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5 Tips for Using Derwent Graphitints Pencils

Graphitints Used Dry

Eggplant on the Vine by Robert A. Sloan, from a photo reference in the Reference Image Library on

Eggplant on the Vine by Robert A. Sloan, from a photo reference in the Reference Image Library on

Derwent Graphitints -- Sketch & Wash With Some Color

The ancient UK company Derwent, which used to be called Rexel Cumberland and has been around for centuries, has their headquarters in the Lakeland District of Cumberland where they will proudly tell you graphite pencils got invented. No longer were sketchers stuck putting silver wires in a metal holder and preparing their grounds with rabbit glue in order to do lasting beautiful drawings, you could just get a good cheap pencil from these Brits.

You can get the real history of the Derwent company and listings of all their must-have new products at where I routinely windowshop and wait for Dick Blick to get their newest products into stock. Which they eventually do, but I wish they'd just get them as soon as Derwent comes out with them so that I don't have to wait or try to arrange art trades with UK friends to get things I know I need at first hearing of them.

They haven't disappointed me yet.

I think there must be a secret society bent on taking over the world with art supplies for centuries, hiding in their ancient laboratories dreaming up new kinds of pencils no one else has and carefully guarding their proprietary binder recipes. Because every time I decide to get new colored pencils or art supplies, chances are whatever I wanted will get put off in favor of some new and unique proprietary pencil that only Derwent's got.

Admittedly they've been in a decade of insane creativity and so maybe it's some current living group of mad geniuses in the UK with designs on my spending money that have my fingers twitching in a Pavlovian response to "Derwent introduces a new pencil," but all of their new inventions are.. well... astonishingly good and useful must-have art supplies that once I have them I couldn't imagine living without them and have to stock up on extras.

Derwent Graphitints are watersoluble graphite pencils with just a hint of color. They wash to a more intense version of the color. There are no actual yellow Graphitints, you have to settle for a pale brown or mix something reddish in with May Green (very yellowish green) to get a yellow detail, this is something I hope they'll extend the range and work out -- at least come up with a yellow that's yellow in its lighter applications. Add black and yellow turns green, which might be why they weren't able to do that -- but they do have a white one in the full range 24 color set, so they ought to put in a yellow too.

They'll probably come out with at least a dozen more colors if they take my suggestion though, forcing me to buy yet another full set to have them all. I'm worse than a baseball card or comics collector when it comes to pencils and Derwent is largely responsible for that.

You hear me, you UK colourmen and colourwomen? I got a USA Economic Stimulus Check -- so you should be working on my new pencils today, right?

Anyway, Derwent Graphitints handle exactly like 8B Sketch & Wash pencils, the "dark wash" of the many other brands like Sanford Prismacolor that produces Sketch & Wash pencils in Light Wash, Medium Wash (usually 4B) and Dark Wash (8B). That is, used dry, they are soft and dark and smudgy. You can blend them with your fingers. You can blend them with a bit of toilet paper, facial tissue, cotton bud, nylon imitation cotton bud, tortillon, bit off the end of your frayed jeans, tortillon, stump, Colour Shaper (another UK invention from Royal Sovereign that is indispensible for pastels and oil pastels at least to me, a bit like a rubber tip paint brush in various sizes and hardnesses) or any other blending tool.

But you got born with a bunch of blenders on your hand most likely and I still like finger blending. "Assorted Fingers" gets mentioned by many artists. Toes will work if you don't have any fingers, really.

Sketch & Wash pencils work like watercolor pencils, in that you can draw with them and then swish over it with a wet watercolor brush, sponge, cotton bud or wet finger and get it to suddenly look like you painted that. Really. Even though it was easier to draw first and then get it wet. You can even just spray the drawing with a mister and it'll turn into a painting, though all the edges will soften and it'll look like a wet in wet painting.

Be sure you want that effect before misting. And don't sneeze on it if you want it to look like a dry drawing.

Spraying fixative may actually wet it enough to cause that effect and dissolve it, causing that dampening effect. With Graphitints, it makes the color stronger.

I started this Hub out with a good tonal drawing of an eggplant on a vine done from a photo reference on in the Reference Image Library that's free to all members. If you join, unfortunately you can't add photos to it to share with the other members and reciprocate till they finish fixing the upload function for the RIL, but you can start a thread in the forums and mention in the post "Treat these photos like I added them to the RIL" and thus reciprocate.

If you use them dry, there is still enough color to get a beautiful, subtle effect of muted color. Most of the colors are very dark and will have a full value range. The black Graphitint pencil goes much blacker than an 8B graphite pencil and still has the silvery sheen of graphite next to a pure black ink patch or an Inktense Midnight Black pencil or a grease pencil, but is very close to being that dark.

These are perfect if you love using muted color. They're fun for that.

One thing they do is give a creepy, spooky, eerie look to everything I've drawn with them. It's the silvery sheen of the graphite that makes things look otherworldly and dreamlike and sometimes, a bit scary. This makes them absolutely striking for horror illustration. If I ever, ever self publish a collection of "thirteen tales of terror" or any other indie horror book, I will definitely compose the cover and draw it with Derwent Graphitints, because whether I do monochrome blue or brown or use all the colors together, it will have that kind of somber pall of spookiness and misty eerie feeling throughout.

I did a skull on a seafloor once with it and that drawing completely spooked me, that was what gave me the idea of doing a horror anthology. Unfortunately I misplaced it or I'd include it in this Hub to show the spook effect.

Muted color can also look nostalgic and vintage, if you do a monochrome brown it'll have the feel of old sepiatone photos -- even if you mix several browns to hint at hue differences in the subject. Go in with all the colors and it comes out like that eggplant.

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I love the effect and every now and then I get tired of using all the brights. It's cool to just draw in pencil and cooler still to have some color involved on a subtler scale.

Drawing with them is exactly the same used dry as any 8B pencil and it'll come out as well or poorly as you handle soft sketch pencils. They do wear down fast like 8B pencils but they also go fast and give great deep darks and smooth shading if you squish your thumb over it or take your time shading in smooth tonal layers.

Monochrome sketching looks cool!

Monochrome sketches look good in blue or brown and don't need a lot of detail to get some dramatic accurate results. Robert A. Sloan

Monochrome sketches look good in blue or brown and don't need a lot of detail to get some dramatic accurate results. Robert A. Sloan

If You Get Just One, Get Indigo Blue or Ocean Blue

Monochrome blue sketches always look real.

It doesn't matter what medium you do them in, monochrome blue value drawings look completely natural. This confused me for years and years till very recently I figured it out.

Twice a day, at the last dim end of evening or the first murky beginnings of morning before Dawn's Rosy Fingers start rubbing her eyes and the world turns pink and gold, everything in the world turns to shades of monochrome blue.

That means on an instinct level, we color-seeing humans respond to monochrome blue as a completely natural color scheme. So if you want to try Derwent Graphitints sensibly with just one pencil rather than jumping in to get the full 24 color set the way I did as soon as I could, try an Indigo Blue one or an Ocean Blue one. Ocean Blue is my absolute favorite.

It's a little greener and a little brighter, it makes a perfect sea-blue color as you'd expect, but Indigo Blue goes a little bit darker. This sketch of my Winsor & Newton Artists' Field Box (closed) and water jar is in Indigo Blue and you can see that evening-natural effect easily in it, even though it's indoors and so usually if you can see it at all it's in full color.

Also the W&N Field Box actually is navy blue, which helps. But the lid on the water jar is bright red and if I redo this in color I'll use a red.

It's also not nearly as detailed as the Eggplant drawing, but the strong value range means I can sketch loosely and still get some pretty dramatic realism. Soft graphite pencils are the best for that -- for being able to get both light values and good dark ones by changing pressure instead of going over the dark spots over and over and over again.

8B is so soft that it's almost more like using charcoal for being able to sketch quick and get a full range of values. Shading is easy whether you just smear it in with a chamois or tortillon or use assorted fingers, or sketch it in like this one by going lighter.

The Shark Page

Graphitints are great in sketchbooks!

Graphitints are great in sketchbooks!

Monochrome Browns or Black are Cool Too

Derwent Graphitints are great for sketchbook use because of that soft smudgy texture and easy shading. You can work fast and still get good results.

After I had the 24 color set and used them often in my sketchbook, I spotted something on Clearance at Blick and tossed it in on the tail end of an order so that it'd still be over $200 after I subtracted the $30 coupon and thus get free shipping -- so in effect I actually got the second set for free along with some other small Clearance items that I threw in. This is a strategy I use almost every time I get art supplies and it's great for trying new things as well as getting spares of much-loved often-used art supplies.

You can never have too many soft pencils, they wear down like you're smoking them if you draw frequently.

This turned out to be a Derwent gift set, a Sketching Kit in a faux leather zippered case uncannily like the Global Classic leather cases I keep my Prismacolors and other good artist grade colored pencils in -- except it's also got other supplies. 12 Graphitints, three Sketch And Wash pencils that don't have any color added, three charcoal pencils in different hardnesses, a hardbound A5 sketchbook with 80 white pages that has these drawings in it, a white vinyl eraser, a sharpener and a little plastic wells palette in case you want to shave the points to make different color washes and mix them. Plus a Derwent waterbrush.

Waterbrushes are one more nev innovation that really helps most for convenience. Derwent makes a good one, as good as the Sakura Koi waterbrush or the Niji waterbrush. Some other brands have been disappointing, shed hairs or didn't have good consistent flow. A good waterbrush has a pointed nylon watercolor brush tip and a reservoir for water in the handle, plus a good system for regulating flow so that the brush stays damp but you don't get great blobs of water unless you squeeze the handle.

They are tremendously convenient because you don't need a water container or have to dispose of dirty water afterward. They are the best accessory for any form of watercolor pencil or sketch & wash, great with watercolor pan sets and handy anytime you paint even with tubes. Derwent's is a good one and they do sell it separately, especially if you're in the UK.

Monochrome brown sketches look good too, they look like old time photographs or faded yellowed black and white ones. They're very good for animal sketching and nature scenes where you sometimes get no real blacks or even cool colors other than in the sky -- and if it's overcast, maybe not even that, just gray and brown.

Derwent Graphitints Play Well With Derwent Drawing Pencils

If you really need light yellow and other colors not included, combine Graphitints dry with Derwent Drawing Pencils.

If you really need light yellow and other colors not included, combine Graphitints dry with Derwent Drawing Pencils.

When You Need Yellow...

 Just reach for a Wheat color Derwent Drawing Pencil if you're working dry, or a yellow watercolor pencil to go with the set of Graphitints. Any brand of watercolor pencil or colored pencil will do to fill the gap of needing yellow details in a dry drawing like Recollet Falls, a watercolor pencil specifically works or a dash of actual watercolor if you're using them washed.

Derwent Drawing Pencils blend particularly well with them because they too are all in "soft nature colors" or rather, somewhat muted earth tone like hues rather than the usual bright chromatic colors in most other pencil sets including Derwent's other lines. Derwent Drawing Pencils are yet another wonderful Derwent proprietary pencil that no other company has.

Interestingly, there is one other brand that came out with something like Derwent Graphitints sometime after their invention.

Mont Marte, an Australian company, produces "Mont Marte Earth Tones" tinted graphite wash pencils. I have a set of 12, their full range, and they are very much like Graphitints. A bit harder, they are more like 4B graphite wash pencils than 8B so I like the UK ones better -- but if you're in Australia, the Mont Marte ones are a lot less expensive and very easy to get.

If you live in any other part of the world, getting the Mont Marte ones means finding an Australian online art supply place that ships to your country or finding an Australian friend to buy them for you. I got mine in an art swap with an Australian friend.

But that's very good news for Australians, because almost all proprietary art supplies are horribly expensive down there or a lost cause involving massive shipping charges. Mont Marte really is a very good company and their Earth Tones pencils are a good equivalent.

Graphitints Washed

Derwent Graphitints and Derwent Sketching pencils (washable graphite) give a very different, beautiful look when washed.

Derwent Graphitints and Derwent Sketching pencils (washable graphite) give a very different, beautiful look when washed.

Graphitints with Water

I sketched a silver pillbox with red and black glass gems on it on a night when I felt pretty tired and didn't feel like going into careful, elaborate realism -- but wanted a good realistic effect anyway. However, the image was too low resolution so I've replaced it with another page in the same journal created with a similar medium - Derwent Sketching pencils.

I sketched very loosely, pressing harder in the darker areas and going lighter where I wanted midtones, leaving lots of big white areas for the lightest shades.

Then I used the Derwent waterbrush very carefully, painting water into the lightest areas first so as not to darken them too much by pulling color in from darker areas. Unlike Derwent Inktense, the pigments in Graphitints are entirely rewettable. If an area is too dark, wait till it's dry, dampen it again and press a cotton bud, bit of cloth, facial tissue or something to it to lift off some of the liquid. That'll lighten it just as it will with transparent watercolor.

It does not just diminish the color and leave more graphite behind, the graphite comes up too to leave the pure blend faded to the lightness you want. You can't lift all the way back to white, but you can get pretty close. Draw around any white details and don't get them wet, like the glossy highlights on the glass gem and some of the whitest areas on the silver.

If using Graphitints, be careful about dragging a wet brush across color areas. Do this when you want the colors to blend or to drag one color into another. Avoid it when you are keeping two hue areas distinct, such as a brown bush against a blue water area. The reflection of the bush may look even better if you pull both colors back and forth in the water area. So use the effect that works for your subject..

Enjoy your Derwent Graphitints. Experiment with them. Do tonal bars dry and then wash over them from light to dark. With any watersoluble pencil, it helps to begin adding water to the lightest areas within a color area and then move the water from there toward the darkest, so the extra color that gets moved along all washes up where it's dark anyway. This can help avoid unwanted tidemarks that create lines you don't want to distract from the ones that describe your subject.

Of course with enough practice, tidemarks could even be used deliberately to make fine veins on a leaf and other details, but I'm not good enough yet to try that. I know I will someday though, tidemarks look too interesting.

In a rewettable medium like watercolor or Graphitints, you can do something about tidemarks after the fact by dampening a cotton bud and very gently smudging back and forth across the unwanted line to blur it back into what's around it. This takes practice, but it can help if you got a blot where you really hate it. Also it helps to have strong paper because sometimes too much lifting can rip up the surface and cause damage that collects pigment into really unwanted scratch-marks, and there's no way to get it out of that.

Try Derwent Graphitints -- and if you ever see that Sketching Kit on sale somewhere, snap it up. The little A5 hardback sketchbook is sturdy and has great paper, the essentials are all there in a zippered case and you can replace anything that gets used up. Soft pencils are sometimes subject to internal breakage, so when I go out I grab that one rather than carrying the tin -- it's easier to keep them from banging into each other to get internal breakage.

That's when you sharpen it and the point falls off before you're done sharpening -- several times over -- and makes you feel like taking a hammer to the set or giving up in favor of something like soft pastels where broken bits are still useful. Save the lost points if that happens, you can always dissolve them to make a wash and just paint with it using a brush.

Also, always use a new pencil sharpener or a new blade in your pencil sharpener. Dull blades kill more expensive pencils than anything else. Even cheap children's pencil sharpeners are all right on these pencils as long as they're new and the blade is still sharp -- much better than a valuable artist grade sharpener with an old blade. Grinding type sharpeners like a hand crank or electric are fine though, they just need to be cleaned out once in a while by sharpening a couple of normal HB pencils between the stickier colored ones and you have to keep the shavings receptacle cleaned or they jam.

Enjoy! Ari Cat purrs and sheds his Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you!

#11 of 100

#11 of 100 for my 100 Hubs Challenge!

#11 of 100 for my 100 Hubs Challenge!


Lary Lindsay on August 04, 2015:

You drew an eggplant ... I saw a monster!

Look for the eye just to the right of the small curly leaf part of the eggplant's cap.

Below and to the right of the dark eye socket shadow is the triangular greenish yellow nose. Below that are two horizontal reddish lips.

The eggplant is the ear, though I can now see it as an eggplant in foliage.

Reminds me of that old perceptual trick in black and white, you see a vase, then blink, and you see two profiles facing each other.

Honestly, I did not see the eggplant until I went back after reading your mention of it. For me, the monster was the clear first impression ;) .

I have a set of graphitints I haven't used much, and you've inspired me to dig them out. I do like them, and they are perfect with a waterbrush for urban or country plein air sketching at this time of year.

Thanks for the inspiration.


Carolanne on May 12, 2011:

These are my favorite pencils, but I wouldn't compare them to graphite's silvery sheen. I love the subtle hues and the range of shades available when you add water to these. No more layering and layering to get something sufficiently muted. Also great that they only "melt" once. A second coat/wash can be applied without affecting the first.

Bravo, Derwent!

Geena on February 17, 2010:

Robert, where are you seeing that silvery graphite sheen with these graphitints???? I see no resemblance to graphite, none, zero, zip. They operate, and look on paper, identical to colored pencils.

robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on October 30, 2009:

I think you'll have fun with them. Remember, if you have trouble with the drawing part of the process, you can always shave the points, add a drop of water and use them liquid. Or touch a wet brush to the pencil tip.

roger nicholls on September 26, 2009:

Thanks a lot. You havve been very helpful. I am new to graphitint but ok with watercolours.

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