Thursday, September 14, 2023

Review: Giotto Stilnovo Acquarell Colored Pencils


At right: Giotto Stilnovo Acquarell colored pencils look
identical to their non-soluble counterparts. The box is metallic
silver instead of white.

After finding myself surprisingly impressed with Giotto Stilnovo colored pencils in my review of back-to-school pencils, I became curious about what other pencils were available in the Stilnovo line for kids. I found several, including Stilnovo Acquarell watercolor pencils. (I also found a Supermina line with larger-diameter cores in packaging that might imply an adult rather than a student audience.) I couldn’t imagine that the watercolor pencils could be much good, but curiosity prevailed.

The set of 12 I bought is identical to the non-soluble set except that the barrel includes the universal paint brush icon representing water-solubility. Like the non-soluble set, the acquarells are made in China.

The paint brush icon indicates that the pencil is "acquarell."

A spot for a name.

The swatches revealed curious results. Applied dry, they are very similar to their non-soluble counterparts – soft and with relatively decent pigment for inexpensive, student-grade pencils. However, you can see that the orange is hardly soluble at all! I looked to see if perhaps a non-soluble pencil had slipped into the package by mistake, but it does include the paint brush icon. Inconsistent solubility isn’t uncommon, even in higher quality watercolor pencils, but it’s downright weird to see one color show almost no solubility at all.

Not bad... except orange!

A few days after I received the pencils, I realized that I hadn’t sketched out on our back deck all summer, and now summer is nearly over. We’ve still been eating most lunches and dinners out there since May and hope to continue for at least a couple more weeks. But one reason I haven’t been as interested in sketching out there is that all three of our neighbors behind us have been having unpleasantly noisy work done to their houses for months. The house on the right, however, just finished getting new yellow siding, so that was reason enough to take the pencils out on the deck.

9/10/23 Giotto Stilnovo Acquarell pencils in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook

In the sketch, I employed all the techniques I commonly use on location with watercolor pencils: applied dry, then activated with a waterbrush (the houses); a “licked” sky; applied dry, then activated with a spritzer (orangey-colored foliage on the right); dry pencil applied to wet paper (the remaining foliage).

 None of the results were impressive, and I don’t recommend these for general use. However, at a kid-friendly price (larger sets are a better value than the 12 I bought), students could certainly do worse than to tote these to class in their backpacks. Since they apply well dry, they are a versatile set for kids to use either with water or without.

Paper notes: Unrelated to the Giotto pencils, I was unpleasantly surprised by one thing: paper performance. I used a Hahnemühle Akademie Aquarell sketchbook, which I had been very happy with until I started using the 100 percent cotton version. It was only after I started using the pure cotton books that I started employing the technique of applying dry pencils aggressively to wet paper – because I could. I had gotten so used to using this technique in my daily-carry cotton book that when I took the Akademie book out to the deck, I wasn’t thinking about the paper. As soon as I started applying pigment quickly and roughly, the wet surface began to pill. It may not be obvious in the results, but I can feel the damage to the paper. This is exactly what happened when I tried the technique with Canson XL 140-pound student-grade watercolor paper on location several months ago.

Once again, it was a material lesson: If a lower-quality product holds you back from using whatever technique you want to use (in this case, applying dry pencil to wet paper), it also holds you back from learning and getting results that aren’t related to skills.

Fat and happy after all the peanuts I had fed him, this blue guy was my quiet
companion the whole time I was sketching only about 10 feet away. 

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