Monday, August 24, 2015

Graphite Reviews Part II PLUS Unexpected Artsy Goodness: Water Soluble Graphite

"What is this 'unexpected artsy goodness'?", you ask. Well, if you have read yesterday's post, my graphite reviews Part I, you may have noted that I mentioned some of my water soluble (WS) graphite brands, but I could not review their watery performance as I had not used them with water yet. So I decided that it was stupid not to experiment with them since I have a nice variety of WS graphite pencils from different brands. Until yesterday, I had no interest in WS graphite; I did not see the point in it, honestly because graphite is extremely versatile without adding water. Nonetheless, some of the more notable companies like Prismacolor, General's, Derwent, Cretacolor, and Koh-I-Noor have seen fit to give this medium water soluble properties. After playing around with my own pencils for a while, I no longer consider WS graphite a gimmick.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Quick Notes on Water Soluble Graphite:

  • Once the painting is dry, you can only erase a little bit to lighten areas- no major erasing
  • Water soluble graphite will not smudge or come off on your finger after it is dry
  • Layerable just like watercolor and WS colored pencils 
  • Best if allowed to dry between layers
  • You can achieve subtle gradations and watercolor effects with WS graphite that you would never be able to get with regular dry graphite pencils

image of panting made with water soluble graphite

My reference pic is a Pinterest image of a Buddhist
Jizu statue under a tree somewhere- really cute Pin!

The brands in my stash include Koh-I-Noor Aquarelle, Prismacolor Premier, Portfolio Aqua Sketch, and General's Sketch &Wash. I used all of them to make my little Jizu statue painting above. My Portfolio Aqua Sketch pencil degrees include 2B, HB, 2H, and 4H, and they create the lightest washes of all of my brands. They are good for foundation sketches and lighter values. The darkest values come from the General's Sketch and Wash # 588 and the KIN Aquarelle 4B and 6B. Prisma's HB and 4B and KIN 2B fill in mid-range grays nicely as well.

image of various water soluble graphite pencils
L to R: General's, Prismacolor, Crayola Portfolio, Koh-I-Noor
The paint brush is a Daler Rowney #8 round
All of the pencils performed similarly, but I liked the Koh-I-Noor Aquarell pencils best with the Prismacolor Premier pencils coming in a close second. I am sure I have some more degrees of the Prismas somewhere, too. The reasons why KIN is my first choice: richer color and smoother washes all around. I was able to coax a lot of values out of these three pencils. Prismas are really nice, too, but since I have only located two shades- HB and 4B, it is hard to say if they are as good as the KIN pencils. In theory,the Portfolio Aqua Sketch set should have offered the largest range of values, but they were only good for light to mid-tone grays. I still find them useful, however. The General's Sketch and Wash is no wimp, either. You can use it for mid-to dark gray and black washes as well as a variety of line and textural effects.

sketch and swatches of KIN Aquarelle graphite
Koh-I-Noor Aquarelle on 140lb cold press watercolor paper
BTW: I used Canson XL 140 lb cold press watercolor paper to test all of the water soluble graphite pencils. Do NOT, for the love of little Jizu up there, use a regular drawing paper for these pencils. It looks like crap and the water will make it buckle and pill. Treat the water graphite the same way you would water soluble colored pencils and other water media.

Now my on-and-off interest in the Derwent Graphitint collection is renewed....

Continuing with my (dry) Graphite Pencil Reviews:

Today's brands are opposite yesterday's items on the price spectrum, but  they are not bad pencils. I tested the higher end graphite only on non-archival newsprint, which I used initially for the following three brands as well. However, it seemed unfair when I saw that none of my cheaper pencils could make decent swatches or shaded spheres on the slicker paper. I know from experience that I can get decent results from these brands on toothier paper, so I tested all three in my Daler Rowney sketch book, which has a rougher surface, which I use mostly for charcoal drawing.

Blech! Grainy and dull on newsprint

Daler Rowney Simply Drawing Pencils

I bought a 12-piece set of the DR pencils at Walmart a year or two ago, and while they were pretty cheap, I have used all of them nearly to the nub. I don't have the HB or 2B any more because I used those as far as possible, and I could only find a few of the others to test, probably because I keep pencils in my various "kits" and gave some to my daughter. My DR swatches and shaded sphere feature only the 4B, 5B and 6B grades, but I have used all of the degrees in the past. 

Why Daler Rowney Rocks:
  • Economical
  • Widely available
  • Decent range of degrees: 4H to 6B
  • Triangular barrel does not roll away
  • Performs well on medium to heavy weight drawing papers

Why Daler Rowney Sucks:
  • Not great on newsprint and similar papers- streaky and hard to blend
  • May need a stump or tortillion for blending seamless gradients

Daler Rowney Simply pencils are not bad for sketching, and they would be great for students and budding young artists who want to move beyond the #2 school pencils and start incorporating larger value ranges in their drawings. 

Royal & Langnickel Drawing Pencils

My R&L set is the most complete out of all of my drawing pencil sets because it is the newest in my collection. I became frustrated during my first attempt to make a value scale and shaded sphere with these pencils on newsprint, which is why I switched to the heavier sketchbook paper in the first place. I can tolerate these pencils for sketches and quick, basic under-drawings, but I would never use them for finished graphite pieces. The Hs are scratchy and have a lot of binder, almost to the point they seem "fake", like some of those really cheap school pencils. All of the values are lighter than average, and the leads are poorly centered. The Bs are smoother and feel more like real pencils since they have less binder mixed with the graphite. I use the higher B degrees in this set more than the others. The set also came with graphite sticks, the quality of which were consistent with the pencils.  

To be fair, these pencils came in a drawing set that I bought for about $8 because it had a nice variety of charcoals. On the whole, I gave this set a four-star review on Amazon. com because of the variety and low price and the fact that they are not advertised as artist grade.  However, since I am reviewing the pencils and graphite sticks separately, I must be a little more critical. The graphite items make up at least half of this set, so others may buy it just for that reason. Don't buy it for the graphite!

  • Cheap, fine for kids who only draw sometimes
  • Charcoal items are actually nice
  • Compact and Portable set, just don't bang it around too much

Why the Royal & Langnickel Set Sucks:
  • Graphite Pencils and sticks are scratchy, obviously cheap
  • Wood is like press board, artificially stuff (even DR Simply pencils use real wood)

Honorable Mention: Dixon Ticonderoga Pencils

I am not going to treat the Ticonderoga pencils like the others because they are not in the same category as drawing and sketching pencils. Dixon makes high quality pencils for everyday writing, mainly for students and teachers. The reason why I have included this brand in my post is that I use a few different types of Ticonderoga pencils as well as my art pencils, and I think they are fine art-worthy within certain limits. They are made primarily in the HB grade (#2), so your value range is small, but the graphite quality is awesome for an inexpensive brand. 

I use the extra smooth, dark Ticonderoga "Black" line, which is graded as HB but looks darker in my opinion, the larger triangular "Tri-Conderoga" pencils, and the fat "My First Ticonderoga" primary pencils, which fit the largest hole in my wall-mounted schoolhouse pencil sharpener. The last two types are easier to hold when my fingers hurt, and the graphite cores are thicker than standard pencils. The Black pencils have standard-sized barrels and cores. 

image of Ticonderoga swatches and shaded sphere

I included the Ticonderoga swatches and sphere sketch for continuity. This is the only sample blended with a stump. Using blenders is a matter of preference to most artists, but one of my criteria for rating fine art graphite is how well it blends without using a stump or tortillion. 

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