Friday, September 4, 2015

More Charcoal Artsy Goodness: Marie's Paper Wrapped Charcoal Pencils, Nitram Review Update

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Yesterday, our wonderful UPS delivery man, Jamie, brought me some goodies that I had ordered from Jerry's Artarama. Whenever I get a box from Jerry's or Amazon I am like a kid at Christmas even though (or maybe because) I already know what is inside. This time the contents included a box of twelve Marie's paper wrapped charcoal pencils, a packet of two Tombow Mono Zero eraser stick refills (I'm not reviewing these), and a pack of five Nitram Academie Fusains in the soft B grade. I have already reviewed Nitram Batons Moyens and the Tombow Mono Zero in previous posts, so today I will start with Marie's charcoal pencils.

Marie's Paper Wrapped Charcoal Pencils 
image of Marie's charcoal box and single pencil
Marie's Soft Paper-
Wrapped charcoal

By all accounts, Marie's is a decent brand even though the products are very low in price. I have seen numerous reviews for the paints and willow charcoal on, and they are mostly glowing accounts. A box of 12 charcoal pencils is only $5.99 at Jerry's (before tax and shipping), and there are three grades available: medium, soft, and extra soft. I bought a box of the soft pencils.

First, the descriptor "paper wrapped" is somewhat deceiving because it sounds like they have the peel-off type of wrapping like the General's Peel and Sketch pencils, but this is not the case. The Marie's charcoal pencils are just like other wooden pencils, except that the wood is paper-thin, which means that the pencil core makes up most of the bulk. The exterior is lacquered to make it feel like a very nice wooden pencil, and you can sharpen these just like you would any other pencil. I have already sharpened one in both of my hand crank sharpeners and they did not break or crumble; the points are beautiful. 

The soft grade makes a lovely mark- velvety and black, and it glides like silk over the paper. The charcoal blends easily to create a variety of tones and effects. Even though these pencils are inexpensive, they look and feel high-end. I did not encounter a lot of dust until I started layering, but even this was not excessive, and such is the nature of charcoal. I will be buying more in the future because now I want to try the other grades.

Nitram Academie Fusains 

image from Amazon of Nitram Academie Fusains
image from Amazon listing
In a previous post I reviewed my first Nitram product, the Batons Moyens, in which I speculated that the Academie charcoal sticks might be more like compressed charcoal. Well, I think I had it right now that I have used the actual product. The Academie charcoal is definitely harder and produces darker tones than the batons; however, as I had noted with the batons, the Academie sticks do not quite fit my previous experiences with compressed charcoal. 

My other brands of compressed charcoal are smooth and hard like hard chalk or pastel crayons. The compressing process makes the exterior of the sticks so smooth that they seem coated. Nitram Academie sticks are denser than their baton siblings, yet they are not as compressed as the other brands, so you feel the velvety texture of the burned wood, just like with the vine and willow charcoals. 

I used sandpaper to sharpen my stick to a point, so now I understand why people love the Nitram Sharpening Bloc, but I still maintain that you can use regular sandpaper or a household sanding block or sponge. I am pleased to announce that the Academie Fusains does, indeed, produce a nice black as well as a good range of gray values. You can get fine lines with the point or use it on its side to build large areas of tone.

I have found that other compressed charcoals have to be "roughed up" before I can use their sides to make consistent swaths of tone, but Nitram is ready to go out of the box. After I sharpened the stick on my sander, I tapped the sandpaper over my charcoal jar, and most of the powder went into the jar. Other charcoals stick stubbornly to the sandpaper, so a lot of dust is wasted. 

Nitram sticks are 8mm wide and six inches long, twice the length of and equal in width to many artist quality compressed charcoals. So the five-pack is more like a ten-pack, making the price of Nitram charcoal competitive with renowned brands like Derwent, Faber-Castell Pitt and Cretacolor. 

Bottom Line: I love Marie's Paper Wrapped Charcoal Pencils and Nitram Academie Fusains, and I see myself buying more in the future. Both products are budget-friendly as they will last a while. 

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