Color Spree

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

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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stillman and Birn Zeta Journal


Stillman and Birn have done it again! I love their journals. All of them have great paper, good bindings, archival quality and spectacular performance. The newest S&B journal is no exception. It's a dream come true for anyone who wants to paint and draw in the style of Claudia Nice. This journal is perfect for pen and watercolor.

Stillman & Birn Zeta paper is as heavy as the Beta and Delta. It's pure natural white 180lb smooth paper. A little less absorbent than the Rough paper, its smooth hot press surface gives absolute control of pen textures. The above illustration is a page of life drawings in pen and watercolor from my 7" square wire bound Zeta journal. Zeta comes in both wire bound and hardbound versions, the hardbound Zeta has the fold-flat binding that allows perfect two-page spreads if you're fonder of a hard binding. But I still like the simplicity of a wire binding and the 7" square journal is a convenient size for me to carry with a pan set of watercolors for life drawing excursions.


I first tried out my Zeta with a pure pen page, lots of text and some pen drawings. I was thrilled with the level of control it gave me. The paper is gorgeous and takes pen textures perfectly. I penciled first and it does have enough tooth to allow delicate graphite values, it also erased clean without destroying the texture at all using a kneaded eraser and a white vinyl eraser. I've taken to penciling every page in it because this heavy, elegant paper gives precision to my pen drawing and allows the best of fine details to come through exactly as intended.

On color pages, the effects are a little different. Some artists find them disappointing, because the paper is naturally a bit less absorbent than cold press or rough paper. The smooth plate texture will let your paint float and puddle on the surface longer than it would on a rougher paper. That's something to get used to, but it's nowhere near as difficult as painting on Yupo. Watercolor on the Zeta paper takes a little more thought and planning to get your best effects with it. The apple in my first illustration was painted with a nearly dry brush effect. Strokes will be distinct and mingling takes carefully controlling water quantity and tilt of the journal. So it takes a bit of skill to get exactly the effects you want on the Zeta, but it's well worth it.


The more often I paint in my Zeta journal, the easier it is to get used to the paper's texture and control wet in wet applications. The petals of the top flowers were painted wet in wet within the paper area. I started with a medium-light wash of Rose per petal, kept the edges to the pen lines and then charged in more Rose where the shaded areas were on my photo reference (my own photo) and where I'd accented with pen shading. In the leaves I washed the entire area and then charged in some stronger green, waited for a dry area to get some darker details, played with the values. It may take a little practice to gain control of your watercolor on Zeta paper but the color and values will come up strong and bright on it.

A little goes a long way. Notice that in both pen watercolor pages, the darks come out really dark, the brights come out really bright. The same smooth texture that makes it difficult to control wet in wet applications also keeps more of the pigment on the surface, so a little watercolor goes a long way in a Zeta.

I would recommend if you've never used hot press watercolor before, to start with the last page of your Zeta journal and make a color chart of your watercolors. Mark off shapes or squares with a waterproof ink pen like a Pigma Micron (my favorite waterproof technical pen) and then draw out a shaded patch ranging from very light to its deepest tone for each color. This will also give a sense of how much water to have on the brush while painting.

I used a Niji waterbrush for most of these paintings but have also done some with a squirrel mop along with artist grade watercolors.


This page, painted with the squirrel mop, gave me much more control of the amount of water in each application. I did some objects and portions of objects wet in wet, the first layers on the marble and shell were wet in wet, also some areas of the rock and feather. Later I overlaid color with a damp brush into damp areas, finally some last details were with a nearly dry brush effect on thoroughly dry paper. I got a variety of soft and hard edges on this page with the squirrel mop and a finer point to the mop for getting into details than with the Niji water brush. So I would seriously recommend trying different brushes with your Zeta journal to discover what techniques best suit your work.

The 180lb paper is so heavy that even the wettest areas did not distort the paper or create problems on the other side. On the first demo page, the apple dried with a slight dip in the page on the previous side which was entirely pen work, but none of the ink lines ran because I was using a brush tip Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen for the sketches on that side. If you put a very loose, heavy application of water there will be a little cockling, this is true for any paper. But it was very minimal and didn't bring any color through at all, as happened in other journals where I had heavy watercolor applications on one side that carried color through to the other.



I don't do many marker paintings but I'm pretty sure this paper will perform well with markers, the Pitt Artist Pens deliver about as much liquid as most alcohol based markers and I had no trouble with dark heavy applications going through or distorting after they went on. There was no distortion on the watercolor side of this page when I went back and did the apple, more that the water seeped through to slightly distort the surface under the can of spray fixative sketch.

Stamping, collage, glitter, special effects and Pan Pastels would all work fine on a Zeta journal, though with its hot press surface you probably won't be able to layer much with Pan Pastels. Use Pan Pastels on this more as an accent and definitely put some fixative over it if you want to layer the Pans. You might have some trouble getting opaque layering with Pans because of its smoothness. For pastels and Pan Pastels my favorite journal is the Beta, right now I've turned my current Stillman & Birn Beta journal into a Pastel Journal with Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer on some of its pages - and not on others, the rough surface of the Beta paper holds pastels and Pan Pastels better than most unsanded pastel papers.

However, a few accents over watercolor such as a dab of Pearlescent Pan Pastel or Metallic Pan Pastel could definitely work, I'd still try multimedia paintings in a Zeta. I might specifically use a sanded primer like AS Multimedia or Golden Pumice Gel if I wanted a pastel passage in a Zeta journal especially. Texture can be created where the paper doesn't have it. Acrylics and inks should work fine in this journal with the same way that watercolor adheres. The paper is very good at holding paint once it's dried!

I wholeheartedly recommend the Stillman & Birn Zeta journal, especially for pen drawing and pen/watercolor painting. Other multimedia and different mediums may work well or poorly depending on how well those mediums behave on a smooth surface. Zeta paper is smooth but absorbent, a thousand times better than Yupo and still has the Yupo Effect of brightening watercolor applications!

When you're feeling detail fussy and a super-fine pen point is calling to you, whether that's a crowquill, a .005 Pigma Micron or even a 6x0 Rapidograph technical pen, reach for a Zeta journal. You won't regret it! Watercolors will float on the surface, giving extra strength and brightness to your wet washes. With watersoluble colored pencils and other colored pencils, treat it as smooth paper. Think detail and careful applications. That's what the Zeta is all about.

I recommend Zeta for all water media with that caveat - it's smooth and it won't act like anything else without a primer or some other way to rough up a section. Its greatest strength is the clean, perfect pen line and minute detail, fantastic control of small details and strokes. Definitely the pen perfectionist's journal!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pearlescent Pan Pastels and Mediums

The folks at Pan Pastels are at it again with gorgeous new products! Of course I had to get the full set of Pearlescent Pan Pastels in a tray with some new tools, couldn't resist a few new tools along the way, and all five Mediums at Dick Blick. That's usually where I get my supplies. Mediums came in a stack of five Pans with Colorless Blender, White coarse and fine pearlescent medium and Black coarse and fine pearlescent medium.

Last month's Blick swag
includes Pearlescent Pan Pastels and five Mediums stack

The first day I got my swag, of course I had to try out these new Pans! So I used my Stillman & Birn Beta journal, which with or without sanded primer is my pastel journal, to paint a pearl using all the Mediums and all the Pearlescent colors. These Pearlescents come out as light as tints of their spectrum colors, they are convenience colors with hue and Fine Pearlescent White Medium. Mixing the black Pearlescent Mediums creates a shade with a hue.

Pearl in Pearlescent Pan Pastels and Mediums
7" square on 180lb rough white watercolor paper.

Oh these Pearlescent Pan Pastels performed so beautifully! I did the background around the sphere with red and violet Pan Pastel, then swept Coarse Black Pearlescent Medium into it at the top and shaded through to Fine Pearlescent Black Medium at the base, using a gradient of value and texture to flatten the dark reddish glittering cloth under the pearl. Within the pearl, I used Fine White Pearlescent Medium and all six Pearlescent Colors to shade it to the lights and darks of a pearl I had on my desk to model - much smaller than the painting, the real one was only 1/4" across. To get the deepest darks I swept a little Fine Black Pearlescent Medium mixed with Blue Pearlescent Pan Pastel across it over a heavy layered application of the others, so it blended nicely and worked as a "black" to bring it down to medium value shimmering gray.

The glitter effect of Coarse Pearlescent Medium is visible at the top where light catches on what looks like mica flecks - it's a gorgeous effect and sparkles wonderfully in person. The photo captures it but the iridescence is much more visible in person. I swiped a touch of Coarse White into the lightest highlight on the pearl and blended it in too. Beautiful and subtle effect. 

Art journal artists take note, these mediums mix with any Pan Pastels you already have and will modify the colors the way white or black do, but with a shimmering zing. Wonderful special effects. I used them again today in a skyscape to see how they'd work in a different setting - and I am very happy with the luminescent sky in this painting.

Shimmering Dawn Skyscape
8" x 10" horizontal
Aquabee Hemp Draw multimedia paper
Photo reference by DAK723 on WetCanvas.com for 
Oct. 2014 Pastel Spotlight Challenge

Pearlescent Pan Pastels have the value of tints in six spectrum colors. They are convenience colors, just as the Tints are - but oh they are so convenient! It was very easy to get a luminous sky effect sweeping hue after hue into the shapes of the clouds, building back and forth and blending on the paper with light applications.

The foreground is entirely in regular Pan Pastels, trees in Deep Dark green shade and land in Violet with green, violet and blue Tints over it. The violet is a bit stronger in the photo because I adjusted the color to make the sky read true, its effect in real life is closer to a grayed green with violet undertones and shadows except on the left where it's a field of lavender. 

Definitely pick these up if you enjoy using Pan Pastels. If you've never tried Pan Pastels before and enjoy Art Journaling, the Pearlescent Pans set might be a fun starter to decorate pages with swift pearlized color easily controlled. Definitely get the tray set if you do, since that includes good tools to get you started and a tray to use them easily. The Pans trays are very convenient too, I put my four Mediums in with the Pearlescent colors. Stand by for a review of the Colorless Blender. I still need to see how well that works, if it's transparent or opaque, if extending colors with it lightens them or just lets the surface color show through. I might try it on black mat board for that experiment.

If you just want the effect and already have some Pans, the Mediums set of five is a good bargain. You can mix all six Pearlescent colors yourself with a Sofft sponge and of course get Pearlescent Shades using the black Mediums. Both of these products are well worth  the money. Yay, I have a full range of Pan Pastels again!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Metallic Pan Pastels

Metallic Pan Pastels are the latest invention from Colorfin LLC, makers of Pan Pastels. The range was originally 60 colors, then expanded to 80 with 20 more useful Deep Dark Shades. Pan Pastels are soft pastels that handle like paint. They come in sturdy plastic compacts and are applied with Sofft micropore sponge tools, either knives or sponges shaped to work like different paintbrush styles. I've got the full range, both sizes of trays, a good assortment of tools and found out which my favorite tools are.

I was thrilled to get a pack of four Metallic Pan Pastel colors to try. Metallic Pan Pastels are available now everywhere Pan Pastels can be found, individually or in two sets of 3 or a full set of 6 colors. The two lightest Metallic Pan Pastels, Silver and Light Rich Gold, are each available in one of the sets of 3. Like all the Pan Pastels, they are a little less expensive in sets than individually. If you only get one, Silver would be the mixer handling most like white or light gray, Light Gold more like a bright light yellow. But if you can, get the set of 6 - it's a little more at first but you'll want the deeper Rich Gold, Bronze, Copper and Pewter hues. Pewter is not a dull grayish product but a shimmering rich deep shiny Pewter. The photo doesn't convey the photos that well compared to their shimmery iridescence in person.

My first expectation was that they should handle exactly like the other colors. No matter what artist pigments go into the other colors of Pan Pastels, the texture of the product is the same in every color.

Yes, that's how they work. These are exactly like all the other Pan Pastels. Just shimmery metallic.

That this is a huge big deal only made sense to me at time of writing.

I'm not sure readers who aren't serious artists appreciate just how difficult that was for them to invent. Pigments have different qualities. They weigh different, they feel different, they clump different, they're transparent and opaque, for the makers of Pans to get 20 pure clean colors all with exactly the same texture, feel and handling qualities is darn near a miracle. I think of it in relation to other pastels or paint and I'm boggled. Yet I trusted them to do exactly the same thing with Metallic Pan Pastels. Same feel, some texture, same thickness when it goes on, same opacity, mixability, everything.

To be friendly to them, I started off my test with my favorite surface for Pan Pastels, Clairefontaine PastelMat. This coated pastel card is soft and smooth, clings to pigment like the sticky side of glue and lets me layer as much Pan Pastel as I want. Colors don't mix without a good heavy layer but it's not hard to blend once there's enough color on - so hard edges are easy to get, mistakes easy to lift and mixing on the painting as easy as painting in oils. Painting with Pan Pastels has a little in common with oils except that it's actually dry, it's always workable and much smoother. It's hard to get textured brushstrokes in it, the pigment goes down flat and texture is created by adding new strokes or using sticks for texture accents.

Despite the color it looks in the photo, that's Pewter Metallic Pan Pastel on a Maize color card - a bright sunny warm yellow something like a strong tint of Yellow Ochre with a big dose of Cadmium Yellow Medium to jazz it up. I sketched the composition and subject with a dark green Col-Erase pencil for easy erasing and used a Vanish eraser to correct the lines. Shown is a wedge sponge on the bottom, at the bottom of the next photo I showed the eraser - it's a great eraser. Nice, soft, clean and leaves no residue.

I decided to do a stylized water rendering, just irregular ripple shapes in two or three different contrasting hues of the same value. That'd push the background back while giving it some nice variegation and most of all give my main subject a Shiny Metallic Background - as metallic as if I did this on variegated metallic card. Something closer to Christmas card fancy than impressionist depth. If I'd meant depth, I'd have started playing with the values too and shaded it top to bottom to flatten it into a horizontal plane. So far so good. The value of Pewter is a nice middle value, maybe 6 or 7 if your scale has 10 for black. (I've seen value scales run both ways.)

There's my pretty variegated background! I blended some of the edges to softness to see how the colors mixed, used Copper, a touch of Bronze here and there and Rich Gold for what became a lovely group of Metallic Primaries. Those three colors together are a palette! Start shading them up with Titanium White and down with Black and you will have a muted spectrum of metallic color before you add in any other colors. Pewter is not actually as blue as it looks in this photo because the light from my light well was very bluish sky light - it's a light well and the sun was not directly coming down it so it had a heavy blue cast canceling out the Maize and making the neutral gray Pewter look very blue. But even in the electric incandescent light of my room, those Pewter areas look blue across the room by color contrast with the Copper and Rich Gold.

You get something like the Zorn Palette where black tints can be substituted for all the blue mixes using Pewter and Silver as your cool colors. So in this abstract watery background, I've got primaries and I could paint anything I wanted in a metallic varied-metals icon style. Like all metallic mediums, Metallic Pan Pastels create a glittering surface of matte metal. They look like you took polished metal and gave it a matte surface. It will not create Chrome Effects or burnish to looking shiny and chromelike.

You do those by shading it up with White and down with Black. The best way to get shiny metal effects with the added shimmer of metallic color is to treat it as the value it is. Ignore that it's a metallic pigment and use it for what color it is, then create distorted reflections of everything around the Shiny Thing. I would not necessarily choose Metallic Pan Pastels to render a shiny red Christmas ball ornament because I might get truer realism using Permanent Red as a base and shading, tinting and modifying it with all the other colors in the scene including the hue of the lights on it. I will be tackling this in a lesson in Rob's Art Lessons soon, paint a shiny metallic object using Metallic Pan Pastels. Meanwhile, what I have is exactly what I intended - something that looks like a metallic card for a background to my duck.

So let's paint the duck! I used 10 Painters Colors for him, plus 5 Deep Dark Shades and 5 Tints. This is what I keep for a field set in two 10 color trays, what I use to paint when I don't have the table space to spread out all four 20 color trays at once. 10 Painters is a great starter for using Pan Pastels if you haven't tried them before - it has all the essential mixing colors and several good convenience colors, it's comparable to your 10 or 12 color basic watercolors set for plein air. 20 Painters gives you all the pigments. Tints, Shades and Deep Darks are convenience colors and I love having the Deep Dark Shades for sketching colors because they're like using tinted charcoal on white sketchbook paper.

He was my big test. I used just the Painters colors on his beak, white band and fluffy chest and most of his wings, was painting him basically as a duck from a photo reference on WetCanvas posted by DAK720 for the December "Spotlight" challenge in the Pastels forum. What drew me to him as a subject was his shimmering iridescent green head. I knew I could get an added punch to that iridescence using Metallic Pan Pastels and I wanted to see how well the colors mixed with other Pan Pastels. Could I get Metallic Green by mixing Rich Gold with Pthalo Green and Ultramarine Blue?

Yes. I sure did. I used Violet, Pthalo Green and a little Ultramarine Deep Dark on the shadow side of his head - sketched it in with Deep Dark and touches of Deep Dark Violet, then laid in the color. Did the light side with Pthalo Green and Yellow Ochre to lighten and yellow it, made a tint up near the top where the sun was hitting his head with a little White. I got all my values and hues right before I started in with Rich Gold. I was satisfied with him, he looked natural and some Violet in the shadows gave the green enough punch to create an effect of iridescence. I'd used Violet Deep Dark with White over it in his chest and gotten that difficult grayish lavender fluffiness just right. I liked my duck.

Pow, when I started bringing in the Rich Gold into the sunlit areas first I was stunned at what it did. The sparkle blended into the green and vanished, blended as if I'd brought in more Yellow Ochre. He'd be a touch more shiny if I hadn't used the Yellow Ochre at all but stuck with the Rich Gold throughout, but I built up a final layer and got him to a shimmering iridescence. Shadow side I used Ultramarine Blue with Rich Gold to balance it out closer to the cool Pthalo blue of the main tone and it didn't lose its intensity at all. you can see individual sparkles in the large version of the photo.

What this looks like on my wall is spectacular. It looks shimmering metalic, that addition of Rich Gold into the green head was just enough to unify the painting. I used a little swipe of Rich Gold and background color into his wing to create a splash of metallic accent to tie it all together at the end. The painting would work as a Christmas card though I think I'd need some kind of specialty printer to create the metallic prints! It'd take special inks - or it'd take doing a hand painted design, which might be a whole lot easier.

Whether you're a professional, a leisure painter, a crafter or art journaler, Metallic Pan Pastels have a good place in your palette. They perform like all other Pan Pastels, they're archival artist grade materials and will bring that metallic shimmer to anything you paint with them. Add black and white for a Metallic Zorn palette and try doing a Christmas landscape. I purchased the other two Metallic Pans when I replaced some lost supplies and the Light Rich Gold is exactly the hue of the 24kt Gold Dot available from Jerry's Artarama - that is, Light Rich Gold is precisely the hue of real gold ground to a pigment. Silver is very bright and looks like the Silver Dot, so Gold and Silver accents in icon style paintings or fancy medieval calligraphy are the true hues of precious metals.

Copper is extremely bright pinkish-red copper. Bronze is a very bright bronze, polished bronze warmer than Rich Gold and sitting between the two as a hue - Rich Gold is a very bright cheery brass color. So you can play around with these different metals and their values, shade up a bit with Light Rich Gold and Silver before getting to White and get a stronger "metallic chrome" effect that way. I love the color of the Copper and will be having loads of fun with that painting still lifes - just be sure to shade it with the right other pigments to get the real hues and values of your subject. But that's a topic for another article!

Five thumbs up for Metallic Pan Pastels. The range on one of my all time favorite mediums just expanded. Pan Pastels are insanely versatile, clean, handy, powerful, convenient and archival. Metallic ones now make it possible to get lively, whimsical and dramatic with them. Happy Holidays!

PS -- Sorry about my absence of over a year. This happened due to health problems and some money trouble that made my health problems worse. Since then I've gotten things sorted out and my life is back on track, better than ever. Slowly I'm putting together my habits again. Watch for more reviews in 2013 - I'll start by trying for monthly updates and build up from there!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

SoHo Urban Artist Acrylics

SoHo Urban Artist Acrylics are a great choice for a beginner. All of the SoHo Urban Artist products so far advertise artist grade quality at student grade prices. I received the 24 color Value Set of 21ml tubes for review. Normal price is $19.99 at Jerry's Artarama, currently the set is on sale for $12.99 - so they really mean it. These are definitely student grade prices.

I'm happy to report that the quality of the paint is pretty good - incredible at those prices. It's not as runny as some other bargain brand acrylics that I've tried in the past. The colors are consistent, the named hues like Cadmium Yellow Medium are a good match for the toxic mineral pigments they replace and they handle the same as several other brands of acrylics I've tried. Some of the pricier artist grade acrylics do beat the SoHo pigment concentration, but not by so much that they're unworkable.

Mixing quality is excellent, very comparable to Liquitex. All colors are also available separately in 75ml and 250ml tubes plus 500ml jars. The 21ml small tubes in the Value Set are best for miniature painters, artists who want to try a wide variety of pigments at a very low price and plein air painters. They're handy if you want to just choose a primary triad or a half dozen colors, tuck them in your pocket and head outdoors to paint.

Like all acrylics, they dry quickly. They will mix with any brand of acrylic gloss or matte medium for glazing, while it's very easy to create washes with additional water. I haven't tried the specialty mediums like slow-dry or impasto paste mixed with these but I trust they'll behave like other acrylics if I do.

If you buy this set as an introductory set for a new painter, definitely also purchase a 75ml tube of Titanium White. There isn't an extra white tube in the 24 color Value Set - but then, there isn't in the Liquitex intro sets either. If you're thinking of gifts, Jerry's also has a Really Complete Painting Set including this 24 color set of tubes plus painting boards, brushes, table easel, gloss and gel mediums, painting knives, painting palette and plastic double dip mediums, paper palette and instructional DVD for $79.99 - the bundle set is a bargain for all the supplies included so if you want to gift a relative with a new hobby, that might be the way to go. I'd still slip in a 75ml tube of Titanium White with it so that they don't scowl at the white running out before they finish the second or third painting.

The other type of painter who might really enjoy the SoHo Urban Artist acrylics is a muralist. 500ml jars are good big supplies and the 49 color range is extensive. You can stick to a small palette of favorites or splurge and try new colors without spending a bundle - even the big jars are only $7.99 on average.

Plastic painting knives and an acrylic spray bottle are accessories available under the same brand, modestly priced and useful. Any brand of gloss or matte gel mediums should work with these for hobby projects or serious artworks. If you work on a big scale, these can be a good choice.

The lids went back on the plastic tubes easily. None of the tubes were damaged and it was very easy to remove paint clots from the threads if I left a tube a little too long before closing.

If you're interested in doing hobby projects with liquid acrylics, just add a little water to the paint when you've spread it into your palette or picnic plate. This is a good brand to experiment with one-stroke methods and other hobby projects. They're bright, they're sturdy, they'll introduce you to handling both opaque and transparent paints and of course, soap and water cleanup is standard for any acrylics.

Be sure to keep brushes moist when working with any brand of acrylic paints. If acrylic dries in your brush, it's very difficult or even impossible to remove without damaging the hairs. Rather than putting your brush hair down in your water jar, squeeze the paint out on a rag or paper towel, rinse thoroughly and lay the brush flat on a paper towel or change colors.

Acrylic paints are tougher on brush hairs than watercolors, so don't use expensive sable watercolor rounds with these. You'll find synthetic sable or stiff synthetic bristle brushes work best with heavy body acrylics depending on the effect you want. Pick up a bag of synthetic brushes in a variety of sizes and shapes if you're just starting out, experiment to find which ones suit your style best. Miniature brushes work very well with SoHo Urban Artist Acrylics.

If you're an ACEO painter, these may be a brilliant choice to start getting into acrylics. Either get some ATC blanks in acrylic paper, or cut them to size from a canvas or canva-paper pad. Acrylics work well on watercolor paper or on gessoed canvas.

My example painting is on a Stillman & Birn Beta journal page, 180lb extra heavy watercolor paper, bright white. These are great acrylics for art journaling. The small tubes, strong pigments, variety of pigments and hues and their clean ease of use make them a wonderful choice. Drawings and sketches sealed with acrylic washes are waterproof, glazes and washes can also make a barrier layer for adding other media over them such as oil pastels.

I didn't gesso the journal page. Some artists do, but the sizing in the S&B Beta journal was strong enough that I didn't need to. The painting on the other side of the page was completely undisturbed - another sign that these medium-heavy body paints are a better grade than others in their price category. I have seen some pretty nasty student grade acrylics that separated, turned into goo, smelled funny when you open the tube or were so runny and thin that they might as well be washes right from the tube.

While they're not up with Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton, these compare favorably with Liquitex and are way, way beyond anything else as cheap as they go. Good intro to a rewarding medium. Pick them up for a lark, you'll get a great range for a pocket money price. Definitely fantastic for hobbyists, students, big scale painters, sign painting, illustrators, art journals, ACEO painters and anyone else who wants to find out what acrylics can do!