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!


  1. As I was reading your blog, I thought did she Gesso the paper and sure enough you had. You are right, that explains why it is lifting off. The Gesso is acting as a barrier so the pigment when wet can't be absorbed into the paper. I wonder if you use a really thinned down layer of gesso if that would help; or perhaps use a very thin wash of matte medium on top before laying down your next wash layer...just a thought.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Jackie. What it probably means is that I won't be able to use the pencils over any sealed surface as a permanent layer, including using them on top of acrylics as I was hoping to do. They are still fun to play with, and I'm still thinking I can figure out a way to use the texture opportunities they offer.