I love drawing with colored pencils. Several years ago when Derwent came out with an new line, Graphitints, I tried them as soon as I could get my hands on some. I loved that each pencil’s color was muted by the addition of graphite. The subdued palette was a delight for nature sketching. Equally exciting was the water-soluble character of the pencils. Touch them with a wet brush and more vibrant color emerged; easily spreadable like watercolors.
The peregrine falcon above was drawn with a mixture of wet and dry techniques. (It is on hot press 300# watercolor paper that was pre-painted with acrylic ink; that's the pinkish background you see. That background is waterproof and lightfast.) You can see additional examples of wet and dry usage of these pencils throughout my visual journal selections on my website, but I have gathered a few specific examples in Graphitint Journal. I was particularly fond of using these pencils in life drawing.
During that first bout of usage in 2005 I did my usual color chart blending tests, both for dry and wet usage. For some reason, however, I didn’t do my typical lightfast test, something I always do with a new medium that doesn’t come with an official rating (and even then I do it sometimes).
Several months ago an artist friend Kate Johnson posted news that she found her Graphitint journal sketches, which were never exposed to light, were fading! I immediately looked at sketches and drawings I'd made in 2005 when first using these pencils. I couldn't see any noticeable difference with my eye. However, Kate's results were so dramatic, I immediately did a color fading test.
I scribbled swatches of color across a sheet of watercolor paper. I tore the sheet in half. I wet a portion of each color bar so there was some washed color exposed as well as dry color. I put half the chart in a folder in my flat file and the other half was taped to a window for 60 days. Of course this isn't a scientific test because I can't tell you how much light the test sheet was exposed to. During the two months it was tacked to the window glass we had rainy days and sunny days. It was fall in Minnesota and the light comes at a different angle and intensity, which I understand as an artist, not a scientist. And yes this is more light than a drawing, framed under glass and displayed in a room, away from sunlight would receive.
Yet when I do this test with art supplies rated as archival by industry standards those supplies come out still vibrant. So it's a test that works for me.
As you can see from the chart, the results were shocking and startling. I typically expect blues to evaporate, but the red range was hardest hit, totally disappearing. My chart isn't tidy. Some pencil identification numbers (e.g., 07, 13) float closer to the next color bar than the one to which they actually belong. I have placed the two charts together so that you can read across and see the damage. I have also put bold asterisks at several points to help you read across the chart with a particular color, e.g., 01 at the bottom. It's my hope these markers will help you orient yourself.
I've decided to stop using these pencils because of the complete fading that resulted in my test. You could argue that when used in a journal or sketchbook, away from light, the fading won't be dramatic. Kate's experience belies that. If you do decide to work with these pencils I recommend that you scan your work immediately and deal with your digital image as your original (backing up as needed).
People who belonged to my update list (used before I started this blog) will know that I did not overlook a lightfast test with Derwent's Inktense Colored Pencils when they came out. Something in the company's write up about that product made me suspect it was fugitive in quality (references to illustration, as opposed to art, that type of thing). At any rate, I did do a test and the colors failed miserably. If you are using that line of pencils for your art please make digital "originals."
Years ago I walked into my favorite art supply store looking for some boards to paint on. Greg, the knowledgeable staff member who helped me, jokingly asked, "Roz, does everything you do have to last 500 years?" Greg was a great help to me that day, as he has been on many days since, not just because he made me laugh and gave me good advice. He made me think about the whole archival situation. Do I want to worry about longevity issues or make drawings and paintings; and where is the line of comfort for me between the two? It's something we all have to come to grips with on our own.
In general I use archival materials and lightfast media, but I will use non-archival materials in my journals. The fade rate for the Derwent Graphitints and the Derwent Inktense is just too fast for my comfort level. I'd rather put my time into using something else.