Sunday, May 9, 2021

Review: DOMS Aqua Watercolor Pencils


DOMS Aqua Watercolor Pencils (I had difficulty photographing
this box, which is entirely metallic and highly reflective. I kept seeing
myself, which is perhaps in line with the introspective turn this review takes.)

India-made pencils are known for being low priced, and yet many are of surprisingly high quality, especially graphite pencils. Most of the colored pencil sets I recently compared are probably marketed to children and are not artist quality, and yet at least the DOMS Supersoft and Sivo Vivid are of good quality – certainly better than most colored pencils intended for kids (or adult coloring bookers, for that matter).

I happened to stumble upon a set of DOMS Aqua Watercolor Pencils on Amazon while I was researching prices for that comparison review. My tendency is to look askance at any watercolor pencil as low priced as these (12 for $7.99), but my pleasant surprise with DOMS Supersoft and Indian pencils in general made me think again. It was a low-cost gamble that I couldn’t resist. (Note: The Amazon product title includes the words “artist grade,” yet nowhere on the packaging does the product claim to be artist grade. Clearly the meaningless term has been included for search purposes only.)

The set of 12 includes a sharpener and a small paintbrush.

The package design (which coordinates with the DOMS Supersoft) indicates a children’s product. In addition, the pencil has a space designated for writing the owner’s name – a definite sign of school-age marketing.

Making the dry swatches (three layers per swatch on Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper) seemed hopeful: Although the hues didn’t match perfectly, the Aqua pencils applied with a soft, somewhat waxy consistency that was similar to the DOMS Supersoft non-water-soluble pencils. When I swiped each swatch with a waterbrush (my usual test method: two swipes, no scrubbing), however, I was sadly disappointed by their low pigment content. This is exactly what I would expect for the price and for any set marketed to children, but I am ever optimistic.

Swatches made on Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper

If they had been hard, dry and unpleasant to apply, I would have stopped there. But from my experience using the Supersofts, at least I knew they wouldn’t be terrible. It was raining, I was in a generous mood, and my lemon was still viable.

5/6/21 DOMS Aqua in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Although the swatches show low pigment, the colors activated in my sketch better than I had expected for the first two layers. In subsequent layers, however, you can see from the splotchy blotches that they didn’t blend well. I had to work fairly hard to get this degree of blending, and yet I admit that I’m not unhappy with either the result or the process. Let’s just say I’ve used many watercolor pencils that were less pleasant, and some have cost quite a bit more, so from a price perspective, these aren’t bad. Kids could do a lot worse.

When I struggled with blending, I was in the mood for a challenge, and I have enough experience with watercolor pencils that it’s sometimes fun to fight with a product. But this is exactly the kind of struggle that I would never want a beginner to have because it’s impossible for a novice to know whether he/she needs more skills or whether the product is inferior. (This would be a good time to insert my lecture about why it’s important to use the highest quality materials you can afford, especially when you are just beginning to learn a new medium. Please see this post and scroll down to “Unexpected Insight” and “The Moral of the Story.”)

 As I sketched the lemon and Roma tomato, I also had some thoughts about the colored pencil industry. Although I’ve used many intermediate-grade and even student-grade traditional (non-water-soluble) colored pencils that are of reasonable to high quality, I’ve rarely tried a good watercolor pencil that wasn’t artist grade. I wonder what it is about watercolor pencils that makes them so difficult to produce that good ones can only be found at the high end? Or is it just that I’m fussier because I love watercolor pencils so much?

In direct contradiction, as I have gained skills with using watercolor pencils over the years, I’ve found my tolerance for lower quality ones increasing (as I showed myself a few years ago when I deliberately used several pencils I knew I didn’t like). Maybe it just means I’ve learned how to turn a potential frustration into an enjoyable challenge.

(Rain seems to encourage this kind of tedious pencil-related navel gazing. Thankfully, I’m over it – for now.)

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