Saturday, November 11, 2023

Messing Around With Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pan Paints


Derwent Tinted Charcoal Paint Pan set

In my “messing around” series, I use a product new to me that I know little about and then show the evidence of my mess accompanied by a few uninformed opinions. I don’t consider this a product review.

I suppose what prompted me to want to try Derwent’s Tinted Charcoal Pan Paints set was the hope that I could get charcoal-like effects – the rich, matte blackness and easy blending that results in beautiful tonal modulation – without the mess of actual charcoal. That was also the hope years ago when I bought a set of Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pencils. Although the wood casing on the pencils keeps my hands relatively clean, the charcoal inside is just as dusty and smudgy as vine charcoal. But maybe a watercolor-ish form of charcoal would be different.

For comparison purposes, I swatched the tinted charcoal pencils below. And just for fun, since charcoal is water-soluble, I put my waterbrush through the swatches.

Tinted charcoal pencil swatches

I’m not going to show the palette box exterior or waterbrush because they are identical to those I showed in the post about the Derwent Inktense Pan Paints Set. In fact, they are a little too identical – the outer boxes are indistinguishable, so I have to store them both in their cardboard packages so I can identify them easily. As with the Inktense set, a swatch chart is included, but it’s a bit silly, since most of the swatches look the same.

Tinted charcoal pan paints with waterbrush

Of course, I made my own swatches below – and many of them look the same here, too. Their washes are slightly more intense than the washes of the tinted charcoal pencils. They are similar to dry charcoal in at least one way: After the swatches dried, I ran a finger through them, and they still smudged, but only a little. They somewhat satisfy my avoidance of messiness in that way.

Tinted charcoal pan paint swatches

Interestingly, when I spritz the pans before painting, they behave in a way similar to the Inktense pans: The water starts being absorbed almost immediately, and I have to keep spritzing to keep the “paints” wet enough to use. I used a few different colors in the sketch below, but the differences are so subtle that they can hardly be distinguished. Obviously, as a wet material, the “paints” are not the same as dry charcoal in appearance. They are useful for tonal studies like this, however.

10/22/23 Derwent tinted charcoal pan paints in Hahnemuhle sketchbook
(Earthsworld reference photo)

Perhaps most useful is the white charcoal (which always sounds like an oxymoron, but I have several pencils made of “white charcoal”). From a reference photo by Andy Brunner on Unsplash, I made a small sketch of a white rabbit.

11/4/23 Derwent white charcoal paint in Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook
(Andy Brunner reference photo)

Pleased by the white’s opacity, I made swatches to compare it with Winsor & Newton white gouache and M. Graham Titanium White opaque watercolor (isn’t that the same as gouache?) that I happened to have, both straight from the tube. Comparing favorably, it is surprisingly opaque for a pan paint.

I’m not sure I have much use for the dark charcoal colors, but since the pans are removeable (and individually replaceable) in all the Derwent sets, I might pull the white out, put it in my pink standing palette and use it for highlights with watercolors.


  1. Did it occur to you that you don't need to or shouldn't be misting either of those pans? The only somewhat equivalent that I've used is the blocks of Art Graf where I just use my wet brush over the dry block to pick up the color and either apply directly or mix on a palette.

    1. That's a good point -- I do it out of habit, but maybe it's not necessary!

  2. Ok, I got curious about that sponge so did a google to see that in the Amazon description they call it a cleaning sponge. To clean your brush? But then I popped over to the link for the product on Derwent's website and found a wealth of information about how to use these in thick and thin mixtures and in layering and how to mix the white with the colors to make subdued tones. Was wondering if you had looked at their information there - no offense meant if you had not. Here's the link:

    1. Thanks for the info -- I'll check it out! I've been getting most of my info from various helpful YouTubes in which mixed-media artists have experimented with these Derwent products. I'm sure there are many successful ways to use these!


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