anywhere. Here's the first sketch I've done with them as an example, a winter scene that looked so nice dry that I really should've snapped another photo before washing. Take my word for it, even dry it had a cool, "broken color" loose sketching effect that's gorgeous. Better still, get some and try it for yourself both wet and dry.

I've also created a YouTube video review demonstrating Derwent Inktense Blocks, so I thought I'd embed it in this entry:

Let's see if that worked!

Edit as of May 8th: I added the information about lightfastness to this review and also have some good news. Dick Blick carries Derwent Inktense Blocks in 12 and 24 color tins plus open stock. So you'll have no trouble putting together a custom tin of 12 if you want a smaller selection that's 100% lightfast, or replacing any color you've used up because you enjoy them so much.


  1. All right, now I know that the YouTube "embed" code works just fine in this blog I'll do some more video supplements with some of my reviews. Enjoy!

  2. Brilliant! Thanks so much! I'm just getting used to the Derwent Inktense pencils, but I loved watching you blend the colours. Thanks!!

  3. video is not working on Mac :-(

  4. That's so frustrating, Lelija. Wish I could help. I have a PC and don't know how to get videos to work on a Mac. Maybe if you go directly to YouTube it'll help. It's been saved in Windows Movie Format so maybe that's why Mac won't show it but I know there are some emulation programs, maybe that'd help.

    Danielle, thank you! Yes, these work just like the Inktense pencils. Same thing. Sketch very lightly and run colors over each other to blend before washing. If you do color swatches and test which color is on top, that can also affect how they blend. I used a systematic pattern of swatch combinations while I was getting used to the pencils.

  5. I just watched the video on a Mac - my new one. On the old one I always had trouble with videos. In any case, this looks like a great product - versatile and easy to use. Thanks for the review.

  6. Great news for USA fans of Derwent Inktense Blocks - Dick Blick will be getting them in a couple of weeks! I just heard from Rebecca at Derwent that they're scheduled to appear here soon - so happy about this. These are so convenient I may need two tins like the demo lady used in the official Derwent video - one for wet and one for dry, makes combination applications easier with less "wait for the stick to dry" time.

  7. Great review! Thank you. So nice to see the product "in action". :D

  8. Great review and video! Do you know if you can write over these with marker's like Sharpies? Sharpies gunk up on acrylic paint ... If I can write over these, they will be perfect!