A new addition to the Caran d’Ache Watercolor Pencils

Supracolor 30th Anniversary Set

If you have been following this blog for any time at all, you know I tend to get very excited about new art supplies, especially when it’s anything to do with watersoluble media. I have tubes of watercolor paint, and pans and half-pans in nifty travel kits. I have watersoluble graphite blocks and watersoluble graphite pencils. And, of course, several lines of watercolor pencils (how else do you get fine detail on your watercolors or do quick sketches outdoors without a whole plein aire kit?).

One of my favorite sets of watercolor pencils is the Caran d’Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils. The set contains 120 pencils, each with splendid rich pigmentation and a creamy texture like all of the Caran d’Ache pencils (have you ever tried their Luminance line?) I was absolutely certain they couldn’t have picked a better range of tints and swore I’d never need another set of watercolor pencils.

But now I have to eat my words. Caran d’Ache is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’ve released a special Limited Edition 30th Anniversary set: 30 all-new colors in the Supracolor Soft line.

 

Yes, that’s 30 all-new colors. These colors are not present in any of the other existing Caran d’Ache sets, by the way, so unless they decide to release an anniversary set of their other lines as well, you’re out of luck trying to get an exact color match on the regular colored pencils.

I’ll admit, I’m drooling. I need to get my hands on those shades of pinks and purples! And that set of greens … I didn’t know I needed that particular shade of almost-dry-grass-green, but now I know I can’t live without it!

So yes, I have just pulled out my very tired wallet and ordered this new set. Do I need it? Well … need is a perception thing, yes? Someone looking at the stacks of art supplies in my home would tell me I definitely don’t need yet another set of watercolor pencils. Only another artist friend would appreciate the “need” I feel to own this set.

So, to all my artist friends out there: will you be buying this fancy new set of watercolor pencils? Just “to round out your collection”, if nothing else? Or am I the only one who has zero sales resistance? Let me know in the comments below!

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Artist’s tools: Tracing and Lightboxes

Drawing tools

If you’ve been creating art for any length of time, you know that you need to develop your drawing skills. And the only way to do that is to actually draw. Draw whenever you have a chance, and if you don’t have time, *make* time. Seriously. Because, as with anything else, the only thing that will help you improve is practice. Check out the book Sketch!: The Non-Artist’s Guide to Inspiration, Technique, and Drawing Daily Life by France Belleville-Van Stone to get a real life insight into what it means to make the time to draw.

Having said that, I’ll admit that’s not entirely true, that the only thing that will help you improve is practice. What I mean is, you don’t just have to sit there and just practice drawing by hand. One excellent way to quickly improve your drawing skills is to trace what you’re trying to draw.

This may sound “wrong”, and purists will tell you that the only way to learn to draw is to do it by trial and error. The reality is, for centuries, artists have used whatever tools were at hand to help them draw accurately. They used grids, worked out their compositions as sketches, and, yes, they then traced the final sketch on to their surface for the final rendition, using an early version of transfer paper: they covered a paper in black chalk and used a stylus to trace over their “cartoon”, as they termed that final sketch.

So, you ask, how does tracing help you learn to draw? The old masters used tracing *after* they were happy with their design, as I said above. Well, the old masters also learned from their predecessors … often by apprenticing with experienced painters and copying existing works of art repeatedly until the techniques were ingrained in them by the repetition.

Yes, artists often completed an apprenticeship. And art was made in a workshop, with the artist planning the work and his apprentices carrying out many of the initial parts of the work.

Changes in technology and individual wealth today means that many more of us have access to fine quality art supplies and have no need to apprentice with a master. However, it does not obviate the need to actually learn to draw accurately. And this is where that infernal tracing paper comes in. Drawing an image over and over does not mean you’ll draw it better each time!

You see, when you just look at something and draw it, over and over, you may actually be training your eye and your hand to draw the mistake over and over, effectively locking it in, because you are drawing what your brain tells you it’s seeing. What’s really happening is that your brain, because it knows (or thinks it knows) how something looks, makes your hand take shortcuts to produce the result your brain knows … except, when you look at the result, it looks different from the original.

If, instead, you grab a piece of tracing paper and go over the image repeatedly either with a pencil or with a stylus, your hand and eye will start correlating what is being drawn with what actually exists in the image. You will learn to “see”, as artists phrase it.

Try it yourself: pick an image you’ve repeatedly drawn incorrectly. Trace it some ten to twelve times. Then go back and try free handing it again. Isn’t that better? There you have it: a simple way to improve your freehand drawing using a technique that some will say is cheating. But the end result will still be a distinct improvement in drawing skills.

Once you have a finalized sketch, you can then use tracing paper to transfer it to a clean paper, and thence to your canvas or other surface using transfer paper: Loew Cornell makes a really good one: this 2-in-1 set has one sheet of white transfer paper (for transferring to a dark surface) and one in gray for paler surfaces. Is two sheets really enough? Yes. Because you don’t “use up” transfer paper for a really long time … I’d say hundreds of uses per sheet, because you have a large sheet and you won’t just be tracing the exact same image over and over in the exact same location on the transfer paper!

If you don’t have tracing paper, you can use technology to help you trace an image: the simplest way is to tape your image to your computer monitor, turn the screen brightness all the way up, and then trace over the image onto your paper.

You won’t always get good results with a computer monitor, though, especially if you have a busy image as your wallpaper. Another alternative is to get a dedicated lightbox: much like a computer monitor, except there’s nothing but white light being emitted here. You can turn up the brightness as you need, and all but the heaviest papers will allow enough light to pass through your image so that you can create a good drawing by tracing the relevant lines.

There are several decent lightboxes out there. I personally like the Artograph 12″x17″ lightbox as it’s large enough to accommodate most of my drawings without being overly heavy and bulky. Another decent alternative is the AGPTek A3 USB powered lightbox. The AGPTek is slightly lighter [A3 is almost the same size: 11.69″x16.53″], and a lot less expensive … I haven’t used this one myself, but a friend of mine has one and claims it works really well.

And there you have it: from doodles to professional quality results without a whole lot of pain and time spent apprenticing when you could have been out having a beer or watching the latest show on Netflix!

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Sennelier Artist Quality Oil Pastels Test Pack

Sennelier Oil Pastels Test Pack

If you’ve never tried oil pastels, you don’t know what you’re missing! Try this delightful Sennelier Artist Quality Oil Pastels Test Pack and see if you like them.

Light-weight and portable, this little kit contains 6 small sticks of black, white, green, yellow, red and blue as shown in the image. The colours are highly pigmented and lightfast, however, note that like all oil pastels, they do *not* dry easily. You’ll need to spray your artwork with a fixative to prevent damage to your finished painting.

The Sennelier oil pastels go down soft and creamy, with a feel reminiscent of their oil paints. This is nothing like the Crayola oil pastels you may have tried before (I certainly have!), which are dry and gritty and nowhere near as fun to work with nor as capable of creating rich, oil-painting-like final products.

Like all the Sennelier products, this is a top-of-the-line set of pastels. The colours blend smoothly, just like oil paints. And yes, they have the familiar odour of a typical oil paint medium, too, so be prepared to use these in a well ventilated room!

This is a limited set, obviously, but it will give you a good feel for the product and help you decide whether oil pastels are a medium you wish to explore. If you do decide to invest more in the medium, you would probably want to go for the full set of 120 assorted colors which come in the wooden box, or the largest cardboard box set which contains 72 colors.

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

Derwent Water-Soluble Sketching Pencils

Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils, 6 pieces

Everyone learns to draw with graphite pencils. You know, your basic HB pencil when you were in school, and you used to scribble doodles in the margins of all your books? Well, as you progressed in your art, you discovered all kinds of fancy things, like watercolor and acrylics and oil paints. But sometimes, you want to go back to the simplicity of the basic pencil, and still be able to create some nice painterly effects.

You could turn to watercolor pencils … Derwent, Faber Castell and Caran d’Ache all have their watercolor pencil lines and they are fantastic. And pricey! If you’re going for color, you’ll want as many colors as you can get your greedy little paws on … and that will set you back a good $100 at least. And try carrying those large sets on a field trip … they are too bulky and unwieldy (although very pretty).

This is where the Derwent Water-Soluble Sketching Pencils shine (literally … they have a graphite core!). The set of 6 featured here is small enough to be easily portable, and the metal tin holds them securely.

Use these as regular pencils, and you’ll be happy with the quality and the control you get. These are slightly harder than the Tombow Mono pencils, but that is a plus, as you get to use them for fine detail if you want. And if you really prefer the blended, watercolor look – just add water with a brush and blend out the marks you’ve made on the paper.

Note that once you’ve activated them with water, they will not erase cleanly. This is usually not a big concern for me because by the time I add water, I usually have my base drawing completed and am looking to add that wash of liquid graphite.

There are 2 each of 3 pencils in this set: 2 HB (light wash), 2 4B (medium wash) and 2 8B (dark wash) pencils. That  makes a versatile set of grays to give your drawings and line-and-wash sketches that extra range of depth from these deeper tones included here.

The metal tin also includes a sharpener. Take that sharpener out and replace it with a two-hole sharpener, as the included sharpener is far too small for the extra-thick core in these pencils and simply will not work. You can use the sharpener with your regular school-grade HB pencils that have the normal-sized cores.

You may also want to invest in a kneaded eraser for better pickup of your pencil marks. A kneaded eraser lasts a good long time: just knead and reuse!

If you’re going out for a plein-aire sketching expedition with these pencils, remember to grab one of the Derwent Waterbrush sets as well … no need to carry a bottle of water, just fill and go!

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.

 

Derwent XL Graphite Blocks

Derwent XL Graphite blocks

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of most Derwent products. I’ve been loving the Graphitint pencils, and recently had the chance to try out the Derwent XL Graphite Blocks. They’re currently deeply discounted (61% off at the date of this writing) at Amazon, so it’s a no-brainer to pick up this set.

I’m officially in love again! Used dry, these are like a giant graphite pencil, but in color. With a distinctive smooth feel and a sheen typical to graphite. These are also a fantastic alternative to watercolor for getting your backgrounds done super fast – just mix with water, using a paintbrush. Like watercolor, the pigment will definitely lift if re-wetted, so this is very different from the Derwent Inktense in that respect – Inktense blocks dry permanent once you’ve applied them wet  and dried them.

There are only 6 colors in the set, and even that is an exaggeration: 2 of the “colors” are Soft and Very Soft, which are basically shades of grey. The colors are muted, nature shades (Olive Green, Dark Prussian, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber), so this set is perfect if you do landscapes. Given that these blocks are  graphite, there is a distinct silvery sheen to your finished work, which is quite appealing.

These blocks work well in conjunction with the Graphitint pencils, with the same smooth feel as the pencil cores. I find myself using the pencils when I want a little more detail than the blocks and a paintbrush can offer (I’m not really good at controlling a liner brush!)

Lightfastness? These blocks don’t come with a lightfast rating. To be on the safe side, display your art behind UV-resistant glass.

Note: as mentioned above, these graphite blocks are all muted colors. If you want bright, vibrant colors in your painting, get yourself a set of the Derwent Inktense blocks instead … there are many more colors and they are stunningly intense! Or, for a starter set, try out the Travel Pan Set: Inktense in a format perfect for plein-aire adventures!

Dimensions: The XL Graphite blocks are 20 x 20mm square and 60mm long

Disclosure: This blog often reviews/recommends products from one or more 3rd-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, etc. Please assume that any link you click on will probably result in a small commission paid to me: this commission does not increase the cost of your purchase. Please see the Affiliate Disclosure page for additional details.