The most important thing you can learn as an artist is the understanding of colour and colour mixes. This colour wheel is such a handy tool to have by you, helping you understand colour relationships, contrasts, complements, mixes…
On the face, the middle moves around the wheel, helping you to understand mixes and what colour you gain by mixing pigments. On the reverse, you get information on the relationships between colours (I find the contrasts most useful) and the hues.
When painting animals, the whiskers are a nightmare. If you leave them to last then it’s almost impossible to draw the white over all those colourful layers unless you use paint. If you draw them in first, then you have the very unpleasant task of drawing around them and crossing your fingers, eyes, legs that you don’t obliterate them bringing you back to my first point. So there is this little doodaa –
The Derwent Embossing Tool. ‘Draw’ in your whiskers, forcing the paper into a wee valley, draw over it leaving it devoid of pigment and then at the end, fill it in with a sharp white coloured pencil of your choice.
Some artists even sign their name with it, so that when the painting is complete their name will shine through unobtrusively.
Derwent Pencil Wrap
You decide to do some plein air painting. Out in a field, the sun on your back, the wind gently caressing the treetops. That spot on the hill, yep, that’ll be a glorious point at which to set down. Now just lug that suitcase up the hill.
An impromptu sketch while you are out and about. Your Moleskine watercolour book in your handbag and your box of 120 pencils strapped to your laden back.
Hmmm, not going well is it. That’s where Derwent have stepped in and provided you with a nifty wee pencil wrap that’ll hold 30 pencils, a rubber and a sharpener. And it rolls up – much as you will if you lug that big box about with you.
There are many ways to blend coloured pencil pigment and this is one of them. It handles a lot of layers well and turns the pigment to almost paint allowing you to smoosh it together. Smells of oranges too, though I’d still leave a window open.
Derwent Battery-Operated Sharpener
Many pencils don’t like being sharpened. Prismacolors are notoriously bad at being sharpened and I have found too that Derwent Drawing and Derwent Artists don’t really enjoy it either. If you use a normal hand-held one, even a metal one that you consider good, the pressure of your hand turning the pencil strains the barrel and often they just split. Prismas just keep snapping their ends and you end up quickly with a stub of a pencil. So, all hail the conquering battery-operated sharpener from Derwent.
Multiple holes for all sizes of pencil, two sharpener (one for a chunky but sharp point, one for a long, narrow point) and the bottom swivels to sit comfortably on your working desk – you may be fancy and have yours at an angle. Paint me fancy.
The smoky side slides out for easy emptying. Top tips – run a graphite pencil through it every so often to clean out the sharpeners. Coloured pencils with their wax and oil bases tend to clog up the blades after a time. Otherwise just put your lips together and…blow…the dust away with every empty.
Derwent Battery-Operated Eraser
How lazy. I know, you are thinking exactly that. It’s one thing to have a battery-operated sharpener because normal ones might split the barrel, but an eraser?! How lazy are you?!
Well…rubbing out by hand is great for big areas but just you try and do a teeny-tiny bit or remove pigment to make a wee highlight on your subject, then tell me this isn’t a necessary piece of gadgetry.
Yeah, I know, I am not doing my anti-lazy argument any good here am I? Waterbrushes? What’s wrong with a jar of water?
Let me tell you. These little brushes screw off their barrel which you can fill with water or Zest-It. Then playing with watercolour coloured pencils is easy, and blending normal pigment is a doddle. I take you back to the Derwent Wrap discussion. Halfway up a mountain, where are you going to find a tap? And how did you manage lugging that jam-jar up? Did it fall and break? Fill these up, pop them in your Wrap and you’ll be enjoying the pencil/paint hybrid without any fuss. And they come in 3 sizes.
It’s always a good idea to ‘fix’ your finished works. Not only does it preserve coloured pencil works and stop the dreaded wax bloom, but it is essential when working with pastels or pastel pencils. The powder-like nature of these means that without fixing them, the pigment will travel very easily and in a few months your lovely painting is a chalky cloud. You can get workable fixatives too which mean that you can add more layers just when you thought the paper wouldn’t take any more. Painting with pastels too, using fixative every so often on finished areas, means you can move around the support without smudging the work you have just completed.
I use this Daler-Rowney one not for any reason other than it’s the only one that’s readily available.
Derwent Pencil Eraser
A pencil that has an eraser at it’s core. Simple. You can hold it comfortably and get into small areas quite easily. Great. However, you may find that the rubber core is rather gritty and it disintegrates quite quickly under pressure. It doesn’t lift graphite or coloured pencil pigment completely, rather lightens the area under attack. Useful for highlights and tricky area, not so for erasing.
United Office Sharpeners
I picked both of these sharpeners up in my local Lidl for £3.49 each. First is a battery-operated sharpener much like the Derwent one, except not as fancy. But boy it sharpens well. My trusty Faber-Castell F graphite pencil gets chewed up in my Derwent sharpener but this handles it well. The unit is small, neat and functional. Also I bought a hand-cranked one that attaches to your desk. I like it – it doesn’t sharpen quite as well or as quickly but I imagine for vulnerable pencils like pastels, it will prove to be quite a purchase.
Derwent Superpoint Helical Battery Operated Sharpener
A new battery-operated sharpener from Derwent. The Derwent Superpoint Helical Battery Operated Sharpener: a rather nifty, sleek sharpener that promises to sharpen to a perfect, long, sharp point. And it does, but first, a problem. The sharpener doesn’t come with batteries so my first port of call was the battery compartment. The hatch is absolutely impossible to get open. Impossible. After the first ten minutes of trying, I gave up trying to protect my nails and went at it properly. Then I got a knife. Don’t try that at home folks. I broke the catch hinge and still it wouldn’t open. Finally, I got husband to do it. And now I have a nice bit of gaffer tape keeping the hatch secured and I have to hold it in to get the sharpener to work which kind of negates quick sharpening when I am working.
That all aside, it is great. 2 seconds use and you’ve got a long, sharp point. It’s a little noisy but it does the job so quickly that you can’t really complain. I love it. Which is a good job as I need to get close and personal when I want to use it now.
Caran D’Ache Full Blender
The most interesting thing is that the blender is all product and no case. Like a woodless coloured pencil, it is all core. Hence the ‘Full’ I guess. It comes unsharpened so you can use it like a stick with a broad end or sharpen it yourself and use it like a pencil for more detailed work.
I bought 2 packs and both packs are subtitled ‘Bright’ as are the sticks themselves. I can’t find what this means but as the packs advertise ‘Gloss effect’ I can only surmise that Caran D’Ache plan to bring out a dull version, giving a matte effect.
Additionally, the packs point out that the blenders offer water and UV protection, I guess increasing the lightfastness of your work. So, how do they blend?
I scribbled on some layers of light and darker pink from Derwent’s Coloursoft range onto NOT watercolour paper. Then used the blender to blend. It does the job very quickly and very smoothly. It does lift a little pigment up as dust but not as much as I would have expected. It is not grainy at all and doesn’t scrape. The finished effect isn’t as glossy as I would have expected at all, there is a subtle sheen. Also, it doesn’t feel waxy or greasy which is a great plus and you don’t need a heavy hand. Often some blenders require some pressure to smoosh the pigment together and this can leave tracks in your layers, but this doesn’t seem to need a lot of pressure at all. Of course I’ll need to see it perform in an actual painting but for now…it might be the answer to our prayers.
Derwent Drawing Board
The lovely people over at Derwent have just brought out a new drawing board for us art supply addicts to get our pigment-soaked hands on. Not one for hanging about, I snapped one up and after a few issues of new address related anxiety, it finally arrived. The product information first of all. It is a black plastic/acrylic board that takes up to A3 sheets of paper. It has a handy carrying hole, rounded corners and useful 0.5/1cm markings on 2 edges of the board. Derwent sell it as “lightweight” and “waterproof” and at a price of £19.99.
When my board first arrived, I’ve got to admit I was a little disappointed. I don’t know what more I expected from a drawing board, but for £19.99 I expected to be impressed. After all my current MDF drawing board was only £5.00 and does the job perfectly well.
The board was quite thin, the markings were just notches – no actual measurements noted – and it just all felt a little wanting at the price. But then I actually used it. I didn’t draw at my drawing desk, but sitting on the floor of my living room with a nice big A3 sheet of Bristol Board. The drawing board was solid and sturdy, didn’t bend under use and I was comfortable for a good few hours. It provided a smooth, steady drawing surface that I barely noticed wedged between my knees and chest. The carrying handle made it easy for me to carry my board and supplies back to my drawing nook without piling everything in my arms – imagine how easy it would be outside. Masking tape, too, just peeled straight off without leaving a gummy stain on the board. Being waterproof means that I can use any medium I like without worrying about the board being damaged, warped or saturated.
I still think that £19.99 is a little pricey for what basically amounts to a sheet of acrylic, but this morning I looked at my MDF board and thought “clunky and unwieldy”. Shame.
Derwent recently released a new accessory – a Carry-All bag. I swithered over buying it for a few reasons. I don’t carry my pencils about with me, maybe when going on holiday and that’s not that often. Plus, I usually carry my sketching stuff with me in a normal rucksack which seemed to do the job. But my recent birthday trip to the Pencil Museum coupled with Mr. S. cracking open his wallet that day, I couldn’t resist getting it.
It is made of tan canvas with dark brown edging and includes a shoulder strap. There are ‘leaves’ inside that are secured with a ring-binder type closure so that you can take out the leaves if need be. The Carry-All holds 132 pencils in total. The backs of each outer face also have a mesh pocket and straps for holding more materials or pads. It’s a very sturdy and neat little bag which means I will definitely be doing away with my rucksack.
I plan to use mine for outdoors sketching and so started to fill it up with my supplies.
I got a small Watercolour set into the mesh pocket. Into the first leaf: 9 Faber-Castell Pitt Brush pens, 1 white Gelly Roll pen, and a Derwent waterbrush pen. The second and third leaves: 7 Rotring Tikky Graphic pens, 3 Rotring mechanical pencils, 10 ProMarkers. Now, the ProMarkers are thick-barrelled pens and I thought I would struggle to force them in – but they went in just fine. The fourth leaf: 3 ProMarkers and 4 Copic Ciao pens. In the other side, the elastic strap side, I have two, yes, two Moleskine sketchbooks – a normal sketchbook and a landscape watercolour sketchbook. After filling it (by no means full as there is a whole unused leaf) I did think “This isn’t going to zip up properly” and had visions of me sitting on it just to do up the zip, but no, it closed together, zipped up perfectly and was still a neat little package of materials. At £19.99 it may be slightly pricier than other alternative bags but for neatness, storage and portability, I think you’d be hard-pushed to better it.
Ecoline Watercolour Ink
I got a box of 10 30ml bottles for around £20.00 on eBay so not terribly expensive. It’s a good range of colours too – the Red Violet is a lot more purple than my swatch photo shows here. The ink is thicker than I expected but still very fluid.
What I was impressed with was the instant, solid laydown of colour and how uniform the coverage was. With watercolour paint, I find it can be a little gritty or patchy but these watercolour inks were very smooth, very uniform and gave lovely coverage. The colours are bright and vivid and can be diluted or mixed as needed.
Quite often I don’t want to sit at my drawing table, I want to sit on the couch and watch telly at the same time as drawing. It’s comfy on my couch and what will inevitably happens is that I get lost in the drawing and the telly becomes background noise. Till now I have balanced my drawing board on a cushion and laid out my pencils etc. all around me. Then I came up with the idea of using a laptop lap tray. Try saying that when you are drunk. I had a wee search online, discounting the beaded bag types, and found this for around £30.00 –
You can see that I have already put it to good use. That’s an A4 piece of paper on the drawing surface which gives you an idea of the size. There is a flat work surface to the right where I put my pencils etc. And there is a little drawer just underneath the flat surface where you can store pencils, erasers etc. The angled drawing board has 3 angles available to you plus completely flat. The photo above shows the middle position. The legs are still a little high, so just now I am having to angle the whole easel to use it, but I am going to get Mr. S to saw off a little from the legs, between the 2 crossbars and it will be perfect.
For £30.00 (from Amazon) this is a very useful easel and I think I will probably use it more than my drawing board. It is very well made, very sturdy and the little strips of wood at the bottom, designed to stop your laptop from sliding, help keep your reference picture, your pencils in use and your eraser very handy.
Derwent Blender Pen
Derwent recently brought out these blender pencils for coloured pencil and graphite. For just under £4 you get a thick and a thin pen – oddly, the thick pen has a white nib and the thin has a brown nib, I am not sure why.
Anyway, I thought I would give them a try. I assume that there is a solvent in the barrel though it doesn’t state what kind. I like the idea though of a controllable solvent blender and the thin nib will allow you to get into really small detail.
I tested them out with watercolour pencil, coloured pencil and graphite. Watercolour just for a comparison because you would use water normally.
The watercolour pencil blended well and the solvent isn’t too strong. I did notice though that the nib picks up pigment and you can see how many strokes it took to clean it again. Also, I noticed that the nibs are very hard and inflexible.
The coloured pencil works quite well with the blender pen. I used Prismas on smooth board here. You can see that the blender creates dense, smooth colour. Again you will see the amount of cleaning it takes to get the nib clean again.
I am not convinced that the blender pen works well on graphite. The ‘with’ side does look a little more smooth but that effect could be easily achieved by hand. Maybe with a darker, softer graphite you may see a more successful effect.
Time will tell how long each pen will last and whether it will dry out quickly. I have considered filling it with Zest-It should it run out – if I can find a way to break in to the pen! But they are cheap and effective enough to be another addition to your blending arsenal.