I’d been researching watercolor pencils a little while ago, and while reading review sites I came across a few mentions of the Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons. They looked interesting and were lauded for their bright, vibrant colors and creamy texture, so I made a note to look up more reviews. In the meantime, I remembered that at some point during my creative history I’d owned a set of, what my memory told me, were kid’s-quality twist-up watercolor pencils. I could picture the set, and knew there was only one place in my home-office they could be, so one morning I went downstairs and took a look.
I found the twist-up colored pencils right away… and was disappointed to see they were just that- colored pencils. Nothing water-soluble about them. It was frustrating to have been mistaken but I figured I’d just continue my research… and then I peeked through the rest of the drawer just to see what other drawing supplies I’d collected over the years and had forgotten about.
What a discovery! I think I squee’d out loud when I saw the white edge of the tin under an old pencil case of charcoal and blending stumps. Not only had I forgotten I owned these but clearly I’d barely ever used them when I got them, because they were all still full-sized and touching the sponge strip running the top of the case.
Immediately I brought them upstairs to try out. I’d been stuck in bed, resting my legs due to a really bad bout of sciatica, so I put together a little portable watercolor kit that I could use in bed without making a huge mess: a tiny tupperware of water, a fine-tipped paintbrush, and a folded handtowel for blotting and cleaning my brush, all contained within another small tupperware that I could close up and store with my craft supplies.
I made pages for them to add to my swatch book. I didn’t want to use water in that pad itself because the paper is so thin, so I folded a sheet of cardstock in half and tore it into two papers that each fit on my swatch book’s pages. I scribbled a little bit of each color onto the paper and then activated each with a tiny bit of water. These colors are so rich and the crayons dissolve so easily that a SUPER tiny amount of water is all that is needed.
After the swatches dried I labeled them with the color names from the Caran D’Ache site and then used a glue stick to affix them into the swatch book. Now- onto the coloring!
My first test was the inside cover page of Kerby Rosanes’ imagimorphia, which I have been loving lately. I colored the page pretty quickly, not bothering to fully fill in all areas (like the cut area of the tree, for example) because I knew once wetted, the color would spread. I did some minimal color mixing and shading on the leaves, deer and dino, all using the crayons as crayons to color. Sadly they’re old enough that they became fragile, and two colors broke in half as I worked. They’re still usable, but I was disappointed. More evidence of their age is the (removable) white bloom on some of the darker colors, as well as how the lightest brown dried out to the point of looking like a Flake chocolate bar inside its wrapper. 😦
The crayons applied color wonderfully but, as to be expected of crayons, they didn’t have points sharp enough to work into the fine areas of the image. I was able to use the edges of the points to get into fine spots like the rays’ tails and such, but I didn’t bother trying to color the butterflies, knowing I’d just make a mess. In some areas, like the pom-pom-looking little dudes, I only colored the center, planning to move the color outwards later, once I activated the paint.
The very first spot I activated were the clouds in this image. I set a sheet of cardstock behind the page to protect it from any bleed-through or water damage, but it really took such a tiny amount of water that I doubted there would be any actual problems on the reverse-side pages.
You can see in this enlargement of the lower edge what the clouds looked like before the water was applied, as well as the rough, uneven coloring job I did. I’d cringe, except it was deliberate. After seeing how vibrant the colors were and how much they spread, I didn’t want to waste any of the crayon filling in any more densely.
This is the final result. I can’t get over the difference, and how smooth and rich the colors turned out! I did manage to achieve some subtle shading and depth to the colors, and if I’d wanted to color over-top and re-wet I’m sure I could get even more effects. The largest difference for me is in the tree, the deer and the dino, but I’m charmed by all of it.
I was super-pleased (but not surprised) to see that there was NO bleed-through on the other side of the page. This means I can use these crayons throughout the book without worry, which makes me really happy.
Here’s a side-by-side to really compare the before and after images. Besides blending out the patchy scribbles, the colors (which were pretty vibrant before) didn’t fade out and some became even brighter. They blended beautifully and dried really quickly, but not too fast that I couldn’t move around soft watercolor washes.
For the facing page (above) I decided to try using the crayons in a different fashion, as if they were individual little sticks of paint.
I wetted the brush, blotted most of the water off, and then dabbed it against the tip of the crayon, picking up some color, which I then applied to the image as paint, just as if I’d picked the color up from a palette. You can see some of the peach on the tip of my brush, as well as on the face and hands of the little girl I’d just painted.
This is the finished image after painting. In contrast to the side where I colored first, I think this side has a softer, almost dreamier application. However it is slower to keep re-dabbing the brush to the crayon, and it makes mixing colors more difficult as the paint dries much faster when using this method. I greatly recommend it for areas where you need more control or a finer application than you’d get with the stubby crayon.
This method also made me realize that my broken crayons were not a loss, nor was my flakey, dried-out tan. I can put a small piece of the color in one of my palette wells and activate it to use as paint, meaning that no part of these (expensive!) crayons will ever be wasted. 🙂
Here’s the back, showing again that there was no bleed-through or ghosting.
I’m really glad I found these crayons in my stash, and I can’t wait to play around with them more in this and other books. The colors are incredible and they activate so easily and beautifully, I really recommend them. Mine have broken and dried out, but they are also over 15 years old (!!!) and still work as well as if they were brand new. I would wholeheartedly recommend these.