Friday, December 14, 2018

Product Review: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell's Albrecht Durer water-soluble colored pencils

In addition to my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, I keep two other sets of water-soluble colored pencils at easy reach on my desk because they both have a much wider range of hues than the Museum line – Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer. Although I have tried many other brands, I consider these three artist-grade pencils to be my main go-to’s. I recently realized that I have never written a full review of the Albrecht Dürer line (the closest was a comparison review I wrote earlier this year of Faber-Castell’s student-grade Goldfaber collection). It’s time to correct that.

The hue-matched barrel is a standard-diameter hexagonal that fits in any pencil sharpener. Branding and a band near the simple end cap are silver. (With my eyes closed, I think I could tell them apart from the Supracolors, which are just a touch smaller in diameter and have a glossy finish, while the Dürers have a more satin finish. Why is it important to be able to tell them apart with my eyes closed? That’s an unnecessary question for a geek like me.) I couldn’t find the box, but I initially bought a medium-size set and added more colors over time through open stock. Shown here are a random fistful from each of the two large mugs that contain them – one for cool hues, the other for warm. The collection includes several unique colors that are different from anything Caran d’Ache offers.

With the hardest core of my three go-to’s (though by no means the hardest artist grade I’ve used; that would probably be the Staedtler Karat Aquarell), Albrecht Dürer pencils hold their points well, making them ideal for details as well as solid areas of color. The rich pigment dissolves easily and fully when activated with water.

The pigments dissolve easily and completely.

12/10/18 Albrecht Durer pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
n my sketch of the tomato and pear, I made multiple cycles of dry/wet applications (apply dry pigment, activate with water, allow that to dry completely; repeat), and the colors became richer and more vivid with each. That’s the way I expect high-quality water-soluble pencils to behave.

As I was using the Dürer pencils, I started thinking about my post last week about the dilemma that all watercolor pencils present: Activate or not? Regardless of how I resolve that dilemma, I noted that a key benefit of all water-soluble pencils is that they can be used either wet or dry, making them highly versatile.

For something like a still life, I almost always decide from the beginning whether I want a watercolor-like look or not. If I don’t, I usually choose a traditional wax- or oil-based colored pencil instead. But if water-soluble colored pencils can truly be used either wet or dry, I should be able to use them all the time, regardless of my choice. It occurred to me that I rarely choose to use a watercolor pencil if I know I’m going to leave it dry. That’s when I got the idea to make a sketch with the Dürer pencils as if they were traditional colored pencils, leaving them dry throughout.

12/11/18 Albrecht Durer water-soluble colored pencils (no water used) in
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Thinking the cores would be sufficiently hard for Stillman & Birn’s toothy Alpha paper, I started the pear sketch. I realized almost immediately that they are actually softer than would be ideal for that degree of texture, so I had some difficulty covering it. More surprising, though, was the difficulty I had in building intensity of hue when I left the pigment dry. It felt strangely “sticky” instead of smooth to apply subsequent layers, and I didn’t enjoy using them.

That’s when I realized that making a sketch with a dry-only application should be part of every review I write of a watercolor pencil! If it is a truly versatile medium, it should be enjoyable and effective to use either wet or dry.

I’m sure you can see where this is going! Stay tuned for my (relatively) scientific comparison of my top three favorite watercolor pencils – used as dry pencils only. The results are illuminating and informative.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Long Pose

12/10/18 (1.5 hours, graphite)

A few months ago I went to a long-pose life drawing session at Gage because I wanted to try Eduardo Bajzek’s graphite technique on the human form. I used the full three-hour session (with model breaks, that’s about two-and-a-half hours of drawing time) on one drawing – probably the longest period I’ve spent on one figure.

I was in the mood to try it again, but I modified the technique slightly. Much of the time spent on this graphite technique goes toward the initial toning and smudging of the paper with graphite. As I learned last time, though, the human form doesn’t have as many places to erase out for highlights as would a street scene, for example, with a large wedge of sky above it. This time, instead of toning the whole area, I lightly roughed in a contour line of the model first in a more traditional manner. Then I applied graphite and smudged it within the contour line in a way similar to what I had learned. I was still able to erase out small highlights. Although I didn’t have the full range of values that I might have if I’d used the complete toning process, I think I had enough to get the job done. This drawing, about the same size as the one from September, took about an hour and a half.

The pose went on for another hour, and I could have continued working, but I was afraid I would overwork the drawing (I was tempted to continue picking at her face, for example) and lose whatever freshness is possible for a drawing that takes that much time. I’m happy that I stopped when I did.

This drawing is a good example of the very typical dilemma I often face when I’m not sketching on location. In the field, more often than not, I seem to be motivated to complete a sketch as quickly as possible: I’m cold, hot or distracted; other potential sketches call to me; the light is disappearing quickly; I have an appointment to get to; the sketch outing is nearly over; etc. Working quickly seems to help retain a sense of freshness and spontaneity (although sometimes at the risk of looking rushed and sloppy). But when I’m making a still life in the comfort of my home or attending a long-pose session, I run the risk of overworking past the point when I should stop. For me, the stopping point is when the spontaneous response to whatever I’m looking at is still apparent.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Celtic Magnificat

12/8/18 City Cantabile Choir performing at Green Lake United Methodist Church

One of our annual holiday traditions is to attend a chorale concert or two in one of the neighborhood churches. The past several years, we’ve been following City Cantabile Choir, whose director develops creative and unusual collaborations or interpretations of holiday music that always incorporate traditional Irish songs. (You can see my posts and sketches from previous years.) This year’s concert, “A Celtic Magnificat,” was no exception: It was an imaginative meeting of Bach and harpist Turlough O’Carolan last Saturday evening at Green Lake United Methodist Church (an old stone church that I sketched several years ago).

Sketching in a darkened church is always an interesting challenge (I’ve sometimes used a book light, but I decided to keep it simple this year), especially when the choir, orchestra and conductor are all dressed in black. I was delighted to see conductor Fred West wearing a bright red shirt this year, and all the choir members wore matching red scarves, which made the sketching more fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Brick Tudor

12/5/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

After the series of sketches I made last spring and summer of houses in my neighborhood, I thought I wouldn’t get back to it until next spring when it was warm enough to sketch outdoors again. But driving around last week when it was brilliantly sunny and startlingly cold, I spotted this cute Tudor that I could easily see from the comfort of my mobile studio (parked legally, even!). I love the bay window that looks like a small tower.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Studies in White: Garlic

12/2/18 Derwent Lightfast
A couple of weeks ago I talked about white colored pencils and compared all the brands I own. My main use of white is as a highlight on toned paper (especially in life drawings), which means I don’t use it much. But making that comparison chart of white pencils made me realize how much they vary in opacity and even hue temperature. As anyone who has ever looked at paint chips at a hardware store knows, there’s no such thing as white white.
12/5/18 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle

All of this got me thinking about the color white as I use it in a sketch. I rarely think about white except when I need it to depict light, and in that case, it’s mostly a matter of remembering to retain some part of the white paper. Otherwise, white is usually just the negative space around whatever I consider to be the positive space. But what about when the subject matter in the positive space is white?

I grabbed the first white thing with an interesting shape that I laid eyes on: a head of garlic. It’s white, but of course, white is never really white. In this case, it’s yellow, purple, taupe and gray. I had fun pulling out all three versions of Stillman & Birn’s Nova sketchbooks for these small studies.

12/5/18 Caran d'Ache Pablo

Sunday, December 9, 2018


12/4/18 Calvin (10 min. pose)

In a couple of recent posts (Thursday and Friday), I talked about how much I love the subtle tonal gradations that are possible with pencils. Strangely, I also like harsh, graphic tones that are easy to make with markers and brush pens. From the same life-drawing session at Gage, here’s another sketch of Calvin, this one of a 10-minute pose. I had run out of pages in the mixed-media sketchbook that I usually use with water-soluble brush pens, so I tried the Strathmore toned sketchbook instead. The paper isn’t sized appropriately for wet media, so instead of using water to wash the tones in, I just went in heavy with the brush pen. No subtlety here.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Pacific Place and Nordstrom Santa

12/7/18 Nordstrom Santa

On a cold (29 F) but sunny morning, Nilda and Natalie met me at Pacific Place for some holiday sketching. As a warm-up (literally and figuratively), I walked up to the second floor, where I had a good view of the café below. (You can see blue-haired Natalie sketching near the center.)

Unknown to us, a big renovation was going on, and I was disappointed that Santa was no longer on the second-floor thoroughfare as he has been in previous years. I’ve enjoyed sketching him several times from the floor above looking straight down over his head or from the front. This year he was sequestered in a retail shop right next to a gift-wrapping service, so I didn’t have a good view without standing in the way.

Undeterred, I marched across the street to Nordstrom, where Santa sits inside a big show window. His voice is amplified so that people on the sidewalk can hear him chatting with the kids and ho-ho-ho-ing. I stood right next to the window, where I had a great profile view of Santa and his clients. I would have liked to sketch all the toys and other decorations, but 15 minutes in the cold was all that I could stand.

12/7/18 Pacific Place main floor

Friday, December 7, 2018

Crayola for Grownups

12/4/18 Calvin (20 min. pose)

Above is a 20-minute pose of Calvin that I made with a Derwent Drawing Pencil. With a core that’s even softer and thicker, this pencil would supersede my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle if it were water-soluble, too. By using it on the side of its core (in the frowned-upon way I mentioned yesterday), I love the subtle shading I can get with it. As I was happily working on this sketch, the pencil evoked something joyful from my past . . .

During the break, I looked over at the artists easel beside me and noticed that he was using a purple crayon! He said he’d forgotten his usual Conte pencil but had found the crayon on the floor (left behind after Saturday’s Drawing Jam, no doubt), so he decided to use it instead. Bingo! Derwent Drawing Pencils are as close to crayons as one can get and still have wood around them.  

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Wet or Dry: The Water-Soluble Dilemma

12/1/18 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle in
Stillman & Birn Nova (10 min. pose)
12/1/18 Caran d'Ache Supracolor in Nova sketchbook
(10 min. pose)

While I love pencils for many reasons, the quality I appreciate most about both graphite and colored pencils is the lovely, subtle tonal gradation that is possible with them. I know it’s possible with any medium in the right hands, but I’ve never been able to achieve it with anything wet like an ink wash, markers or watercolor. With dry media, it’s just easier to keep applying more tone, a little at a time, until I get the value I want. And I love being able to modulate those values over a curved surface relatively easily compared to using a wet medium.

This attribute I love so much about dry pencil creates a dilemma with water-soluble pencil: Activating the pigment or graphite with water will intensify the hue and usually darken the tone significantly and immediately, which makes it handy when you want to get the job done quickly (which is often my goal when sketching on location). But the big risk is that activating with water often destroys any subtle gradations I might have intended.

12/1/18 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle
Here are some recent examples. At the top of the page are two more sketches from last Saturday’s Drawing Jam – each sketch made from a 10-minute pose with water-soluble colored pencils. Although the poses were short (and I was so hasty that Dee, the poor model on the left, apparently lost her second leg!), I wanted to capture the shadows and light on their form. Keeping the pencil work dry, I was even able to retain some of the mid-tones. Toward the end of the poses, I was tempted to put some water on the darkest shadows because I knew that would punch them up, but I thought I would lose whatever gradation I had achieved. (Fortunately, I resisted.)

In the case of the small portrait at right, I had only five minutes, so I went ahead with the waterbrush to deepen the shadows quickly. The harsh smear under the chin is not the look I was going for, but it’s hard to be subtle once the pigment is activated. (If I’d thought of it at the time, I would have tried swiping off the excess with a tissue. That works sometimes.)

12/3/18 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle on 140 lb. paper

At left is an example from Zoka Coffee on Monday. Applying the sides of the cores of a few Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, I used these soft pencils almost like pastels (but without the dusty mess, of course). It’s a relatively efficient way to apply them. In this case, I knew I had to leave the pigment dry or I would definitely lose all the work I’d put into the form of the balding guy’s head and neck. I don’t know how to convey those subtle curving surfaces with anything but dry pencil.

By the way, this method of applying colored pencil by the side of the core is not recommended by traditional colored pencil artists. It could be that it’s difficult to achieve a consistent tone with this method, and it’s hard to cover the surface evenly (you can see the paper’s texture showing through, but in this case, I don’t mind). With some other pencils I’ve tried, the coverage is much more uneven. But one significant reason why I love Museum Aquarelles is that something about their consistency makes it easy to apply in this (albeit discouraged) manner.

Even if I struggle with the dilemma of applying water or not, a big benefit of all water-soluble pencils is that they can be used either wet or dry. I like having that choice in one versatile medium.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Urban Persimmon Sketching

11/27/18 Sketched with the "urban sketching" method (20 minutes)
One of my biggest motivations – and, ultimately, my biggest disappointment – in deciding to formally study colored pencil and watercolor pencil last year was that I had hoped I would learn how to use both types of pencils for sketching on location. During those two quarters, I learned so much about value, form, light, nature as subject matter and effective techniques for using colored pencils that it’s hard for me to even say I was disappointed, but the fact is, I didn’t learn anything in terms of urban sketching.
11/29/18 Sketched traditionally (55 minutes)
The necessarily time-consuming, methodical nature of colored pencil doesn’t lend itself well to working outdoors where the light and other conditions are constantly changing. Working from photos in a studio is the ideal way to use colored pencils effectively, and learning in that controlled environment taught me more about how to draw than anything I’ve ever done.

To use colored pencils in the field, however, is something I’ve had to teach myself (and continue to teach myself every day). And one reason I spend so much time in winter practicing simple still lives is that it’s good exercise for when I can sketch on location. Before our last persimmon got eaten, I thought it still had more to teach me about colored pencils.

A major difference between how I use watercolor pencils on location and in the studio is that I lay on a heavy application of pigment all at once for the former because I intend to do only one activation with water; I need to apply as much color as possible. It’s the only way I know of to work quickly and still get reasonably intense color. This is not the recommended method of using any kind of colored pencil, whether traditional or water-soluble. Traditionally, both types require applying multiple layers of pigment a little at a time to effectively build value and color gradually.

Using my daily-carry Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, first I approached the persimmon as if I were sketching it from a sidewalk. After making a quick, rough drawing, I colored it heavily with a mix of yellow, orange and a little red. (One big reason why Museum Aquarelles have become my favorite for urban sketching is that they are the softest watercolor pencils I’ve tried, which makes it easy to apply lots of pigment quickly without flattening the paper’s tooth.) Then I activated that with water. While that was drying, I decided that I would color the leaves without using water because I like the texture of the paper showing through. With that decision made, I went ahead and put in a few details and shadows on the leaves. (Because they are so soft, Museum Aquarelles do not hold a point at all, and tiny details are difficult to render. At home, I have harder pencils that would do the job better, but I don’t carry them with me, so I stayed with the Museum Aquarelles as I would on location.)

After the orange part was completely dry, I added some dark blue on the persimmon’s dark side. The cast shadow was a mix of the same dark blue, orange, red and the green I had used on the leaves. I forgot to pay attention, so I’m not certain, but I think I applied blue and orange first, activated that mix, let it dry, then applied the other colors without activating. I was done in 20 minutes.

A couple of days later, I approached the same persimmon, this time in a traditional, leisurely manner. I went through three cycles of dry-wet applications on the fruit, but I treated the leaves the same as I did in the first sketch. I finished with some dark blue and left that unactivated. I used all the same colors for the cast shadow as I did before, but because I activated more often, each color application became more intense than in the first sketch. Although I like the depth of color, I think the hue got a little muddy; the activated orange was much yellower than I expected, so I had to tone it down with more blue. This one took 55 minutes – almost three times longer than the first one.

If I hadn’t explained the difference in technique, you might say the two sketches look about the same (and you might say that anyway, even if I hadn’t explained). From my perspective, the first one looks a bit fresher because I didn’t have time to fuss with it as I did with the second one. But the more similar they look, the more satisfied I am that my self-studied approach can be used successfully on location. It’s what I’ve been trying to do the past couple of years when I can, but there’s always room for improvement.

As we all know, urban sketching is never as easy as sketching this small persimmon in the comfort of my home. But when given the choice, I will always choose something on location to a still life, and I will always choose either one over drawing from a photo.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Urban Sketching as Improv

11/29/18 Gallery space at the Pocket Theater in Greenwood

How is urban sketching related to improvisational acting? Before last Thursday evening, I would have shrugged trying to respond to that question, but thanks to urban sketcher and University of Washington urban design student Robin Hunt, the answer for me is now clear: It can be an innovative, creative evening of art and interactivity.

A few weeks ago, Robin invited USk Seattle members to participate in an exhibit of urban sketches in the Greenwood neighborhood’s Pocket Theater. I considered participating, but I didn’t get around to prepping my work. However, very curious about what the “interactive gallery” would be, I decided to attend the event.

I was glad I arrived a few minutes before the exhibit officially opened so that I had a chance to start sketching right away before it got too crowded; the small gallery space filled instantly. Sketches of Seattle by Robin and several other local urban sketchers were displayed on two walls. Beneath the rows of sketches were long, horizontal strips of tape, sticky side exposed. Hmmm. . .

On tables around the room were stacks of small slips of colored paper. The slips began with various open questions that could be prompted by a sketch: “Share a memory that you are reminded of.” “What is a lesson you learned in this place?” “Write a note to someone who shares memories of this place with you (please include a name).” Event attendees were invited to write their responses on the slips and then adhere them to the tape on the walls beneath the sketches they were responding to.

A-ha! Suddenly my initially passive viewing of the sketches when I had first walked in was insufficient. I went through the exhibit again, looking more closely at each sketch, thinking about the last time I had visited the familiar locations – Fremont, Pioneer Square, Swanson’s Nursery – or whether I had recently visited at all. I picked up a few slips, wrote my thoughts and memories, and adhered them to the walls. Then I walked back through the whole exhibit to read what others had contributed. I had a few conversations prompted by what we were reading and viewing, and the whole room became livelier once the interactivity began. While viewing sketches of familiar places often prompts memories and associated feelings, people rarely share those thoughts. Titled “Your Where,” the event encouraged that sharing.

11/29/18 The Collective Improv Troupe interprets viewers' memories
prompted by sketches.
That part of the event alone would have been an innovative way to evoke memories and conversation based on sketches. But the evening wasn’t over yet. An hour after the exhibit opened, doors to the adjacent Pocket Theater opened. Every seat in the 50-seat theater filled with curious attendees.

The Collective Improv Troupe, which Robin belongs to, took on the second part of the program. Using the slips of paper with our written responses, Robin periodically entered the stage and read from them. The improv members would then interpret the readings with humorous dialog and stories they developed on the spot with no preparation or rehearsal. (As someone with no public speaking skills or acting experience, I was so impressed by their ability to perform improvisationally!)

I left the event satisfied that Robin’s production (her senior project for her UW urban design-related degree) had fully answered the question of how urban sketching and improv can come together. The evening was an engaging confluence of art, comedy and audience participation.

Gallery space

Some memories of event attendees prompted by urban sketches.

"Your Where" producer and urban sketcher Robin Hunt

Monday, December 3, 2018

Drawing Jam: Better Than Ever

Shawna (20-min. pose)
Dee (20-min. pose)

Saturday was Drawing Jam, Gage Academy’s annual all-day marathon of art. In its 19th year, the family-friendly event offers costumed and nude life-drawing models, sculpture models, mirrors for self-portraits, instructor demos, live music, art and crafts for sale, food trucks and snacks, and free art materials. It’s one of my favorite sketching-related events of the year.

Drawing Jam just keeps getting better and better. One of its most popular activities is costumed life drawing, and it used to be held in one studio that became instantly over-crowded and over-heated. It also created a long line before the opening time because attendees felt the need to compete for space in the popular studio. In recent years, Gage has tried various arrangements to improve the over-crowding, and this year was by far the best. Offered in multiple studios, costumed models worked in pairs and changed places on the platforms between poses so that everyone would have a good view of at least one model no matter where they were working. I sketched in various studios without feeling over-crowded, and that must have increased my sketching stamina, too: After more than six hours of nearly nonstop drawing, I was tired but not exhausted as I have been in some years. On this seventh consecutive year attending, I filled 27 pages in my sketchbook – possibly a personal record-breaker! Shown here are my favorites from the day.

As I’ve learned to do over my years of participation, I kept my sketching materials simple: A single 5 ½-by-8 ½ inch beige Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook, a Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen containing water-soluble ink, and a few colored pencils, including white. All sketches shown here were five-minute poses done with the brush pen. The exceptions are the two colored pencil drawings shown at the top of the page, which were both 20-minute poses.

A personal bonus: Drawing Jam sponsors always donate art materials as giveaways to participants. This year Blick donated colored pencils – a cherry on top of a fantastically fun day!

Cookie, a drag queen, was one of my favorite models!

This model wore a fur vest with shiny, metallic-
colored, skin-tight pants! I wish I'd gotten to this
studio earlier so I could have sketched him more.

Free colored pencils. . . Tina is a happy girl.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


11/29/18 Wedgwood neighborhood

Heading out to the Wedgwood neighborhood, I was hoping the morning’s thick fog would still be around by the time I finished my errands so that I could sketch it again. Unfortunately, it lifted right about then, so all I saw was an ordinary overcast sky. I pulled over on an ordinary street where the only exciting thing happening was that the Jeep in front of me was parked in the wrong direction.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

What Persimmons Taught Me About Watercolor Pencils (Three Mini-Reviews)

The Persimmon Test: from left, Prismacolor, Staedtler, Lyra

A few days ago I wrote a product review of the Caran d’Ache Prismalo 100th anniversary pencil set that ended with an insight about learning to use watercolor pencils in general. To briefly summarize, I recalled using some low-quality water-soluble colored pencils years ago and how they had “taught” me unproductive methods of using them. Because I didn’t know any better, I continued to apply those methods when I used higher-quality pencils later, not realizing how much more the better pencils can do and with better results.

That insight prompted me to challenge myself to go back to those low-quality pencils to see if the experience I’ve gained in the past couple of years would affect how I use them and the results. (I got this idea partly from Liz Steel’s interesting post about student-grade and artist-grade watercolor paints.) Unfortunately, it turned out that I no longer had the poor-quality pencils that had given me so much frustration back then (I think I got rid of them a year ago during a studio cleaning frenzy).

That said, I still own several brands of water-soluble colored pencils that may not necessarily be low quality or student grade, but for various reasons, I decided years ago not to use them anymore. I may have pushed them aside because I didn’t know how to use them properly, and therefore they didn’t perform as I expected them to. Or they may simply be of poor quality and will never perform well (and, if you recall the moral to my story in the insightful post, the problem with using low-quality products when you’re inexperienced is that you don’t know the difference between those two alternatives). Probably I also started acquiring the pencils that came to be my favorites (Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer and Caran d’Ache Supracolor) around that time, so I easily left the others behind.

On Thanksgiving, we were given a bag of persimmons – a fruit we don’t usually buy – so with fresh subject matter, I tested three brands of long-unused watercolor pencils: Prismacolor (USA-made by Sanford, so technically these may be “vintage;” the watercolor pencils currently marketed under the Prismacolor name are made in Mexico and look entirely different from the ones I own); Staedtler triangular; and Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell. All three inexpensive sets were small, and one wasn’t even complete, so I had the additional (ultimately fun) challenge of using limited palettes.  
11/24/18 Prismacolor watercolor pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

My old Prismacolor watercolor pencils turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Harder than traditional, wax-based Prismacolor pencils (which are known for their buttery softness), the watercolor pencils retain their points reasonably well. Although they don’t contain as much pigment as my favorites, they activate and blend easily. Based on their performance, the pigments might be considered artist grade.

I’m guessing that I rejected them because they are harder than most watercolor pencils, and back then I didn’t know how to appreciate hard pencils for their particular uses. My incomplete set is missing some basics (like red), so I had an interesting time mixing persimmon hues with the colors I had. I wouldn’t mind completing the set, but I don’t dare touch contemporary Prismacolors (which have a bad habit of breaking easily). If I want more, I probably have to go to eBay.
11/25/18 Staedtler triangular watercolor pencils in S&B Beta sketchbook
Staedtler Triangular

Blick lists Staedtler Triangular watercolor pencils in the “Kids and Classroom” category (one step below student grade), and based on their ergonomic shape and price, I’d agree with that placement. Even harder than Prismacolors, they retain their points beautifully (when they aren’t breaking; both the wood and the cores may have quality issues). I enjoyed drawing the challenging persimmon leaves and their shadows because the Staedtlers are excellent for details.
11/26/18 Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell in S&B Beta sketchbook
Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell

Listed as artist grade by Blick, Lyra Rembrandt Aquarells are soft, waxy and somewhat crumbly. Of the three pencils in my persimmon test, these were the least pleasant to use. Although I tend to generally prefer softer pencils, these took a long time to build sufficiently intense hues. I experienced some of the “skidding” effect that I wrote about in the previous post: Dry pencils applied to areas that had been previously activated felt like they were skidding over a waxy surface. For artist-grade pencils, they seem to lack pigment and are difficult to activate. I prefer the kids’ Staedtlers to these.

What did I learn from this idiosyncratic, somewhat masochistic exercise?
  1. Since all three are within the same inexpensive price range, I was surprised that the kids’ Staedtlers were more enjoyable to use than the artist-grade Lyras. This may indicate nothing more than my subjective experience with varying pencil qualities such as waxiness.
  2. Both the Staedtlers and the Lyras took more work – more repeated layers of dry-wet/dry-wet – to achieve what I considered to be sufficiently intense hues. (Using any of my favorites is much easier in that way because the pencils contain more pigment.) If I were a beginner who didn’t understand how to do this type of layering (or couldn’t, due to the limitations of the product), I would have been frustrated.
  3. I’m not unhappy with any of the persimmon sketches; I like different qualities of each. Although I struggled and had to work harder in some cases, I hope that’s not apparent in the results. This says to me that it’s possible to get satisfactory results from less-than-ideal materials (or simply materials I don’t like) if I have enough experience to compensate for any shortcomings of a product.
  4. I’m going to limit my palette more frequently, even when I don’t have to. It’s fun and challenging to mix with an odd selection of hues. 
OK, that was an informative exercise. Now I’m going back to my beloved favorites.

9/21/11 One of my earliest attempts to sketch with water-soluble
colored pencils.
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