Do you own a set of watercolor pencils? If not, why not? They really are an absolute blast to use in creating beautiful art.They are the best of both worlds–colored pencils and watercolor painting–and are extremely versatile.
But just like everything else, not all watercolor pencil brands (also known as water-soluble) are created equal.
This post focuses on a brand I have worked with and find very delightful: Derwent Watercolor Pencils. I will also share tips for using them.
If you are not familiar with how to use watercolor pencils, please check out my post “How to Use Watercolor Pencils”.
Straight to the Facts
Here are all the reasons to enjoy Derwent watercolor pencils:
- Professional Quality.
- Great Color Range/Selection
- Comes in Protective Tin or Wooden Box
- Highly Pigmented for Rich, Vibrant Color
- Easy to Layer
- Blends and Performs Beautifully
- More Affordable Than You’d Expect
- 3.4 mm core
- Open Stock Available
- White is opaque
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Where to Get Them
Here is a link for Derwent Watercolor Pencil Set from Utrecht Art Supplies if you are so motivated to get them already. 🙂
This link is to the 24 count set in the metal tin.
Let’s talk about the Quality!
Even though these pencils are an artist grade art material, please don’t shy away from them if you are just starting out. If fact, that’s all the more reason to use them. They’ll make your artwork easier!
Indeed, they are designated as artist grade because they really are a superior, professional quality pencil. Here is a link from the Derwent website itself for additional info on this product direct from the “horse’s mouth”.
They boast a 3.4 mm core encased in a wooden barrel. It is hexagonal-shaped making it comfortable to grip for more control. Each pencil has a color name and number printed in silver on the dark blue barrel as well as the actual color on the back end of the pencil.
Derwent sets come in a metal or wooden case with grooves for the pencils so they are protected and stay in place. The metal tin inside cover makes a nice tray for using the palette colors.
The photo above shows how I took advantage of this as I was working.
The color range and selection is loaded with rich, vibrant color – you won’t be disappointed.
In the 24 set I have, I’m so happy with the colors they chose to include in the set, which happens to be more affordable than you would expect from a professional brand. With this set, I could mix to get most any color by using the ones in the set, honestly.
[It should be noted, though, that Derwent makes another water-soluble pencil called Derwent Inktense Pencil Set(ink-based, unlike the regular watercolor pencil, the pigment becomes permanent after wetting), which is even more vivid than the regular watercolor pencils.]
But How Do They Perform?
No worries there! They perform so well. What you absolutely need in a great water-soluble pencil is dissolvability.
This is why I love Derwent. The pigment dissolves and turns to fluid paint leaving no strokes behind.
As you begin to work with these, they feel like a regular colored pencil and actually can be used just dry, too without wetting them, if you wish!
You can use them right out of the tin since they are pre-sharpened, too.
Here is a picture of a Hummingbird and flower study I did. You can see how my first layer on the photo to the right just looks like regular pencil.
Of course, the one on the left is the completed picture with many layers build up.
Layering is a breeze with these pencils.
But Do make sure you are using watercolor paper.
You will need this when you work with the water.
I tend to work with watercolor pencils by laying down color and wetting/painting it layer by layer. Please always let dry in between.
Having a good watercolor paper is important for this. More on that later.
Then once the color is down, you can wet and paint with it. The color does tend to intensify when it’s wet. You can see that in this photo.
Colors mix together without any issue. In my hummingbird, I needed more of a “teal” color so I layered “May Green” and “Kingfisher Blue” to create just the color I needed.
As you can see, they mixed wonderfully without issue.
One of the key aspects of a good watercolor pencil is how well they blend. Derwent aces this category as well.
I had no problem blending and softening hard edges nor blending color mixes.
This is because the pigment spreads nicely when it is transformed into paint, thereby making the blending effortless and smooth.
Even when layering multiple layers, blending is easy because it re-wets the layer underneath, which blends and adds to the top layer beautifully.
I have never seen a white perform as well as the Derwent white watercolor pencil! I was surprised when I laid it down dry over a darker area that I could actually see it.
It wasn’t white-white, but definitely lightened the color under it.
Still, I was sure it would become transparent after I wetted it.
Boy was I wrong! It stays opaque after you wet it. It literally looks like white paint!
Since I can actually use the white pencil and know I can rely on it, I will most likely buy an extra one on open stock to be sure to have it on hand.
And by the way, that’s a nice bonus of Derwent, that you can buy them individually. This way if you use up your favorite color, you won’t have to buy another whole set to get that one color!
Lightfast. One con I can see with these pencils is their lightfast rating – if it even is a con. Here is a link to Carrie Lewis’ post on Derwent, where she did a lightfast test.
Overall, she was very satisfied and does state the lightfast rating is on the pencil when used dry only.
Still, for those of you who would like to see actual ratings on the colors, here’s a link.
According to this rating chart, 44 of the 72 colors are 5,6 or good/very good rating and above.
6 or above is considered highly lightfast; will not fade for 100+ years.
But 28 colors were below 5 with 18 being only fair/moderate and 10 being below fair.
Having said all this, if you are only selling prints and not your originals, you won’t have to concern yourself with lightfastness as all. If you’re just selling prints, it’s a non-issue. And artwork made by Derwent does photograph well.
Price Some may think these are expensive going for around $40 for a set of 24 (as of the date of this post). But compared to another professional brand – Faber-Castell – Derwent is less expensive. Again, here is a link to Derwent from Utrecht Art Supplies ($38.49).
Also don’t forget the core is thicker, giving you more quantity of pigment, more bang for the buck!
It is recommended to use watercolor paper when working with watercolor pencils. The reason is obvious: you will be working with water, so it is imperative to have a paper to withstand being wet.
I recommend, Canson XL Watercolor Pad, cold press. Cold press has the texture and works quite well. This is what I used for the Hummingbird study.
You can also use hot press. Hot press is the smooth watercolor paper. This does work quite well for when you are working dry with the pencils.
Tips for Using Watercolor Pencils
Here are a few tips for working with Derwent or any other water-soluble colored pencils:
Since the color tends to intensify when wet, it’s always a good idea to test out your pencils on scrap first to see what each color is going to look like when wet. Also, testing color mixes on scrap is recommended.
Using light pressure as you apply layers works best and dissolves/blends better. If you go in heavy you may deposit toomuch pigment at one time, and it will be harder to dissolve when wet and may make a gloppy mess!. (Consider yourself fore-warned!)
When applying dry, using the side of the point will help you cover the paper more quickly since you are using more surface area of the point.
Unlike regular colored pencils, you Do not have to be concerned with direction of lay-down of dry color. You can be sloppy! Quality pencils like Derwent will be very forgiving if you applied it every which way since they dissolve and blend so well.
Don’t be afraid to layer multiple light-pressure layers to get to your desired color intensity. Each layer reacts with theprevious layer, mixing and enriching the color.
Definitely allow the paper to dry in between layers. But it is advisable to use a hairdryer to dry your layers, especially large areas. The advantage Do doing this is the dryer heat helps the paper return to its original state.
Well, there you have it, my take on Derwent Watercolor pencils. Hopefully, you have found enough reason to want to give these a try. Believe me, they are well worth it.
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Have a colorful day!