As drawing mediums go, probably one of the most little talked about drawing tool is the pastel pencil. Soft and hard pastels themselves (in block form) are a well-known medium which produces stunning results.
The photo to the right from Pixabay, created by Courtney Crookes, is a testament to what can be done with pastel pencils (which happened to be the Derwent brand).
Art Tutor has a wonderful video explaining the differences in the hard and soft block pastels as well as the pastel pencil. Here is the link.
If you’d like to try pastels, but love the precision and control of drawing, then pastel pencils may be just the way to go.
In this pastel pencils review, I will be discussing the Derwent brand (this is the brand I have), both pros and cons, so you can determine if this is a brand you’d like to try.
Curb Appeal and Feel
Derwent Pastel Pencils come pre-sharpened and are sold in metal tins, providing extra protection and security. The pencils have a round barrel made from cedar wood from California surrounding the thick pigment core of 4mm
Inside the tin, each pencil has its own groove to secure the pencil (pictured here). The thicker pencil makes it comfortable to hold and grip, and it feels sturdy in the hand.
The outer finish is a burgundy-colored lacquer with the tips being colored to match the core. Each color is named and numbered for easy reference.
How Many and How Good?
Sets come in 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72. The color selection is great as well as being rich in vibrancy and intensity. You can also get a skin tone set of 12. There is an option to get the 48 and 72 in a beautiful wooden box, though it’s pricier.
Regarding lightfastness, the majority of the Derwent Pastel Pencils have a very good to mostly excellent lightfastness. Derwent tests all pigments using the Blue Wool Scale.
According to the lightfast chart on the company site, the pastel pencils show over 80% of the colors being excellent or very good. Of that 80%, about 60% are excellent.
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Taking for a Test Drive
If you own a set from before 2010, you may have found them to be hard and scratchy. Through some research on this pencil, I learned that around 2010 the company apparently reformulated these pencils making them softer and easier to work with.
So if you were turned off to this brand years ago, you may want to purchase a new set (Click here to check prices for Derwent Pastel Pencil Set) and give them a try again.
Having worked with these and creating the Caribbean piece pictured here, I can say these pastel pencils feel surprisingly soft compared to the hardness of other brands. They feel velvety smooth in their application, laying down very nicely.
You really can use any paper to make art with these, but it is recommended to use Canson Mi Teintes paper that has a little tooth to grab the color. The tooth allows for more layering which means you have more room to mix and blend colors.Check prices here for Canson Mi-Teintes Spiral Pad
Blending? Layering? Not a problem at all. I had a blast layering and blending for this Caribbean piece. The pigments didn’t fight with me and made my work very enjoyable!
Will They Break the Bank?
The cost of these pencils are about what you’d expect to pay for a professional grade. They aren’t exorbitant, but they are high-end and certainly are not cheap.
As I said earlier, you will save money not going for the wooden box. But it sure does look classy and all that – so if you’re into that, it does look very impressive.
Personally, I just need convenience, lightweight portability with protection and the metal tins are great for that.
There are a few cons but not enough to make me want to ditch these and try another brand.
One is the color vibrancy. There are brands out there that have a slight edge in that department. But honestly, the difference is negligible in my opinion. So, in a way it’s really not much of a con.
Although people who try pastel pencils may be trying to get away from the mess and dust of regular pastel blocks, honestly these pencils do have a fair amount of dust as well. I found myself tapping my art surface into the wastebasket or blowing away the dust frequently. This is most likely due to its softness.
Yet, I will tell you that by holding a pencil which in itself protects your fingers from the dust (as opposed to a block) and working with a smaller tip than with a block, I find the mess/dust to be rather minimal. But between you and me, I just can’t resist blending with my finger! 🙂
Lastly, this is more of a “be aware of” and not necessarily a con, but you will need a larger hole sharpener to sharpen these due to their thick lead.
Me? I always use a craft knife to carefully “whittle” the wood away to get a sharper point. In the Caribbean picture, I never used a very sharp point; always a knife-carved point.
After using the knife, you also can get an even sharper point by sanding the point on sandpaper to get a fine point.
Some may argue that using pastels as a medium does not require an extremely sharp point. This may be true if you are a true pastel artist used to using the block form.
But if you’re a drawing artist (maybe colored pencil), you are used to a sharp point and your subject matter may require that fine, fine point.
If so, I did a little research and saw how well the Dahle Professional Rotary Sharpener works and comes in a size to accommodate these pencils; I’m thinking of getting one.
It is a portable, manual crank sharpener that works very easily. Last I checked, it’s very reasonably priced at Dick Blick Art Materials (click here to check prices). I recommend this over the small handheld sharpeners for ease of use.
So there it is – a review of Derwent Pastel Pencils. All in all, I really believe these pencils are worth a go. They are soft for a pastel pencil so you can easily blend, layer and color-mix but with the control and precision expected with a pencil.
I would recommend trying a 24 or 36 pack if you’re just starting out. It’s worth it to pay a little more to get more colors. A 12 set may be too limiting and you may find yourself wishing you had certain colors.
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Thanks for reading!
Have an artful day!