Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Tomato Ponderings


10/28/21 Sketched with vintage Derwent colored pencils in Stillman & Birn
Zeta sketchbook

Our seemingly endless “atmospheric river” and “moisture firehose” last week invited introspection and existential questions. If you’re a geek like I am, the questions to contemplate included the following: What happened to Derwent’s colored pencil quality?

Although I very much enjoy using high-quality Derwent Lightfast pencils, my love is by no means across the board. In addition to the disappointing Chromaflow line, the company’s Procolour, Coloursoft and Inktense collections are passable but nothing to write home about. The older Artist and Studio lines are not even worth mentioning.

Due to the generosity of a couple of women who know I collect and appreciate vintage pencils, I am enjoying some old Derwent colored pencils that are far superior to most of its current products. A few years ago I showed you my lovely set of Rexel Cumberland Derwent colored pencils that Ana gave me, which I think are from the ‘80s or ‘90s. Then in 2019 during the Amsterdam Urban Sketchers Symposium, Jane Blundell gave me a handful of pencils that a family member had used in the ‘50s. Even considering their age, the pigment content is higher and the cores are of better quality than most of Derwent’s current offerings.

The oldest Rexel Cumberland Derwent pencils in my collection (gift of Jane Blundell)

Other Rexel Cumberland Derwent pencils, probably from the '80s or '90s (gift of Ana Reinert)

In my experience, although vintage pencils are often more esthetically pleasing than contemporary ones, the quality of almost all colored pencils produced by a given company have improved over time (at least when they keep manufacturing in-house). I attribute this to better materials and maybe improved equipment and processes, too.

Derwent has a long, proud heritage of pencil production dating back to 1832. According to the British company, most of their pencils are still made in the UK. Why, then, hasn’t it taken better care of quality?

And so I pondered as I sketched this tomato on yet another rainy day.

The magenta and warmer yellow are from the newer set; the cooler yellow and blue are from the older Derwents. They blend beautifully with a high pigment content.


  1. It is surprising that the quality has gone down over the years rather than improve. On a side note, your tomato is great!!


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