Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are Inktense pigments really permanent? Not so much...

I sure hate to have to eat my words, but after doing a couple more sketches with my new Derwent Inktense pencils, I'm having a little word snack, you could say. I was working on a 5x7 sunset painting with really deep blue-grey clouds and a dark foreground. I had put down a rich layer of blue and wanted to tint it fuschia, and was surprised to have lots of blue pigment come up as I tried to lightly wash over it. I hadn't noticed that happening with my first sketches on absorbent paper, and it wasn't obvious when I was building up the dark greens on the garden sketch in my last entry, perhaps because I was adding thick pigment over a thin wash. This time, however, I had hoped to do a pale thin wash over an already heavily pigmented area on the gessoed paper, and ka-BOOM! Up came the pigment.

The documentation all says the pigment has to be completely dissolved to become permanent, so I thought maybe I just hadn't dissolved it all, in my eagerness to make the color rich and dark. Today I decided it was important to find out just how dissolved they have to be, so I took a few wet tissues and wiped all the color I could off my dark, rich sunset. All I had left was a pale, water-color-ish ghost of what was there before. If you can envision a value scale, the darkest areas went from an 8 to about a 3. Sorry I didn't take a picture of it to show you. After the paper dried again to the touch I put on a medium wash of blue, taking the value back up to a 6 or 7. I used lots of water, and brushed the pigment around for a minute, making sure there were no visible particles of pencil left. I let that dry again for over an hour, till it was completely dry to the touch, and I took the same soft round brush I had used to make the wash and lightly rubbed it over a small area, using ample water. The color came up immediately, going back to almost as light as it was before this last wash.

Okay, so now I'm unhappy. I take my wet brush and go attacking all the other sketching I'd done—except the garden sketch—and find that the only color that doesn't come up is the amount that gets absorbed into the surface. On my watercolor paper, very little of the color comes up. On the gesso, almost all of it comes up.

Now why is that? What do you suppose I'm doing wrong? Is my water the wrong pH? Do I live in an area where the pigment won't ever really dissolve? Do I need to give the pigment another day to really dry?

So much for my dream of having a pencil behave like acrylic paint. Sigh. Of course whether this really bothers you is probably going to depend on how you paint. If you're used to working in watercolor, it's no big deal, and it does mean you'll be able to intentionally (as well as unintentionally) lift out pigment to lighten an area, and the less absorbent your surface is, the more you'll be able to lift. And if you want to put more color on an already dark area, just expect that the pigment will come up, and you'll be literally blending the new into the old.

But I wish I hadn't rushed to such a favorable judgment on them, and not believed what others wrote without testing it myself. Bad blogger! (Sorry.)

I think I'll go back to plain sized watercolor paper and keep playing with them. Also, I ordered 14 more colors that should be here soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Playing with Derwent Inktense Pencils

Robert Burridge's February edition of his Artsy Fartsy Newsletter came out a couple days ago and he showed some sketches he'd done with Derwent's Inktense water soluble colored pencils. The richness of color and value contrast he got went way beyond anything I'd ever guessed you could get with a watercolor pencil, and when he said the wetted pigment dried waterproof, a big flashing lightbulb went off in my head and I really wanted to get a few to try them with the other mediums I use. So after going to see the "Celebration of Creativity" art show in Beaverton where Jackie McIntyre has several pieces showing, I drove to the nearby Art Media and coughed up for a packaged set of 12, plus a white and a medium blue. I did some sketching on some old Liberte paper last night and this morning, and found out why they're called Inktense—the colors really are intense, as intense as I would ever want them to be. Handling them dry is just like using any soft colored pencil, but the magic happens when you get them wet—the color pops out like something from a fantasy dream and handles just like water color. You can contain it, wash it, blend it, lift it, or carry it to other areas. It takes an amazingly small amount of pigment to make a nice light wash.

On the wetted paper, you can draw more, and if there's enough water the pigment will feather out into it. Let it dry a little more and you can lightly or somewhat more heavily work in more of the same or different colors. Another drop of water will further enrich the colors. As long as it's damp, you can lift all or some of it. The literature says that only the pigment that's fully dissolved will become waterproof; I found this to be true.

This afternoon I did a sketch on gessoed paper. I wanted to make a sketch of the patio furniture I planned to put on my patio background (in the previous post) because I wanted to try making it red. Here's what I got:

Patio sketch with Derwent Inktense pencils

I laid in most of the color and then went in with a wet brush (suggestion: Don't use a brush you really love—I couldn't get the pigment out with my regular brush soap), starting with the lightest colors first, and trying to manipulate the water flow and blending. I did the furniture last and then let it dry for a few minutes. I darkened the shadow greens and let it dry a few minutes more. Then I took a sharply pointed deep indigo pencil and lightly sketched in the shadow pattern. When I wet it, the red was still wet enough to be picked up, but I really liked the way the shadow looks sort of brushed and sort of drawn.

And that, in fact, is the thing I love most about these pencils—you're just drawing, not painting. Pencils were my first art medium and even though I don't draw that much any more, it's still easier for me, particularly when working with line work, to use a pencil. Much, much easier.

So, it's a pencil first, but you get to play with water, plain water, and the color pops like magic—it's just fun! I really like them! Now I want all the colors...all 71 of them. But first I'll have to see how I can mix them with acrylic paint.

I will mention that on the plain sized paper, the colors seemed to lighten on drying. But when I made them as intense as I could, they stayed intense. And on the gessoed paper, they seem to not be lightening as they dry. And my perennial complaint—I really wish someone could make a decently opaque white pencil. With this one I'm able to lighten colors once they dry, and it works better than my Prismacolor white pencil for that, but I would really, really like an opaque one. I presume at this point that it's not possible to make one. Sure wish it were. You have to think like a watercolor painter, and save your whites.

I keep thinking of how quick and easy they would be to use when sketching outside. A pad, a cup full of pencils, and one of those water-reservoir brushes.

There's quite a bit of information about them and some nice examples on the Derwent website,