Review: Derwent Inktense Blocks

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The Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Congratulations on Brexit!

I’ve been interested in Derwent Inktense Blocks and pencils for quite some time. I have been slowly buying into the hype that I’ve been reading online. Using a water-soluble sticks to create ink-like washes would be interesting. Join me as I put all this hype to the test and explore the actual capabilities of Derwent’s Inktense Blocks.

A Little About Derwent & My Previous Experiences

Derwent is a great British company that has been specializing in the manufacturing pencils for over 180 years. My first exposure to them was when my sister Julie purchased me a tin of their Graphic Designer graphite pencils [Amazon] back when I was just starting high school.

At that time, they were a revelation to me. I had such a wide variety of shades, I’d treat each pencil as if it was a color. This set of Derwent pencils really left a big impression upon me.

I also Derwent’s water-soluble graphite pencils. They have been a joy to use. I’m also interested in playing with Derwent’s Graphitint Pencils [Amazon]. They seem like a lot of fun.

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First Look At Inktense Blocks

A photo of a tin of Derwent Inktense Blocks closed.
An opened tin of Intense Blocks.

When I made my first attempt at opening the tin, I realized that only half of the tin was shrink-wrapped. Which was odd. The shrink wrap only protected the bottom part of the lid and its contents.

Lifting the lid, I saw that my blocks looked pretty dirty. Lots of loose particles had flown around while being shipped. I was able to wipe the invading pigments with a dry, soft paper towel. No problem there.

Another unfortunate surprise was finding my black block cracked in half. Not much that I could do about that. The blocks are made of material that’s not as strong as Prismacolor’s Art Stix [Amazon].

Each Inktense block has a reference number stamped into them. (Which can be useful.) Pulling a block out of the plastic holder is a little difficult for me. I have to fumble a bit to get one out.

an unclose view of an open tin of intense blocks.
A close-up view of Dewent Inktense Blocks. Each block has its product number stamped into it. The light plastic container spots wells for doing washes and mixing colors.

The Handling Of Derwent Inktense Blocks

Derwent Inktense Blocks remind me way too much of pastel sticks. (I see that as a negative. I will explain why that’s an issue for me later.) They feel more solid than a charcoal or pastel stick, yet not as stiff as a piece of chalk.

Just like a color pastel, chalk, or a charcoal stick, Inktense Blocks littered my paper with little bits of color. I hate that. They’re messy, taint the other colors, and get smudged all over my paper. If I dust some of it to the side, it gets in the air. That said, I have to use canned air to remove most of the particles. It’s the easiest option as of current.

Sample markings and washed from a yellow intense block
The above is a set of sample marks and washes. Derwent Inktense Block behave must like color pastels. If you like to blend, you’ll have plenty of options and flexibility.


Working Dry

Given its rectangular shape, you can use the edges to make a variety of lines and marks, ranging from fine lines to thicker strokes. Rubbing with the wide-side of the Inktense Block allows you to lay in large amounts of color.

On rough surfaces, Inktense blocks make a nice texture. If you have a heavy hand, you may find it difficult to make transitions from dark to light. Press too lightly, and you won’t get enough pigment. Press too hard, and you get too much color.

Sample marks that can be made using a Derwent Inktense block, in green.
Sample marks that can be made using a Derwent Inktense block.

Erasing marks is possible, but to a point. Pigment easily stains my paper once the pigment gets into the fiber. Think of using pastels. I can’t imagine that it’s too easy to correct mistakes in pastels. I have had luck using a kneaded eraser to clean up areas of color. In fact, I would tell you that a kneaded eraser should be required when using Inktense blocks.

An electric eraser has allowed me to erase large areas of color with some success. Keep the end of the eraser clean before use, you’ll be alright. You just won’t get the paper back to pristine white.

Blending with a paper stump isn’t as easy as I’d liked. I’m not saying that it’s impossible. Achieving a smooth transition using a stump does take some patience.

Much like pastels, you can also use a dry brush to blend colors and make soft gradations. It seems to make it easier to blend colors. Using a dry brush allows for light misty effects.

sample blends using a stump and a fan brush

Working Wet

This is where the magic happens. Derwent Intense Blocks are water-soluble. Applying water to dry marks, The resulting paint reminds me a lot of watercolor paint. Certain colors, like the magenta and yellow, give off an intensity of sorts. The effect is similar to how gouache looks when it’s semitransparent. There isn’t much of a noticeable color shift from wet to dry.

One of Intense’s key features is the fact that the color is permanent. That’s not necessarily true. In areas where the diluted color is thicker, the pigment can be disrupted again with a wet brush. Thinner areas of color can be manipulated, but with lots of scrubbing.

A sampling of Derwent Inktense washes

Much like in any watercolor medium, you can paint beautiful transitions using Derwent Inktense Blocks. And colors easily blend together. Washes can be overlaid. With a wet brush, you can stoke the blocks much like a watercolor pan and apply color. The plastic holder conveniently contains rectangular wells to either water-down or mix colors.

My Final Opinion Of Derwent Inktense Blocks

Derwent Inktense Blocks make for a great transition for anyone wanting to move from chalk, pastel, or charcoal to watercolor. They make for a great complement for any using watercolor or gouache paint. Great for adding some texture. Or you can use them very much like color pastels or similar mediums. They very much possess the characteristics of those mediums.

I’m honestly disappointed due to how messy they are. But that’s a personal issue. I don’t enjoy dusty mediums. So I’m less likely to purchase any more Intense Blocks or pencils. My assumption was that they were going to behave more like Derwent’s wax-based Artbars [Amazon]. (And you know what they say about assumption?)

The 12 block tin is a good starter set for anyone who wants to try them out. Your basic colors are there. And if you need something different, you can always purchase them in singles online. The tin is great if you travel. And it’s great if you need to do some watercolor and/or quick sketching outdoors.

If you’re interested in trying your luck with Derwent Inktense Blocks, you can easily find them online through Amazon [Amazon] or at Mister Art [Affiliate]. Using either link costs you nothing extra and helps to support this website. Thanks!