Introducing the Colosseum by Alexis Marcou

Introducing the Colosseum by Alexis Marcou

Alexis Marcou is an artist & illustrator internationally renowned for his work in graphite. His style often uses intricate shading and geometric lines; the effects he achieves are created using graphite and then enhanced using digital technology, combining a mixture of traditional methods and digital art.  

Residing in Greece, Alexis was commissioned by Derwent to create the artwork for their new-look Graphic range. Using the 20 incrementally different pencils in Derwent’s Graphic 24 tin to create the artwork, Alexis has created this eye-catching iconic image that shows the flexibility, durability and extensive properties of the pencils. Alexis has been doing freelance work since 2007 for a wide range of clients such as Nike, PepsiCo, Atomic Skis, BMW, Hewlett Packard and Derwent.

When I started out working with more than one pencil grade, I couldn’t understand why there are so many pencil grades. To the untrained eye, a 2B and 3B both felt the same to use and don’t look very different when putting them to paper. As I became professional, I began to realise the different texture of the graphite and how the variation in colour laydown added a strong sense of drama or motion to any piece that I created. As my business and design began to take off and I started working professionally for clients, I noticed that – in many cases – I had to go back to my drawing board and alter images to meet my design briefs.

Removing or adding graphite often leaves smudges and smears across work that has taken days to complete. As I was using fewer grades and a thicker paper grade, the additional pressure I was adding in certain areas to create darker tones not only ruined the shape of the tip of my pencil and meant continual sharpening, it was almost impossible to rework these parts. Due to the inconvenience and inability to make any alterations, I gradually changed the way I worked, avoiding putting a lot of pressure on the paper and that’s when all the grades started to make sense to me.

The Colosseum image which now adorns all the 24-tins of Derwent’s Graphic Pencils range, is a good example of how using the full range of pencils adds that additional ‘wow factor’ to your artwork.


Choosing the Colosseum was tough. Myself and the Derwent team began with a bold brief: we wanted something that represented the trustworthiness of the Graphic range and an instantly recognisable image that stood out. The Colosseum was the best choice.


To get the shape, depth and tone right meant I had to have an appropriate image to work from. The 1900-year-old building is one of the most revered buildings of the Roman Empire and is a symbol of power, strength and trustworthiness.

Editing my original reference photo to ensure the right hand side was given more prominence  and the light hit it directly, added a sense of drama and emphasised the grandiose nature of the revered building.


Adjusting my image was vital. It’s key when working across a range of graphite tones to consider light source and how to utilise each pencil and where a 9B will become an 8B, and an 8B becomes a 7B. Working from an image, especially for an amateur, really helps with scaling and distance – ensuring that, at least proportionally, everything looks as it should. If you’ve established these foundations, its then down to the artist to get shape and shading right. Using strokes away from the light source and starting with the lighter, shades and softer graphite draws the eye towards the centre of the image and into the darker section. It’s best to begin with the lighter shades, shown on the right of my Colosseum image and working into darker shades, layering them to add depth.

A building nearly two millenia old has seen its fair share of weathering and deterioration. To get a realistic sense of depth of the alcoves and cracks, chips and texture of the stone work, I added fine details with a darker pencils, around a 6B or 7B to give a clear sense of realism.

Layering gives the viewer a three-dimensional feel, throwing them into the gladiatorial ring with the lions and bears that would have been at the heart of the battle. So, after nearly a week’s work, Graphic pencils were transported from the heart of Cumbria to the home of the longest reigning empire in recorded history.




You, the Derwent ambassadors, will now become Russell Crowe every time you select a 9B, 2B or 9H and create your iconic artwork, be they grand historic buildings or just your back garden!



Come visit Alexis Marcou online: