Color Spree

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

Derwent Onyx Pencil

Derwent Onyx Pencils are another specialty pencil from Derwent. This time it's a pencil blacker than 9B graphite. The set comes with two Dark and two Medium Onyx pencils, a hand sharpener and a little white vinyl eraser on a bubble pack card. Very convenient little sketch set.

Onyx pencils are wide barrel, painted in environmentally aware matte black water based lacquer and dipped with a shiny black end and green slant band. They're easy to tell from your other Derwent pencils in a jar.

I love a good soft, dark, high B grade pencil whether it's a 6B, 8B or 9B. That's my favorite for sketching and drawing. The darker the better. Most of the very soft B grade pencils also smudge easily. Derwent Onyx, oddly enough, doesn't. It will smudge but not with the extreme loose messiness of a 9B graphite pencil, where I'll do half my work by reduction with an eraser. It smudges more like an HB or a B - moderate smudging, but not something like the H range pencils that scarcely smudge at all.

This is great for getting controlled texture effects and keeping my drawing clean. The main drawback to the super soft dark graphite pencils is that if the side of your hand brushes any finished part of the drawing, clouds of smudges will start to appear everywhere. I wind up spending half my time lifting those out with a kneaded eraser and carefully working around details to get them to the right value again.

Onyx pencils produce a clean, crisp line with a good texture. I did a couple of shading bars, one with the Dark Onyx and the other with the Medium ONyx. The difference is a bit more distinct in person than in the scan. Both of them get a good deep dark at the end of the shading bar, comparable to a black colored pencil more than any graphite pencil. Yet it's still got a little graphite sheen and in the mid values handles pretty much like a graphite pencil.

It's not as soft as I thought. The advantage is that the Onyx will hold a sharp point better than a 9B while giving a deep dark in your graphite drawing. The disadvantage is that it's not going to be as easily smudged for a quick line-and-smudge sketch comparable to pen and wash sketching. Each pencil has its own character and the Onyx has a unique feel and style.

Because it's more firm than the dark B range pencils, I can get crisp lines and clean value shifts when I want them. It gives very good light marks as well, shown in the wombat's highlights. I did little or no erasing on the wombat sketch, but where I did decide to lighten a highlight the Onyx lifted much more easily than a black colored pencil such as the Derwent Artists' or Coloursoft.

The only comparable products I've ever used are Design Ebony pencils. They too produce a very dark line or tone yet hold a strong point. I've enjoyed Ebony pencils for years. I got my first one in high school and loved it, better than any normal graphite pencil I'd ever had. Derwent Onyx is like that, but more so. I've got plenty of Ebony pencils now but the deep darks I got in my wombat sketch and shading bands are visibly darker than I've gotten with Ebony pencils.

These are wonderful tools for anyone who enjoys drawing or sketching in graphite. They're good all by themselves or you can combine them with Derwent Graphic graphite pencils for a full range of graphite values. Once again, Derwent is pushing the boundaries of what pencils can do, something that's all to the good for any sketcher!

Of course the final test for any type of pencil sketching is how well it shows up in a scan or a photo. Graphite drawings are notoriously difficult to scan. Either you have to darken the scan till the highlights are medium gray to see the lines, or you lose all your light values entirely. I'm happy to report the Derwent Onyx is a lot easier to scan than comparable graphite pencils. My medium and light values did show up in this scan without darkening it too much. I deliberately did the little weeds behind the animal lightly to see at what point the line drops out in scanning.

Onyx stands up to the test, which makes it a very good pencil for drawing and posting your work online. It's a good thing the blister pack has two of each because I know I'll be using these pencils a lot!

Wombat study in Derwent Onyx pencils on Derwent Soft Cover Journal by Robert A. Sloan.


  1. I am a sucker for pencils. One of the art supply stores had a special on these and I got 50 of them in a bunch. They will not go to waste. I love the blackness and the way they hold the point as well as the variety of shades you can get with one pencil. This is a really good product. I couldn't agree with you more.

  2. Good review. I took a while to get used to Onyx but now I use them all the time.
    Never thought about scanning. It's always been a niggle because I like to make prints of drawings. I'll give these a try in the scanner.