Soft Pastels and Pastel Pencils: Derwent Pastel Collection (review)

When I was in my early teens, my grandfather bought me a set of Derwent Pastel Pencils. I used them a few times, but found them scratchy and unpleasant to use, and ended up selling them a few years later. I didn’t do much drawing or painting in general after that until my early 20s, at which point I learned from various forums that Derwent had reformulated their Pastel Pencils and they were now supposed to be much nicer. I never bothered investigating this as by then I’d acquired a set of Faber-Castell PITT Pastel Pencils, which I was quite happy with.

Recently I got a coupon from eBay (spend $50 or more and order through the eBay app and get $15 off), and one of the Derwent 24 Pastel Collection tins had been sitting in my watch list for as long as I could remember, so I finally took the plunge and ordered it, curious about whether the new formula was any better.

Derwent Pastel Blocks and Pastel Pencils

Most of Derwent’s Collection tins (at least those that have more than 12 colours) also come with other accessories depending on the type of Collection. This set came with a kneadable eraser (good for lifting and erasing pastels and pencils) and a special sharpener for pastel pencils. One of the pastel sticks in my tin was a duplicate of a colour (Naples Yellow Deep) that was included as a pastel pencil instead of the Spectrum Orange I should have received. I got in touch with Derwent and they sent me two sticks of the Spectrum Orange, so I was very happy with their customer service. Here is my chart for the pastel pencils and blocks.

derwent-pastel-colour-chart

The 24 piece Pastel collection has a nice range of colours, with several greens, browns and blues and a variety of reds and violets for floral drawings. I would have liked a deeper yellow – like a cadmium yellow deep – but it should be easy enough to mix it by putting the Process Yellow over some Spectrum Orange.

So, are Derwent’s new formula of pastel pencils better than the old ones? I think they are. Before I did a proper drawing with this set, I compared the Derwent pastel pencils and pastel blocks to some other brands (I also have both pastel blocks and pastel pencils from the Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache ranges). The Caran d’Ache ones felt the smoothest, but this was no real surprise since they are the most expensive of the three. Faber-Castell was in the middle, while Derwent was the least smooth; I don’t want to say ‘roughest’ because they were still nice enough to use, and much better than the old Derwent pastel pencils. Some individual Derwent colours competed with the Faber-Castell pencils for smoothness, so on the whole, they avoid that nasty scratchy feeling the original formula had.

The pastel blocks would be ranked the same as the pastel pencils, with the Derwent being the firmest and the Caran d’Ache blocks being the smoothest, though there was less of a difference between the blocks than there was between the pencils. Both the Derwent pastel blocks and pastel pencils are strongly pigmented and lay down colour easily, especially on sanded surfaces like PastelMat, which I used in my sample drawing below.

In addition to improving the texture of the pastel pencils, Derwent’s newly formulated line supposedly has a lower number of fugitive colours, though there are still a lot of colours that fall below 6 on the lightfastness scale. Several blues and the vast majority of the reds and violets are fugitive, so if you buy Derwent pastels intending to use them in work that will be displayed or sold, make sure you check your colours and if necessary, buy lightfast replacements from other brands. Derwent pastel pencils are about $2.70 each, which is roughly the same price as Faber-Castell’s PITT pastel pencils and about half the price of the Caran d’Ache pastel pencils. The Derwent pastel blocks are harder to find in open stock (I suspect they may have been discontinued). When my local art shop had them, they were about $2 per stick, which is about 70 cents cheaper than the Faber-Castell Polychromos pastels, but they no longer stock them. In fact, even these Pastel Collection tins are now very difficult to find.

Here’s my sample drawing created with my Derwent Pastel Collection, based loosely on a photo uploaded to the WetCanvas Reference Image Library by tremblad.

derwent-pastel-flowers

If you come across a Pastel Collection tin for sale and want to experiment with both pastel pencils and pastel blocks, it might be worth picking a set up to play with. However keep in mind that nearly all the reds and violets are fugitive, and that once you use up the pastel blocks, you probably won’t be able to replace them. I would personally recommend the Faber-Castell pastel pencils and blocks over the Derwent ranges, but you might find some colours in the Derwent line to help fill out your collection.

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