Secrets for Using Derwent Inktense Colored Pencils
Derwent Inktense are Intense!
If you've ever tried watercolors or watercolor pencils, you'll notice that the colors look a lot stronger when they're wet than after they dry.
The only reason I get bright, fully saturated watercolors now is that I finally figured out how much to overdo it when mixing a wash so that when it dries, it fades to exactly the intensity I want.
You know what this means though? If your watercolor pencil or watercolor paintings are too pale and wishy-washy, one of the biggest ways to get around it is to just abandon watercolor pencils in favor of Derwent Inktense. No matter who tries them, on your first attempt you will get extremely strong, saturated color from even fairly light applications.
Here's an example of my latest Inktense painting. (It's a painting if the whole thing is washed and all the color dissolved to turn it into a painting. It's a drawing if any part of it still looks like a drawing. This goes for watercolor pencils, pastels and colored pencils used so heavily the strokes vanish to make it look like an oil painting too.)
Amaryllis in Inktense
About Derwent Inktense
Derwent Inktense is a very new art supply. They've only joined the ranks of watermedia in the past few years. They didn't exist in the year 2000.
Sometime between 2004 and now, Derwent, whose laboratories are full of evil scientists bent on soaking up every last dime of my spending money, kept up their mysterious practice of predicting when I'd have some spending money and creating new types of pencils that no other company on Earth has.
These things are hard to reverse engineer too, I have yet to see any other company come out with ink pencils. They're not normal watercolor pencils.
You can draw with them like any Sketch & Wash or watercolor pencils, then apply a wet brush, and the color will dissolve into liquid paint that you can swish around and put where you want using watermedia techniques. But with Derwent Inktense that only works once.
If it is completely dissolved, it's waterproof ink. Once it's dry, no amount of water is going to lift it off or change it at all. This is a good thing.
It means you can do underlayers and glaze over them without fear that running a brush full of pink over a dark gray shadow is going to turn a murky grayish pink. This is a joy if you want control of your watermedia.
It is a pain if you make a mistake though and want to change it. You can't lift Inktense. All you can do is cover it with something opaque or change what's around it to make it look good.
So treat anything you do with Derwent Inktense as if you're inking and you'll be fine.
When dry, they do erase about as well as other colored pencils.
If you put a lot of it on, it may not dissolve completely and you may get a surprising amount of pink coming up out of the deep red area that you've gone over several times with different reds.
If you want a light color, don't use a lot of the pencil at all. It helps to make a test strip on watercolor paper. The best surface I've found for using Inktense is cold press watercolor paper that has a toothier surface than Hot Press. It's called Not surface in the UK where Inktense are from, as in "Not hot pressed."
Unless you're using great gobs of water though, the 90lb (120gsm) student watercolor paper or All-Media sketchbooks paper is fine, and Inktense usually don't need loose washes to come out well unless you're scrubbing hard to make a loose wash background the way I did on this Amaryllis.
If you go light on the water, you can use them in normal sketchbooks or on cartridge paper (your basic drawing pad paper if you're in the USA rather than the UK).
Moreover, the Inktense pencils, when used completely dry, are a perfect match for the soft texture and blending qualities of Prismacolor Premier colored pencils (aka Prismacolor, aka Karismacolour if you're in the UK and can find them.)
This can be extremely convenient if you don't want to buy more than one big set of colour pencils and live in the UK. Or even if you do want several sets and Derwent has you by the bank account short hairs, but you've been considering paying pounds of shipping to get Prismacolors shipped to you where you live.
Try the Inktense dry for all the Prismacolor techniques and you will have a good idea what the 132-color Prismacolor range will handle like when you get them. Actually, it's 180 colors since the 48-color Lightfast range does not exactly match the Prismacolor Premier colors but has the same texture.
Here's an example of using Derwent Inktense dry. It's the same painting I posted above. I scanned it when I finished the sketch. Unlike most sensible artists, I did not sketch in graphite first to know where everything is. I also do ink sketching without penciling under it. This is a personal habit that has resulted in a habit of turning mistakes into serendipity instead of erasing them. I just got used to "play it where it lays" in sketching.
But if you don't draw that way, by all means get a putty eraser (UK) aka kneaded eraser (USA) because Derwent Inktense erase about as well as other colored pencils (colour pencils) and if you go lightly, you can clean off a line completely with a putty eraser and some patience. It helps to squish it down and peel it off rather than to rub on it, rubbing sometimes grinds color in but lifting and peeling pulls it right off.
Using Inktense Dry
I was proud of this one. I started sketching lightly and where I got a line wrong, I just moved the rest of the lines to cover that faint light bit with more color. I did get a few lines wrong but by going very lightly at first was able to fix them without leaving red lines out into the background or forgetting that I had to leave whitish tips at the end of those stamens.
At this stage, I had a perfect tonal drawing in color. I loved how it looked as I scanned it and seriously considered not doing anything more with it. I also considered taking a Derwent Blender to it to scrub all the colors together dry.
Derwent also makes a hard Burnisher which is a clear pencil with no pigment in the binder that's used for Derwent Studio/Artist colored pencils, and a Blender which is a colorless pencil made with the softer binder used in Derwent Coloursoft.
I told you, their labs are evil. They make more different varieties of pencil than any other company I've heard of and anytime I want something else, Derwent tempts me with a new must-have pencil that doesn't exist in any other lineup. Only they make colorless blender pencils in two textures, though you can also use a Prismacolor Colorless Blender or Lyra Splender Blender with the same pleasant effects.
That'd produce a textureless colored pencil painting. If you blend out all the little specks and dots of color into a smooth waxy layer so the strokes don't show, that's another technique that can be used with just about any colored pencils.
Going over it in lots of layers first is a good idea. So is blending over light areas with lighter colored pencils. If I meant to use that method on this, I'd probably have taken White or Cream or light pinks to the lighter areas and layered them before trying a colorless blender.
You can also burnish with a cardboard blender, called a tortillon or stump, to smooth out color and blend it into white areas for a very light smooth finish. This works with any type of pencil.
This dry tonal drawing is the same as any dry tonal drawing done with a soft pencil. I went over the darkest areas more than once rather than just going heavy, and only pressed hard into them after I had other layers on and knew that was where I wanted it darkest.
That's a secret of pencil work in general -- don't go hard. Go light to medium until you know where you want your darks. You can change your mind easier and lighten it with the putty eraser if you go lightly.
Because the cold press paper has peaks and valleys on its surface, the strokes break up and white flecks show except where I put lots and lots of medium to heavy layers. That makes a stippled effect that's beautiful just as it is, which is why I thought of this as a perfect tonal drawing in itself.
I was afraid to put any wash on it at all because I could ruin it and lose how beautiful this version came out. But I gritted my teeth and told myself that I could actually just draw it again if I ruined it and it'd still come out just as well if not better.
Then I moved on to my first stage of wet effects. That's when I found out that I goofed.
Using Wet Effects -- Avoid My Mistake!
My Big Mistake and How To Avoid It
Do the background first!
The variations in the background that give it a light and dark vague parchmentlike stain look are not my big mistake. I never intended it to be flat color like a cartoon or illustration with great areas of flat color. I wanted it more lively and to give it that parchment or old adobe wall look. I deliberately pushed color around in it to get some dark vague patterns and some light patches. The effect is faded a little in the scan but it's even more dramatic in the real painting.
My big mistake was that I didn't just draw the outlines including the outline of the shadow area with the gold colors I used for the background and then wash that background, painting the flower from the negative space. I could have done a preliminary sketch to have that outline perfect and know where to fill in the background.
Or I could've done the flower first, then its shadows, then its background washing after each color area. But I had to draw the whole thing in all its colors in a perfect tonal drawing because I'm overconfident and I've been drawing for 40 years or more. I trusted I'd be able to paint around different color areas even if I wanted a soft blurry edge into the next one, but I didn't want those dark gray shadows blurring into the golden wash dark areas away from the shadows.
So I picked up my Derwent waterbrush, a nylon watercolor round with a reservoir in the handle, incredibly useful for any kind of field sketching or sketch & wash or outdoor watercolors or just laziness when doing watercolors, and very carefully painted around everything that wasn't the blend of three different goldish colors crosshatched on the background. Painting around my signature was particularly hard and I didn't get it perfect. Once I went back and did that, it blurred out into some of the gold stuff.
I really should've waited till the background was done and dry before signing it.
But it didn't come out too bad and I managed to keep that intelligible.
Wash over each color area separately!
Within a color area, start by washing the lightest part of that stem or leaf or petal first. Then work toward the darkest. A little color will get pushed by the tip of the brush and that's fine to push from lighter toward darker. It helps the gradient go where it should. Doing it the other way can put a big blob of darker color into your highlights and ruin it.
On the shadows, I held the brush at an angle to the paper with the tip at the edge of the flower at the edge of the gray area, then moved it along the shadow where the wet brush covered the full width of the shadow. This meant water saturated the outer looser edge and overlapped the last bits of gold that I hadn't wetted because I was so careful going around it. It also created the soft edges to the shadows I wanted, as color migrated out from the rich shadow area into that swish of wet color next to it.
Yes, that was deliberate and isn't a mistake. The mistake was doing the signature first and not doing and washing the background before doing anything else.
Plan your painting in layers and color areas and you don't have to be so careful to stay within the lines. If a little background had slopped into the stem or the flowers I could've gone over it very easily, and if it went under a shadow it would've been invisible. I saved this because I'm very good at painting within the lines and coming right near the line without going over it.
I still had to lift the brush away fast once in a while and clean it on a bit of paper towel because I'd touched the edge of a red petal or shadow while doing the background and was about to pull the wrong color out into that irregular varied wash of the background. I managed it, but it took a lot more concentration and would have been brainlessly easy if I hadn't done all the drawing and coloring first.
Try something that's easily within your drawing ability when you first get Derwent Inktense. Maybe do several versions of it on a page and experiment.
There's another secret to Derwent Inktense ink pencils that I didn't use in this painting, but I'll show you the finish again and explain it since that could've made this mistake entirely avoidable.
Why I Didn't Use The Derwent Outliner On This Amaryllis
I Didn't Use the Inktense Outliner -- But It's Cool!
Derwent includes a very special pencil in the 24 or 72 color sets, a pencil you can also buy separately if you try them with just a handful of open stock pencils or a small set like six or twelve.
Incidentally, the packs of six are great for just putting a few colored pencils in your pocket for hiking and rambles. They're just as strong and great for adding color to ink or pencil sketches in the field. The colors mix as beautifully as any colored inks and the six-pack has good mixing colors -- yellow, red, blue, green, brown and black.
Derwent created the Derwent Inktense Outliner as a resist pencil that absolutely will not dissolve if you put water on it. The mark you make will stay there unless it's erased. It's a waterproof graphite pencil.
It's not ink black for hard stained-glass looking outlines, which would be nice and I wish they'd do that as a variation on it. It's not perfectly clear as a resist pencil for permanently reserving little white bits or light colors you already laid down -- and I wish they'd do one that did that.
What the Outliner does is make a clean strong graphite line like a reasonably dark graphite pencil, somewhere in the mid-soft to soft B range, maybe a 4B or 6B, and it'll stay put where you did it no matter how much water or wash or ink is sloshed over it.
If you did a little broken speckled line with the Outilner it won't dissolve, it'll stay there.
Try a normal HB pencil this way. Just sketch a little and dip a cotton bud / Q tip in water and swish around on it. You will push some murky graphite color out into the white area and if you were doing that with a watercolor brush and some color instead, your pretty colors would turn gray and muddy. The Outliner doesn't.
So this makes for a quick sketch-and-color method for using Inktense, especially if you're doing this plein air and really don't want to spend a lot of time on the piece before getting a good bright color rendering of what's in front of you. Sketch the key points and/or outlines with the Outliner, scribble a little color in between the lines, wash each color area separately and the Outliner lines will become a barrier to keep the thin wash of green from going over into the red and making brown.
It's a beautiful style in itself, or has the potential for many beautiful styles. One possible style is to do most of your tonal work with the Outliner, treating it like a pencil drawing, then scrape shavings off the Inktense pencils into palette cups and add plenty of water to make thin light ink washes, paint them in with a watercolor brush and watch the soft colors mingle when shading an area with hue differences and stop short of any strong hard Outliner lines.
The graphite lines aren't dark enough to stand up visually to having heavy darks in deep colors right next to them. That can look funny unless it's the effect you want. Everything you do with these is only a mistake when it's not the effect you want.
If I had signed this with the Outliner, it would not have blurred at all.
It's also just a really good sketch pencil in its own right -- one that has that extra quality of being unliftable. I actually bought extra Outliners because they work well with other watermedia and watercolor pencils.
But if someone from Derwent's Secret Laboratories is reading this -- please! Come out with one that's a dark black —deepest black for that stained-glass look, and come out with one that's perfectly clear for permanent-resist on white and light details, but will resist when it goes over a Sun Yellow patch to give me bright yellow lines reserved in the middle of a Tangerine wash.
You'll probably invent a whole new absolutely necessary pencil line when you do it, but I might as well throw you the idea since you'd do the former anyway as soon as I start saving up for something that's another brand.
You people in the UK are lucky because you can get their latest addictive mad inventions as soon as they come out with them.
Questions & Answers
I have read several articles about using Inktense pencils on a fabric medium or aloe anywhere from full strength to 50/50 with water. What is your opinion?
I haven't used them on fabric, have seen it done well, so play with it. Experiment and find out. Then let me know! I think these things are pretty permanent, but I could be wrong. Test it and wash, or try a fabric medium or aloe and then wash.Helpful 18