4 Oct 2018

Derwent Lightfast Pencils

A look at the new Derwent Lightfast

Its name alone has been reason enough for most artists to get excited about this new coloured pencil.  When Derwent first got in touch with me to be one of the many artists to work with and give feedback about the prototypes for the new pencils, my interest was instantly piqued. Derwent’s first ever oil-based pencil, in an eventual 72 colour range, with a creamy smooth laydown and excellent blendability. This is no ordinary pencil, folks, and believe me, I’ve tried a few.

Here are some of the specs:

  • ·      Oil-based.
  • ·      Core is similar in softness to the Drawing Range, harder than Coloursoft but softer than Artists, Studio and Procolour.
  • ·      4mm core strip, 8mm barrel diameter
  • ·      Every single colour in the complete range is 100% guaranteed lightfast. Tested using the international ASTM 6901 standard, in the Arizona desert no less, which apparently receives the most hours of sunlight daily in the world. Certainly guaranteed more than in Ireland anyway!
  • ·      Will be available in a complete range of 72 colours, but for now, only the 36 set.
  • ·      Work well on several papers, including coloured supports, as well as other surfaces, including wood.
  • ·      Blend well, lay down very smoothly, and when layering colours, these actually mix on the paper, kind of like an oil pastel in some ways, but not quite!
  • ·      Opaque colours (kind of connected to the mixing property mentioned above). Most other pencils ranges are more transparent.
  • ·      Blend really well with solvent.
  • ·      These are expensive pencils, but as they say, you get what you pay for.

Highly pigmented, they lay colour down really well and fast on several kinds of paper, including coloured supports.

While these pencils can be used well in the traditional techniques of blending by optically mixing colour with many successive light layers, they have a unique property that I have never come across in any other, even oil-based pencil. Their opaque nature and the oil binder mean that they can be used to some effect, like an oil pastel or paint on the paper, only in pencil form.  After applying several layers the colours begin to mix on the paper, much like paint on a palette, forming a complete new custom colour. The white in particular, lays down well over other colours also, something very important to many coloured pencil artists.  Their ability to blend beautifully with solvent is a real added bonus, allowing you to lay down large areas of colour quickly, and once the solvent is dry, you can go back in and build up dry layers of colour on top. However, in my opinion, what’s really exciting about them is that I believe they will lend themselves wonderfully to more experimental ways of working with coloured pencil, opening the doors for mixed media work to artists who perhaps have never given the medium a second thought before.

Being so great at blending with solvent, another thing you could do is grab a few pencils along with a sketchbook, and take a waterbrush but fill it with solvent, to make quick, expressive sketches on site. You will get an oil mark, more apparent on some thinner papers than on others, but it will dry out eventually, so don’t be too alarmed. It’s kind of like working with water and watersoluble pencils, but not quite. The results are different, but interesting. Alternatively, use Derwent’s blender pens for easier, "cleaner" blending.

On a sheet of Perspex, roughed up a little with a brillo pad, I laid down some colour using the flat of the pencil, and then added some low-odour mineral spirit to make what is essentially an oil paint-like ‘wash’. I then picked up this wash with a brush to paint marks on the paper. You could also use a plastic or disposable palette for this, but it’s much harder since the pigment has no tooth to hold onto on the smooth surface.

In the bottom left corner of the paper above, I laid down a wash of clean solvent and sanded some red pigment directly into it from the pencil using a sandpaper block, to create a speckled effect. Drawing into a solvent wash or dipping the core in solvent will activate the pigment and create a different quality to the drawn line. Remember however that solvent evaporates very quickly, so while these techniques are similar to those done with water and watercolour pencils, the results can be a bit different.

Another note worth mentioning is that these pencils work really well on wood. I tried on canvas, and stretched canvas over board, but they didn’t take the pencil well.  I had to press really hard and was scared I’d break the point. Gessoed rigid supports could also be something worth trying out. The wood, however, was a fun and interesting surface to experiment on. This is an imaginative doodle, but something which appeals to me and I feel worth exploring further.

Here are a few pics showing some stages of a piece I started as a demo a few months ago in Dublin for Hill Arts. To begin with, I used the techniques of mixing colours on a palette with solvent and laying them down with a flat brush on the paper, to make the basis for the waves. If you use this method, be aware that the solvent dries, or really, evaporates, quickly, certainly quicker than water, so practice a bit with this first before you commit yourself to using it in a finished piece.

Once I had laid down the sea using the technique described earlier,  I could go in on top and add more layers, creating more depth to the colours.. The whites go down particularly well on top of colour, and helped me add highlights and give the undulating waves more definition.

And here is the finished piece.  In the end, where initially I was going to have sky and a horizon, I decided to add more sea, and just focus my attention on the swimmer and her bright red swimsuit.  Can’t decide whether to simply call it The Swimmer or The Front Crawl.

In short, these pencils lend themselves to a variety of techniques, from traditional to experimental, and are a complete joy to use.  They are equally perfect for quick, suggestive, yet bold studies, while their guaranteed lightfast ratings ensure complete peace of mind when working to commission or for an exhibition piece. Certainly a pencil for any serious professional artist to consider adding to their repertoire.

PS: I’m going to try to blog here more often (I know, I know, you’ve heard that before!) I have been mainly using other social media sites over the last few years, but have missed Blogger. But anyway, I love these pencils, and hope to share a step-by-step of a simple still life next week, so please pop by to see if I’ve kept my word, and please remind me if I haven’t!!


  1. Hi Judith, I've enjoyed your blog and can't wait to get started using my set (my prize for gaining the Best Local Group Member Award at the current UKCPS exhibition at the Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick). I also love ProColour by Derwent.

  2. I’m impressed with Lightfast too, Judith. Their qualities are similar to Luminance and my preliminary testing has been encouraging. I agree that you pay for what you get and although pricey for some, such high quality pencils are a sound investment.