Well, where to begin… As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really all that good at reviewing pencils, but I will admit that Derwent Brand pencils have always been a favorite of mine. I used them throughout my high school art classes and also carried them on through to my college art classes (no, I’m not an art major by any means, but I was required to take several “creative” classes). Since that time (I was a freshman when I took those courses and am now a junior) I haven’t really drawn all that much… Sure, I’ve doodled (since you can’t totally smash down your creative whims), but I haven’t really taken up my pencils and constructively created a piece of “art”.

Now, a little more information about Derwent’s fine brand of pencils. While these instruments are manufactured in England, they are common here in the US as well (hence my ability to easily find them at my local Michael’s here in West Virginia). Derwent is very forthcoming about their manufacturing procedures (which can be explored on their website by clicking here) even down to posting videos and information regarding how they produce each pencil, which was truly interesting to watch.

In the case of the graphite Sketching pencils in question today, Derwent blends graphite with clay and other binding materials in order to get just the right amount of hardness (H) or blackness (B). The mixture is them formed into a large cylinder from which lead centers are extruded and then cut to the correct length. These lead centers are then fired in a kiln overnight at approximately one-thousand degrees which removes all the moisture (since the “wet” lead is very malleable, as is shown in one of the videos when a worker bends a lead and it doesn’t break or snap… I wonder if this would produce a watercolor/wash effect if left alone, or would it just not work?).

Next, they prep the wood for their wood-cased pencils. Derwent claims to only use incensed cedar wood from sustainable forests in California for their pencils, which is delivered in specially prepared slats. These slats are then grooved and a layer of glue is placed in the groove in order to hold the lead firmly in place. A machine carefully places each lead into the groove and another layer of wood is placed on top. These unfinished pencils are then put under pressure for an hour (if I remember correctly), and the resulting “pencil sandwich” is cut into separated pencils which are then crafted into either hexagonal or rounded pencils.

The pencils are then finished (using UV technology which uses only two coats of paint rather than the old method which required eight) with either a natural looking finish or the color of the pencil’s brand. Then, each pencil is stamped with the identifying marks of its particular brand and all the rough corners are rounded off. Each pencil is then sharpened by machine to have an exact point.

Lastly, other than boxing, is the dipping process. In order to distinguish their pencils easily, Derwent dips each pencil at an angle in paint twice. The first shorter ring identifies the pencil’s range whilst the second band, which reaches to the end of the barrel, identifies the color. Finally the pencils are packaged and prepped to ship. The mass-produced pencils are boxed by machine, but I found it interesting (per the videos on their site) that the collections and special sets are packed by hand, adding another layer of quality control.

Now, on to the pencils themselves. The pencils I have are from Derwent’s Sketching collection. According to Derwent’s website these are “a wonderful choice for free style sketches and bold line drawings, allowing complete and spontaneous freedom of expression. The soft, extra wide graphite strip sweeps smoothly across the paper for a fast, even lay down of tone but is equally suitable for more detailed work. Derwent Sketching comes in three versatile degrees which blend together beautifully, creating subtle variations in tone and mood.” (Leaflet from Derwent, .pdf).

As I mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of Derwent and have been for some time now. In my opinion, Derwent has succeeded in getting just the right mixture of graphite and other materials so that the lead seems to glide over the paper. THere’s very little resistance or scratching as you draw with these. They do seem to lay down a little more lead than most people are used to (which is slightly troublesome to a lefty like myself), but I like a bold pencil. Having used pencils which seem to wish to tear the paper rather than lay down some lead, the soft Derwent leads are a refreshing change.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a brush on-hand (or even a Q-tip) to test the washability of the 8B pencil, but I’m sure that it works great and I really have no use for a water-color pencil anyhow. The others shade excellently and blend easily and erase decently (lots of -ly’s). Part of the erasability issue is the fact that I didn’t really have a gum eraser handy (which have always seemed to work better.

But as you can guess, I do truly enjoy Derwent’s pencils. I don’t feel that I know enough about pencils to give them a number score as I usually do, but I can definitely say that they get two thumbs up! Check below for some more pictures of the pencils as well as a piece of art I did in my college class using Derwent’s fine Drawing and Sketching pencils… Even Mr. Kilroy likes them…