28 May 2013

Derwent XL charcoal blocks and tinted charcoal pencils

As I promised, this post is about another Derwent product, well actually 2, one of which, the XL blocks, has only been on the market for a couple of months. There are two sets, the XL graphite blocks and the XL charcoal blocks. I got a second set including some of the accessories, with weird gimmicky names, such as "the groove cube", (but it is actually quite groovy!) for half price, through the site Painters`Books.  So, for both sets plus extras, it cost me around 35.00 pounds.  Not bad considering these blocks, as their name gives away, are pretty big and they should last for quite some time.

Here`s the link to the website, but not sure if the same offer`s still on.

This is a page from my working sketchbook, playing around with mark-making; using the groove cube, spraying with water, etc.   The bottom mark was made by using the "sprinkler" to grate the cube and create a fine dust, which you can then work with a brush, your fingers, etc.  But you could also use sandpaper to get much the same effect. Experimenting like this is worth doing before you commit to trying out a finished sketch.

My Ikea stepstool has once again become a temporary side table.  Apparently, I can`t make these pics I took with my phone, any bigger!? Sorry about my lack of technical expertise.. Hope you can just about make out the blocks there and appreciate the nice range of earthy colours plus a very good covering white.   At first, it`s quite surprisng how big they are, but it`s a perfect size, manageable and feels good in the hand.  They would be great for free, gestural work and onsite sketching, but in my opinion you need big sheets of paper for them in that style, minimum size A3ish.

They are great for filling in large areas, and this is a big piece of Color fix pastel paper, roughly A2 size, so they are very handy for that.  I also love the fact that they are watersoluble, as are all charcoal and pastels to some degree, which makes for interesting multi-media effects.  I like to add water and then blot back with tissue paper to create texture in watercolour work and you can also do a similar technique with these.  But for detail work, I really needed the tinted charcoal pencils.  Of course, you could sharpen the ends of the XL blocks, but that would seem like a  bit of a waste of product, unless of course you keep the dust in a container for future use.  You could smudge that with your fingers to create a dry "wash" or again, add water. 

Talking about dust, that for me, was the only downside.  While they go down really well on the paper, and behave very much like a soft pastel, not as soft as Sennelier or Unison mind you, they create a lot of dust.  I had to keep the hoover handy, so if you`re asthmatic or allergic, that`s something to bear in mind, as it is with any work in pastels or charcoal. 

 This invented landscape sketch was done using the XL graphite blocks in a free, more gestural way and washed in places with a little clean water.  You can work over this again with the blocks or other media, once dry.

Below, is the final image of my first "finished" piece of artwork using both the XL blocks and tinted pencils.  

I used a lovely cornflowery shade of paper, which shows through in places, especially in the sketchier white background.  I also used a battery-operated eraser to erase pastel off the jumper, using the paper colour to achieve the blue marks in the design.  Colorfix paper holds a lot of pastel, but I still like to fix in between layers to avoid oversmudging. 

 So, what happens now?
Derwent Xl charcoal blocks and tinted charcoal pencils on Colorfix pastel paper.

I`d be interested in hearing back from any of you on your thoughts on this one! Man or woman!


  1. oh I love the last one. Amazing.

    1. Thanks for the nice comment! I popped over to your blog, some nice reading. I especially liked your post on valuing the small, but most important things in life,(and I too love garlic and risotto!)