Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alvin Ruling Pen and Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons

Ari Cat with White Whiskers
Pen and watercolor with Neocolor II white whiskers

Behold the beauty of my cat's bright white whiskers! I have been trying for over a decade, really the past fifteen years since I got this cat as a six week old kitten, to render his beautiful white whiskers against his dark black mask. White gel pens skipped, stuttered and picked up paint from whatever dark color I pulled them over. White watercolor turned out to be too thin and translucent even applied with a narrow fine brush and once, with a dip pen.

Alvin Ruling Pen in case
approx. 6" long minus loop

Some time ago I bought an Alvin Ruling Pen. I read about this type of pen for making fine lines with an even clean edge. Ordered it from Blick and tucked it in among small things to bring a large order back up to Free Shipping level. I love getting free stuff so when they do a big coupon I'll do that. 

Then it went in a drawer and I forgot it was there, moved to California, never got around to trying it. Recently was looking for something else and found it, so took it out meaning to experiment. Like dip pens it's a little more cumbersome than my Pigma Microns or Pentel Pocket Brush pen. It needs to be filled constantly, per line almost. But the results floored me.

It wasn't that hard to use. I liquefied shavings from the white crayon by dropping water in them in a porcelain palette well and stirred around till I had a nice thick white liquid about like Half & Half for consistency - not quite as watery as ink or watercolor but still definitely liquid. Got a drop of the stuff into the tip of the pen and dared to put a whisker onto my perfect cat portrait which I hadn't reserved any whiskers on.

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II artist crayons set, closed

Wow. It was lovely. Next one skipped a little because the drop was almost used up, but I chalked that up to light hitting it intermittently and accepted it. Started reloading every whisker or two to get it right and finally had the results I wanted.

I chose the white Neocolor II crayon because they were a little more handy than digging out a set of acrylics to use acrylic paint and the same thing applied to white oil paint with the additional hassle of cleaning up after it. I wanted something watersoluble I could clean off the pen whether it worked or not and thin enough to flow like ink, opaque when thinned that far. It was my best guess for opacity at that liquidity and I wasn't wrong.

While my product photos are downloading, I'll give a little history on my Neocolor II crayons. I first bought them on impulse at Dixie Art Supply on Jackson Square in New Orleans when I'd sold a bunch of portraits, made my rent and bills and saw this beautiful set of watersoluble crayons sitting out. They were a little expensive but completely new art supplies. I thought they'd be easier to use than gouache or acrylic with a wet brush and I was right. They are fantastic. So I bought a set of 40, experimented, the paintings didn't sell because they weren't portraits of people's loved ones but I liked the results both wet and dry.

Then I found out that they could be used for face painting. They're pigment rich, non toxic, opaque, easily liquefied and blend wonderful. I started using them with costumes for Mardi Gras and various conventions, found some professional face painters using them and treasured the set for that. Lost them in a move, so years later replaced my set of 40 with the 84 color set. Colors below.

Neocolor II Watersoluble Artist Crayons 84 set open.

Look at that rich variety of earth tones, all those lovely lights and darks. I like having certain colors in my palette for both face paintin and painting. These are lightfast, pigment rich and have a texture a lot like firm oil pastels - very similar to the Caran D'Ache Neopastel oil pastels I reviewed on my oil pastels site. Used as paint by liquefying shavings, they are opaque about like a good gouache but do not have the matte look of gouache.

Instead, the surface is a little waxy and has a bit of shine, less than graphite but more like a latex paint. It's a lovely look in itself. Moreover, a toothy surface for going over it with more dry marks or with oil pastel. Thin them far enough and like gouache they become transparent. Thin them just enough and you can easily lay light over dark with a brush.

I have also tried the similar Cretacolor AquaStic watersoluble oil pastels. I'm not sure why Neocolor II crayons don't get called watersoluble oil pastels, they act just like them and are a step softer and more opaque. I prefer the Neocolor II to the AquaStic product but both are very good and versatile.

These are a far cry from the Crayolas you used as a kid. They are an adult artist material and works done with them either mixed media or by themselves are archival, lightfast, top quality and can be sold with confidence. If your skills are high enough to sell your art, they will easily pay for themselves as a bold, saturated medium with enormous possibilities. My big set is currently $148 at Dick Blick and I've got a small pocket set of 15 in my cart for my next art supply order. They are wonderful for field sketching in the same way watercolor pencils are, sketch and wash is easy with them.

They are extremely cost effective! You can sketch fast on toned paper like Canson Mi-Tientes or just use watercolor paper and tone it with a wash. Wet and dry effects are easily controlled and their bluntness encourages free style looseness. However if you want fine detail they can be sharpened in a pencil sharpener or with a knife that doesn't need to be sharp. That white stick is great for dabbing in an eye highlight if sharpened.

Overall five stars for both products, a great new tool and a wonderful, versatile old friend painting, drawing and sketching medium.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

Emu in Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and watercolor
7" square on watercolor journal

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Life happens and I fell behind on a number of things. Today's new product is the best of its kind - with just one caveat.

The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen takes a long learning curve!

I bought this pen three or four months ago. I had enormous trouble controlling it at first. The point is not the same as my Tombow dual tip brush pens or even my Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers, Pitt Artist Pen brush tips, Pigma Micron brush tips. It's exponentially more sensitive with a much finer tip - and so it's much more sensitive to pressure. Much more likely to flow thick when I want thin or flip off into another direction with an unexpected tremor.

Cat sketches from last May when I first got the pen.

The lines are a lot rougher in the ones I first did with it. I couldn't control them as well and sometimes overcompensated, made the whole line too dark. I started penciling under anything I did with it.

I recommend this pen wholeheartedly. The tip is unlike any other brush pen. It's actually a very fine brush with hairs and the best tip of any round brush I've played with, comparable to the best sable rounds. It has real hairs and the ink is of course proprietary but waterproof, archival and black like the better Pigma Micron brush tips and so on when absolutely new.

It hasn't worn down despite a lot of sketching. The main thing is, don't expect great results on first use. Practice with it. One great exercise is to try lettering freehand with it - do a text in your art journal and don't worry about botched letters or unbalanced ones. I still occasionally get too-thick lines in my monogram signature as I get used to its unparalleled sensitivity.

I bought it because James Gurney recommended it - and thankfully, he mentioned that it was super sensitive and took a while to really learn.

What I didn't realize was that in learning to control this pen, my overall pen work would become so much better. I've spent decades relying on the clean lines of Pigma Microns and Rapidographs, technical pens with a mechanically smooth line. The expressive thick-thin lines are coming into my work more now on this scale now that I've got the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

It's about $15 and the cartridge packs are reasonable too. Much more like a fountain pen than the usual disposable brush pen. Of course it'd make a perfect writing instrument for someone using Chinese or Japanese traditional scripts, most brush pens originated as writing pens for Asian calligraphy. But this one really tops the list for fine detail and sensitive control of line.

Educate your hand and invest in one!

Asian Leopard Cat
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Watercolor ATC

The Asian Leopard Cat ATC was a breakthrough that made me realize just how powerful this pen can be in my illustrations. I deliberately let myself use very small marks and pointed strokes, made the fur shaggy, used strong marks and light marks deliberately to create the animal's markings without hard edged shapes. The results stunned me. This cat would not have been so natural or illustrative without the perfect point on the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

Expressive lines are harder to learn than smooth line work and cross hatching, but once you get it you'll never turn back! i still haven't used up that first cartridge either, done dozens of these drawings and renderings without a skip or a blotch. Letting it sit for a few days capped doesn't make it blob or choke either - as always my supplies rotate and I can go a week or two without using it, then decide I need line work again.

So if you like brush pens, get a Prismacolor or Pigma Micron or Pitt Artist Pen brush tip just to start and then get one of these to upgrade. Keep the thing in your pocket, sketch with it often and don't expcet perfect results until you start getting them. Penciling first so that while inking you concentrate on line control rather than design helps a lot while learning - the Asian Leopard Cat and Emu were penciled first. But now that I'm more used to it, I've begun doing quick cat gestures without penciling again and gotten good results! They will come! Just be patient with yourself and make yourself use it often till they do!

For an easy, introductory brush pen, get a black Tombow Dual Tip for notans and thumbnails, then add a gray or two for value studies. The larger brush tip is a bit more forgiving and will also help you avoid extraneous detail in preliminary drawings. I find I tend to do more detailed drawings if thumbnailing with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen due to its size and fineness but it fills in black areas well and can create halftone textures by hatching. Thumbnails may become another good practice activity if you hatch your middle tones.

The pen is available at Dick Blick and probably other art supply stores and I got cartridges at Amazon, so that's a convenience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Holbein Artists' Soft Pastels 36 Half Sticks

36 Holbein Half Sticks

A surprise gift from a dear friend added a new brand of pastels to my habits both at home and plein air. These are nice pastels. Medium-soft, they feel a bit like Rembrandt half sticks and very smooth. 

The color range in a set of 36 was excellent especially as a flower palette. I use a Colourist style so having good tints aronnd the spectrum, a few good spectrum darks and quite strong brights more than made up for relatively few neutrals. No actual grays and no cooler dark brown are a little inconvenient but nowhere near as bad as missing tints.

Your favorite hues may or may not be included, so I present the photo of the colors first. It's a bit overexposed. The reds and oranges aren't all tints, though there are good tints. Also some spring green and intense aqua colors. One workhorse somewhat dark sap green can easily be modified and lightened with green tints and a dark warm blue, maroon and relatively dark violet-cast blue help for shadowing. They're nice pastels for outdoor use or indoor. You'll find yourself overlaying pure hues if you want to mute them but they're all there.

 Cover of the set with a US quarter on it for scale.

Most of all, the set is so small it literally fit in the pocket of my khaki pockets vest. It's waist length with various medium or small zippered or velcro closed pockets full of art supplies, pocket watercolor set, assorted pencils and pocket size journals. I wear that whenever I go out. This is the first set of soft pastels that fits in that handy pocket. The box is 6 3/4" x 4 3/4" sturdy cardboard box with styrene tray and foam overlay inside a sturdy clear sleeve made from that strong tough material used for CD and small electronics packaging. You know, the stuff you need a tin snips to get at the USB key you just bought.

Normally I carry a 12 color Color Conte set but now I've finally got soft pastels in my "hands free" going out kit! Tuck some 4" x 6" pieces of sanded paper inside the box over the foam and you're good to go for plein air. You can even cut them with 1/4" matting edge around the sides. 

What fits in my vest pocket would fit most jacket pockets I've ever had. I always rate packaging on pastel sets and this one may wind up outliving its contents. I like the cardboard box, slots and sleeve style of package anyway for sturdiness and the exact size of this kit just put it in the same space as 10 or 12 color sets I've used in the past. Very, very handy!

Two Daffodils, 9" x 12"
Holbein pastels on Bogus Recycled Rough sketch paper.

Here's one of the pastels I've done with this set. The green cast darker blue shows up more clearly blue in the photo than in person, where going over it with the mid-dark sap green brought it to a nice blue-green. Cameras do that sometimes. Other than that the hues are very close. 

Medium softness in a category with Rembrandt or Gallery Mungyo Soft Rounds (extruded), these are good little workhorse half sticks. One commenter on an art site I belonged to mentioned there's some question of lightfastness in Holbein pastels. Several of them categorize Holbein pastels as semi-hard rather than medium-soft but I've seen photos of the full sticks and they're rectangular so this may be a different product from the same company. The two reds and one orange seemed to have a slight fluorescent zing so that could be the issue. 

So whether or not these are as archival as other artist grade brands, they are an excellent choice for early layers, for sketching, most of all for fast color studies when you're out and don't want to be burdened with a large box. The full range of Holbein pastels is about 140 or 144, quite a good range, and those are long rectangular sticks that look fatter than the usual hard pastels sticks. They may or may not have the same texture. But their Artist's Soft round sticks are just good workhorse soft round sticks. You may want to replace those problematic reds with an orange-red and a magenta Rembrandt or some more lightfast brand if planning serious paintings. Or do a home lightfastness test if you have a sunny window. 

I'll give these a provisional B grade because of the lightfastness rumors, would love to hear from readers on that issue pro or con and whether that's all the colors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Henri Roche Metallic Pastels

Heavy Metal Pear 6" square
Henri Roche' pastels on Uart 400 sanded paper

Above is my latest grand experiment with Henri Roche' metallic pastels.I had the delight of getting six pieces of these from Isabelle at La Maison Du Pastel to test them out and write them up. They are lush. They are rich and beautiful. The metallic pastels are much softer than the other Roche' pastels, which have a pleasing firm texture but go on very smooth and lay down a lot of color. 

The solid color Roche' lay down a lot of dust and do like the technique Degas used of laying in a layer, spraying fixative and layering again. The fixative is important even on sanded paper and especially with the metallics. I laid in the darkest silver, nearly black, for the background and went over it with color in a way that worked gorgeous in life - the sparkle is still there and the color mixes with it beautifully. I did the background first and then my usual technique of getting rid of loose dust. I held it over the trash and snapped firmly with my finger. 

Oops. Half the color came off. It really needs the fixative for early layers to adhere well. So use a good fixative with these pastels. I used Krylon Fine Art Fixatif which is workable fixative that has some UV protection. Others may prefer Spectrafix, but the misting head on my Spectrafix bottles sometimes spatters and I didn't want to do that in a painting where I really needed fixative layers to hold it together.

Roche' has nine shades of gold, nine shades of silver from a white iridescent to a black iridescent and nine shades of copper. The two copper pieces I got, one was slightly lighter and more golden. I'd expect some of the coppers to run dark too, almost like bronze. You can get Roche' metalics anywhere Roche' pastels are sold. Online that would be, which also carries 3, 12 and 36 color half sticks sets and the amazing full range set of Henri Roche' pastels in two lovely rosewood seven drawer cabinets. Isabelle is recreating or creating a thousand colors and so the full range set costs a bit more every time I look, but you get more colors so it's about the same. It will be the largest pastels range in the world when she's done I think, and plans this for 2020 so that's not too far off! Very cool if I get a bestseller and win the Literary Lottery.

Till then, I love these pastels for their intense color and unique texture. The paper they liked best so far oddly enough is Bee Bogus Recycled Rough paper, which isn't archival so I'm still looking for their favorite paper. A finer grit sanded paper might be great, they did well on the Uart but generated a lot of dust from how gritty it is - it's one step short of Wallis for rough grit.

Holiday Ornaments
6" square on Stillman & Birn Beta rough watercolor paper

 Metallic Roche' performed well on my Stillman & Birn Beta pastel journal. I've been priming some pages with Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer but painted about half of them just on the rough white watercolor paper since it has a small texture element with deep tooth just like the Bogus paper. Wow! They did great on it. Background of green velvet was done in Rembrandt half sticks with a few touches of Unisons, the ornaments themselves entirely in Metallic Roche'. This was yesterday's daily painting.

Again, the dust piled up around the strokes. Metallic Roche' are very soft and will give thick impasto strokes. They are beautifully opaque, when creating edges I was able to easily go over darker colors or other colors to get a hard edge. They handle a lot like Sennelier instead of like the other Roche' - very soft and dusty, but rich and opaque. 

A few days before that, I'd tried them on Strathmore Artagain paper.

Silver Fish 8" x 10"
Henri Roche' pastels on Strathmore Artagain paper, pinkish gray

Strathmore Artagain paper does not have as much tooth as Canson Mi-Tientes. Its surface is almost smooth though its colors are beautiful with flecks of dark fibers in among the lighter ones for a tweedy effect. Roche' colors did not rub deep into the paper the way they did on the Bogus. They floated on top of it and made a thin film. The metallics behaved better, giving me thick impasto strokes and gorgeous opacity even on this annoying paper.

I really don't like the Artagain much and I now know the other Henri Roche' pastels hate it. Every pastel has its favorite surface and its hated surface. Henri Roche' metallic pastels are wonderful if you want a strong, shining metallic effect that is opaque enough to go right over dark or light layers in other pastels - even thick layers will be covered.

The pinkish cast to the silver on both the silver ornament and the silver area of the pear comes from the reflection of a bright orange t-shirt I wore to paint the ornaments and a bright red seat cover on my chair. Metal reflects everything around it so a pinkish cast to metallic accents is going to happen to my photography. Unfortunately the one on Artagain didn't photo well, the white iridescent highlight on the silver vanished because the camera happened to catch a lot of light on the silver itself. It's more distinct on the Heavy Metal Pear and in life both the silver fish and the silver ornament look more like that.

I recommend these metallic pastels for accents and special effects. One of their best features is that you can do values with them. The wide range of values means an artist could do machines or metal objects justice and still give a matte metallic shine to all the values in the painting. Flat areas of gold or silver or copper will gleam the way the real metals do, this is another good choice for haloes and ornamental goldwork, or metallic backgrounds to colorful subjects.

Many thanks to Isabelle for the samples! These pastels are high priced but worth the money if you love the effects. The metallics take a light hand and give wonderful impasto effects, the dust actually adheres well to itself which is some of why a hard snap knocked over large chunks of it. With fixative those big texture elements do adhere solidly. 

I haven't tried either metallic or color Roche' with a water or alcohol wash yet, but I rarely use my most expensive pastels for a flat underpainting. I'd recommend using an underpainting with Roche' and save their brilliant colors and intense effects for final layers where they can be seen. Polychromos hard pastels would be a good choice for underpainting, or that grand workhorse Rembrandt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Winsor Newton Bockingford Watercolour Paper

Rain Clouds over Hill
5' x 7" Winsor & Newton Watercolour Marker
on Winsor & Newton 140lb Not surface Bockingford Watercolour Paper

I went out today for an appointment and decided to bring the Travel Set as my main art supply, just leave my usual backpack home. Filled the water bottle. That is one generous water bottle! Big as a pack of cigarettes, it'd be good for very sloshy washes and such techniques. No running out.

I packed some extras into it, my trusty Niji water brush and three Pigma Micron pens - size 01, size 05 and Graphic size 3 (chisel tip) which are all non soluble pens. Fit very nicely across the extra pocket. I'll be testing the Bockingford paper today in the waiting room, so stand by for another image and more about these fascinating artist grade markers!

Truth to tell, I have never actually ordered and used Bockingford paper, so this is another new experiment. I've also got my Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Kit in my pocket so it may turn into mixed water mediums.

Turned out I didn't need any extras. On the way, it rained. I got several good photos of reflecting wet streets and then we wound up at the top of a very tall hill looking across at another hill silhouetted against a cloudy sky so light it was white haloing the trees - and lowering clouds above it.

I loved those clouds. The camera wouldn't register the sky as anything but white. So I sketched fast with W&N Watercolour Marker, Ivory Black, hoping the water brush would dissolve it to get something like the cloud effect. Working fast, it did. In only two minutes I got the effect I wanted.

Something in me said Stop. You're done.

So I did, stopped, signed and dated it carefully at the next traffic stop. All this took place at one stop light. I was letting it dry before the van moved. I was just lucky there was a bit of traffic to slow us up so I could get it done.

Bockingford paper has a Not surface. I usually expect that to be a bit like vellum drawing paper - toothy, a little coarse but still something fine enough for the usual sorts of drawings. I was dubious about this paper once I stripped the plastic off because it seemed to have a weave texture like the rough side of Canson Mi-Tientes. It's not as harsh though.

The surface of the paper is strong. It took some scrubbing to turn the hard-edged black marks of the Ivory Black marker into those loose shifting grays but there is no texture deformity in the wash. It's a tough paper, high quality, designed to stand up to serious watercolorists' propensity for heavy washes, razoring, scrubbing, spattering. I'd meant to try spattering on it since that happened by accident onto the plastic but there is no right place for it in this painting.

The weave texture is small enough to give some bumps and valleys to broken color. As the brush dried, I got a good irregular edge at the bottom where the gray met dry paper. Within the clouds, other light passages appeared at random as I scrubbed out or as the brush skipped between broad marks. A watery splash at the bottom of the shading on the left hill (far hill) broke in some very interesting ways because of the texture and sizing. This is paper made for an expressive painter. It handles in some ways like rough, but I was able to get quite small details with the brush tip of the marker on it.

I have always liked and trusted Winsor & Newton watercolours for their strong, pigment-rich consistent high quality. They are the first of three artist grade brands I've loved and this is an old company from a country that loves watercolor. I shouldn't be surprised the Bockingford watercolour paper is that high quality too. It handles wonderfully.

Winsor & Newton also makes a less expensive student grade Cotman watercolour paper in 90lb or 140lb weights and an Artists' Water Colour Paper that is 100% cotton linter in 90lb, 140lb and 260lb. Bockingford is the mid-grade paper, suitable for artists, better than Cotman but not the top drawer all rag stuff.

Even the Cotman is acid free. Bockingford is internally and externally sized, which is probably why it performed so well in my wet and dry dashing crazed painting madness. Full sheets of Bockingford paper are also available in several tints if you want to experiment with Blue, Cream, Eggshell, Gray, Oatmeal and White. Cream looks decidedly pink-peach in hue and Oatmeal a little darker and slightly yellower. With this example for the texture, I know I'm going to enjoy the tinted Bockingford as well.

Dick Blick carries the Bockingford Tinted Paper full sheets of 22" x 30" Not surface 140lb paper, so the next time I order I'll try their different colors and review how this handles for pastels. With that broken color texture it should be interesting for dry work too. Colored pencil artists may find it easy or difficult to deal with the texture but it felt soft, as if serious burnishing would bring it down to a polished smoothness.

I'd recommend this paper for watercolorists who like to play and experiment. Winsor & Newton's products are usually a step up from their category and even though this is the mid range paper, its working qualities are great. It's very responsive, maybe that's the sizing or the recipe but it has a beautiful texture that actually improved my painting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers Travel Set

Ari Cat posing with the W&N Watercolour Markers Travel Set
For scale and because he's beautiful.

Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers are a new product. Pigmented and archival, they join pan and tube watercolors plus their brand of watercolor sticks as another form of delivering artist grade watercolor. With 36 open stock colors, the range is small as markers go but very good as watercolors. Colors include a lot of hues, which suggests to me that modern pigments like quinacridones that are lightfast, transparent and vibrant form the backbone of the color mixes. Pigments are not listed but the color names with "Hue" suggest it.

Cheap Joe's has a sale on these for the holidays including tin sets of 6 and 12, open stock, sets of 24 or 36 and the 8 color Travel Set. Open stock is about $5 a marker and my Travel Set was $39.99 - the usual big discount at an online store. 

I have a great fondness for travel sets and portability. So with the case, two good if small W&N Sceptre brushes size 0 and 4 rounds, water bottle, clear folding water bucket and 7" x 5" Bockingford watercolor paper pad essentially free in the sale, I decided to go with this range rather than the 12 color tin. 

Case and accessories are all good. I'll review the paper later both with markers and with other watercolor techniques. The water bottle is generous, so is the bucket and the case is deep. There's plenty of room to add other markers and a small pocket between the water bottle and brush loops to add Niji water brushes, pens, or a candy tin with other supplies. There's room above the markers to put in a Sakura or other pocket watercolor pan set or any other self contained small field supplies you want. Pigma Micron pens fit across it neatly. So this case is a good choice to contain all your field supplies in one unit as many of my friends do for their journaling adventures. Small oblong art journals would fit in the paper pocket depending on flatness or width. Very useful zippered case with nylon over a sturdy stiffener.

Colors included are Alizarin Crimson Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Dioxazine Violet, Prussian Blue Hue, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black. Color swatches on the website seemed pale both on the Winsor Newton site and at Cheap Joe's but came out stronger in person although Alizarin Crimson Hue doesn't go as deep dark as I'm used to with Permanent Alizarin Crimson let alone the original pigment. 

The markers have a bullet tip with a pointed cap on one end and a brush tip with a blunt cap on the other. Warning! The blunt tip has to go down when you put them back in the case. If you put it in upside down with blunt on top and pointed cap downward, you can't get the marker cap out again. It gets stuck in the pocket and takes needle nose pliers to wiggle it loose to get it out. This is a weird, mildly annoying thing about the case but irrelevant in tins or other cases. Just remember that if you get the Travel Set, the case won't let you put them brush tip up even if you use it more. 

My first test was a monochrome sketch in Prussian Blue Hue.

Monochrome Prussian Blue Hue Skyscape and Mountains

Wow! Unlike my first color tests on printer paper, the color washed out beautifully. These perform well for pen and wash sketching using the bullet tip. I experimented with some techniques to gradate a sky using a very dark blue pen-wash and it worked well. Some lighter areas I just pulled color out of the darker ones or used what was on the brush after blending. I love how they wash out.

On the packing slip I tested each color to see if the markers all worked. I always do this with any set of markers, they can be factory defective even from the best companies. The color didn't wash out well on that slip so but both tips performed beautifully. The brush tip reminds me a lot of the Pitt Artist Pen Big Brush tip - pointed, springy, very sharp point good for precision and juicy.

I found out by accident knocking around one of them that they're juicy enough to splatter some tiny droplets of Alizarin Crimson Hue on the plastic coated cover of the Bockingford pad. So using a pencil and tapping the marker on it to do splatter effects will work, at least while the markers are new.

Sketches with W&N Watercolour Markers
Mixing and Blending

Next, I started testing overlays, color mixtures and wash textures. I had a lot of fun creating both mixed violet and dioxazine violet passages in the daisy. My life sketch of my sleeping cat worked well, similar to pen sketches of him but the soft wash on his brown back added another dimension plus gave me some brown on the water brush to darken the shadows on the pillows. I played with different colors on the pears, oranges and persimmon to see what kind of hues I'd get mixing and washing.

Sap Green is actually a vibrant, very bright neon green. I knocked it back with Alizarin Crimson Hue, Burnt Umber and Dioxazine Violet and it's still very saturated. If you're doing underpainting, this could be great or you may want to start off with Yellow Ochre and just bring in a little of the green on it. You'll find your own favorite combinations and techniques.

I easily pulled color off the tips with the waterbrush when I wanted to gently modify a wash without mixing as drastically as I would putting marks of another color or to make light marks. I've been using my Niji waterbrush for convenience but the included Sceptre brushes, water bottle and bucket would do the same thing. Mixing colors was very easy and on the brown-gold pears I was able to soften fresh marks and work them into the area gently. It takes a little getting used to, washing out marker lines and dots.

I love using a brush tip marker. That's one of my favorite sketch modes. My favorites to date were Tombow dual tip markers and Pitt Artist Pens Big Brush as well as their smaller Brush Tip. But the Tombow Dual Tip brush pens are not intended to be lightfast. They're fugitive design tools. Not something I'd feel comfortable underpainting a pastel sketch with or using for a painting on good paper for fine art or mixed media fine art.

Winsor & Newton has filled a big gap. Handle them as you would brush tip markers, but be aware this is real watercolor, strong, mixable and more lightfast. They have a few quirks but overall I'm glad I got them beacuse of that big gap.

Pulling the Ivory Black out and taking the cone cap off the bullet tip, I pulled the bullet tip right off once, but was able to put it back in place. It seems to be working right now. So handle them a bit gently, if they come apart put them back together and always put the blunt tip down if you're using the Travel Set.

These are not markers like Prismacolor markers or Copic or other design markers. You won't find a range of hundreds with gradated tints and darks to use individually, tints are created by wet brush pulling color off the tip or by pulling tints out of darker marks. Or by scribbling some color somewhere else and pulling it up out of that.

It's very easy to mix colors back and forth between areas, An accident putting violet into the green pear to mute it brought some green back to mute the violet shadow, so I started doing it deliberately to all the shadows to mute them a little. If handled delicately, the bullet tip can make very small dots. For the oranges in the back, I covered them with Cadmium Yellow Hue solidly and then dotted Alizarin Crimson Hue over it, then washed, giving a suggestion of orange peel texture while creating a good bright mixed orange. I could have smoothed out the persimmon but didn't because this is a typical quick sketch, not a refined painting.

In conjunction with other watercolor forms this can be a very powerful tool. They're fast for sketching, the tips are high quality, the paint's good and they're worth the money. Just be really careful about mechanical problems like putting them in upside down or pulling the cap off too hard. They're not quite as sturdy as other markers I've owned but those were all fugitive except the Pitt Artist Pens. Those really did need tint markers because there was no thinning out the colors once down. 

I bought these largely to use for underpainting field pastel paintings but with how they handle, sketching and painting is irresistible. It'll take a while to discover all the techniques possible with this new form of watercolor. I've often thought some of my Tombow sketches could be taken seriously as paintings but it's frustrating that they're fugitive. 

As a combination with Pitt Artist Pens it's great. These are watersoluble, the Pitt product is also archival but permanent and nonsoluble. Marks you don't want to move go in Pitt, marks you want to be able to soften in Winsor & Newton. I may invest in the full range eventually or not, but this set is going to prove very useful. The travel kit is a good bargain and can become a carryall for assorted small field supplies.

EDIT: 11-19-2014

Went out, decided to make the Bockingford paper a new entry.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rembrandt Pastels

 Rembrandt 60 half sticks 

Back in 2004 or 2005, an oil painter friend gave me a box of 60 vintage Rembrandt pastels. He got the set from an oil painter who tried the medium and didn't like it. He'd tried the medium and didn't like it. The box dated back to the early 1950s or earlier, it might even have been older than I was! The pastels were wonderful, just as good as the 30 Grumbacher assorted and 30 Grumbacher Skin Tones that I originally started with back in 1992 when I became a street artist in New Orleans. I soon found myself taking up pastels again.

I didn't review them because they were antiques. Rembrandt had changed its formula more than once since then, some pastel artist friends warned. There'd be no way anyone would be sure of getting vintage ones. So I went on trying other brands, got Senneliers, got Art Spectrum, got a number of hard pastels sets and other brands and samplers. I didn't think of writing about Rembrandt.

Friends and teachers including Charlotte Herczfeld described Rembrandt as "Good workhorse pastels." She used Rembrandt color numbers for her listed Colourist palette in her free class "Still Life the Colourful Way" on WetCanvas, which completely revolutionized how I paint and view color. Still, I used my old ones as part of a mixed brands set and didn't think about getting more until recently.

Rembrandt like many other brands came out with a good 120 color half sticks set. This makes them great for beginners. You can get a good large palette at half the price with twice the colors. Moreover, Rembrandt's palette is extremely well balanced! They were sold out on the big half sticks set when I ordered. I'll still get it sometime to have a nice big studio palette. What I realized was that I could do far worse for plein air than to get a good 60 color half stick set in a sturdy compact set box and a trusted artist grade brand. Maybe "Workhorse" medium texture pastels were just what I needed!

I looked over the pictures of the 60 and 90 color palettes and discovered to my pleasure that everything essential is in the 60 color range except one stick. I can easily transpose one stick in later on and plan to - it could be improved by swapping out one of two gray-browns I rarely use for a deep dark violet that I often use in landscapes. That's personal. Someone who used gray-browns more than I do might not want to.

 Rembrandt 60 half sticks colors

This is one of the better balanced 60 color sets I've ever seen. Important hues like violet, turquoise, magenta aren't just there but there in values too. I've got a selection of darks, brights, neutrals, lights around the spectrum and that slightly toned stick at upper left is actually a white. It's just a little smudged.

Because I used this box so much last month!

Once in a while an art supply comes along that is so useful it literally changes my habits. I wound up painting in pastels more thanks to the compact palette and versatile textures of the Rembrandt 60 Color Half Sticks Set. I'd recommend the full range if you want an anchor set of medium-soft artist grade pastels with good lightfastness, open stock easily available for replacements, moderately priced and available in places around the world that don't always enjoy the variety we get in the Continental USA. Rembrandt is a solid value. 

Their texture is medium soft. They're firm enough to create hard pastel effects, linear strokes, tiny details with edges of sticks. They're soft enough to scumble or do some basic impasto strokes though they won't go on as juicy as Sennelier or Terry Ludwig. You can use them from beginning to end and have a good painting on sanded or unsanded paper.

Marigolds artwork with Rembrandt 60 half sticks pastels
on Aquabee Hemp Draw unsanded paper 9" x 12"

I wound up doing eight pastels the month I bought them and 13 pastels this month. That's how much this little set affected my habits. From doing pastels perhaps once or twice a month I went to prolific sketching and painting. Something about the sheer convenience and flexibility of this bright little range made them much easier to use than specialty pastels I bought in smaller ranges or very large sets that took more setup and cleanup.

I admit some of that is personal and has to do with my life situation. If it's next to me and I don't need to get up, I'm more likely to use an art supply more often. I collect pocket sets and field kits not because I go out to paint every day, but because at least nine times out of ten I'm using it to set up in a very small space and do not have room to spread out something like my full range Pan Pastels or 200 Winsor & Newtons. I bought those knowing they were discontinued for a bargain - and trusted I could use Rembrandt similar hues to replace any I used up. So why not get an actual set of Rembrandt too for convenience?

It worked. A half stick set this size and this well thought out in palette can help anyone who paints with limited space. I cut pieces of sanded paper to size 9 x 12" or smaller, painted on Uart and in my pastel journal as well as on the Aquabee and Canson Mi-Tientes pads.

Pacific Wave, 5" x 7"
Uart 600 grit sanded paper, Rembrandt pastels

On sanded paper I got all those textures and varied effects entirely using this set of half sticks. The best seascape I've done in my life happened on impulse when I saw a reference that brought back memories of the Pacific coast. I was able to get tiny ditails of spray, heavy impasto strokes in the foam, linear marks, side strokes, scumbling, layering, stick-mixing, every technique I know worked in that quite small space with these pastels.

Pigment rich, consistent in texture, reasonably priced and well organized for hue and value, these are the first artist grade pastels I would recommend for any beginner. I'd also recommend a 24+ color set of hard pastels for sketching and underpainting and a 20 or larger set of Sennelier half sticks for finishing marks when you've filled the paper tooth - also to give the beginner a feel for different softness of pastels and how to use different textures. The finishing ones don't need a full palette, they need darks and lights and some accent colors. 

Some beginners get confused at a very large range and choke on making so many choices. Others like me thrive on a big range and love having many choices available. This has all the necessary colors and some very useful convenience colors. Thanks to Charlotte Herczfeld, I think of neutrals as convenience colors now but there are many useful ones and good earths in this range.

The rich textures of these pastels are very different from the standard super soft student grade pastels. Uncrushed pigment crystals shine if you don't finger blend them, soft gradients can be achieved by stick blending as well as finger blending. You can learn on these - and then rely on them over the long run, building up earlier layers and using more expensive pastels in final layers. 

One warning for Rembrandt buyers. The first time you try to make a side stroke with a half stick or peel the wrapper off a full stick, you may find it hard to make a mark at all. There is a "coating" on the outside of the sticks. The tips don't always have it or it comes off on the first mark, but it can be very frustrating. Sand that off with a sandpaper paddle. Just the kind you'd use to sharpen pastel pencils or soft graphite leads. It doesn't take much to remove it. I was swiping it off on the borders of paintings on sanded paper or even scrubbing through it on margins of regular paper to get a smooth plane to paint with because that coating also kept my fingers relatively clean. Your choice to sand it all off or just sand down one side to paint with.

I think the "coating" comes as a side effect of the extrusion process, compacting the paste as it goes through the tube before it dries. It's there on almost all colors, it's not a big deal to remove and no great loss of pigment. Just be aware of that and don't think yours are defective if it occurs.

The box is excellent - a sturdy heavy cardboard box in black with the R logo swashing across it gloss on matte, very elegant, and a cardboard sleeve that keeps the box firmly closed. The lid flips over and slides under the bottom with the top tray in it and a little pamphlet about the product with the entire color range listed by color number is included. The cardboard sleeve includes tiny swatches with color number for every pastel included in the set. Very useful for reordering or for customizing - if you'd rather change out several colors for those you use more often, it's not difficult to get some full sticks from open stock and just store the displaced extras and other halves elsewhere in your studio. Open stock usually comes in padded small boxes good for storage or they can go in a mixed brands box for general use.

I seriously recommend 60 half stick Rembrandts as a plein air set, the palette is well balanced for any climate I've lived or subject I might run across. If I want to paint a woman on the park bench, the flowering bushes in front of the fountain, a colorful city street here in San Francisco or a bunch of palms near the ocean, I can do it. I could manage a decent Southwestern painting with this range. For a general use palette it is superb. I can't praise it enough.

But then, my varied subjects for the past few weeks are why I can say that. In convenience, it really does matter what colors go into the small portable sets - sometimes so much they blow all the rest out of the way!

Autumn Sunset 5" x 7"
Rembrandt on Canson Mi-Tientes orange paper smooth side

I was able to get the impression of frost on the fields in that little sunset and the fine details of those receding distant trees. Not just the bright sunset colors I wanted but the subtler hues on the land were easy with very little layering since I was doing it on unsanded paper.

These are the ones to learn on and the set to have with if you feel like painting outdoors. If you don't want to put together a custom plein air set with multiple brands in a Guerrilla Painter pastels tray box and build a personal palette, you'll still get good use out of these and be able to start right away. The beginner's artist grade pastel is just what Charlotte Herczfeld said: a good workhorse.

We go off in many different directions but this old friend keeps on being a good friend. Also for beginners - 60 is a good manageable number. Bigger palettes are easier but smaller palettes may prove difficult or specific to subject, 60 will usually be about right for general use. 

Yes, I'd buy more of these and I'd even get the full range along with my W&N set given more studio space. This old friend still pulls through and opens up so many possibilities. Besides, I still have vintage colors to add to it.