Pencil Review: Cretacolor Graphite Aquarell

Review by Tina Koyama

In July, I attended the 10th annual International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Amsterdam. Aside from barely surviving a record-breaking heatwave of temps up to 107 F, I had a wonderful time with my tribe of 1,500 sketchers from around the globe. It was my sixth symposium since 2013.

One of the many benefits of attending the symposium is receiving an enormous swag bag that gets better every year. This year was no exception, and I took home an embarrassment of riches from generous sponsors (see the full haul on my personal blog). To share some of the wealth, I’ll be reviewing some of the swag products now and then. Today it’s the Cretacolor Graphite Aquarell pencil. (By the way, the Cretacolor tin with the symposium logo is one of my most prized possessions from each symposium I’ve attended!)

Austrian-made Cretacolor water-soluble graphite pencils come in three grades: HB, 4B and 8B. Shown side by side, you can see that the grades vary, but not as much as ordinary graphite pencils in the same grades. If I’m using a water-soluble graphite pencil, I usually want the wash to be as dark as possible. For my money, I think the 8B is all I would need. It can still be applied lightly by minimizing pressure.

The only other 8B graphite pencil I have is a Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, so I compared them. While the Cretacolor feels just as soft, it isn’t quite as silky-smooth as the Hi-Uni. The Cretacolor’s core, however, is a bit thicker. (Cretacolor shown on the left.)

In the tree sketch, I activated the 8B with water sparingly to enhance only the areas with the darkest value. Tiny touches with a waterbrush will bring out a rich, dark wash very quickly. I love the beautiful tonal variations that are possible with this one water-soluble graphite pencil just by varying the pressure and applying a little water. It’s especially nice on toothy paper (I used Stillman & Birn Beta).

I probably won’t be using graphite much during the remaining colorful days of summer and fall, but I’d like to give this pencil a more solid try during the drab days of winter.


Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


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