With the Derwent Sketching pencil you have three choices of grade: HB, 2B, and 4B. These grades likely reflect the intended use of the pencil, i.e. sketching, as opposed to more detailed or illustrative work for which a wider range of hard and soft pencils would be required. I've tried all three grades but now use the HB almost exclusively - I've found it to be the most versatile for my needs and it's soft enough to get a dark accent when required. Since I mostly use these for outline sketches with only limited shading, this grade works for me, though for more expressive sketches I would suggest using the 2B and 4B models also. The photos below shows the pencil marks achieved with the HB grade, including a watercolour wash applied over a shaded patch (more on this later). I should also note that the graphite feels smooth and not 'buttery' or slippy when applied to the paper. Provided you haven't pressed too hard, the marks are easy to erase.
Something often overlooked when choosing a good pencil is the barrel coating. This is important because extended usage can make some pencils difficult to hold if the barrel becomes slippy - an especially important consideration for hot days and/or warm climates. Derwent have used a nice matt non-slip coating for the barrel of their Sketching pencil and this provides a reassuringly firm grip.
In the twenty years I've used these pencils I've never had an incident where the graphite has broken into small pieces along the length of the barrel. And it's not as if I've taken special care to look after them, they've been dropped on concrete many times and packed in aircraft hold luggage and I've never had an issue.
The last thing I want when applying a watercolour wash over pencil lines and shading is for the action of the brush to move or lift any of the graphite (spray-on fixative could solve this, but I like to keep things as simple as possible when sketching outdoors). I'm happy to report, however, that for me this has never been a problem with the Derwent Sketching pencil in the HB grade (I can't comment on the darker grades and I should note that my sketches are relatively small and don't have that much shading anyway). The picture below shows a close-up of the watercolour wash shown in the previous photo. It can be clearly seen that none of the graphite has lifted or moved about; the graphite remains pretty much intact and besides, once an initial wash has been applied, that tends to 'fix' the drawing and prevent further lifting/movement. (For most of my watercolour sketches, I use either medium or heavyweight smooth-textured cartridge paper or hot-pressed watercolour paper.) It's also worth noting that Derwent produce water-soluable versions of this pencil in 'hard', 'medium', and 'dark' grades. These pencils have a blue band at the base to differentiate them from the non-water soluable version described here.
If you're looking for a comfortable, good quality, relatively inexpensive and versatile pencil for sketches or pencil and wash work, then I highly recommend the Derwent Sketching HB pencil - a recommendation based on two decades of usage! A video version of this review can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy7GyY0A5qQ
Where to buy
Simply click on the link below and you'll see the pencils for sale (I may earn a small commission on any sales. This does not affect the price for you.)