Derwent Graphitint pencils

November 12, 2012

Back last century, pencil sketchers put their trust in a 2B or 4B graphite pencil on Bristol board which could be scratched into for whites.

For this century, pencils are water-soluble, like crayons, though these new products are still too ‘new’ for art schools or gallery exhibitions.

Certainly, lined up in a row in art supply shops, Derwent pencil products give one the impression that the same Coloured Pigments and Clay have been added to a variety of standard sketching media: charcoal in the case of Tinted Charcoal and graphite in Graphitint. Hardly anyone works on coloured grounds these days; I doubt whether any in the Graphitint or Tinted Charcoal ranges would work on blue- or brown-tinted paper.

The market today obviously wants pencils, with their distinct ‘pencil’ marks, linked to the addition of a ‘wash’ with water. As with watercolour pencils, it’s possible to retain the pencil stroke when used dry, or combine a ‘washed-out’ pencil stroke within a colour wash (when water is added to pencil) or lots of colour wash with the pencil stroke deleted entirely.

Here I’ve scribbled the entire Derwent Graphitint range on to buff 150gm 5×8″ Daler-Rowney sketchbook paper. The first shows more or less complete ‘covering’ when dry, the second with lots of water added (almost too much for 150gm paper but I was keen to obliterate the pencil stroke) and the third shows the pencil stroke with lots of background paper ‘white’ showing. Even with lots of water, the pencil stroke is not eliminated, but plainly the pigment jumps out compared to the dry ‘block’ coverage.

Compare this with the tin of 12 Derwent Tinted Charcoal (plus some of my other pencils: Generals Charcoal, Prismacolor Coloured Pencils, Lyra Skin Tones):

Apart from being generally ‘dark’, there’s not too much obvious overlap between the two types of pencil. Certainly, mainly for marketing and inventory reasons, there’s no overlap in the  names of the colours in the two ranges.

Some preliminary observations then about Graphitint (and it’s really very early days for me yet):

* when used dry with no water at all as blocks of solid colour, they look like a range of ‘darks’ in tertiary colours, with a preponderance of greens and browns; what I like in the field was the three or four dark greys (use a Derwent Watercolour French Grey or a Prismacolour Silver coloured pencil for a light grey). The black (20 Midnight Black) is a chalky, brown-black (similar to a Lyra Skin Tone black), close to Prismacolor’s Coloured Pencil black but for a “real” intense black, use the black from their Tinted Charcoal range ;

* when used with water, distinct colours magically emerge, some even approaching warms: while there is no obvious Yellow, 17 Autumn Brown and 13 Chestnut approach a (Brick) Red and the greens all have a distinct bluish hue. The range of four or five light purples is appreciated.

* when used dry as scribbly pencil strokes with lots of white/cream background paper emerging, one gets a sense of colour, though you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish between 5 Shadow and 7 Ocean Blue, or 13 Chestnut, 14 Russet and 16 Cocoa (though their differences become obvious when used with water).

For a sandy yellow  (suitable for rendering sandstone), use no Derwent Graphitints but turn to the Tinted Charcoal TC01 Sand instead. If I had a huge sandstone cathedral to sketch on location in full sunlight, I’d probably take Sand TC01 and Lavender TC07 Tinted Charcoal and work the former for sun and the latter for shade. An expert thoroughly versed in Tinted Charcoal might use the remaining browns to advantage, but only when working large (e.g. A4): there is really too little differentiation when working small (e.g. A5).

The key thing about working on location is that any architectural detail associated with pencil sketching will be washed away with the addition of water. One will end up with a Misty Tonalism instead of a rendering showing careful observation of architectural detail.

As for use in sketching on-location, one has to know the effect of the Derwent Graphitint colours when wet. Otherwise you’re sketching away in a range of largely undifferentiated browns. Looking at the coloured tab at the end of each pencil gives only a rough indication of colour spectrum (greens, blues, greys). My guess is that this knowledge of potential colour will only really come if sketching on location if one sticks to a limited palette and adds other colours slowly over time.

I found yesterday that working with 48 Prismacolour Coloured Pencils and 24 Graphitint from their tins, plus a Derwent grey Watercolour pencil for foundation lines, made sketching on location interminably slow. It’s great working in dabs of colour, but the threat constantly looms of overturning the tins – increased when working in a silent environment such as a gallery or museum. Juggling between so many pencils would be on a par with the time taken using watercolour.  There is obvious benefit in going into the field with a limited palette – one colour for sunlit areas, a complimentary opposite for shadow and a contrasting black for intense shadow. Ideally no more pencils than your non-drawing hand can hold!

It would be interesting to go into a botanic garden with just the nine blues and greens from the Graphitint range, working on white/cream paper to render sky and vegetation. Plus another seven or so ‘browns’ for tree trunks. There is an advantage here over the ‘brights’ of Prismacolor Coloured Pencils because the Graphitint greens are much more subtle.

In any urban sketching, there are of course synthetic Pantone colours used for plastic and metal, e.g. traffic signs. For these, the ‘brights’ of Prismacolor Coloured Pencils do the trick.

Why use these instead of Derwent Watercolour Pencils? I’m not in a position to compare the pigments, but obviously Graphitint retains a lot of the character of the  ‘pencil’ stroke and Tinted Charcoal looks (even when wet) quite ‘charcoal-y’. I’m keen to use some Tinted Charcoal with ‘normal’ black charcoal in Life Drawing, for example, especially as a transition to Watercolour Life Drawing. From my limited 12-pencil tin of Tinted Charcoal, I wouldn’t rush to use them as a three-pencil alternative to sanguine/black/white charcoal, for example, on tinted paper (though most tinted paper, except when it’s Canson Mi-teintes or very high quality pastel paper, won’t cope with wet media.

If you’ve got a ‘scratchy’ pencil style, then Graphitint will work to add colour to your blacks-and-greys when working with graphite pencil. If you work slowly or senstitively with a focus on detail, then scratching away roughly with Graphitint won’t suit you; if sensitive and detail-conscious, your better option would be to add colour by wetting the tip of the pencil with a wet brush and adding colour with the brush.

Finally, I can imagine Derwent Graphitint and DerwentTinted Charcoal working like a charm in Northern Europe. Anywhere with bright sunlight (Spain, Portugal, Australia) calls for different pencils altogether – possibly with Derwent Coloured Pencils or Derwent Watercolour Pencils, especially where Prismacolour Coloured Pencils are simply too bright and in-your-face.


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