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:
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. However I do feel like some colours (eg. reds and greens) were a little under-represented. 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, even with colours that usually mix well in other mediums.
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).
Derwent Artbars are not cheap; a single Artbar costs about $2.50-3.00 depending on where you shop, though if you buy them in a tin they work out cheaper; tins of 12 are around $26, while the full range of 72 will cost about $150-160.
Below is a small drawing/painting I did of a green vase. 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. However, I probably wouldn’t buy any more of them, and would suggest that if you do want to try them out, get a few individual colours before committing to a full set.
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.