“False friends are like our shadow, keeping close to us while we walk in the sunshine but leaving us when we cross into the shade.”
Christian Nevell Bovee
Christian Nevell Bovee
One day not too long ago I was perusing the Dick Blick website which is where I purchase many of my art supplies. It was there that I came across some water soluble pencils made by Derwent. Not watercolor pencils, but plain old graphite pencils that are water soluble. The idea intrigued me - I wondered how it would be to shade a Zentangle with one of these pencils and water, rather then smudging my pencil marks with my tortillion (or as I refer to it, my smudger). Dick Blick has two different kinds of these pencils - sketching pencils and graphitone pencils. The graphitone pencil is described as "a slim stick of pure artist-quality graphite combined with premium clays". Not knowing which to try, I decided to get a set containing both types.
Once my pencils arrived, I first tested them to see how they would shade on different types of paper, including a Zentangle tile, 90 lb. cold press watercolor paper, 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper, and 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper. The hot press paper is smoother than cold press, and the higher the lb. number, the thicker the paper. I made the following charts comparing regular pencils (2B and 4B blended with my smudger), with the pencils that came in my set (water soluble sketch pencils HB and 4B, and graphitone pencils 2B and 6B, all blended with my waterbrush). The HB is the hardest of those leads, and as the number in front of the B gets higher, the lead gets softer and darker (although the darkness has a lot to do with how hard you press).
You can't tell a lot from these photos, so I'll explain the observations that I made. First, I should say that the sketch pencils felt much like any regular pencil as I laid them down dry, while the graphitone pencils had a very creamy, buttery feel to them. The sketch pencils can be used dry and blended with a smudger also, while the graphitone pencils did not really blend well when dry.
The smooth hot press paper allowed all the pencils, both regular and water soluble, to blend smoothly. The 90 lb. cold press paper allowed smoother blending than the 140 lb. cold press paper for all pencils. This is the same observation I have previously made when trying to blend water based markers and watercolor pencils on cold press paper. The Zentangle tile proved to have similar results to the 90 lb. watercolor paper, which is slightly thinner than the tiles. You need to be careful not to overwork the water too much on a Zentangle tile as it can only take so much water before starting to "shred" a little.
Next I needed to test the pencils to see how they would actually work to shade a Zentangle, rather than just shading some blobs on the papers. So, just to be different, I did a Zentangle in my journal, which was not one of the papers that I tested, but has a surface similar to the Zentangle tiles. Here is my before shading photo.
I chose to try the 4B water soluble sketch pencil to shade this Zentangle. I laid down the pencil where I wanted it, just like I normally do. Then I used my waterbrush to blend that pencil out and make it look shadowy. At first I was a little timid, and the shading was light, so I went back and added some more pencil where I wanted it to be darker, and blended again. The shading was easy and accomplished pretty quickly - faster, I think, than when I use a smudger. The pencil used on my journal page gave similar results to when I tested it on the 90 lb. cold press paper and the Zentangle tile. While shading, as an afterthought, I decided to stretch those Hollibaugh lines out into space.
I need a little more practice, but I was pretty satisfied with the results I got. The shading looks a little smoother when it has the "watercolor look" (without the color) than when it is smudged. Two different effects, and I'm not sure yet if I like one better than the other. Next will be a Zentangle shaded with the graphitone pencil, but that will be a post for another time. If you have used these pencils or plan to give them a try, let me know what you think.