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The Derwent Blues

May 23, 2015

A conversation with Sola, from “Pencils and Other Things” prompted me to dig out some of my older art materials.

Derwent, or Cumberland, or Rexel, will be familiar to art dabblers, artists, and (for the Rexel and Cumberland imprints) people at school during the ’80s.  Manufactured in Britain, they were a staple of our pencil cases, and I still use Derwent pencils now, particularly the Academy range of watercolour pencils, and various sketching pencils.

"Lakeland" Colouring Pencil

“Lakeland” Colouring Pencil

This is the first I can remember using – I think in secondary school.  Branded “Lakeland”.  I remember the imprint being rather fancier than it is here – that could be a still earlier version of the pencil that I’m recalling, but no longer have.

Rexel Cumberland Derwent Watercolour Pencil

Rexel Cumberland Derwent Watercolour Pencil

I remember using watercolour pencils from this set to do my art “O-Level” exam. Although the finish is different, pencils in the equivalent “Academy” range are still hex shaped, with a dip indicating the colour of the core.

Derwent Academy Watercolour Pencil

Derwent Academy Watercolour Pencil

And this is the modern pencil. Sets of these are reasonably priced (in Britain at least), and work well used dry, or with water.

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From → Pencil

6 Comments
  1. Hi John, I completely missed this post for some reason 😦 I’ve subscribed so that won’t happen again! Here they carry a lot of Derwent in the art supply shops, about four different kinds. Recently I bought some individual Prismacolor Premier pencils in addition to my Caran d’Ache Pablo and Supracolors, and I’m belatedly realizing that different brands have different characteristics (duh). Do you use Derwent exclusively, and if not do you prefer any other brand for any other reason? How do the Faber-Castells compare, for example?

    • Ha! Don’t worry Sola, I update this so infrequently that I’m thrilled when people check in more than once every year or so 🙂

      I’ve only used Derwent coloured pencils (of various types – first branded Lakeland, then Rexel, then this Academy set). I kid myself that when I want colour, I’ll paint – and to that end, I have a Cotman sketching set (very portable) and a Daler and Rowney Artists set (both watercolour half pans, the former 12, the latter 24).

      I think the Derwents I’ve used suit me – mostly, they’re used on work that either stays in a sketchbook, or is scanned for digital printing. I understand from people who work more seriously that their lightfastness is a problem – only an issue if you’re displaying the original work though.

      Recently, I have been tempted by Daler Rowney’s Artists Watercolour pencils, after seeing Ian’s post about them here;

      http://penpaperpencil.net/basic-sketchkit/

      More expensive than the Derwents, but I suspect they contain better pigments, and that nifty little compact tin would be a great way to carry them around!

      More generally, I like watercolour pencils a lot – very versatile, and you can get some lovely effects beyond those of standard coloured pencils – it’s well worth trying some!

      The Making a Mark art bog has lots of articles on coloured pencils from an artist’s point of view e.g.;
      http://makingamark.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/colourfastness-in-coloured-pencils.html
      http://makingamark.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/coloured-pencils-colour-comparison.html

      • John, thank you for your detailed reply. This is a world I hardly know and it is very interesting to hear how artists think about these products.

        I guess Derwent has to be popular in Britain (although there was Karisma too, I guess). Prismacolor as I understand is very popular in the States. Since I don’t draw or sketch with it but use it for journaling, it suits me fine, but apart from the lightfastness issue there seems to be certain quality problems. I’ll write more about them in connection with my Hobonichi Planner journalling… In Korea Faber-Castell is a big presence.

        When I was growing up I never even knew that such things as watercolor pencils existed, just like I never knew leadholders existed. I find this particular tool really funky 😉 I wonder if there would be a reason to choose watercolor pencils over ordinary ones, even if you didn’t plan to work with water? The difference in texture maybe? Sorry for asking again 😉

  2. That’s an interesting question, Sola – I can only answer from my experience, in that I use the watercolour pencils because I’m familiar with the way they work on my paper. (The study of lillies that’s the next post after this uses Derwent Academy watercolour pencils, but dry. I had a very limited time to do that one, so predictability was important).

    Texturally, watercolour pencils tend to be on the waxy side – but there are waxy non-watercolour pencils too, so that’s not really a convincing reason.

    The problem for someone like me, with little enough time to paint and draw already, is the sacrifice of some of that to learn how a new tool “works”. It’s not something I mind with graphite, or media where one works in single colours. but where colours are blended and mixed, I feel that I have too great a learning curve!

    With that said, my plan with the Academy pencils is to replace them once they’re used up with better quality alternatives from loose stock (I have looked at the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer as a possibility, but not had chance to try any yet).

    • I see – this is deep stuff, John! I’m going to pay more attention to how my colored pencils behave from now on. The one thing about Prismacolor pencils that I liked (apart from the cute round barrel) was that they were softer, so they work well as a sort of highlighter above text written with fountain pens. They sort of diffuse better (stroke marks relatively invisible). I looked at Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils too, they look lovely but are more expensive than Prismacolors and I couldn’t really justify the purchase. BTW I suspect that the Mitsubishi Polycolor line was “inspired by” FC Polychromos, back in the days when they were benchmarking everything German…

      • It’s definitely another rabbit hole to disappear into, I agree!

        I found this article, only one person’s opinion, but it seems like a good place to start examining the different brands and their qualities;
        http://www.mooresartgallery.com/pencils.html

        One thing lots of Prismacolor users seem to agree on is that their leads can be fragile – Lyra seem to be a favoured alternative for people who’ve had that problem.

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