Color Spree

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lyra Opaque Watercolors


I bought these at Dick Blick recently. I've wondered for a while whether they were as good as my Pelikan Opaque Watercolors. They looked like a very similar product - to the point that I wasn't sure which brand it was I first got at a Blick store in person decades ago, when the replacement pans were available in bins right next to the sets.

Well, I'm very happy to report that they're a very similar product at a lower price! Just as strong, the same kind of large removable (rearrangeable) pans, inside a slightly more convenient box. While I love my Pelikans, the box is a little inconvenient for stacking because it has this curved top so I can't put it in the middle of a stack with other sets of mediums. Just a small point of irritation that the Lyra set solved. It's also a little easier taking the top tray out - the top tray is entirely internal and nests. The Pelikan set has a lever button that needs to be pressed, a mechanism that can break under repeated wear and sometimes gets annoying.

This box has a pretty similar lid with fewer mixing pans in it, but still the same function. The brush they included is a 1/4" stiff bristle brush. I had never used a bristle brush with pan gouache, I'm used to round soft sables or synthetic sables for water mediums. So it was a little odd painting with it and I'm sad to say, like many bristle brushes the dang thing splayed out halfway through the painting. The hairs swelled and stuck out sideways, eliminating any sharp-edge flat brush tricks or tip created lines. This is annoying but it's a pretty cheap thing and the other brands didn't come with a brush, so big deal. I may or may not continue using it, the small bristle brush is good for its own effects. It'd be great for spattering or other rough techniques, it's just not a precision brush.

Also included, just like the Pelikan set, a little tube of white Deckweil. It didn't say "Chinese white" or watercolor, just Deckweil - Opaque White and repeats that in a couple of other languages. Good strong mixing white. I used a little of it in my example painting to lighten some color and it worked lovely. I've always wondered why they didn't just include a white pan with these sets, what I really would have liked would be two white pans so there's enough for mixing and lightening, maybe the second one a warm white like titanium buff sort of color. But the little tube of white is replaceable when used up. It will get used up faster than the pans themselves, I say this from long usage.

So here's the art I did with it, in my large Moleskine Watercolor journal:
Two pears, one yellow and one red, painted in Lyra opaque watercolor

The paint was easy to pick up enough for thick, opaque, creamy application. The white mixed well in the little mixing pans and the colors blended beautifully. The set includes Payne's Gray as well as black, so I've got my Cool Mixer. Fleischfarbe, the peach color that gets represented as flesh tone for German kids, is on the top tray rather than the bottom - the top tray is set up to function separately if you want a simple palette. Paynes Grau is on the top tray too, so your convenience colors are there without lifting trays if you're painting in a small area. Peach color portrait highlight is actually a useful color for all sorts of things, especially as a mixer if you want to warm the mix or highlights on browns and reddish colors.

The price break between the sets is quite a lot - $22 for the Pelikan set, $14 and change for the Lyra. That was surprising to me since the quality seems so similar. I don't know if there are differences in lightfastness, though gouache is one of those illustrator mediums where they don't always worry about lightfastness even in professional or artist grade products. But other than that, these are comparable in every way. 

Hm. The Pelikan pans may be just slightly larger, but it's a pretty minor difference. Nope, checked, same size of pans unless the Pelikan ones are a bit deeper by a grain. The box on the Pelikan set is much more involved, with the release tabs and the artistic curved domed lid, the strip of sticky lamination to cover writing your name on the box. I think the biggest difference is the fancy, art deco looking Pelikan box. There's also a little more space in the Pelikan box if you want to squeeze in dabs of silver and gold gouache for detailing in the second layer, under the tray that has the little tube of white.

The paints are very opaque and pigment rich. They mix well and blend easily. They handle a lot like pan gouache. They dissolve fast and are easy to pick up with any brush. The color range is very similar and the colors are marked with their names in German. Very familiar, reminded me of the set I had in my youth. Overall I'd recommend this set just as I'd recommend the Pelikan set - the most convenient form of gouache that I've ever used.

I recommend either of these over tube gouache and for convenience, like the Lyra box a little better. Which box you like is going to be a matter of personal taste. I prefer being able to stack it to having the extra space inside.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Water Brush Set


Sorry for the long two year hiatus. After moving from San Francisco to Arkansas, I got tied up in a lot of offline activity and also had to adapt to a new climate. Happily though, I'm back to getting new art supplies and testing them, so let's see what the newest water brushes I got are like!

Caran d’Ache Piston Fill Water Brush

I’ve been using various water brushes for years. Niji and Sakura Koi are my two favorites, with an old Derwent a close third.

I’ve also enjoyed many other Caran d’Ache products. They tend to be pricy but worth the money, very high quality and good lasting intensity. Crayons and pencils and paints are all pigment rich, consistent, good texture and easy to use. So I thought, this ought to be interesting. Unlike many other products from this manufacturer, the price is similar to the other brands. So if you like these, it’s really just a matter of taste.

The main difference is in how they fill and that one of three point options is a fiber tip, along with a large round and medium round. They didn’t have a small round.

The ones I’m used to fill by squeezing and release water by squeezing. These new ones work by a piston fill system. The brush head comes off just like a regular one, but then you dip the barrel into a glass or dish of water and turn the knob on the end to draw up the water into the compartment.

I had trouble with it at first, the knob was stuck on the fiber tip one so I couldn’t get it to move at all. I tried again with the medium brush head and found on the first go that I’d only managed to pick up about 1/4” of water. In several tries I managed to more or less fill that, then tried the fiber tip one again. Same thing, it took several passes to get it full the first time. The large one was easier because I had a bit of practice with the other two.

Compared to the ease of filling a Niji water brush by holding the barrel under the tap and squeezing, it was slower and a bit more cumbersome. Also the piston sticks out of the end of the brush afterward, making it a bit harder to store in a pencil box or bag unless it’s long enough. So there’s two points of minor inconvenience. Still, the real test with this is whether because of the piston system, the water flow is more controllable.

One of the things that’s unique in this three-brush Museum Aquarelle set is that there’s a large round, a medium round and a fiber tip water brush. Artists who prefer using brush tip markers or bullet tip markers may really enjoy having a water brush that’s got a resilient fiber tip. The texture is markers, the color is as unlimited as your watercolor mixing skill.

The only comparable product is the clear blender in the Tombow dual tip brush pen sets. Those are clear water and have the same fiber tip brush tip as the colored ones, used for blending out the watersoluble inks of the Tombows. So you could use that with a pocket watercolor set for convenience, or with watersoluble pencils colored or graphite. Still, the Tombows aren’t easily refillable or made to be refillable and the Caran d’Ache product is. We’ll have to see how it holds up under heavy use, to really know how strong the fiber point is. But I’ll give it a go anyway in testing it.

A refillable fiber tip pen could be worth a little inconvenience in itself. It has its own texture and of course could also be used to modify and spread watersoluble markers like the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers that I’ve come to love.

So, let’s try that fiber tip brush.



Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Using Sennelier pan watercolors, I worked from a challenge photo and created a pair of cats, more sketched than painted. The fiber tip water brush behaved a lot more like a bullet tip marker than a brush pen.

Marks fade naturally at the usual pace of a water brush and unlike most markers, leave enough moisture on the paper to blend completely into a wash when scribbled. The cats were more drawn than painted, it was quick and easy.

Marker artists will enjoy that fiber tip brush. Water flow is very similar to the Niji water brush and I didn’t have to fiddle with the plunger often, only once when cleaning the tip to get the last of the black out. Color stayed in at a light hue for a long time, which became mildly frustrating when changing colors. But that was inexperience, now I know to really rinse the tip it’s not going to be a major problem.

The line is clean and reasonably broad, maybe 1 1/2 millimeters. The feel is solid and the hue even throughout the line. I can get it to a thinner line with very light use but not to the fine point that brush tips with hairs get. Overall the feel of the tip is more like a medium or broad nib Sharpie - solid, wide line, smooth laydown.

The water went through at a fast clip, but that was something I expected from the way the reservoir filled. It’d be good if using this in the field to keep a water cup handy as well as these brushes, though in the studio that fiber tip has its own strengths.

Some artists load water brushes with ink or liquefied watercolor. That eliminates the fade as the water comes through the head and can allow for a good number of interesting effects, like using several values in several brushes. Unlike most Caran d’Ache products, the price is comparable to the Niji waterbrush and other similar products.

The reservoir is much smaller than the Niji or the Sakura, more like the reservoir of a fountain pen. But still, that tip is excellent and the piston mechanism is manageable with a little practice. I’d just be sure to have a good source of water available if using it for travel sketching, or use several of them.

So now let's have a look at the others. I picked out a different challenge photograph, sketched it with a set of 12 Derwent Inktense that I keep around for travel sketching and washed it with the Medium Museum Aquarelle brush.


This may not be my greatest wildlife sketch, but it's not that bad either and the water brush performed beautifully. It came to a good fine point. The water flow was just right, not too much or too little. I could pump more through to change colors by twisting the piston, or let it be and let it flow naturally. It flows a little heavier than the Niji, but just right when it comes to a sketch and wash.

I wanted to leave some distinct lines in it, so didn't scrub down or wash it so thoroughly that they'd dissolve. My shading wasn't very even, but the brush smoothed that out lovely while still being able to get into tiny details without disturbing them.

All in all, I'd say try the Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle water brushes. Even with a little inconvenience learning to fill them, they're good quality. If you don't get any others, try a Fiber Tip one for variety of tip - but the brush ones are excellent and stand up with my best. Of course in the long run, I'll have to go back in a couple of years and see how long they last. But I trust they will likely be long wearing, considering the quality of Caran d'Ache goods. Their pricing seems mostly to reflect how much pigment goes into things like pencils, paint and crayons - they are always very pigment rich. This time it's just a well made tool that has its own unique place in my kit now!

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 fineartstore.com, 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.