Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils are, says Mary Herbert, ‘outstanding in their scope’ and allow for limitless creativity, whatever your style or subject.

About Museum Aquarelle

Top features:
  • Finest quality pigments
  • Lightfast
  • Outstanding range of colours
  • Fully water-soluble
  • Strong leads
  • Easily sharpened

A visit to the National Gallery’s Making Colour exhibition brought it home to me how important it is to use stable pigments.

These days we know much more about the archival qualities of pigments, but that doesn’t mean that artists’ materials are always made from the best, often for economic reasons. Caran d’Ache have boldly addressed this with the Museum pencils, refusing to compromise and using only the most permanent pigments available.

For me, Caran d’Ache has always meant colour. And what colour! With typical Swiss fastidiousness, their Geneva laboratory is dedicated to developing the purest and best pigments and binders possible and their products are thoroughly tested during their development.

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Where to buy

Museum Aquarelle pencils can be purchased from Jackson's Art Supplies by clicking here and from art shops and other online retailers.

The pencils are available singly and in five assortments:
  • A basic set of 12
  • Two sets of 20, being Landscape and Marine
  • A wooden box of 76 colours

If I didn’t already own the full set, that box would certainly be at the top of my Christmas list!

Great colours

I found the range of colours in the full set outstanding in their scope.

There are clean, jewel-like primary and secondary colours for bright work with cool and warm options as well as shades and tints.

The selection of greens, which can so often prove disappointing in ready-mixed colours, are genuinely useful.

There are superb flesh tints for portraits, and as someone who paints more pictures of animals than anything else I was pleased to discover there is an excellent choice of earthy colours and two different blacks: a standard shading black and a dense ivory black.

Working with Museum Aquarelle

Racing Colours, Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils, (15x30.5cm)

Racing Colours, above, is a patchwork of small, bright washes in which I have allowed colours to merge.
The process:
  1. I worked a wet brush over thin applications of Museum Aquarelle pencil, occasionally leaving dry spaces to add a sense of movement.
  2. I allowed each area to dry before working on adjacent patches so that the edges stayed crisp.
  3. Once the painting was dry I used the Payne’s grey pencil to draw the bridles of the two horses on the right-hand side.

Mark making with Museum Aquarelle

1. Marks made by the pencils are fully water-soluble, releasing pigment where it is placed on the paper and allowing one to move and mix at will.
This is how I like to use them most of the time, combining the precision of the pencil with the abandon of watercolour painting, often adding a few details in pencil on top once the painting is dry.
2. For a completely different effect, try dipping the pencil tip in water and drawing directly: the result is almost opaque and quite inky but soft-edged and quite unique.
I like to use this technique to strengthen small areas of colour, but it also makes a wonderful, bold line-drawing tool in its own right.
3. For a freckled effect, shave the end of the pencil and allow the flecks to drop onto wet paper. Quite magical!
4. You can also scumble and glaze colour in layers by applying the pencil over a dry wash and then rubbing with a wet finger.

Techniques for using Museum Aquarelle

Gallopers, Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils, (20.5x30.5cm)

I had a lot of fun exploring layers and tonal density when painting Gallopers, above, by repeatedly washing out and drawing in lots of colour and using a mixture of fine and loose work.

Although quite soft to work with, the pencil leads are strong, making sharpening to a fine point or flat chisel edge easy.

The consistency is very smooth and the pencils are sensitive to pressure, particularly on HP paper, where it is possible to achieve very fine detail as well as subtle graduations when used dry.

As the pigment is concentrated and releases so readily with water, working a wet brush over the lightest of marks is enough to provide a transparent wash.

You can also use it as a conventional watercolour pan by scribbling onto scrap paper or rough plastic and lifting with a wet brush to apply directly to paper.

Or alternatively shave some colour off the pencil into a small well of water and dip in the brush. This is a good way to mix new colours for flat application, should you need them.

Final thoughts

However you like to apply colour, I am sure that you will find that the versatility of Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils will stimulate your creativity and inspire you to explore and experiment.
Read more about Museum Aquarelle with Tim Fisher by

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