White Nights watercolours from St Petersburg in Russia have been well known for many years, so the arrival on the UK scene of watercolour pencils is of some interest. They are (March 2020) marketed through the SAS in the UK at a low, but not cheap, price point.
I don't usually buy pencils to test, but as a user of white nights watercolours in the past (which are excellent) I was interested to see if these new arrivals were of note. They are sold in sets of 12, 24, and 48 in a tine box as shown.
This is the 48 set and you will see it is in two layers in a tin box and comes with an inexpensive prolene type brush. The set of 48 are selling at £46.50 (March 2020).
Before we look at performance, it is worth noting that these pencils are more expensive than many of the low price brands on sale at present even though the SAA price comes in at just under £1 a pencil. Cheaper brands can be found at 30-40p a pencil. At this price they need to be as good as, or better than their price point competitors, Staedtler Karat Aquarelles.
These are a thin pencil so clearly the cedar wood content has been managed to enable the price to work. The set I tested has no indication of colour names or lightfastness. The individual pencils are simply coloured at the end to show the colour of choice. Single pencils are not available to replace at present, and in this respect they are marketed in a similar way to others of the price - only in sets.
Whilst they are described in the promotional paperwork online and in the SAA catalogue as for 'Professional use' I would take this with a pinch of salt. There is no colour listing with the pencils and they have no indication on the pencil of the colour, therefore there is nothing to tell what the pigments might be, and that is fairly important for watercolour artists.
Without an indication on the pencil or a chart, if and when replacements might be required there is no way to know which pencil you have used up and need to replace. This is a very basic need, and it would not have been impossible for the retailer to supply a chart if the manufacturer has failed to do so. The free brush is worth every penny it cost!
The colour range of the 48 set looks useful. I did note that the very small label that came on the outer wrap indicated that the pencils were made in China, which came as a slight surprise as I was expecting the manufacture to be in line with the company's excellent watercolour paints which are still made in Russia.
So how do they perform?
I tested the new White Nights against Staedtler Karat and a more recent arrival here, the Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Magnus Aquarelles.
As a dry pencil, White Nights perform well, they lay down a smooth layer of dry colour on watercolour paper and this can be blended in a limited way as dry colour. The pigment level is not strong for a soft feeling pencil.
When water is added, it is notable that the Karat and Magnus aquarelles dissolve more quickly and the White Nights require more work to get a blended effect.
While the Staedtler appear to be a hard pencil they have a good lay down of colour and the core takes a fine point. The White Nights brand are inferior in the handling and the way the colour dissolves. Pigment levels are much lower and they appear a much cheaper pencil than the others.
The Albrecht Durer Magnus give a much higher level of colour from a much thicker core. They handle well and are lightfast. The only downside on the Magnus pencils is the limited colour range from the small set available. Watercolour pencils do not need to have a vast range of colours though, as the benefit is in the blending.
If we knew what the lightfast ratings of the White Nights pencils were, it might be possible to reconsider their value.
They are certainly not a 'Professional use' watercolour pencil and until we have more information supplied to buyers, I would say they are only useful for craft use and 'colouring in'.
When I get a further opportunity, I will compare these pencils with a cheap brand of the 40p variety and report further. At the moment White Nights don't justify their cost when compared with the Staedtler who are marketing the 60 set at around £55 on Amazon.co.uk.
I suspect they are bought from a Chinese manufacturer and are of similar quality to other much cheaper pencils.
A shame, as the White Nights watercolours have a good reputation and these pencils do not look to be anything special.
I took up the lack of a colour chart and lightfastness data with the importer, the SAA. They replied:
By October 2019 the SAA had still not provided any pigment or lightfastness information and their website gives no information or working colour chart (just a picture of the pencils).
The availability appears to now be only the boxes of 24 and still priced around the £1 each level.
There are better watercolour pencils out there at lower prices. These pencils are not recommended.