Water-soluble pencils are a fun and dynamic way to create unique effects in your artwork using a single medium. Caran D’Ache’s offering in this product space is the Museum Aquarelle Watercolour Pencils. While not an entry-level product based on price alone, the company’s products are known to be worth every penny. I have long been a diehard fan of the Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolour Pencils but these pencils have intrigued me for a long time. Could these pencils possibly dethrone my long time favourites? Read on…
The opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and I have not been paid to give a favourable review. I, like many of you, rely on the reviews and feedback of people I respect and trust and there is no value to me to provide a review that is misleading or coerced. Please do however feel free to try this product for yourself and form your own opinions, as every artist will have slightly different preferences.
- Available in 76 colors
- Premium FSC™ certified cedar wood pencil
- Hexagonal and encapsulated body
- Lead 3.8 mm, strong point
- 100% water-soluble immediately
- Exceptional Colour Fastness
- Optimal Transparency with no veiled effect
- High pigment density, brilliant vibrant colour
This product’s packaging is similar to that of Caran D’Ache Luminance. Unlike the Pablo line set of twelve, this appears to be their more premium or top-of-the-line packaging. The box itself is a sturdy cardboard that is made to last should you choose to keep your pencils stored in it. The cover design is clean, simple, well-balanced and features the words “Soft Watercolour Pencils of Extra-Fine Quality” in 5 languages.
The back side features a short description of the product in 7 languages. This is typical of Caran D’Ache products to have multiple languages on their packaging. There is also a diagram of the pencil itself listing its attributes, a colour swatch list showing the colours inside and at the bottom, there’s a timeline of product innovations over the history of the company.
The multi-language inclusion is interesting to me from a design and marketing perspective. Some companies would choose a singular language or only the languages required for a certain location in favour of including more marketing language or product features on the outside of the box. The multiple languages speak to a company that is acknowledging and inclusive of its customers. That said, it’s also probably a cost saving from a manufacturing perspective because they likely print this one package design for all countries it sells in, or the majority of.
Inside the box, there is a multi-folded paper insert that describes how you can use the product; once again in multiple languages. There is also a layer of foam on the lid as well as foam-lined chambers for the pencils to sit it. These pencils aren’t going anywhere if the box is tossed around in transit. It’s this attention to detail in the packaging that I appreciate about Caran D’Ache. Clearly knowing the value of their product and also the fragility of the pencils, they have taken steps to ensure that the product arrives to its customer in solid condition.
The pencils themselves are sturdy and feature a hexagonal shape which feels ergonomic in the hand and also is great for not rolling away on you! The remaining information and logo are in silver foil. The words ‘Museum Aquarelle’, the Caran D’Ache logo, ‘Swiss Made’ and the colour number appear on one of the sides. A white or black barcode, as well as the colour lightfast rating appear on the opposite side. Lastly, the colour name appears solo on a third side in both French and English.
Colour accuracy vs the colour barrel is fairly good. Similar to other brands the barrel colour is slightly darker than the colour that appears on the paper. Although the barrel design looks sharp I personally prefer when the entire pencil is the same colour vs the colour-dip tip.
The colour selection for the 12 set is pretty typical and the exclusion of white and inclusion of grey was a good choice. Given the price point of this product, it makes sense to give a set of basic colours that demonstrates its potential. Typically white pencils in these small-size sets end up feeling like a waste. Caran D’Ache has a great reputation for opaqueness in their white pencils though so I wouldn’t have worried too much if they had chosen to include a white.
For the purposes of this review, I’m also including the Pallette Aquarelle also by Caran D’Ache. This product is a perfect pairing because it’s specially designed with a textured side that works well for applying dry pencil and adding water with a paintbrush to liquify it. I’ll be giving my thoughts on this product as well at the end of the review.
Caran D’Ache is known for its impeccable lightfast ratings so it’s not a far stretch to think that the Museum Aquarelle line would also have great ratings. The only problem is that you need to seek that information out on their website. The lightfast rating legend does not appear on the packaging or even the paper insert. If this was your first introduction to this brand of coloured pencils that could be confusing. Considering this brand is likely attracting professional-level artists who would want to know this information, that was a miss on the company’s part not to include it.
Luckily a chart is available on their website explaining the rating system. You can find that chart there or you can purchase one of my custom charts and fill them in with your own pencils for greater colour accuracy here. You can learn more about the benefits of using colour charts in my blog post Why I Create Colour Charts.
SHARPENING AND BREAKAGE
These pencils sharpen really well and hold a great point. The lead is sturdy in the wood encasing and while breakage can occur it tends to be rare in my experience. Because this product is typically used in its wet form I don’t think it’s as important that it be able to reach a sharp point. However, if you plan to use it in both wet and dry forms in a single piece it still performs well in this aspect.
These pencils feel very similar to Caran D’Ache Pablo in their dry form but they are definitely not optimally used this way. It should be noted that a little goes a long way with this pencil. Their claim of high pigmentation is definitely accurate and the wet pigment has a smooth and consistent laydown. Sometimes water-soluble pencils can be a bit streaky or have small clumps in them if the pigment doesn’t dissolve evenly or completely. This product absolutely melts when coming in contact with water.
DETAILS & BLENDING
The result you get with this product will depend on the paintbrush and the watercolour paper you choose to use as well. Think of it like needing to put premium gasoline in a high-performance car and driving it on a well-paved clear road. You can still operate the vehicle with lesser options but it will be at its peak performance when those other elements meet its intended quality level.
In my initial demo painting, I’m doing mostly colour-blocking washes, but the colours blend well into one another as well. Typically these types of pencils are permanent when dry which is a great attribute if you like to work in layers and don’t want to disturb the layers underneath. If you want to blend colours together I would recommend doing it on your palette or wet into wet on your paper for best results.
ADVANCED BLENDING & DETAILS
While the majority of my layers were wet and paintbrush applied, I also used the dry form of the pencils to add in finer details and create sharper edges. You don’t have to use the product this was but I like to use a combination of both because I like the way it looks. The pencils sharpened well enough to a point to allow me to add in fine details.
You have to plan your piece carefully when using this method however because the surface of the paper you are using will likely have a slightly different texture after it has been wet and dried. It may not be ideal anymore for advanced dry pencil techniques. You may want to experiment with paper types and the number of layers to find what is optimal for you. At the end stages, I applied a damp paintbrush to the dry layer of pencil that I applied directly to the artwork to smooth out some of the areas.
The saturation of this product was extremely impressive. The vibrancy of the colours was awesome and I found it to be very consistent across all of the hues. The overall performance of this product was great and was definitely at the level I have come to expect from this company’s products. While I usually only create a small demo piece for these reviews I would definitely be interested in trying a large more detailed piece to really give it a solid test drive.
The Museum Aquarelle pencils check all of the boxes for me in terms of quality, lightfast ratings and performance but the price point is extremely high for me to justify use this product on a regular basis. I would however consider using it for commission-based artwork where high-lightfastness is a must.
The Palette Aquarelle cost about $11 CAD on Amazon and was in my opinion well worth the money. Its reusability alone is a reason to buy this product, but more importantly, the textured surface is unlike most other palettes you will find that are only geared towards paint. I have used this palette many times before this project with other pencils without washing it off completely after finishing. This resulted in some staining of the palette so I would recommend not leaving any pigment behind to dry on it. The pigment that was there washed away well but not without leaving a light stain behind.
Are you new to watercolour and water-soluble pencils? Many products are available on the market and it can be difficult to know where to start when you purchase your first set of pencils. I created this 24-page guide that will give you all the basics you need to know to get started experimenting and creating your first piece!
PROS & CONS OVERVIEW
As with any product, there is always room for some improvement so let’s look at a quick recap:
– available in 76 colours
– a variety of sets sizes available
– premium feeling
– nice range of colours available
– high-quality pigment and saturation
– available in open stock
– works well wet, dry or in combination
– lightfast rating legend that is not available on that packaging
– expensive price point for a beginner or hobbyist
– visual colour indicated only on tip of pencil
– depending on your preference 76 colours may not be enough
For more information on Caran D’Ache you can visit their website at: https://www.carandache.com