Monday I ran over to Wet Paint to pick up supplies for the journaling class I was teaching that night. As I was standing at the counter thinking over whether I'd missed anything (I'd left my list in the car!) I saw a huge display of Derwent XL Graphite and Derwent XL Charcoal.
Even though I'm injured right now and can't go to life drawing and stand at an easel and sketch (my arm isn't working right) I was immediately drawn (no pun intended) to these bars of dry media. Each bar is about 2.5 (long) x .75 (wide, deep) inches. (Note: They call their sticks BLOCKS, but a block to me is square and these are rectangular, that's why I keep calling them bars in this post.)
I picked up a brochure and started to read.
There are two products as I've stated: charcoal and graphite.
The charcoal is 6 colors: natural black, ochre, sanguine, mars violet, sepia, and white. It says they are soft and opaque. I didn't test this portion of the line so you'll have to check on that yourself. (You can bet I'll test them as soon as I'm back in life drawing. I don't have any lightfastness info on those but I suspect they are made like other chalks with pigments and so are fairly lightfast, but that's just a guess. I only use charcoal as a life drawing medium for sketches so I'm not really concerned. If you're going to do finished art with them you might want to set up a test.)
Left: Watersoluble characteristics shown here. (The paper isn't wet media paper so it curled from the application of water.)
The graphite is also 6 colors: olive green, dark Prussian, raw umber, burnt umber, and then two plain graphite bars—soft and very soft.
I tried the very soft GRAPHITE which is O6 in the Derwent XL Graphite line. It is very soft. Lovely. And you can make a wide range of lines. It smudges immediately and easily with the least bit of rubbing. (I had to dust off my scanner after scanning these samples because the particles were falling off.)
It's a cool product if you love graphite and want to make lovely large strokes.
Left: Here's a close up of the wash areas.
But wait there's more. They are also watersoluble. So in the second image you can see how they washed out. Very rich and smooth, with only a little bit of water.
There is a downside to my joy. The 4 colors in the Derwent XL Graphite line are colors from the Derwent Graphitint Pencil line. That product was the subject of my very first blog post in October 2008. You can read it at the link.
If you scroll down in that post you'll also see a lightfastness chart testing the Graphitint Pencils. They didn't hold up at all. The color in these pencils is from dyes and they weren't lightfast by any standard in my test.
So I can't recommend the colors in the Derwent XL Graphite line. But if you want graphite, plain and simple, well with water-solubility, I think you'll enjoy the graphite bars.
Derwent has published a lightfastness test on this product here. They give them all high ratings. I just can't get past my original test's startling results so I'll only be using the plain graphite from this line.
If you can't live without color and use the color bars just scan your work right away—just to be safe.
The bars from each line come in individually wrapped "cartons" to protect them, or you can get a tin of 6 of either line.
There are some other supplies on display: an XL Gripper, which is a wrap for your bar so you don't get your hands dirty. I seem to recall it was at least $6, so I say skip it, buy another bar, and just wash your hands. A groove cube—which cuts grooves into your bar so you can get interesting lines out of your bar. And a "sprinkler"—for grinding your own powder.
If you like to make large sketches, or simply use bold, large marks in your smaller drawings, I think these graphite and charcoal blocks (bars!) might appeal to you, so check them out.