Review: Derwent Inktense Blocks


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

This review will cover my latest toy, Derwent Inktense Blocks. I’ve been interested in Derwent’s Inktense line of blocks and pencils for quite some time. I have been slowly buying into the hype I’ve read online. It’d be interesting to use a water-soluble stick, and create ink-like washes. Join me as I put all this hype to the test and expose 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 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 back when I was just starting high school.

At that time, they were a revelation to me. All I had known were HB pencils. I’m not inferring that HB leads are “bad” or “inferior”, but you’re limited by what shades that this lead can produce. I had such a wide variety of shade, I’d treat each pencil as if it was a color. This set of Derwent pencils really left a great impression upon me.

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



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First Look

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 hadn’t 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 particle flying 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 say Prismacolor’s Art Stix.

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 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.) It feels more solid than a charcoal or pastel stick, but not as stiff as a piece of chalk.

Just like a color pastel, chalk, and a charcoal stick, Inktense Blocks littered my paper with little bits of color. I hate that. It’s messy. It taints other colors. It gets smudged all over my paper. If I dust some of it to the side, it gets in the air.Then I have to breathe it in. That said, I still use canned air to remove most of the particles on my paper. 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 block allows to block in large amounts of color.

On textured paper, Inktense blocks make a nice texture. If you have a heavy hand, you may find it difficult to make transitions from dark to light (solid to rough). 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 is possible, but to a point. The pigment easily stains my paper once the pigment gets into the fiber, Think of using pastels. (I will be referencing pastels a lot.) 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.

I’ve also had some luck using an electric eraser. This has allowed me to erase large areas of color with some success. As long as you keep the end of the eraser clean before use, you’ll be alright. But 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. But 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. When I apply 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. It 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 can be manipulated, but with lots of scrubbing.

A sampling of Derwent Inktense washes

You can very much treat Inktense Blocks as a watercolor medium. You can paint beautiful transitions. You can easily blend colors. Colors can be overlaid. With a wet brush, you can stoke the blocks much like a dry watercolor pan and apply color. The plastic holder, conveniently contain rectangular wells to either water-down or mix colors.

My Final Opinion

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. I suppose I was under the impression that they were going to behave more like Derwent’s wax-based Artbars.

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 alway 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 or at Mister Art.