If there’s an image that comes to the mind of the average stationery addict like myself when you mention the name Moleskine, it is that of an elegant, leather-bound notebook that you’re likely to find in the hands of artists: amateurs and professionals alike (as well as hipsters or hipster artists 🙂 ).
So, I was quite curious to hear that this high-end stationery brand had released a set of 12 watercolor pencils. It really piqued our interest. After all, Moleskine brand is synonymous to a minimalistic, modern approach to design, with a wide array of quality notebooks, sketchbooks and art journals - but watercolor pencils? The product seems to be out of character for Moleskine.
My curiosity gets the best of me, so I was set to answer the questions: Are the Moleskine watercolor pencils any good? Will they hold up to the Moleskine brand reputation?
Let's find out, shall we?
The set comes with 12 pencils - exactly as advertised. The colors included are the usual basic colors, but Moleskine decided it was a good idea to give them inspirational names with equally breath taking descriptions:
Here is a video on how these color look like:
The first thing to note about the pencils is their appearance: Most watercolor pencils on the market look like your average colored pencil that you’re as likely to find in the hands of a toddler as an artist, but these look as elegant as the brand’s famous notebooks.
They are square, black with a matte finish and a glossy end cap that indicates the color of the pencil, made of cedar wood. These pencils are aesthetically pleasing to look at, They come in a black, matte metal tin that is similarly minimalistic and elegant.
OK, so we have established that they look beautiful but how do they actually perform on drawings?
At first, I wondered whether these square barrel pencils would feel unnatural to hold given most pencils is of hexagonal barrel. But after few minutes of use, I didn't find any issue with it at all.
There are multiple ways to try these pencils.
First: By drawing a circle with each one on a durable piece of paper, practically making a palette, and dipping your wet brush in as you would with regular watercolors. This results in more faded coloring with less saturation.
Second method is by licking their tip with a wet brush then drawing with it on wet paper makes for more saturation.
The third method provides highest degree of saturation (and most effective method for drawing small details) was obtained by wetting the tip of the pen and drawing with it directly on the paper.
You can use variations of these three methods to shade your painting. We found that those pencils maintain a faithful hue to that of the tip, it is only the richness of the color that varied depending on the technique and the amount applied.
So, for those of us who love that minimalistic, faded look of watercolors, those pencils are great: You can use them to create that effect in varying vibrancy, and their tips are quite fine for detailing.
However we found that these pencils are quite dry and the colors aren't as vibrant as we expected them to be (to the irony of the dramatic color names that Moleskine give them).
I'll admit, some of what this set offers is typical of most brands of watercolor pencils, especially with the price considered. However, some other things we found in this one happen to set it apart.
For one, its minimalism and design make it convenient. I would rather carry that small tin with 12 shades in my bag than a bigger and bulkier set with higher color variety.
It doesn’t particularly hurt to have to mix white with orange to obtain a lighter shade of creamsicle. The pencil’s square shape also feels quite comfortable in the hand. That seems to be Moleskine’s brand appeal in general, doesn’t it? A convenient, minimalistic design that feels light and elegant to carry around, be it a notebook or a pencil set.
Another thing that I saw with this set gets a lot of flak for from other artists - but I personally like it: When you dip into these colors with a wet brush from a swatch as you would regular watercolors, it gives a light, slightly less saturated wash of color than some other brands of similar pencils do.
This means the color is less saturated by default, yes, but it also means you can start light and build your color to the desired richness, rather than start strong and then struggle to lighten the color where you want to.
Finally, these pencils are really the perfect option for beginners all around. Easy to carry to, say, art classes or places where they might go to practice and relax; people who are beginning and not yet fully committed will enjoy this ease and practicality.
And, with their aforementioned lightness and ease of layering, people who just got into painting (especially painting with watercolor) will find these a great option, as they are more likely to make the mistake of overloading their brushes at first; where that will create a big blotch of over-saturated color with some other brands, the room for error will be minimalized with these pencils.
It is also a good idea for beginners to start with a small set of colors and experience with mixing; it will give them a lot of knowledge of colors and a lot of inspiration.
After taking in that impressive first look, we wouldn't blame you if the next thing you look at is the price tag (find out the price in Amazon). Price wise these pencils are not cheap, you could find pencil sets from many other professional grade brands for less (which you can upgrade to a set of 24 or even 36 for the price difference).
One thing that some people might dislike is that this set is only available in 12 colors, while most other brands offer sets of up to 72 and more colors. Some even offer sets of over a hundred colors.
Some people who would rather have a more ready variety of colors will find themselves preferring those other brands. Personally, I have started painting (and still do) with a set of 6 watercolors as I enjoy mixing, myself, so that wasn’t particularly bothersome to me. In the end, it’s up to the artist’s preference.
So are they worth the price?
They are not the best value for money, if I have to be honest, but what can I say, they look fantastic and they feel fantastic to hold and you are an artist you'd appreciate the craftsmanship of these pencils.
Just as subjective as art is, the tools you use to create your art will also be a very subjective choice. Some artists I saw thought that this set was all about appearance, that it was mediocre and you would be paying a steep price for a name and an elegant look.
These are fair points, but I personally didn’t mind it that much. I thought the things that made it different and inconvenient to some artists were exactly the points that would make it a perfect fit for others.
Beginning artists willing to look past its fancy appearance will find it also very practical, and the price difference between it and the same set from other brands was not big enough to make it a wild splurge of a buy.