|Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Water Colour Pencils|
That’s the question that immediately sprang to mind when a set of water-soluble colored pencils bearing the British paint manufacturer’s name crossed my radar. I know that W&N came out with watercolor markers a while back, but pencils were new to me (and apparently so new that they aren’t even listed on W&N’s website yet; I found my set on eBay). Since the company is well-known for its professional watercolor paints, could it be that its Studio Collection of “soft, thick-core water colour pencils” could be of similarly high quality? At the price I paid (24 pencils for $11, plus a hefty shipping fee), I doubted it, but my curiosity was piqued.
(The Studio Collection also includes traditional colored pencils. After more digging, I saw that W&N also has a low-priced line of Reeves colored pencils and graphite drawing pencils, too. So it is apparently more in the pencil business than I realized.)
My set of 24 came in a compact tin with two stacked trays, which I prefer to the long, flat tins many colored pencils are packaged in. The bellyband states that they are “premium artist quality highly pigmented soft thick-core colour pencils” that are made in Vietnam. “Excellent lightfastness” is also listed, which gave me some hope that they might truly be artist quality.
The round, white barrel has a satin finish, and its dipped end cap indicates the pencil’s color. The Winsor & Newton logo and color name (no color number) are stamped in silver.
The cores are, indeed, thick and soft (they remind me of Caran d’Ache Supracolor in softness and application). Making the initial swatches, I found the pigment content to be relatively high. Water activation brings out a decent wash without scrubbing.
As I was examining the set, a vase of Tombow Irojiten pencils on my desk caught my eye. Hmmm . . . twins separated at birth?
By this point, I had already decided that the Studio Collection could not be artist grade, mainly from the lack of color numbers and the bright pinks and purple in the set, which are typically not lightfast (and no lightfast rating appears on individual colors). In addition, I couldn’t find W&N pencils available open stock, which seems essential to be considered artist quality. (They are, however, brand new, so they may become available individually later.) But I’m not one to necessarily reject pencils simply because they aren’t archival or artist quality – I certainly own and happily use plenty of art materials that aren’t – as long as they have other redeeming qualities. And making sketches would be the only way to test for any such qualities.
For my first sketch of the tomato, I worked in my typical fashion when using water-soluble pencils (sketch made in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook): I applied at least three layers of pigment in most areas, activating each with water before applying the next. Details and final lines were applied last and left unactivated. The large cast shadow was also left dry. When making the reflection on the tomato’s lower curve, I lifted some color out.
Despite my hunch that the pencils aren’t artist grade, I enjoy using them because they behave predictably – the way I expect water-soluble colored pencils to behave (Caran d’Ache Museum, Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer are my artist-grade yardsticks against which I compare all other watercolor pencils). In terms of pigment content, W&N pencils are probably comparable to student-grade Caran d’Ache Prismalo, but I don’t experience the difficulty in applying successive layers as I have with Prismalo (you can read about that issue in the Prismalo review).
Last winter I had an unpleasantly surprising result in a test of Albrecht Durer pencils. Since then, to fully understand how a water-soluble pencil performs, I’ve decided it’s important to draw with it in its dry state without any water activation – that is, use it like a traditional colored pencil. With that in mind, I made a test sketch of the apple (in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook).
Half expecting them to behave badly, I was surprised by how pleasant the W&N pencils are when used traditionally. First and successive layers apply smoothly and blend well, especially on Epsilon’s surface. The hues are rich and true, even without activation.
While Winsor & Newton’s Studio Collection is not on the same level as Supracolors or Museum Aquarelles, I prefer them to Prismalo, Faber-Castell Goldfaber and other comparable water-soluble colored pencils. Imagine how good they might be if W&N decided to put out pencils of the same caliber as its artist-grade paints. (Though if it does, I’d want a thicker, grippier barrel.)