Winter Solitude – Brothers Water, Cumbria, Derwent XL Graphite and XL Charcoal Blocks with mixed media on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), (56x76cm)

Robert Dutton takes a closer look at Derwent’s XL Graphite and Charcoal Blocks and discovers that these impressive media positively invite you to try them.

About the Derwent XL Blocks

For artists like myself who are looking for a bold, new and versatile drawing and painting media, Derwent’s XL Charcoal and Graphite Blocks, will inspire creative exploration.

XL Graphite Blocks contain clay, graphite, coloured pigment and binders of the finest quality; the Charcoal Blocks contain charcoal, rather than graphite. As you paint and draw they just inspire confidence.

There are six chunky versatile blocks of pure colour and tone in each set, packaged in handy-sized robust tins.

The Graphite set consists of: very soft, soft, burnt umber, raw umber, dark Prussian and dark olive; the Charcoal set has blocks of ochre, sanguine, violet, sepia, black and white. The blocks are also sold individually.

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Top features

  • Value for money robust, high density blocks that really last.
  • Firm to the touch with no crumbling or fracturing.
  • Can be used for broad strokes or delicate lines.
  • Naturally watersoluble, colours can be layered successfully, intermixed and work wonders with other dry and painting media.
  • Blocks come in metal tins for easy storage and reduced mess.
  • Liberating and engaging to use, they inspire creative exploration.

Where to buy

Derwent XL Blocks can be purchased from Jackson's Art Supplies by clicking here and from art shops and other online retailers.

How to use Derwent XL Blocks

Light Between the Winter Storm Clouds – East Yorkshire, Derwent XL Graphite and Charcoal Blocks on Canson Moulin du Roy HP 140lb (300gsm), (54.5x52cm)

Derwent's versatile Charcoal XL Blocks mixed beautifully in layers in both dry and wet areas throughout the painting.

In Light Between the Winter Storm Clouds – East Yorkshire (above) you can see how well they flow and mix together on HP watercolour paper.

On other dampened watercolour papers they create a soft creamy strip of rich pigment which, when dry, can be reworked with other layers of contrasting colours over the top. Fabulous!

Twelve top ways of using XL Blocks:
  1. The XL Graphite blocks can be used both dry and wet to create interesting tones and marks.
  2. Colours on the surface can be lifted out or quite simply blended again with other XL Block colours to further extend richly layered studies.
  3. Papers with tooth (surface texture) are the perfect support for this amazing and versatile medium.
  4. By using different strokes and pressure during application, an infinite variety of creative mark making is possible, from deep and strong colour to more delicate marks.
  5. All XL Blocks work exceptionally well on pastel paper – I particularly liked the way they worked on all ten colours of Canson Mi-Teintes Touch 350gsm pastel paper.
  6. Tints are easy to create by mixing the white XL Charcoal with any of the five other colours in the range.
  7. Derwent XL Blocks lift easily to reveal clean paper or underlying washes if using watercolour or ink in mixed-media work.
  8. XL Blocks can be used on their flat sides or edges for large areas of colour with very little dusting.
  9. When correcting using an eraser on a good-quality watercolour sheet, the XL Charcoal and Graphite lift cleanly.
  10. Use an eraser to softly blend one colour into another, or use your fingers, to create lovely soft and moody atmospheric effects.
  11. The XL Blocks have a ‘biscuity’ feel to them when used dry and, being very opaque, layered colours soon create rich tones.
  12. As a drawing tool the media can also be sprayed with fixative to further darken tones when required and, like soft pastel, can easily be worked in layers.

Using Derwent XL Blocks in mixed media

First Winter Snows at Lingmell, Wasdale, Derwent XL Charcoal and Graphite blocks with watercolour, acrylic ink and pastel on Canson Moulin du Roy NOT 140lb (300gsm), (52x54.5cm)

Being heavily pigmented, Derwent XL Blocks are capable of transferring an extensive range of tones.

In First Snows at Lingmell, Wasdale, above, Derwent XL Graphite Blocks in burnt umber, raw umber and dark Prussian, in combination with Derwent XL Charcoal in ochre and sepia, underpin good solid key colours and values.

A white XL Charcoal block was mixed with these colours to further extend the tones.

By working XL Graphite and Charcoal colours into wet passages of watercolour paint and acrylic ink, lots of sumptuous colour layers were created.

Winter Solitude – Brothers Water, Cumbria, Derwent XL Graphite and XL Charcoal Blocks with mixed media on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), (56x76cm)

Derwent XL Blocks were the perfect tool to both draw and paint with at the same time, over and through dry and wet washes of acrylic ink for Winter Solitude - Brothers Water, Cumbria, above.

Graphite dust was sprinkled into the wet acrylic ink in chosen areas, and pushed into the watercolour paper with a Derwent XL Graphite Block in soft – further fabulous expressive marks were made as I did this.

Final thoughts

Without doubt XL Blocks can help you to express your ideas in new and innovative ways.

When working with them I make exciting discoveries all the time; the new-found freedom really assists my creativity – I like to use them liberally, very often on a large scale, and boy do they encourage that.

I love the way they glide across and into the paper, especially through wet passages on watercolour paper.

If you’re prepared to let go of any preconceptions and allow a more experimental outcome, you will most certainly be rewarded for Derwent XL Blocks will take you on an exciting journey of creative discovery.


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About Robert Dutton

Robert Dutton teaches mixed-media drawing and painting holidays at a number of venues throughout the UK. For more information about Robert’s art holidays, tuition and work visit

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