Review by Tina Koyama
The only grease pencils I knew about were the white and black ones I’d seen in hardware stores. Recently a few of my urban sketcher friends shared sketches they had done with some kind of bright, opaque material on toned paper, and when I asked what they were using, the answer was Uni Dermatograph oil-based pencils. When I found them at JetPens, I decided I needed to try a few for myself. And unlike the ones I’d seen in hardware stores, they come in 12 colors.
Like traditional grease pencils, Dermatograph pencils are intended for use on non-porous surfaces. According to JetPens, they are “perfect for writing on glass, metal, plastics, ceramic, vinyl and cellophane, and marks can be removed from any non-porous smooth surface.”
I tried writing on a glass jar and its metal lid with mixed results, mainly due to the colors I chose. Black showed up best; the lighter colors were harder to see. The writing easily wiped off clean from both surfaces by rubbing with a tissue.
I didn’t have plans to use Dermatograph pencils on jars, though; I got them to sketch with, and I especially like them on toned paper. Waxy like crayons, they are very opaque. When I layered colors (as on the right side of the pear), later applications could obscure colors underneath, or the colors could be blended by using a lighter application on top. I sketched in a black Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook, and the white, yellow and green really pop.
Sharpening these pencils is a bit of a trick. Brand new, they come with a blunt end. After the exposed core is used up, you pull the thread to tear some of the paper wrapper and peel a few coils off, exposing more of the core. But you don’t get a point that way.
I wanted to get a finer point on the yellow pencil, so I peeled some wrapper off and then took a knife to it. I’m used to knife-sharpening graphite pencils, so I bore down with the blade with too much pressure, and the soft tip broke off. Once I got the hang of the softness, it was relatively easy to get a good point on it, but it’s important to think of it as a crayon, not a pencil.
Now that I think of them as crayons for grownups, I’m having lots of fun with Dermatograph pencils. The range of colors makes them more versatile in the sketchbook as well as at the work bench, and I especially like how opaque they are on dark colored papers.