Derwent Inktense Blocks
Derwent already offer Inktense as a coloured pencil that can be used with water, but this year they brought out Inktense in a block, much like a pastel block. With it came some accessories: a grater which can be used to grate the blocks into a powder to which water can be added giving the artist control over the strength of the ink to paint with and wee rubber grips that slip over the block allowing us artists to keep our fingers clean. The boxes come in 12 or 24 and are vibrant, colourful and jewel-like. You can use them wet, dry, grated, and even on fabrics, like silk-painting.
Back in March 2013 Derwent announced that they would expanding their Inktense Block range to 72 colours. I presently have the tin of 24 and the range of 36 in Derwent’s Majestic Box. But there’s always room for more art materials and at a fantastic price I bought the tin of 72. The range is huge and covers every colour you can imagine or want.
The colours are rich and vibrant and dissolve with water quite well. I would point out though that with range of colours some of them are hard to distinguish from others in the same colour group – especially the greys and blacks.
Compared to other blocks of a similar kind, these are generous in size – 8mm, 72mm long. They feel slightly rubbery in your hand which makes them easy to grip if a bit messy. But who doesn’t like getting messy?
I bought them for around £45 on Amazon – they are nearly double that on Derwent’s own site. At £45 though, they are an affordable way to have a little more fun in your artistic endeavours.
Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel
Faber-Castell’s Pitt Pastel pencils are housed in the same very nice tin and trays as Faber-Castell’s other products. In the lovely dark green too. But these are pastel and in the handy, convenient package of an enclosed pencil. They come in a wooden barrel tipped with the colour key at the end. They are highly lightfast, blendable and feature very strong pigments. As they are pastel though, they do need to be fixed with a spray fixative once your work is completed or else in a few weeks time of storage your picture is going to be smeared halfway down your paper! They do not change colour once fixed though which is a very important consideration. Available in 60 colours.
Derwent Pastel Pencils
Available in 90 colours, Derwent’s Pastel pencils give you a little more scope for colour choices. You can either get a tin or the line in a lovely Derwent wooden box, as I have.
The core of these pastels is thicker than the Faber-Castell Pitts giving you a lovely sweep of colour, though the Pitts are more intense. These are round-barreled with a cranberry varnished livery and colour-tipped at the end of the pencil. The range of greens is lovely, very muted and earthy. Again, work has to be fixed and most colours have a high lightfast rating, but be warned some of the paler colours aren’t so high.
Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Pencils
Stabilo is a familiar, schooldays kind of name. I already love their fine liner pens and use them all the time for writing and art projects. I wasn’t so sure about buying artist grade coloured pencils but after a few good reviews, I splashed out on these pastel pencils. Available in 60 colours, the 60-tin comes with a tortillion, a kneadable eraser and a sharpener. The pencils themselves are highly pigmented, lightfast and water-soluble. And a first…each shaft is marked with asterisks denoting the lightfastness rating, how handy is that? The colors are very bright, very blendable and lay down very densely. Wonderful things.
Caran D’Ache Neocolor and Neocolor II
Bit of a cheat here, they’re not really pencils, but they are a good tool in our kit. Little wax pastels with unbelievably smooth laydown, dense, vibrant colour and the IIs dilute with water in the most mouthwatering ways. The white Neocolor II is one of the best ways of painting highlights on eyes in your paintings. It is quite a trick to get a believable, glossy highlight on an eye while making it still look realistic and the white Neocolor II does the job wonderfully.
The Neocolor IIs dissolve instantly and completely with water too taking the effort out of blending. The Neocolors are not water-soluable and I have only the metallics. Being Caran D’Ache they have excellent lightfastness, high pigment density and cover amazingly well. I’d love the box of 12o IIs but they are very, very expensive (worth every penny mind!) but very, very fun to use.
Edited to add – I said I would love the box of 120 and I do. I recently treated myself to them, promising myself that I would use them all the time. Here’s the colour chart –
Conte Carres Crayons
Harder and waxier than soft pastels these crayons come in 84 colours and include the famous Conte sketching colours. They are thin, square, highly pigmented sticks of 6mm. They come in a flat plastic box that keeps them clean but not entirely protected. Thankfully these work just as well when broken.
Conte Soft Pastels
These are more traditional soft pastels which are claimed to break resistant and less crumbly than other pastels. They come in a lovely range of colours and the simplest of touches results in a pleasing sweep of colour. They can be blended with anything really: finger, paper, tortillion, stump…These are full size, round sticks of colour in a similar box to the Conte Carres Crayons.
Derwent Soft Pastels
Derwent have recently reformulated its pastel blocks to be smoother and creamier and my first impressions are that they have achieved that. These come in nice square, full size blocks which seem to be coated on the outside to stop your hands from getting all rainbow-dusted. They come in 36 colours and Derwent promise they aren’t as dusty or crumbly as traditional soft pastels. These are more like the Conte Carres Crayons than soft pastels, but still nice to use and more sturdy.
Derwent Art Bars
In February the lovely folk over at Derwent launched a new product – the Derwent Art Bars, and I snapped up the box of 72. They come in tins of 12, 24, 36 and 72. The Art Bar is a triangular stick of watersoluable wax. Like an oil pastel, it can be used to draw with, create marks, layers…the possibilities are endless. But add a little water and you have paint to play with. One layer of stick and you get delicate or vibrant washes. Layer up one colour or mix several and you can get thick, opaque paint which spreads beautifully.
Dewent didn’t stop there. They added 3 new accessories to the range to help you play nice with their Art Bars. We got a little tub called a Shave and Save which allows you to shave your Art Bars to get that crisp edge again and save the shavings to paint with or to add to your painting. We got a little spritzer bottle (comes in single or triple packs) to spray water onto your painting. And lastly we got a little metal dog-shaped scraper with many scrape edges that allow you to scrape into layers of Art Bar to get textures and details.
The collection is arranged into 4 main colour groups: Brights, Pales, Earths and Darks. The Brights are broadly what we would consider primaries and bold secondary colours: Primary Yellow, Primary Red, Process Magenta, Iris, Kiwi…The Pales are what I would consider pastel colours: Sweetcorn, Baby Blue, Soft Lavender…The Earths are reminiscent of Derwent’s Drawing range: Green Earth, Amethyst, Mediterranean, Deep Aqua and lastly, the Darks, which I think are my favourite: Nutmeg, Alizarin, Midnight, Paynes Grey…
So back to the shape – triangular. Most watesrsoluable crayons that I own are round barrelled; Caran D’Ache Neocolor IIs and Derwent Aquatones. The triangular shape is said to offer you varied strokes: broad swipes with a flat edge, a sharp line with the edge. Both possible in 2 ways, either with the tip or peel back the wrapper, break a piece off and uses the long sides.
In making my colour swatches I found that the Bars laid down very smoothly, drier than I imagined but still smooth. The colours were exciting and I already jumped ahead thinking “I can’t wait to see what that looks like when wet.” I know from experience that Derwent’s watersoluable ranges can be gem-like with a little water. And I wasn’t disappointed. Nutmeg just burst into a beautiful reddy-brown, Alizarin a bright and regal purple, Natural Brown a delicious chestnut/chocolate colour. Some of the sticks offered delicate washes, the Pales in particular, while the bolder colours were deep, dense paint.
In the tin is a Mixing stick which, like a coloured pencil blender, blends pigment together. Not quite colourless, it does have a slight whiteness that mutes the colours as it mixes. I tried both mixed plus water added and just mixed to see what the effect would be. You can see the result on the colour swatch above – mixing Amethyst and Pacific Blue, both effects are pleasing. In making my colour swatches, I noticed that if I leaned too heavily, the sticks would snap. They are designed to be broken off and used, but the snapping is something to bear in mind if you like to keep your sticks whole.
So, was there anything I didn’t like about the Art Bars? Hmmm. They snap too easily. Great if you break them up to work with them, less great if you don’t. They are extremely crumbly. My desk looked like it hailed a rainbow this afternoon. The triangular shape is a little fiddly too hold, but that’s just me not used to this kind of medium.
The pros are outstanding though: great selection of colours, fantastic jewel-like washes or thick paint when you add water, sticks that don’t wear down too quickly at all…and the most important point…fun, fun, fun.
Caran D’Ache Neopastels
They come in a bright red, heavy tin which opens to reveal some lovely, bright little sticks. A nice selection of each colour group and that unmistakeable smell that took me right back to the classroom.
I drew up my colour swatches as I do with all new items I buy – this gives me a chance to break the ice with them, get a first impression of colour, density, playability, texture and saturation. Little ideas pop in my head, ideas of what I could do with them and more often than not the little voice squeals when a colour is more gorgeous than I expected. This time round Sky Blue and Light Grey made me go “ooooh!”
They are very creamy, lay down dense colour and are very smooth on the paper. There are some nice darks (Violet, Prussian Blue, Carmine and Dark Grey). You can see that there is also a nice selection of pinks, really only one true red though. Still, it’s a great collection of colours. I am a little disappointed by the Raw Umber which very much soaks up the light and appears flat or dead, but there are enough olives and other ‘browns’ to make this one redundant.
Jackson’s Art Supplies Soft Pastels
Jackson’s Art Supplies also do their own range of art materials and quite often when I visit there I see their bargain box of 12 half-stick pastels at £1.00. So, I bought 2 of the small boxes for my boys to play with and the box of 64 for myself – at £9.00 approx for 64 you can’t really say no can you? I am planning on trying pastels soon (well, as soon as I pluck up the courage!) and these seemed like a reasonable student grade start.
But then you open up to a veritable chocolate box treat of 64 little half-stick pastels in a glorious range of colours. There is at least 7 or 8 pastels per colour range and 2 whites. There is even a selection of neons. I also love the way they are presented, on their edge, like little oblong pyramids. It makes it very easy to grab hold of them.
Rembrandt Soft Pastels – 90 Portrait
Rembrandt seem to be the go-to recommendation when first dipping your toes in the soft pastels world so this box – 90 Portrait Selection – seemed like a great deal. The sticks are big, about the size of a finger, and they are heavy too. A great selection of colours too.
As is my tradition, I did my little colour swatches to get a brief feel for the pastels and so I’d have a wee record of what the colours look like on the page. The sticks are much more firm than I expected, a little dusty, but dense, smooth, and easy to use colour. I can’t wait to start playing with them for real.
In doing the colour swatches the first thing that struck me was that the pastels aren’t as soft as I thought they’d be. They are actually quite hard – they remind me of Conte Carres Crayons. Once you get through the smooth outer shell, they do soften a little. There is the occasional hard pastel.
The pastels are quite bright on the paper and they lay down pigment quickly. They are quite dusty but no more so than other pastels – certainly not a noticeable hindrance or annoyance.
But really, to give you a proper impression, I’ll need to actually try a drawing with them.
Daler-Rowney Soft Pastels – Grey Selection
Shopping in Hobbycraft for my son, I spotted this dinky box on sale and snapped it up – not a huge bargain but an addict can’t fight.
And for £7 I got a very nice selection of 8 muted greys – encompassing blues, purples greens and browns.
Sennelier Soft Pastels
Sennelier is one of those names that you hear a lot when people talk about soft pastels. And I thought it would be good if I got a small box to try them and see where I lay on the firm or soft divide when it came to pastels. So I got a basic selection of 40 half-sticks.
They come in a nice box with foam inserts – not as impressive as the Rembrandt box but adequate. I didn’t feel so bad about decanting them to my pastel trays and getting rid of the box. My Rembrandts will stay in their luxurious home.
On opening the box, I immediately saw that the pastels were more brightly coloured, more densely pigmented and much more dusty than other pastels that I have. There was a strong but perfect shadow of each pastel indented on the foam insert. There is also no wrapper on the pastels – too small I guess – so my fingers got really messy doing my colour swatches.
You can also see how messy my card got too! But you can also see how dense the pigment is. The pastels are very crumbly, super soft and one – the scarlet – practically disintegrated in my hands. I saved all the wee chunks in the hope that they can still be used somehow.
I think I already know that I am a ‘firm’ tribe member, but these may be great for finishing touches here and there – they will really do the job when you need it.
Conte a Paris Pastel Pencils
Doing my little colour swatches, I found the pastel pigments dense and not too dusty, a great range of colours especially skin tones, and you can be quite neat and detailed with them. Obviously too, the chunky pencils and cores will allow for more expressive drawing.
Conte a Paris is obviously a good make too and historically used by many great artists, but there is no lightfastness information and the tin is shocking – but as I said, this is reflected in the price because they were very reasonable indeed. There is no lighfastness information at the Conte website but they do stress the choice of pure pigments and artist quality.
Faber-Castell Polychromos Pastels
We all know how much we love Faber-Castell’s Polychromo coloured pencils, so I couldn’t resist getting a box of their Polychromo Pastels. I envisioned a real workhorse of a pastel block, bright and dense colour and pigment, unbreakable and fun.
Well, you can see from these pictures that I wouldn’t be disappointed. A box of 60 pastels and a great range of each colour – especially the blues and green. The metal box also matches perfectly with the Polychromos and Pitt Pastel boxes – which is nice, like a little Faber-Castell family.
The square pastels are 8cm long and about 7mm thick and don’t break easily. They came through the post without any damage at all. Unlike the Contes. But they are thinner so maybe not fair to grumble.
I do my colour swatches on rough cold-press watercolour paper, and I had to go back and forth a little to get a good covering. There was dust and crumbles but this is common on the sharp edges of the pastel. Faber themselves point out that the pastels have a outer shell that needs to be worked off with a few swipes before you start using them. Then they are lovely and smooth. Nice bright selection of colours and hues though. The Silver, Gold and Copper pastels aren’t dusty at all – waxy and super smooth instead. They are more like crayons.
I thought also it would be worth including the Faber-Castel Lightfastness information for their Artists range – hopefully you’ll be able to see it. * for reasonable lightfastness, ** for good and *** for the highest degree. From left to right you have Albrecht Durer, Polychromos CP, Polychromos Pastels, Pitt Pastels and Pitt Pens. The Polychromo Pastels range between ** and ***.
Unison Soft Pastels (Basics 72)
A box of 72 Unison pastels, the basic colours. This, the most handsomest set of pastels, came in a large, sturdy black box with a simple, elegant label. It opened up to a delight of colour, each pastel an individual shape, hand-rolled using the finest pigments. The pastels themselves are butter soft, crumbly and with the lightest of touches lay down thick, dense pigment. The range of colours are organised in value and hue and the pastels are thumb-thick. Gorgeous.
Cretacolor Hard Pastels
Another welcome birthday gift – a box of 72 Cretacolor Hard Pastels. Well-presented in a sturdy cardboard box and the pastel information below each pastel. A great range of colours and the dense laydown of pastel without the dust and crumbliness. I think these would be great for backgrounds and detail. Some of the pinks and lilacs are just divine. The greys are dense and true.
Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or
We have known for a long time that Koh-I-Noor are the best art suppliers when it comes to money versus quality. For little money you get great, reliable quality – quality that some of the best art suppliers cannot match.
These Toison D’Or pastels are no exception. Round sticks of bright, dense pastel that have little dust and a great range of colours.
For around £30 you get 48 pastels which really is hard to say no to. They come in a standard box, protected by foam and with a smaller wrap of plastic to protect your fingers. They go down easy and so does the price.
Koh-I-Noor Giaconda Pastel Pencils
I love Koh-I-Noor for their high-quality art materials at low prices. For £30 you get 48 pastel pencils in this Giaconda set and you really cannot get better than that. If you overlook the bog-standard tin box – mine came bashed and dented – you get beautiful pencils in the livery of Luminance pencils with smooth pastel laydown – non-scratchy to say the least. They are not dusty and lay down neat and clean. A lovely range of colours and perfect control. These are going to become a fast favourite I am sure.