Watersoluble pencils are nothing new; several brands have been available for decades, such as Faber-Castell, Prismacolor and Derwent. About ten years ago, Derwent introduced a new product called Inktense pencils. I think I bought my tin a few years later, but that was around the time I started my tertiary studies, so the pencils sat untouched in my drawer for all this time.
Here is my chart for the full 72 colour range. The range is quite heavy on greens and blacks – I would have liked a few extra light or mid-range blues and mid-range browns instead – but it’s still a solid range and will be suitable for any subject.
In terms of size, Inktense are similar to Derwent’s Artist pencils, with large, round barrels and thick leads. Though they are quite firm, they still go down quite smoothly and without the unpleasant scratchy sensation some hard coloured pencils have. Used dry, Inktense pencils give strong, beautiful colours, even if some look slightly muted. When water is added to them, they become much more vibrant. Depending on how heavily you pressed when laying down colour, it may take a fair bit of scrubbing with a brush to get a completely smooth wash, though letting a few pencil marks show through could add a little texture to the drawing.
Most watersoluble blocks and pencils can easily be rewet to rework the washes or lift out colour even after they have dried. Once you’ve applied a wash to Inktense, it dries permanent. This makes it less forgiving if you make a mistake and need to fix it, but it does mean you can layer new colours over previously dry colours without the bottom colour lifting up and muddying the top layer. The only exception is if you’ve used a heavy application of the dry product; in some cases, not all of it will wash out completely, meaning applying more water will activate it again.
In addition to using these on paper, they can also be applied to fabrics, though you may need to use fabric fixative in addition to water if you want to ensure it stays permanent. I haven’t tried them on fabric, but it could be a useful tool if you enjoy textile crafts or want to decorate a costume of some sort.
Aside from two or three of the reds and violets, the whole range is rated at least 6 on the blue wool scale, which means they are supposedly lightfast. However, the pencils are ink-based, and coloured ink is typically not that durable; given that I’ve also seen a few other artists say they conducted lightfastness tests on the Inktense pencils and they failed miserably, I’d be inclined to treat them as fugitive (though I’m planning to start my own tests on the Inktense soon and will update this post once I have some results). The full 72 set of Inktense pencils comes with 71 colours and one Outliner. At first, this just looks like a standard greylead, but it seems to be more water resistant than standard greylead pencils. While other greyleads smudge and muddy anything surrounding it when you wash over it, the Outliner stays where you put it. Though you could just as easily use a black ink marker to create indelible outlines, the Outliner pencil could be useful if you want a more subtle outline. It is a little bit harder to lift up the Outliner with a kneadable eraser than it is to lift a normal grey lead, though, so keep this in mind if you don’t want any pencil lines to show in your drawing.
Not long after the Inktense pencils came out, Derwent also released Inktense blocks. Given that the core material of both products is the same, I decided I might as well review both in a single post.
The Inktense blocks are solid sticks of pigment and have a firm yet smooth texture, a bit like some of the better quality hard pastels I’ve used. They are almost exactly the same size as the Faber-Castell Polychromos pastels. These long, square sticks are excellent for laying down large areas of colour, either by laying the whole stick on its side or by breaking the sticks into smaller pieces for a little more control. You can also just use the set of blocks like a watercolour pan set and pick up colour with your brush directly from the blocks; though you could do this with the tips of the pencils, it’s a lot easier and faster to do so with the blocks.
Here is a peacock I painted using the Inktense pencils and blocks.
When I bought my set of Inktense blocks, the 24 colour set was the largest one available. However they have since expanded the set to a full 72 colour range. Though the colour range is otherwise identical across both products, one colour in the Inktense blocks – Turquoise – is not available in the Inktense pencils range, or at least it’s not in the 72 colour tin. If I were buying Inktense products now for the first time, I would just go straight for the full range block set. Using the corners, you can still make fine detailed marks as you would with pencils, but the blocks have the added advantage of allowing you to use them on their sides to cover large areas quickly (the block sets are also slightly cheaper than the pencil sets).
If you haven’t tried any Inktense pencils or blocks, I’d recommend buying at least a few single ones to give them a go. Or perhaps treat yourself to one of the Inktense Collection tins, where you get a selection of both pencils and blocks in one set. Even though their lightfastness is questionable, they’d be great for those who scan and sell their art digitally. Whether you’re a fine artist or just want a new way to decorate materials, Inktense will be a welcome addition to your studio.