Pencils: Derwent Drawing Pencils (review)

Derwent Drawing pencils have been around for a while, but were originally only available in six colours; black, white and some reddish earths and browns. I actually had a few of them in my old pencil jar, but most of them had been used so much they were little more than stubs. About ten years ago (or maybe more) Derwent increased the range to 24 colours.

derwent-drawing-pencils

As you can see, those beautiful earths are still there, but now the set includes muted blues, greens and greys as well. Here is my colour chart for the set.

The understated colour selection in the Drawing range won’t appeal to floral artists or anyone who makes bold, bright art, but they are perfect for landscapes, portraits and animal studies. The colour range focuses heavily on earthy tones in red, brown and yellow, plus a few greys; while there are a handful of blues and greens, they are not highly saturated varieties, so if you’re doing bright spring foliage or vivid summer skies, you might need to borrow from another pencil range. I also had a bit of trouble getting or making a good pink for an animal tongue from this set, so I had to borrow from my Caran d’Ache Luminance range for a few pinks and reds.

A few of the colours are ostensibly the same as those in the Artists range (at least, they share the same name), but some versions of the same colour vary drastically across the two ranges; for example, Terracotta is a pale, pinkish brown in the Artists range but a deeper, reddish brown in the Drawing range. The Drawing Ivory Black is a really deep black, and the Chinese White is a reasonably opaque white, though I think the Coloursoft White is a little more opaque. The opacity of the Drawing pencils means they are good for drawing on coloured paper.

When I first got the tin, I did have an issue with one pencil (the Crag Green) having a core that didn’t seem to have been mixed or blended properly, as there was a vein of crumbly bright yellow running through the muted green. However when I contacted Derwent they sent me a new one straight away. My Smoke Blue also seems to have suffered internal damage at some point (not from me) as it breaks almost every time I (carefully) sharpen it.

Other than that, the Drawing pencils do seem a bit stronger in general. I suspect this is due to their texture, which is much softer than the Derwent Artists pencils. Their soft, creamy texture is almost on the same level as Prismacolor pencils, which are known for their buttery softness.  Prismacolors are also known for their constantly-breaking leads no matter how carefully you sharpen them, which luckily isn’t as much of an issue with the Drawing pencils. That being said, the soft leads do mean you do need to take some care when sharpening these pencils, as if you just jam it into a sharpener and start twisting (the way I usually do with cheap greylead pencils), you will get a lot more breakage. Drawing pencils have the same thick barrel and wide core as Artists pencils but lay down much more smoothly, making them wonderful for layering and blending. When I originally started writing this review, I would have said Derwent’s closest range in terms of softness is their Coloursoft line – which comes in 72 colours and includes more brights – but those have a sort of dry, almost chalky texture, which I’m not as fond of. However their more recently released Lightfast range is quite soft (though not as soft as Drawing) and blends smoothly, and is probably closer in texture to the Drawing pencils. The Drawing pencils also have a reasonable amount of opacity, meaning they show up quite well on darker coloured paper.

On another positive note, if you use up a colour from the set and need to replace it, the Derwent Drawing pencils appear to be readily available in most local art supply shops, both in sets and open stock individual pencils. They seem to be priced at a bit over $3 on average, making them among the cheaper ranges in Derwent’s line up.

Here’s a sketch I did with the Derwent Drawing pencils. For a demonstration of how I did it, click here.

Those who do a lot of landscapes or portraits of people or animals will want to pick up some Derwent Drawing pencils. Even if you don’t get the full 24 tin, at least get a white, black and some of the earthy reds and browns, as they would be a great sketching medium on their own, and they are especially suited for use on toned or coloured paper.

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