Color Spree

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mount Vision Pastels

These are sumptuous, huge soft hand-rolled pastels available in a range of 330 colors. This is my 25 color Chromatic Set, an inspiration as soon as I open the box for its brilliant intense hues.

Hue is what color it is, intense means just that -- strong color versus soft grayed-out colors. I bought the Chromatic Set because a number of other artist grade pastels include grays, browns, brownish or grayish colors and don't always have a pure screaming acid green or bright purple. It's much easier to mix a little yellow into loud bright purple to tone it down than it is to try to intensify a dusty purple to get the color of say, a purple iris.

A number of friends recommended Mount Vision. The company was founded by an artist, Karl Kelly, who makes the pastels himself and often invents new colors. Here's the website for his company: Mount Vision Pastels, with complete color charts, history, technical details and tons of information. I surfed the site a few times before buying.

But that Chromatic Set was what finally sold me, because so many other sets have gaps in their intense hues. There'll be good oranges but no clean purple, greens will be muted to look more natural but not come in the clear emerald that you get in student sets. If you like to mix your own, these are fantastic.

They're also not as expensive as Unison or some of the other hand-rolled pastels. Packaging is bare-bones simple -- a brown corrugated cardboard box with a thick slotted foam insert. Even the full range just comes in lots of plain corrugated cardboard boxes with black and white printout labels pasted on for what's in it. So you're not wasting money on four color printing and it's up to you to buy your own fancy wood box, what you get with a set of Mount Visions is just the really good pastels.

These like sanded papers. I've used them on Colourfix and Wallis with fantastic results. They layer well, it's also easy for me to blend colors with the sticks rather than finger blending. Some colors use toxic pigments, so don't eat or drink with colorfully messy hands or inhale too much of the dust. That holds true for most artist grade pastels though.

They're all right on regular paper, just don't expect to do as much layering. The feel is very soft, more like Senneliers than like the harder sticks I'm used to using (Rembrandt, Art Spectrum) and so they work better for soft stick techniques like scumbling, adding more layers when hard pastels have filled the tooth of the paper and covering large areas with bold swipes.

They are really good for covering large areas with bold swipes too. These always make me think of working large and loose rather than noodling around with a lot of details on a small piece of paper. I'm more likely to swing them from the arm and wrist than hold them close and move them with my fingers.

If you want a sharp edge, just break one of the sticks and you have sharp edges along the break on both pieces. Or wear down a stick at an angle while filling in a large area, this works for other stick mediums too. Their texture encourages a painterly approach in masses and blocks of color rather than lines and drawing. It would take some work to wear them down to something more linear and then they'd lose the point almost immediately.

Some of Karl Kelly's original colors fill important gaps in landscape lineups. The Tropical set is the only one I know of that has the right hues for sunny Florida landscapes or Caribbean scenes, so if you like palms and beaches, that may be a necessity. Thunderstorm Grays are very popular, with a wide variety of subtle colors and a strong range of values.

The photos on the site are pretty close to true for colors and values. Not all the value ranges are just mixed with a color and white or black. Many of the unique Mount Vision colors are created along a hue range, such as Pthalo Green with a little more yellow added per stick to give a sequence that gets warmer as it lightens in value.

They're a great bargain for their size, softness, light buttery texture and sensible packaging. If you like Susan Sarback's techniques, the 25 Chromatic set plus a black, a white and some chosen tints and shades around the spectrum would be just about the perfect palette.

Think big, get loose, work painterly and fall in love with color, that's what Mount Vision pastels mean to me. Here's a landscape in progress, done with my 25 color Chromatic set and a Sennelier white and light blue.

And here's a sketch I did today on plain white sketchbook paper with them, showing how those super bright colors do blend to nice muted neutrals.

Even on the plain paper, I found myself doing looser motions, swiping the stick lightly or mashing it down hard for impasto effects. That's what the softness does. They come out more textured and painterly than the tight control I get with harder pastels.

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