Art Supply Testing: Watercolour Paints

After last year’s attempt at running watercolour lightfastness tests fell to pieces, I’m starting anew this year, with larger swatches, more colours and better quality paper.

Once again, the swatches will be placed in a north-facing window for a year so they’ll get the most exposure to the sun in Melbourne, Australia. I will re-scan them at 1 month, 4 months, 8 months and 12 months.  The top half of each colour swatch will be kept covered with a strip of paper so it will be easy to compare the level of deterioration at each checkpoint. Images provided will be as large as possible for better quality, but given the load time this would create, I will be posting the scans at each checkpoint in their own separate posts.

Manufacturers
AS = Art Spectrum
DR = Daler Rowney
HWC = Holbein
L = Lukas
MB = Maimeri Blu
MG = M Graham
REM = Rembrandt
SCH = Schmincke
SEN = Sennelier
WN = Winsor and Newton

Paper: Daler Rowney Aquafine

Start Date: 9th January, 2014

Please click image for full-sized version.

Yellows and Yellow Earths
WCT Yellows

Reds and Oranges
WCT Reds

Violets, Pinks and Pale Skin Tones
WCT Violets

Blues
WCT Blues

Greens
WCT Greens

Earths, Red Earths and Med-Dark Skin Tones
WCT Earths

Shades
WCT Shades

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics | 2 Comments

Watercolour Mixes

When one gets started out in watercolour (or in any artistic medium) it is easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of brands and colours available and get sucked into thinking that you absolutely must have every single one you can get your hands on, for if you don’t, all your paintings will be rubbish and you will never be able to paint like <insert favourite artist here>. Likewise many people buy pre-arranged sets of colours, only to find that two thirds of the colours go unused while a few often-used favourites must frequently be replenished.

I was no different; after seeing the different palettes recommended by artists in every painting instruction book I read, I went nuts on eBay and in local art supply shops and other online art supply retailers. My response to receiving art supply sale coupons was “Buy ALL THE THINGS!” I got pan sets of various sizes (from 12 to 48). I threw in several tubes whenever I ordered anything else online. I even spent the better part of an hour in the campus bookshop at uni, rummaging through their art supply clearance bins like a hobo in a dumpster as I made sure I had dug out every last tube of discounted watercolour.

But when it came time to actually do a painting, I spent more time digging through tubes and trying to work out which colour I should use than actually putting paint on the paper. After reading more and more about limited palettes, I decided to go through all my paints and see which ones should become part of my working palette and which ones could easily be replicated by mixing other colours. I thought I’d post the results of my experiments online so that anyone else trying to decide whether they really need that extra tube of colour could hopefully save themselves some money if they can mix it themselves. These experiments will be on-going so I will post more swatches as I work out how to duplicate more colours. At this stage most of the colours I have are Winsor and Newton but there are usually similar (if not identical) colours across all brands (eg. the Holbein Leaf Green is almost exactly the same as May Green from the Lukas or Schmincke lines), so you can still use these mixes as a guide regardless of which paints you own/intend to buy.

Brand Guide
AS = Art Spectrum
DR = Daler Rowney
HWC = Holbein
WN = Winsor Newton

I have broken my mixes up by hue for convenience. Click any of the images to see a bigger version.

Greens

Colour Mixes - Greens

Some people prefer to mix all their greens from a yellow and a blue, while others prefer to start with a ‘base’ green and then alter it by adding yellows, blues or earths. So far I have used the latter method but either works equally well; it just depends on the preference of the artist. I have used Winsor (phthalo) green (Yellow Shade) as my base, but you could also use the Blue Shade version if you wished; it might just change the mixing ratios slightly. Also, as I have shown, you can replicate either phthalo green by adding a touch of blue (to YS) or yellow (to BS). The trick is working out the exact amount of each colour to add, and this can take a bit of tinkering. For the Leaf Green, you need to only use the tiniest amount of green. Hooker’s Green appears in most brands’ line-ups but is often made of completely different pigments, and sometimes has slightly different hue/shade. However there are as many ways to replicate these variations as there are variations themselves. Perylene Green could also have been mixed using Winsor Green and black, but I like the more vivid hue of the Payne’s Grey mix.

Earths

Colour Mixes - EarthsBurnt Umber is one of those colours that seems to have a different pigment formulation in many brands. Though the ‘expected’ BU pigment is PBr7, I have seen some that include PR101, Pbk9 and other random guests, including Winsor and Newton’s Burnt Umber, which for some reason is a three-pigment mix. Some artists care less about the pigment and more about the actual appearance of the colour, so it is just a matter of what they think works best. I actually prefer MaimeriBlu’s Burnt Umber to the WN paint; it is a good, deep, dark brown and it is what I envisage a Burnt Umber to look like, as opposed to WN’s slightly orange-hued BU. But the WN one serves its purpose, so for now it remains in my palette. Mars Violet was a bit tricky to mix (and I still didn’t get it 100% accurate) so if it is a colour you use often, it might be worth just having a tube of it rather than having to mix it all the time.

Shades

Colour Mixes - Darks

Payne’s Grey seems to have a completely different pigment combination in every brand I have looked at, being composed of variations of blacks, blues, violets and even earths. Some lean towards blue while others are more neutral. Luckily it is fairly easy to mix; most dark blues mixed with an earth brown will usually give you what you want. The grey I have mixed here has a bluish cast but this could be neutralised by adding a bit more Burnt Umber.

So before rushing out to buy a Shiny New Tube, first look to the tubes in your own collection; you may find that you can easily mix that tempting colour from paints you already have.

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Art Supply Testing: Watercolour Paints (Cancelled)

One of the most important things for artists to consider when selecting colours is whether or not the pigments that make up those colours are lightfast. There are many discussions on this topic over at WetCanvas and recently someone came up with the brilliant idea of crowd-sourcing the testing of pigment light-fastness. By splitting the job between many people, it makes it much easier; between all the WetCanvas artists, we probably have a good majority of the colours available from different manufacturers, so we should be able to come up with a fairly comprehensive test.

I also recommend checking out Handprint. The site has a lot of information about watercolours from palettes and brush choices to pigments and colour theory. However, it should be noted that the site has not been updated in several years, so some of the information regarding paint formulations may now be incorrect or obsolete if the manufacturers have changed their processes. This was one of the driving factors behind WetCanvas’s crowd-sourced light-fastness testing.

These are all the watercolours I own and am testing for WetCanvas (I know, I have too many and I am working on weeding out the colours I don’t use to give to my Nan or sell on eBay). Obviously it’s not a complete selection – I’m sure there are other artists whose paint collection dwarfs mine – but hopefully it is enough to give an idea of which colours are suitable for long term display and which colours should only be used on temporary work. I’ve also included the pigment number(s) for each colour. On the WetCanvas thread, we will be updating every four months with how the charts are progressing, but I will also provide an update after one month. These charts will be placed in a north-facing window (it will get the most sunlight as I am in the southern hemisphere) with the top half of each swatch covered.

Manufacturers
AS = Art Spectrum
DR = Daler Rowney
DS = Daniel Smith
HWC = Holbein
L = Lukas
MG = M Graham
SCH = Schmincke
SEN = Sennelier
WN = Winsor and Newton

Start Dates
Chart A: 5th Jan 2013
Chart B: 5th Jan 2013

Paper used: Eraldo di Paolo Field Pad (225gsm acid free)

Anyway, here is my first chart; I had two ready for testing but unfortunately one was damaged and will have to be redone to start testing next month:
Lukas and Schmincke Pan Watercolours

EDIT: Between injury and work commitments I’m afraid I’ve neglected this blog over the last few months. I have also realised that my paint swatches will need to be larger in order to provide more accurate testing (plus I’ve acquired a few more colours since then). I will be redoing my swatches, this time organising them by colour instead of by manufacturer, and hope to restart my test by the beginning of next year. The test sheets will then be left in position for a full year.

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Art Supply Comparison: Water-Soluble Crayons and Pastels

Time for another art supply comparison post, this time on water-soluble pastels and crayons! As with my coloured pencil comparison, I’m only testing products that are marketed as ‘Artist Grade’. The crayons/pastels I’ll be testing in this post are:

  • Caran D’Ache Neocolor 2
  • Derwent Artbar
  • Cretacolor AquaStic

The Neocolor 2s and the Artbars are both wax-based crayons, whereas the AquaStics are oil-based pastels. Because of these differences, you could almost argue that they don’t belong in the same comparison/review, but I personally think they are similar enough that comparing them could be helpful for those who aren’t sure what they should buy, especially since (from what I’ve observed in online artist forums) they seem to be the three most popular water-soluble crayons/pastels used by artists.

For my tests, I chose three primary colours, three tertiary colours and black and white, all of varying lightfastness ratings (see end of post for more info). As I did with the coloured pencils, I’ve created gradated swatches with the colours, as well as using them for common pastel/crayon techniques, such as blended gradients, layering, mixing, crosshatching, rubbing and sgraffito, adding water to each technique to test the products’ water solubility. I also tested the colour concentration by drawing a consistently-sized dot of colour and washing it out into a large square. The paper I have used is Eraldo di Paolo 225gsm Field Pad paper.

Here is my original test chart (click image for a larger version):

Softness/Hardness/Blending/Layering/Water-Solubility

The Neocolor 2s are the hardest, followed closely by the Artbar; the AquaStics are quite soft in contrast, no doubt due to their oil-based nature. In spite of this, I actually found that the Neocolor 2s blended the easiest and most smoothly when laid one on top of the other, but finger/heat blending was slightly easier with the AquaStics, creating some nice transition effects. The Neocolor 2s, being harder, kept a point better, meaning they are probably the best for smaller details. Even when applying light pressure, I found that the AquaStics wore down quite quickly since they were so soft.

One thing about the Artbars that I do like above the other brands is their triangular barrel shape. Not only does this stop them rolling off the table (I’m forever running over pastels with my chair wheels because they’ve fallen off my desk), but it also gives you the opportunity to make a wider range of marks, from triangle stamping to long thin lines to wider strokes of colour. To me, it seemed that you needed to use more pressure to lay colour down, so they do wear down a bit faster. Also, they smell nice (I’m not weird, they just have a nice, arty smell… Don’t judge me!). That being said, I found them the most difficult to work with in terms of layering and blending. When layering one on top of another, the top colour sometimes lifted off patches of the under layer, resulting in sometimes blotchy coverage; a similar thing happened when blending two layered colours by heating and rubbing.

All three products responded well to being washed, though Neocolor 2 dissolved a little more cleanly than the other two. All three tended to leave slightly visible lines after being washed, similar to many watercolour pencils (in some cases scrubbing at them more with a brush would erase them, but not always). I also found that they all worked well with the sgraffito technique (layering a dark colour on a light colour, then scratching to reveal the light colour) and produced decent effects.

Colour Range and Vibrance

As far as colour range goes, the Caran d’Ache Neocolors are way out at the head of the field, with 126 colours to choose from. These do include some metallics, which will work quite well for fantasy pieces. With a range so large, there are some colours that are very close in hue, but it means that pretty much any colour you could want or need is at your fingertips and ready to go (this could be a good or bad thing, depending on if you’re the sort of person who prefers to mix their own colours or gets confused by a large selection).

Next is the Derwent Artbar with a range of 72 colours (this seems to be Derwent’s magic number as far as full ranges go). Derwent have done something interesting with the packaging of their Artbars by arranging them into four groups; Brights, Pales, Earths and Darks. This might be useful if you want to work with a limited palette; you can just stick to the colours from one section. One of the Artbars is a ‘mixing bar’, sort of like the Colourless Blender in the Prismacolor Pencils range; quite handy for mixing layers without having to smudge them with your finger.

Though the Cretacolor AquaStics originally came in 80 colours, I have been told by a company rep on the Cretacolor Facebook page that the range has been cut back to 40 colours (she said that most of the 80 colours are still available in open stock, but my own online art supply shopping research concluded that this is only true for about half of the colours). Still, even with a significantly shorter range, there is a good balance of colours, so it should still be possible to mix pretty much anything you want (the absence of a nice blueish violet in the 40 set makes me sad because it’s my personal favourite colour, but there is a good range of browns, greens and blues for landscape artists). According to the pamphlet thingy I got in the tin, there were metallic AquaStics as well, but these appear to be among those culled from the range.

All three products offer brilliant, vivid colours, as well as more muted tones. I found that, when washed, they all seemed to have about the same colour concentration; Neocolor 2 was slightly in front, while Artbar was slightly behind, but the difference was negligible.

Quality

Based on their blending capabilities and their lightfastness ratings (end of post), I felt that the Neocolor 2 were the best here (though this could be personal preference), followed by AquaStic and then Artbar. They are all worth playing with, though, as long as you keep in mind the lightfast ratings for each colour. I had the misfortune to get dud sticks in both my AquaStic and Artbar sets (one of my Artbars has what appears to be a vein of sawdust running through it, while one AquaStic is cracked all down the centre and so greasy and squishy it’s like trying to draw with a stick of playdough). I know that all art suppliers are going to have dodgy products slip through the quality checking process occasionally, but it did annoy me, since in both cases, the one affected was one of my favourite or most-used colours.

Price

It’s hard to give a solid comparison here, since I had trouble finding any one supplier who sold all three of these in open stock. Cretacolor AquaStics don’t appear to be available anywhere in Australia in open stock (I spent ages looking but came up empty; if you know of somewhere who sells them, feel free to comment, as I would love to get the full range), but you can get them from the large American online art supply stores for about $1.34, which, even taking into account currency exchange rates, is far cheaper than the other two. A Derwent Artbar will cost you about $2.20 from a local online art store, while a single Caran d’Ache Neocolor 2 will set you back about $2.40. It’s usually cheaper to buy things like pastels and pencils in sets (this is not always the case, you need to do the math before buying), with the exception of the full 126 range of Neocolor 2s; with just 42 colours more than the 84 set, you will pay almost double the amount. The only reason I got a full set was because they were on sale and I had a coupon. Unless you find yourself in the same situation, you’re better off getting a smaller set and then buying extra colours you want individually. The other products’ set prices follow a more logical increase as the size grows.

Lightfastness

Similar to my coloured pencils post, I’ve made two identical charts with these three products to test their lightfastness; again, one will be stuck in my front window for a few months, while the other will be kept in a dark drawer. In terms of advertised lightfastness, both the Neocolor 2s and the AquaStics are pretty good. Both also use the ASTM scale where LF1 is the best, LF2 is still good, down to LF5, which is fugitive. Of the 126 Neocolor 2s, 114 colours receive ratings of LF1 or LF2. All of the AquaStic colours in my 40 tin are considered lightfast, with 18 being LF1 and the other 22 being LF2. I do like that the AquaStics display their lightfast rating on the actual crayons; the other two products don’t. I think art supply manufacturers should make a point of printing the lightfastness information of their products either on the packaging or on the product itself (eg. on the barrel or wrapper). This would make it easier for artists to see at a glance what colours are safe to use for work that will be displayed instead of having to hunt around for a lightfast rating chart.

The Derwent Artbars (which go by the Blue Wool scale from 1-8, with anything over 6 being lightfast) really fall down here. Of the 72 colours, 49 receive ratings of 6 or above, meaning that a full third of the range is not lightfast. This means you need to be really careful when using Artbars for a work you intend to display; I did a drawing/painting with them when I first got them, and was later disappointed to find that most of my favourite colours I used are fugitive.

I’ll leave the charts in their respective places for a month, then scan them and report back in a month with my findings.

Update 10.10.12

Both charts have now been in their respective positions for a month, so it’s time to see how well the pigments have held up. The chart that was kept in a drawer is on the left, and the chart that was stuck to a sunny window is on the right:

  

As expected, the Derwent Artbar has been far more harshly affected by the sunlight, with the purple fading several shades in just a month. It seems that the Primary Blue was also affected, as seen from the blended yellow and blue squares, especially where it was washed; likewise for the red and blue crosshatch test, which has lightened noticeably where the water was applied. Nearly all of the single colour gradated swatches have faded a little, though this does not really show up in the scans.

The Caran d’Ache Neocolor 2s also showed shifts in some colours; most noticeably in the yellow and blue squares, which surprisingly faded even more than the same test in the Artbars; I think the Neocolor 2 blue I used was rated LF3, though strangely it actually seems to have darkened in the individual colour swatch. Fading on the red and blue crosshatch test was also pronounced, with almost all blue fading out of the washed/rubbed areas. The purple and white swatch also seems to have had a slight change in hue, with the purple losing some of it’s ‘blueness’ and shifting more towards a red violet.

I was surprised to see that the Cretacolor AquaStics fared better than the Neocolor 2s, exhibiting the least amount of fading. The colours have lightened slightly where washed, both in individual and mixed colour watches, but they have lightened substantially less than the other brands; the only test where fading was really noticeable was the red and blue crosshatch test.

Update 12.12.12

Here are the charts again after three months (left one kept in shadow, right one taped in a sunny window):

WSCrayons-Shadow3m     WSCrayons-Sunlight3m

Once again, the Derwent Artbar continues to out-fade the other two brands. This is especially noticeable with the purple swatches, which have faded almost out of existence; the orange and green swatches have not fared much better. The layered blue and yellow swatch also shows further signs of degradation.

Most of the Neocolor 2s have not changed that much from the 1 month scan, apart from the blue and the orange; the orange has faded substantially, and both swatches where blue was blended with another colour (layered with yellow and crosshatched with red) show significant further fading. There was also some slight fading of the red in the gradated yellow to red swatch, but this is only really visible when flicking between the scans on the screen.

The AquaStics are still doing the best out of the three; however, though they showed no real signs of fading at one month, they have faded a little at the three month mark (still far less than the other two). The purple shows the most fading, with the red just behind. Less noticeable are the yellow and green, whose fading is only really visible when viewing both on screen. The black swatch has also faded (very) slightly.

Surprisingly, I have also noticed some fading on the test sheet that was kept in shadow; barely visible to the naked eye but noticeable when flicking between scans of the two on my screen, the Caran d’Ache blue has faded slightly, as seen from the plain blue swatch and the blue and yellow layered and blended swatch.

Update 16.3.13

The charts have now been in place for six months, concluding this test. Here they are below:

WSCrayons-Shadow6m     WSCrayons-Sunlight6m

Within the Derwent Artbar range, all colours tested on the swatch sheet other than black have experienced fading to various degrees; previously this was only noticeable in scans, but now it is quite obvious to the naked eye. Almost none of the pigment from the purple Artbar remains, while the blue and orange have also faded noticeably. The red has not really changed since the last check, but the yellow seems to have lost some of its intensity.

Neocolor 2 did better overall, though the blue faded badly both on its own and in the mixed green swatches. The other primary colours all remained true, however the orange continued to fade; in the wash, it fared as poorly as Derwent’s orange Artbar. Purple faded a little, but this is barely discernible to the naked eye. The green crayon overlaid on orange faded, but oddly enough, the green crayon on its own did not.

The AquaStics did the best out of the three products tested, but at the 6 month mark, they too have now suffered some noticeable fading (the frequent heatwaves of 30+ degree days over the last few months probably didn’t help). Red, blue and purple have now faded more severely, as has the green, albeit less substantially.

The Neocolor 2 blue on the sheet that was kept in shadow has also faded a lot more since the 3 month scan, both on its own and in the mixed green swatches; last time it was visible only by flicking between the scans, but now it is obvious even in person.

The tests go to show that even in brands/ranges that are generally regarded as lightfast, you really do need to check the ratings of individual colours, and that some colours will fade even when they are not exposed to direct sunlight.

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Art Supply Comparison: Coloured Pencils

With the multitude of coloured pencil brands to choose from, it’s understandable that the beginner artist might face some confusion when trying to decide which one is best for them. This can depend on several factors, from colour range and texture of the pencils to the artist’s chosen drawing style and subject matter; some pencils work well with some techniques but not with others. As a certified* Art Supply Addict, I’ve accumulated a rather large collection of art goodies including paints and pastels, and especially pencils.

Disclaimer: I am only a beginner/intermediate artist, and I know these aren’t what anyone would call in-depth scientific tests, so I’m not trying to claim I’m an expert or that all your pencil questions will be answered; I’m just some random geek on the Internet who likes playing with coloured things. This is just a way to quickly compare the different colours, textures and lightfast ratings of various pencils to help me (and hopefully other artists) decide which pencils would be best to buy and use.

For the purposes of these tests, I’m only focusing on those that are marketed as ‘Artist Grade’, and within that subset, I’m only focusing on ten types, since I only have ten sets of pencils (there is no such thing as having too many coloured pencils. Don’t judge me). The ranges I’ll be testing include:

  • Derwent Artists
  • Derwent Coloursoft
  • Derwent Inktense (water-soluble)
  • Derwent Watercolour (water-soluble)
  • Derwent Drawing
  • Derwent Graphitint (water-soluble)
  • Sanford Prismacolor
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos
  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer (water-soluble)
  • Caran d’Ache Luminance

There are many other brands I want to try, but time/finances are against me at the moment in that regard. The Graphitint range technically shouldn’t be included since it is graphite, not coloured pencil, but I thought I might as well throw it in to make up an even ten. If** I get more types of pencils to test, I’ll add information on those to this post.

From most ranges, I’ve chosen three primary colours and one earth colour, though in some of the more limited ranges, some of the primary colours have been substituted for secondary colours. Eventually I hope to do more comprehensive tests and reviews on the full range of each type of pencil, but for now I wanted to find the quickest way to compare as many pencils as possible. For each single colour, I’ve done a variegated gradated swatch (for water-soluble pencils, I’ve washed the bottom half of the swatch and also included a dot of ‘paint’ produced by the washes). Then, I’ve done swatches using common coloured pencil techniques, including blended gradients, blending by layering and blending by crosshatching and smudging, again washing half of the water-soluble swatches. Because white pencils are usually a necessity in blending, I’ve scribbled white over the bottom left corner of the crosshatch swatches to show its coverage. All the pencils I tested are wax-based except for the Faber-Castell ranges, which are oil-based, and the Derwent Graphitint, which are graphite-based.

Here is my original test chart (click the image for a larger version):

I’ve broken my comparison up into categories, each of which will include discussion on how all the pencils I tested stacked up. First up is:

Softness/Hardness/Blending/Opacity

This section will probably be a bit of a monster, so bear with me. By far, the softest pencil range I tested was the Prismacolors, though the CDA Luminance weren’t far behind. Both of these produced smooth, even coverage and were easy to layer; Luminance felt just a bit creamier and seemed to blend slightly more smoothly. Mixing colours produced bright and clean secondary hues. Both of these ranges are fairly opaque, but I was particularly impressed with the Prismacolor white, which gave excellent coverage even over a dark colour swatch. In general the Luminance pencils were better, but as they’re far more expensive than any other pencils, the Prismacolor are a reasonably priced substitute.

Coming a close second were the Derwent Coloursoft and Drawing pencils, with the Drawing range slightly ahead. Though not quite as soft as the Luminance and Prismacolors, these are still in the “soft” category. Both of them gave fairly opaque coverage (Drawing is particularly nice to use on tinted paper), and both produced creamy colour laydown, though the Coloursoft felt slightly drier. The Derwent was also able to be blended by smudging, while the Coloursoft wasn’t (at least, very little).

Next were the Graphitints, which I would rank as medium-soft. Being graphite, they feel quite smooth to draw with, though slightly dry, and they are very easy to blend, especially by smudging. These lean more towards the transparent end of the scale, as laying white over a dark swatch made little difference. Using these pencils alone or mixing them produces subtle, muted colours, but adding water makes the colours more vibrant, producing hues almost as bright as typical watercolour pencils in some cases. Some colours dissolved easier than others, but all colours can be washed when they are dry and reworked.

Both the Faber-Castell ranges, the Polychromos and the Albrecht Durer, felt more or less the same; medium-softness, slightly harder than the Graphitint yet somehow smoother, with no scratchiness while drawing. Both of these blended quite smoothly and layered well, mixing to create vivid secondary colours (Polychromos were slightly better, but the difference is negligible). The opacity of these pencils was nowhere near that of the softer pencils, but was still decent. Of the water-soluble pencils I have tested, I was most impressed by the Albrecht Durer. They dissolved the most smoothly with water and the colour seemed the most vibrant and intense, even in relatively light applications. Close behind these was the Inktense range, a harder (but still medium-soft) pencil that gave fine coverage but felt a bit dry to use. Though these blended quite well, they are among the more transparent types of pencil; the white made little difference to the colour swatch. The Inktense pencils seemed to take a bit more ‘scrubbing’ with the brush to dissolve the pigment fully, but they were able to produce vibrant colours which, like the Albrecht Durer, dry permanent when washed.

I found the Derwent Watercolour pencils to be very hard and waxy, scratchy and slightly more difficult to layer, but I should note that most of the ones I tested were the old Watercolour pencils with the grey barrels. A few years ago Derwent reformulated these pencils and the new ones – with the blue barrels – are softer. I only have one of the new formula (a black pencil) so I couldn’t test it as thoroughly as I did the other ranges, but I would rank the softness of the new formula closer to the Albrecht Durer pencils. Of the water-soluble pencils I tested, the Derwent Watercolour ones had the weakest pigment concentration when washed; not a big difference, but enough to be noticeable. Even dry, they seemed fairly transparent in relation to the other types of pencils. Like the Graphitint, the colour can be rewetted and worked again.

The hardest pencils were the Derwent Artists; I found these a little dry and scratchy, but because of their hardness and ability to hold a fine point, they’d be good for fine details. To me, these were the most difficult to mix and layer (attempting to smudge with my finger produced no real results), so if you like mixing colours by laying down thick layers of colour (as I do), these might not be for you. They worked best for me when I applied lots of light layers. Opacity was average; the white pencil made very little difference to the colour swatch. It’s probably more useful for burnishing other layers than trying to lighten them.

Colour Range and Vibrance

The Prismacolor comes out on top with a range of 150 colours. Tied for equal second are the Faber-Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer ranges (Faber-Castell also uses a colour matching system, meaning that all the colours are the same across their pencil, pastel and marker ranges) and the Derwent Artist range, each with 120 colours. Caran d’Ache Luminance come in next, with 76 colours in their range. Derwent Coloursoft, Watercolour and Inktense all have 72 colours. At the lower end of the scale are the more specialised ranges from Derwent – Drawing and Graphitint – each with  24 colours. In general, most ranges had plenty of vibrant colours (I think my favourites in this regard were both the Faber-Castell sets), though I felt that the Derwent Artists were slightly less vivid than others; perhaps this was an effect of the harder leads. The Derwent Drawing range is more earthy, suited especially for portraits, animal drawings and landscapes, while the Graphitint range is also quite muted, which makes them good for eerie, mysterious effects.

Quality

In general I thought the quality of most pencils was fairly good and consistent; the colour lay-down was smooth and even, I rarely (if at all) experienced core breakage and the design of the pencils is aesthetically pleasing, with most having barrels completely painted so you can see at a glance what colour you need. I did have one pencil in each of my Derwent Drawing and Graphitint sets where the pigments had seemingly not combined properly, resulting in scratchy core abnormalities, but Derwent sent replacements as soon as I contacted them and the new pencils were fine. The Prismacolors, on the other hand, have given me a lot of grief. About half of the pencils I tested before making my chart had a lot of breakage, even though I carefully sharpened them with a new hand-held sharpener; several pencils are now only half their original length, and a few of them broke and had to be resharpened so many times they are now only an inch or two long. Also, though none of my set had this problem, users on WetCanvas have been complaining about warped barrels and cores not properly centred within the wooden casing, which can make sharpening them even more problematic. Sanford recently shifted production of the Prismacolors from the USA to Mexico, and it is the Mexican-made ones that seem to have the most issues, though the breakage has always been common to the pencils because of their soft lead (you can tell the difference between USA and Mexican-made by looking at the barrels; they are stamped with their place of manufacture, and the ones made in Mexico have a solid block around the colour number). Hopefully at some point, Sanford will take note of their customers’ complaints and put more effort into their quality control again.

Price

Caran d’Ache are one of the finest art supply brands, so it’s no surprise that the Luminance Pencils are the most expensive at nearly $4 each – almost double the cost of the other pencils. At just over $2.00, the Derwent Drawing, Inktense and Coloursoft are next, with the Prismacolors, FC Polychromos and Albrecht Durer and the Derwent Watercolour, Graphitint and Artist ranges the cheapest at or just below the $2.00 point. It usually works out substantially cheaper to buy a set as opposed to buying pencils individually, though since you may end up with many colours you don’t use, some artists prefer to just buy their selected favourite/most used colours in open stock.

Lightfastness

I’ve made another identical test sheet to the one above, which I have stuck in my lounge room window*** to perform my own lightfastness test. In a month or two I’ll scan it and report back with my findings on how it fared against the other copy, which will be stored in a dark drawer away from sunlight. But for now I have managed to get colour charts with lightfast ratings for each of the various brands, some of which use different standards of measurement; the ASTM scale ranges from LF1 to LF3, with 1 being the best, 2 being good and 3 being fugitive, while the Blue Wool scale ranges from 1 to 8, with anything 6 and above being considered lightfast.

The best lightfastness ratings can be found in the CDA Luminance set; all pencils in the range are rated LF1 or LF2, with 61 of them being the highest rating of LF1. The small Derwent Drawing range is also excellent, with all 24 colours being rated 8 except one, which is a 7. The next best are the Faber-Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer ranges, having 118 and 112 out of 120 colours being either LF1 or LF2. Of 132 Prismacolor pencils, only 74 of them are at or above LF2 (there are 150 colours in the range but at the time of writing, I’ve been unable to locate ratings for the recently introduced/re-released colours). The remaining Derwent ranges varied quite a bit; Coloursoft lists 54 of 72 colours being 6 or above, while the Inktense range has 42 of 72 colours at an acceptable level of lightfastness, followed closely by the Watercolour range with 37 of 72 colours at 6 and above. The Graphitint didn’t fare so well in this area, with only 14 of 24 colours being at or above 6. Coming in last are the Derwent Artist pencils, with a decidedly unimpressive 41 of 120 colours being 6 or above.

What about other artists? Have you had similar or different findings with these or other brands of pencils, or are there any questions you have that I haven’t answered here? If so, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Update 18.8.12

Now that the charts have been in their respective positions for a month, I thought I’d see how they were faring. Here are the two charts side-by-side, with the chart kept in a drawer on the left and the chart stuck to a window in sunlight on the right:

As you can see, the most noticeable difference is with the Graphitint pencils. In only a month, they have faded completely to grey. I will also note that I was checking on these charts during the month, and the Graphitint had already changed drastically within the first week, losing around half of their colour saturation. I was expecting them to fade, but I was shocked by how quickly it happened. If you are going to draw with Graphitint, I would suggest scanning the artwork right away and relying on your digital copy.

As for the other coloured pencils; at this stage the Faber-Castell Polychromos, Sanford Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache Luminance and Derwent Coloursoft and Drawing have remained unchanged. As I expected, the Derwent Watercolour and Inktense lines are also showing signs of fading (more noticeable in the washed sections than in the dry). Oddly enough, the Derwent Watercolour and Inktense whites on the sunlight chart seem to have undergone some sort of reaction and have actually become more vivid/opaque than on the chart kept in darkness. The Derwent Artist colours have faded very slightly; it is noticeable in person, but it doesn’t really show up that well in the scan.

Another big surprise for me was the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils. These are meant to be among the more lightfast coloured pencils, and the colours I picked are ranked at least two or three stars. However, though the dry pencil has maintained its integrity, the washed areas have faded dramatically in some places. Like the Derwent Watercolour white, the Albrecht Durer white also appears to have become brighter.

Update 20.10.12

After another two months (three months total, now) of being in their places, here is what the two charts look like (the chart from the dark drawer on the left and the chart from the sunny window on the right):

    

Surprisingly, given all I have heard about Prismacolors being particularly prone to fading, there has been no change in these pencils. Likewise, the Caran d’Ache Luminance and the Derwent Drawing swatches have stayed true.

The Graphitint appeared to have faded even more; they’d already lost their colour but now even the graphite itself is growing fainter (I’d already written these off as a lost cause but I’m still documenting them for the sake of completeness).  The Derwent Watercolour and Inktense colours have faded noticeably now, especially the reds and blues; same with the Coloursoft and Artist, though it is less obvious with these ranges.

The Faber-Castell Polychromos have also begun to show signs of fading. The difference is almost imperceptible (almost, but not quite) when looking between the two charts in person, but flicking between the two on a computer monitor does show fading (the red has been hit the worst but all swatches have faded at least a little. The Albrecht-Durer continues to disappoint, with the swatches now showing significant fading not just in the washed areas, but in some of the dry patches as well (most notably, the red and yellow). These results show that you can’t just take a company’s claims of lightfastness at face value.

Update 21.1.13

The charts have now been in their respective positions for a total of six months, bringing this test to its conclusion. Let’s have a look at the results:

ColouredPencils-Shadow6m     ColouredPencils-Sunlight6m

No real change with the Graphitint pencils; they pretty much did all their fading within the first couple of months. The three dry Derwent lines (Artists, Coloursoft and Drawing) all show little to no further degradation since the 3 month scan; same goes for the Prismacolor and Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils.

The Derwent Watercolour pencils have faded a little more, though not really noticeably unless you compare the scans. The difference is noticeable with the Derwent Inktense, though, which, though still quite colourful, have lost more of their intensity.

The Faber-Castell Polychromos did alright with some of their colours, but the red and the yellow appear to have suffered badly, which stands out mainly in the yellow-red and yellow-blue mixed swatches. The water-soluble Albrecht-Durer pencils faded still more than the Polychromos; some of the washed areas have now faded almost entirely, while the dried areas have deteriorated further since the 3 month scan.

So, that concludes my light-fastness testing for various watercolour pencil brands. It bears repeating that it is not enough to simply accept a manufacturer’s light-fastness rating as gospel; you must ensure that you test all colours you intend to use in work that will be displayed, otherwise you run the risk of having your wonderful drawings fade within a few short years (or even months).

*Truth. My Dad printed me out a certificate and everything.
**When. It’s rare for me to go more than a few months without buying at least one more set of pencils.
***It should be noted that I live in Melbourne, Australia, where the sun only comes out every second Tuesday, and then only when the wind is blowing from the east. Ergo, I’m expecting to find less fading than someone in a more normal climate would experience. Then again, a proper piece of work wouldn’t be displayed in such direct sunlight, so it may be slightly more accurate.

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Art Supply Review: Derwent Artbars

As an incurable art supply addict, I was excited when UK pencil company Derwent released their latest product, the Artbar. Available in 72 colours, they are a watersoluble wax crayon.

You can use them in the same way as traditional wax (or oil) pastels; drawing and blending colours, or layering to use sgraffito techniques. The colours can also be painted over to create anything from a light watercolour-esque wash to a dense opaque coverage, or you can use the brush to take colour directly from the bar. Wetting the bar and using it to ‘stamp’ on the paper can also create some interesting textures and patterns. Though I’m fairly amateur when it comes to pastels or crayons of any type (I generally work with pencils, watercolours and acrylic paint, and even with those mediums I’m intermediate at best) I was eager to give these a try. I ordered my set from the UK, but I believe they’ll be available in Australia in July (according to Derwent’s Facebook page). Here is a colour chart I did for the Artbars on Canson watercolour paper (click image for full sized version):

One thing I quite like about the Artbar tins is that they have divided the colours into different subsets; Brights, Pales, Earths and Darks. This means that if you’re working on a piece that has a fairly restricted palette (say, a muted landscape), using one subset can help you find the right colours quickly. The Artbars are also triangular, preventing them from rolling off your table.

Used dry, the colour lay down is quite rich and layering the colours produces vibrant mixtures. Blending can be a bit difficult unless you breathe hot air on the coloured area, though this gets a bit tedious; using a heatgun or something similar would likely be an easy alternative. Once you warm the colours up, they blend beautifully into a smooth layer, allowing for subtle gradated effects. The paper I was using was quite rough, so using a smoother paper would probably have made blending easier (if anyone has suggestions for a good quality, thick, smooth paper, I’d appreciate it).

When used wet, I found that most colours (especially the Darks and the Brights) produced a vivid wash, though a few colours needed to have more pigment laid down to produce a similar intensity of colour. Also, some colours seemed to take a bit more scrubbing with a brush before the pastel marks dissolved completely, but mostly it was easy to get a nice wash. When I put aside a few wax crumbs and mixed them with water in a small plastic tub, I ended up with an almost gouache-like paint which spread thickly and evenly on the paper; since the Artbars are pretty crumbly, you do end up with a lot of scrap bits, so keeping them aside to turn into paint is a good way to avoid wasting any of the pigment. Unlike Derwent’s Inktense blocks, these will not dry permanent after a wash; after I used a dry crayon over a washed area of a different colour and tried a second wash, the two colours ended up mixing. This might be a good or a bad thing depending on what you’re doing. Also, you do need to beware of ‘overblending’ as there were a few times I ended up with areas of muddy colour.

There are also a few accessories available for the Artbar. I just got the Scraper (a dog-shaped metal tool with a variety of edges to create different sgraffito effects; see below), but there’s also the Spritzer (a small water sprayer for creating a fine mist to dampen colour and create interesting effects) and the Shave ‘n’ Save (a little tub with a sharp-edged opening in the lid, to collect pigment scrapings and mix with water for paint in different consistencies).

Below is a small drawing/painting I did of a vase of tulips using the Derwent Artbars. It is fairly simplistic since I was pressed for time (and since my few past attempts at pastels/crayons have been fairly laughable), but I had a lot of fun using the Artbars and I love the vivid colours. I think it will take a while for me to get used to the new medium, but I’m looking forward to making more art with them in the future.

Image

And another drawing of different vase on its own:

Edit to add: After looking over the lightfastness ratings on the colour chart from Derwent’s website, I should also point out that quite a few of these colours fall below 6 on the lightfast scale. If doing work you intend to display with the Derwent Artbars, be sure to check that you use only colours that rate 6 or more, or you run the risk of having your artwork fade.

Rating:

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Art Supply Review: Sakura Koi Watercolour Pocket Field Sketch Box

Modified version of review originally submitted at Jerry’s Artarama Art Supplies.

I bought myself the 24-colour set as an early Christmas present and it has been one of my best purchases. The variety of bright and vivid colours means that I can mix any colour I want, and the waterbrush is a great innovation, removing the need to carry big jars of water or long brushes. The detachable mixing palette can be attached to the box on either side or at the front, allowing for easy access no matter how you hold it. You can also keep a pencil stub and eraser in the brush compartment if you like to draw outlines before laying down colour.

Here is a colour chart I did for the Sakura Koi set in my Moleskine watercolour journal.

The pans aren’t replaceable, but once you’ve used up all the colours, you could easily remove the little plastic tray and insert pan colours in the brand of your choice, or simply pour a little tube colour into the empty colour slots.

I mainly use this at home but often take it along when I visit my nan or go to uni; keeping a pocket-sized pad of watercolour paper with it lets you paint anywhere (the smallish brush size means you can’t really paint bigger than this unless you do bring another larger/wash brush). The 24-colour set is a little big to go in a pocket, but since I keep mine in a bag most of the time anyway, I decided to trade off compact size for more colours, and it is still quite small compared to other paint boxes. Also available are an 18-colour set or the truly pocket-sized 12-colour set.

Whether you’re a novice watercolourist or an experienced artist who wants something portable for the field, this set will not disappoint.

Here is a small picture I painted of a rainbow lorikeet in the Sakura Koi Water Colours (the real one isn’t this dark; my scanner is a bit rubbish):

It should be noted that these are marketed as student grade paints (though they are in the top range of student grade, in my opinion) and so far I have not been able to find mention of their lightfast ratings. Therefore it would be best to avoid displaying anything painted with the Koi set in areas of sunlight for long periods of time.

Rating:

(legalese)

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