Thursday, November 16, 2023

Messing Around with Graphitint XL Blocks


Derwent Graphitint XL Blocks

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.

While looking around at the many variations of watercolor-like-but-not-actually-watercolor pan paints that Derwent offers, I came across a set of Graphitint XL Blocks. While I have been familiar with Graphitint pencils for many years (in fact, it was the very first product I ever reviewed on this blog), the XL Blocks form was new to me. A blend of graphite with water-soluble coloring agents, the Graphitint line has unique, muted shades that can be lovely in evoking certain moods. (I talk more about Graphitint and other tinted graphite pencils in this comparison post.)

I started poking around for reviews, and the most interesting was a YouTube by Gabriella Rita Art. A mixed-media artist, she demos a painting she made using the blocks as if they were pan paints and also applying them directly to the paper dry, then activating afterwards (like watercolor pencils). Her techniques piqued my curiosity.

The color range looks subdued -- until water
gets involved!

In the swatches below in a Hahnemühle 100 percent cotton sketchbook, I started by spritzing generously in the center of the page and making the bold, zig-zaggy marks with dry XL Blocks onto the wet area. This is basically the technique I often use for trees and other foliage with watercolor pencils (as long as I am using 100 percent cotton paper, which I’ve found to be essential for this technique). While Graphitint pencils are subdued at best, these XL Blocks are way more intense than I expected. I also picked up “paint” (not sure what to call this non-paint stuff that looks like paint) directly from the blocks as I would watercolor pans. In addition, I applied it dry to the paper and activated with a brush. Finally, at far left, I found corresponding colors in Graphitint pencils and scribbled, just to compare.

Graphitint XL Block swatches and comparision with Graphitint pencils

Encouraged by the swatches, I made the sketch below from a photo I took during one of our golden hour walks last spring. Using a combination of the techniques I swatched, I loved the way they felt when applied and the rough looseness they encouraged me to use. 

11/6/23 Graphitint XL Blocks in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

In application, they reminded me of the Inktense Blocks I had messed around with last summer but never got into much (and I think I know why – the wrong paper choice; more on that in a future post). I got those out for a wider color range and combined them with the Graphitint XL Blocks for the next two sketches (also from photos).

11/7/23 Graphitint XL Blocks and Inktense Blocks in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

11/7/23 Graphitint XL Blocks and Inktense Blocks in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

I love these blocks and how easy they are to apply, both wet and dry, and achieve strong colors. The chunky bars also prevent me from getting precious with detail, and I find myself taking a more painterly approach. Double score! These are definitely worth more messing about with.

Thick or thin, these blocks win!


  1. Happy birthday, Tina!!! This post reminds me to dust my Derwent! So thanks. With the Big Gray in the northwet upon us, an antidote is getting inktense with colors! -Roy

  2. I like the way you are working with the sticks. Keep it up!

  3. I love those Inktense blocks, too!


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