I’ve tried a few of Cretacolor’s art supplies (such as their Artists’ leads, and their AquaStics) and generally been quite happy with them. While trawling YouTube looking at various art demo videos, I came across Brevillier’s channel, which had a few videos showing the Cretacolor Aqua Briques. Curious, I decided to try them out.
This proved to be harder than I expected. They’re available in tins of 10 or 20 colours, and though both are hard to find, the latter is almost impossible (I think they may have been discontinued). You also can’t buy them individually as far as I can tell, so if you used up a favourite colour and needed to replace it, you’d have no choice but to buy a whole new tin.
Here’s the set of 10 I eventually got from eBay. The little yellow strip at the bottom is actually a sponge; once you add water to it, it expands to its full size, about the same dimensions as the tin itself. I didn’t bother with it since I just use paper towels to blot and dry.
Here’s a colour chart for my set, with half the crayon swatch dry and the other half washed, with a swipe of colour picked up from the block with a brush below.
I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places that the Aqua Briques are the same material as the AquaStics, but they’re not; while the AquaStics are softer and feel like a cross between crayon and oil pastels, the Aqua Briques are harder, like pure crayon. The Aqua Briques seem to have a decent pigment concentration, but not as much as the promotional material for them claims, and they are not as opaque as the AquaStics. They also claim to be lightfast, so I’ve taped a swatch of them to my window to see if they stand up to these claims.
Most people will probably use these dry on the paper and wash over them with a brush, or like watercolour pans, using the brush to lift colour directly off the blocks. The inside of the lid on the tin is white enamel, making it a good surface for mixing up washes of colour. When used this way, it’s easy to get a strong, even wash of colour. They also lay down plenty of pigment when used dry, though even with a fair bit of scrubbing with a wet brush, it’s difficult to get rid of all the crayon strokes. By using less water, you can also use it more like gouache than watercolour, though it still takes a few layers to build up to the same opaque coverage you get from real gouache.
If you choose to use them by wetting the blocks in the tin with a brush, you’ll soon run into the problem I did. You can’t pick them up and use them as dry crayons again for a good 10-20 minutes or so, because it takes them that long (if not longer) to truly dry. Try picking them up earlier and you’ll end up getting more pigment on your hands and anything around you than on your artwork (after making this mistake several times I looked like someone who had got into a fight with a clown and been soundly beaten). The water also soaks in around the blocks, basically gluing them to the tin and making them impossible to lift out again without damaging them in the process. I suspect if you used them as pans for long enough, they would actually begin to dissolve from the water collecting around and under the blocks in their slots in the little plastic tray, meaning you could no longer use them for dry sketching.
The pamphlet in the tin also claims you can use the Aqua Briques in an airbrush. You can do this by melting a block in a double boiler (the pamphlet in the tin tells you how much water to use) and then using it in liquid form in an airbrush. I didn’t try this method as I don’t have an airbrush, but to me it doesn’t seem all that economical; surely it’d be easier and cheaper to just buy paint or colour specifically designed for airbrush use?
Here’s a little sketch I did with the Cretacolor Aqua Briques, based on a photo uploaded to WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library by Marie-Thomas.
On the whole, I can’t really recommend the Cretacolor Aqua Briques. They are fun to use, but if you use them like gouache or watercolours, you’ll soon end up with a sad, soggy, unusable mess in the tin. Not only that, but pretty much every ‘function’ they have is achieved better in another product, so I would suggest buying the product that fits your needs instead. They’re not easy to find in shops and they’re quite expensive for what they are, so even if you just wanted to have a play with them, it’s pretty hard to justify the expense, especially since you can’t replace individual colours. I’d recommend buying either the Cretacolor AquaStics or Neocolor 2 watersoluble crayons if you want a watersoluble sketching crayon/pastel (or perhaps a set of watersoluble coloured pencils), or a set of pans or half pans if you’re looking for something to use as watercolours.