Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Derwent Lightfast Paper (and Periodic Materials Lecture)


Derwent Lightfast paper and Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils: a delicious pairing.

I recently had occasion to make a full-on, time-consuming, all-hands-and-brains-on-deck kind of colored pencil drawing (will reveal as soon as the gift recipient sees it). Although it’s always chancy to use an unfamiliar paper on a “big” project (not large in size, but emotionally high stakes), I had made enough swatches and had also read enough reviews that I felt confident that I would not be disappointed by Derwent Lightfast drawing paper.

Like any good drawing paper made for pencil, it has enough tooth to “grab” the pigment or graphite without a visible texture that requires a lot of work to hide. My favorite drawing paper that fits that description is Stonehenge Lenox Cotton (which I used most recently on a graphite drawing of my grand-niece). I always think of its texture as luxuriously “velvety.”

Lightfast paper has a warm, creamy tone compared to Lenox’s brighter white, so I thought it would be especially appropriate for my subject, which was again a portrait. Supposedly designed specifically for use with Derwent Lightfast colored pencils, which are very soft, Lightfast paper is equally adept at taking much harder Faber-Castell Polychromos. It’s a pleasure to draw on paper that takes the lightest application of pigment so easily.

Working on the drawing reminded me that I haven’t given my materials lecture in a while. I think the last time was when I attempted the Crayola challenge: Use the crappiest colored pencils I own to make a sketch, just to experience the self-torture and see the results.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun (in a masochistic kind of way) to flip the challenge around: Compare the use of high-quality pencils on both high-quality drawing paper and on crappy paper (or rather, paper inappropriate for colored pencils).

To get it over with first, I began with a sheet of printer paper, which I had used extensively a couple of years ago for a special collaborative project. Although that drawing wasn’t large or complicated, I had to duplicate it 64 times. After that experience, I think I’m qualified to say that printer paper is inappropriate for use with colored pencils (although at the time, I was cussing up a blue streak with terms other than “inappropriate”). Once again, I applied the self-torture, this time with Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, arguably one of the highest-quality colored pencils available. Using an Earthsworld reference photo as my model, I stopped at 26 minutes, which was longer than I wanted to spend on the 4 ¼-by-5 ½-inch sketch, but I needed the time to build up as much pigment as I thought I needed to show a good range of values.

8/22/23 Luminance pencils on Hammermill printer paper
(all portraits made from Earthsworld reference photos)

Next I used a sheet of Derwent Lightfast paper in the same size to make another Earthsworld portrait (another profile so that the rendering difficulty would be roughly equivalent). I used the same three pencils: Dark Indigo (639), Scarlet (070) and Yellow Ochre (034) (a favorite Zorn palette trio). I spent exactly 26 minutes on this one, too (below), just to keep the variables roughly equivalent.

8/22/23 Luminance pencils on Derwent Lightfast paper

With both portraits, I wasn’t trying for multiple, lightly applied layers as I would for a more formal colored pencil drawing. These were done more with the “dirty crosshatching” method I learned from France Van Stone with the objective of efficiently getting down as much pigment as possible (which is typically not recommended by colored pencil artists but is my preferred use on location).   

After having made the gift portrait with hard Polychromos, I was looking forward to giving the Lightfast paper a try with much softer Luminance. As expected, it was pure joy to use such deliciously soft pencils on equally delicious paper. Even with my hasty hatching method, the colors seemed to blend more easily, and the very subtle tooth picked up pigment effortlessly.

Not recommended for drawing... but not as bad as I expected. (Plus 
hedgehogs on the wrapper!)

I had a hearty, ranting lecture prepared: You can’t expect to get good results if you don’t use decent materials. If you are inexperienced, you will not know whether your disappointing results are because of faulty techniques and inadequate skills or inappropriate or low-quality materials. Use the best materials you can afford; using cheap materials to practice with until you “get good” is a false economy because you will have a much harder time “getting good.” Finally, use materials that give you pleasure, which will reinforce practicing – and practicing is the only way to improve any skill. Et cetera! Et cetera! Et cetera!

Unfortunately, my rant fizzled when I realized the printer paper wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Although its smooth surface did not “grab” the pigment, it didn’t repel it, either (which is how it felt when I used Prismacolors on my grueling collaborative project). I have to give at least partial credit to the high-pigment content of the Luminance pencils.

Fizzled rant notwithstanding, I still believe paper choice is important – I just hadn’t chosen the right bad choice to prove the point. That’s when I remembered Leuchtturm 1917 journals, which I am still using for my daily scribble journals. The sketches are mostly small doodles that I scribble with whatever writing pen I have in hand, and sometimes I add bits of color, so the colored pencil aspect is not important. But I could flip that around to say that the reason I don’t apply much color is because Leuchtturm paper is especially unpleasant with all pencils – graphite feels and looks even worse than colored. In this application, writing is my dominant task, and I still like Leuchtturm paper for most writing pens I use, but the smooth, thin paper is definitely the wrong match with colored pencils.

A-ha! To reach my full ranting lecture potential, I needed to do one more test: a portrait with the same parameters and pencils as the previous portraits, this time using a page in my Leuchtturm journal (below). I knew that softer pencils were better on the smooth Leuchtturm surface than harder ones, which is why I’ve been using Prismacolors in my scribble journal, so I thought Luminance would be at least tolerable. Barely. I had to use more pressure to get the pigment to stick, I had to think more about basic pencil application rather than developing the portrait’s form, and the 26 minutes were entirely unpleasant. Whatever color I eked out was due to Luminance’s high pigment with no help from the paper. The colors don’t seem to have the same richness, either. (Using watercolors with inappropriate papers will show much more dramatic examples of how colors go flat and dull compared to using high-quality watercolor papers that show off brilliant pigments.)

8/25/23 Luminance pencils in Leuchtturm journal

In this case, cost is not a variable – Leuchtturm books are not inexpensive or low-quality, so I can’t imagine anyone choosing them as a cheap paper option. But the paper is definitely an inappropriate match with colored pencils that would discourage me from practicing. In fact, if I were inexperienced, this paper might make me question the quality of the pencils!

If you need more lectures, here are some previous thoughts about paper and how it affects pencil performance. This post relates specifically to Caran d’Ache Grafwood pencils and paper.

All three of the gentlemen I sketched for this post have such interesting noses! I usually start portraits with the eyes, but in each case, the nose called out to me as the ideal starting point.

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't have the patience to test the different papers with the pencils. If it was an important sketch I'd go for the better stuff.


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