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Derwent Drawing Pencils 101: Why I Use Derwent Pencils For All My Portraits!

How do you use Derwent artist pencils? Is Derwent better than Faber-Castell?

For any Pencil Portrait Artist (like me), Derwent drawing pencils are a BIG deal.

That’s because to us, pencils are way more than just a fancy stick of colour. Granted, in a conventional sense that’s very much what colouring pencils are – however as an artist, they’re so much more!! Colouring pencils are the only connection we have with our piece of paper, so naturally, more or less every artist has their own personal preference. Some favour Prismacolour or Faber-Castell, while others (like me) lean towards Derwent. Why?

Well, that’s most likely because of our style. You see, one of the great things about art is that no two pieces are identical, even the ones which have been forged! And that’s because no two artists see their subject in exactly the same way. Hence why when it comes to materials and drawing apparatus, opinions do start to differ, especially for those who’ve over the years, pledged allegiance to a certain brand.

Nope – I’m not over exaggerating. When you spend this much time with a set of colouring pencils, you really do build a relationship. In fact, you’re pretty much forced into it, if you want to get the best out of them. Reason being that the harmony between you and your pencils, is heavily reflected through your finished piece. Precisely the reason why I’d opt for Derwent colouring pencils every day of the week. However, I didn’t reach this conclusion overnight. So to help you decide whether Derwent drawing pencils suit you & your drawing style, here’s my full-fat Derwent colouring pencils review + even more reasons why (for me) Dewent drawing pencils rule the roost.

After something specific about Derwent colouring pencils? Or just curious why Derwent drawing pencils are (for me) the ‘go-to’ artistic crayon? Use the menu below to find all the answers you need in 1 click…

Why are they called ‘Derwent’ colouring pencils? Where is it in the UK?

Derwent pencils get their name from where they’re made. You see, Derwent colouring pencils are made in Keswick – a part of Cumbria, here in the UK. For anyone that flunked Geography, this is part of the Lake District.

The pencils themselves get their name from the river that flows through Cumbria, known as the River Derwent. There’s also a large lake in Keswick known as Derwentswater, which may also influenced how they were named. A term if you ask me, is actually quite clever. Consider that Dewent manufacture some of the best watercolours, and you can’t but think that the name in itself is a bit ironic. Intended to be a pun, perhaps?

In terms of production, Derwent colouring pencils have always been produced by the same company – Derwent (as a brand) is yet to be sold off. Ever since 1832, The Cumberland Pencil Company have been perfecting the Derwent recipe! How do I know? I’m that much of a pencil nerd that I’ve been to the Derwent Pencil Museum & watched a whole documentary on it. Want to do the same? Check out the video below…

YouTube video

Are colouring pencils made of graphite?

No – there is no graphite in coloured drawing pencils.

Instead, colouring pencils are made of either wax or another oil-based substance. In terms of Derwent, this is actually a form of clay, which when mixed with various pigments, creates their whole rainbow of colours. In the actual mixing process, you’ll also find that an amount of water will be added to function as a bonding agent. In other words, it helps the two mix and become a coloured paste.

And this is great news for artists like me, because it means that these pencils (particularly the nibs) are far more durable than your traditional graphite. Therefore, you shouldn’t need to worry about the snapping or going brittle. Great, because it means that you can typically apply a lot more pressure with coloured pencils. This allowing you to achieve a larger variety of effects.

I use Derwent pencils everyday! Fancy a portrait?

The pros & cons of Derwent drawing pencils – the good, the bad & the ugly

Now, when trying to fathom whether Derwent colouring pencils are right for you, a good analysis of their pros and cons would be very helpful. Hence why I’ve done exactly that and picked apart the good, bad and even the ugly, when it comes to using Derwent colouring pencils for your artwork…

Pros of Derwent drawing pencils (AKA the good)

They’re super flexible!

As said earlier, each artist relates to their piece of paper in a different way, and therefore favours different types of pencils. So what makes Derwent pencils SO good, is that they offer multiple ranges depending on how soft (or hard) you like the pigment to be. Personally, I’m quite picky when it comes to pencil feel, so hard pencils like the Derwent Artist don’t really suit my style. Neither do ultra soft pencils like the Coloursoft. Hence why my ‘go-to’ Derwents sit bang in the middle. I use the Derwent Procolour for all my portrait drawing.

The feel of the barrel… WOW!

Compare Derwents to other pencils and I’d be tempted to say that they’re some of the most comfortable to hold. Exactly what you need when you’re a drawing fanatic like me. That’s because the barrel of Derwents drawing pencils is actually quite thick. My Dewent Procolour for instance, are around 8mm. Plus, because they’re completely rounded, there’s no sharp edges to dig into your fingers either. All of which means that long sessions with these drawing pencils a total breeze.

Derwents have central pigments

In all my time using Derwent crayons, I’m yet to come across a pencil with a nib that’s skewed off slightly to one side. The quality control and build of these pencils really is second to none. So while they may not be Crayola prices, you can be confident of a quality product. Hats off to you, Derwent!

The colour choice is ace!

The range of colours you get with Derwent drawing pencils is completely mind boggling! Aside from the fact that virtually every range has over 50 colours (some even have over 100), you can also achieve various different shades of each colour too! The way you do so is by pressing on with a different level firmness. Either that or you can layer the colours up to create the shade you’re after. So much so that if you’re after a set of flexible coloured pencils, then I’d certainly suggest checking out some Derwents. With my Procolour I can get between 10 & 12 shades from one pencil- like WOW!!

Derwents are vegan-friendly

If you’re vegan and perhaps a bit cautious about buying a pack of coloured pencils, with Derwent you don’t have to be. That’s because a good proportion of the products they make are in fact vegan. For the full list, click this purple link.

Hurray! They’re open stock

Ah, that’s music to the ears of pencil fanatics. You see, there’s nothing more frustrating than finding the perfect set of pencils and then have to order the full set all over again, just so you can get your hands on one colour. That’s another perk of using Derwent drawing pencils – the majority of their colours are open stock. In other words, you can buy them singularly. Great news if like me, you’re always in need of a couple of reserves to top up your set.

The core is anything but feeble!

One of my major bugbears with some pencils is the thickness of the core (i.e. the pigment). Yet another reason why I opt for Derwent drawing pencils. Take my Procolour for instance. While the pencil itself is 8mm thick, the core is 4mm. A decent ratio compared to some pencils where you get a lot of wood, and not much colour. Ironic when you consider that the colour is what you’re actually paying for.

Derwents don’t crumble or break

A habit a lot of coloured pencils used to have, is the chipping or flaking of the pigment. Hardly ideal when you’re trying to add in some fine detail or conduct some delicate shading. Something that I’m pleased to say, Derwents don’t seem to do. Their pigments, even in the Coloursoft range, remain whole and sharpen really well too. The points you can get with soe of these pencils are fantastic.

Say goodbye to smudging (bye bye)

Yet another habit of pencil crayons is dust. Which just like it can be around the house, turn into a bit of a pain. Rest the side of your hand on a dusty page and it’s highly likely that all your efforts have been smudged into one dusty coloured streak. Believe me, when I was young, this used to drive me nuts & very often be the cause of tears. Then moments later, a torn up piece of paper. Pencils nowadays are SO much better!

Want to see what a set of Derwent Procolour can do? Check out my portfolio…

Stand-out paper response

Throughout your artistic journey, it’s inevitable that you (and your pencils) will come into contact with lots of types of paper. Right from your average A4 printing, to a sheet of high weight cartridge or even coloured paper too. Another reason why Derwents are so flexible; the clay pigment of a Derwent pencil works super well in terms of colour application. Across a wide selection of papers, you achieve a nice solid colour that really does zing. Granted, so some papers you may need to layer up your colours more than other, but on the whole the paper response is very impressive!

Derwents really ZING out!

Compare a lot of Derwent colours to those of other pencil manufactures are the colours really do zing out. Safe to say that Derwent know what they’re doing when it comes to vibrancy. Each colour really pops out on the page. My favourite has to be the Kingfisher Blue – arguably the best blue in my Procolour range. Or at least I think so. And despite their vibrancy, they blend really well too. Layer up a two Derwent drawing pencils and you can really quickly create all sorts of custom shades!

Cons of Derwent colouring pencils (AKA the bad)

Level of ‘lightfastness’

Okay, so while the majority of Derwent drawing pencils are lightfast, there are some exceptions to the rule. You see, how lightfast a set of pencils are, all depends on the pigment. However, Derwent do still claim some impressive figures. Take my Procolour pencils for instance, where (according to Derwent) 72% of the colours retain their colour under museum standards for up-to 100 years! So while there’s still room for improvement, when it comes to being lightfast, there isn’t much to worry about.

The ugly

The £££

The main area where Derwent pencils can get a bit ‘questionable’ for many, could be the price. As being a premium artist’s pencil, they’re hardly what you’d call Crayola prices. Safe to say you won’t find a pack of Derwent drawing pencils floating around Poundland. However, when you consider just how much care and attention goes into making these pencils, suddenly the price seems more reasonable.

How do you use Derwent pencils? An artist’s top tips!

So as a frequent user of Derwent drawing pencils, I though it’d be a good idea to talk you through how I go about using them. You see, compared to other coloured pencils, I use my Derwents slightly differently. Not only because of their application, but also because of how they relate with my paper. Take it from me, Derwent drawing pencils are worlds away from your average Crayola. Therefore, to help you get a feel for how it is to use them, here’s 3 main bits of technique that I adopt when using Derwent drawing pencils…

Side shading – One of the things you’ll notice with conventional coloured crayons is that they’re not very 3D. By that I mean, you either use them via the point or that’s it. The side of the point don’t really serve much purpose. Something I’ve found to be the total opposite with Derwents. Angle a pencil onto its side and you can achieve a super level shading affect. A process I’ve dubbed as ‘side shading’. As that’s essentially what it is – using the side of the crayon to achieve a level amount of shade over a large area. Something you’ll struggle to do with a sharp point.

Total blending – So while at the moment, my family & pet portraits are done in one sole colour, I am experimenting behind the scenes with two – sometimes even 3 colours. That’s because Derwent pencils perform super well when it comes to blending. You can achieve some really punchy custom colours with these pencils, simply by layering up multiple colours. As you’d imagine, being a pencil fanatic, this is something I’m eager to push out there in the future. So take my word for it… watch this space!!

Don’t have the time to get creative? I’ll draw a portrait for you!!

Pencil painting – Nope, that’s isn’t a typo. Because a lot of Derwent drawing pencils also double as watercolours, you can actually use these pencils to (in effect) paint. All you need for this is a Derwent brush pen, which essentially a pen shaped object that you fill with water. Then, as you crayon on the page, you can use the water-filled brush to both soften and fan out the colour. Something thqt can lead to really interesting affects. Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have, it’s a lot of fun. So much so that I may look to offer pencil painting as a future service.

Want to see how pencil painting is done? Plus, get your head around what one of these ‘pencil brushes’ looks like? Watch the video below to see a brush pen in action…

YouTube video

What are Derwent drawing pencils used for?

While (as you’ve probably guessed) there’s a LOT of things I love about Derwent drawing pencils, the one that I’d say tops the rest is just how darn flexible they are. Therefore, when someone asks me “what are Derwent pencil used for?”, I answer their question… with a question. “What aren’t Derwent Drawing pencils used for?!”

So if you’re struggling to get a solid idea of what you could do with these pencils, here’s a brainstorm of just some possibilities…

  • Create a memorable portrait – Family is everything, so drawing them a cute portrait to remind them that you care, is an easy way to tug on their heartstrings. If you want to catch the ‘toughest’ member of your family welling up, then a portrait is the way to do it.
  • Making handmade greeting cards – Derwents drawing pencils are superb for making homemade greeting cards. Safe to say if you want to make your greeting cards mean that bit more, then drawing them by hand with a set of Derwents isn’t a bad idea.
  • Casual drawing + doodling – As much as even the sternest of artists like to do things all prim & proper’, at some point, we all need to let our creativity flow. So by doodling or drawing casually in your Derwents, you can break the mould without loosing that level of professionalism. Not sure if pro doodling is a thing… but anyway – it is now!
  • Expressing emotion/ mental health – For those experiencing mental health issues, drawing can be nothing short of a lifesaver. In fact, for many people it can actually function as a valuable outlet and potentially even aid your recovery. So if you’re ever feeling a bit low, crack out a set of Derwents and let your thoughts come crashing onto paper. Put it this way, it’s better than bottling them up!
  • A cute couple date – Couples bond in unusual ways. So much so that a set of Derwent drawing pencils may be all that’s needed to learn something new about your ‘special someone’. Ask me and an artistic excursion certainly have the makings of a cute date!
  • Teaching kids how to draw – If you’re going to teach a small person how to draw, then you may as well induct them using the best equipment. Do so and you may well encourage your little one to go on and be the next big portrait artist – AKA a more ‘hip’ version of me. Hardly a bad thing ;)

* And don’t forget that because a LOT of Derwent drawing pencils also double as watercolours, you could virtually paint all the ideas above too!

How to turn your Derwent artwork into something special

Now of course, it’s one thing to create a Derwent masterpiece, but it’s another thing entirely to do something with it. Fact is, if you’ve created something truly outstanding, then you need to celebrate it. You can’t just throw it in a dusty pile of sketches and not shout about it to the world. And while I could write a whole blog on this alone, I’ll leave you with just a couple of ideas to consider. Otherwise, we risk this blog being never ending…

  • Get your design printed – Printing your Derwent masterpiece onto a towel, mug or even a T shirt, is a great way to show off your artistic prowess.
  • Hit up the picture framer – Framing your design is another easy way to bring your art into your home. Especially if it’s something heartwarming like a memorial portrait, this is a sound idea!
  • Enter it into a competition – If you really manage to cook up something special with your Derwent drawing pencils, why not enter it into a competition? Chances are, if you win, the pencils will more than likely have paid for themselves.

Derwent drawing pencils are virtually my entire toolkit. Don’t believe me?

What brand of pencil is best for drawing? Why I choose Derwent…

As you can probably guess, i choose to use Derwent pencil crayons for all my portraits because of… well, there’s that many reasons.

But the main overarching reason is flexibility, as that is something you get in truck loads with these pencils. As far as pencils go, they’re incredibly capable! With my Derwent Procolours especially, the amount of shades & tones you can get + ways in which you can use these pencils, is sensational. When it comes to recreating what I envisage in my head, these colouring pencils take the gold medal.

If anything, I’d even go as far as to say that these pencils have almost become part of my style. So much so that if you’re in the market for a set of artistic crayons, I’d seriously suggest checking out Derwent drawing pencils. Take it from me – you won’t regret it.

Are Derwent sketching pencils good?

Yes – Derwent colouring pencils are amazing, but it’s worth remembering that a set of Derwents (or indeed any pencils) doesn’t guarantee you’ll suddenly become a professional artist. If so, I’m pretty sure there’d have been queues outside the Derwent pencil factory like those you find outside the Apple store whenever a new iPhone drops.

But anyhow, if you’re a beginner, there’s a few things you might want to consider…

Try out some pencil brands for yourself – Just as your personal taste can gravitate towards certain makes of cars, so can they with pencil crayons. So while I really do sing the praises of Derwent, try them out for yourself. Perhaps even pit them against their alternative from the likes of Prismacolor or Faber-Castell. Each artist is different, so naturally there’s a strong chance that you’ll favour different pencils too.

In the end, go for the pencils that suit your style & way of drawing. Don’t just base your purchase on a brand.

* If you want to get more cultured in the world of pencils before in vesting in a set, take an trip to the Derwent Pencil Museum up in the Lake District. Trust me, it’s well worth a visit. In the car? Here’s the postcode for your sat-nav… CA12 5NG

Commission a seasoned artist to do the work for you – In the case you’re just too busy to sit down to draw, or you just don’t have the eye for doing portraits, then commissioning a professional portrait artist wouldn’t be a bad idea. That way you still get the impact you’re after through the medium of a Derwent pencil, yet don’t have to lift a finger. Or risk drowning in a pile of ripped up paper.

In which case, we may be able to help each other. In case you haven’t already noticed by my geeky fascination for pencils, I’m a portrait artist by trade. In other words, someone who knows their way around a set of colouring pencils. So if you want to create something amazing with Derwent pencils, reach out to me & let me know. I’m always up for a chat.

Fancy commissioning an artist? Let me in on your portrait plans…

PS/ If you’re a rival pencil manufacturer reading this & think you can convince me that Derwent drawing pencils are No2, let me know by clicking the button above. Send me something that does better as et of Derwents and I’ll happily review your pencils in as much rigerous detail.

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