Monday, March 22, 2010
Art Spectrum pastels
Art Spectrum pastels 60 color Pure Tones set, consolidated into one of the two 30 stick boxes it came in by breaking the sticks in half.
Art Spectrum soft pastels are dense, pigment-rich, heavy and firm. They fall into the medium softness category, much softer than hard pastels like Richeson's square sticks, color Conte or Sanford NuPastels, but harder than Mount Vision. Cost is low to medium compared to other artist grade pastels and they are available in open stock or sets ranging from six to 154. The 6ix Pack six-color sets have no duplicates and if you collect them one six-pack at a time, you will eventually put together a well balanced range of 72 colors.
The round sticks are wrapped with a perforated plastic wrapper to keep your hands clean, you can peel off just a little of the wrapper and leave the last bit on to have the color number. Color number is also printed handily on both ends, so it doesn't matter which end you use.
Packaging -- the cardboard box set has excellent packaging. Heavy slotted foam around the pastels and another layer under them ensured my set arrived unbroken. I was able to break them deliberately and not lose as much that way. The box would make a good plein air box filled with short pieces and half sticks in up to 100 colors once these wear down a bit. Wood box sets seem to have the same type of foam padding from the photos on various websites.
I was attracted to the six-packs for years, with such cleverly named color collections as Moody Blues, Firey Warms and Stone Tones. What I finally bought was a 60 color Pure Tones set on Clearance from ASW -- since Art Spectrum added more pigments and colors to their range, my Pure Tones set doesn't have all the new pure tones. What it does have is a glorious range of midtones, a few Deep Darks and a few Extra Lights to fill out the box since there were less than sixty Pure Tones at the time of its making. A photo of my set is above, all colors consolidated into one of the two 30 stick boxes by breaking all the sticks in half.
I was pleasantly surprised by the rich texture of these firm pastels. They are very pigment-rich and some of the pigments are unique to Australia and to Art Spectrum. Flinders Red Violet and Flinders Blue Violet are rich colors from the Flinders mountains and I've found those as indispensible as my teacher Charlotte Herczfeld. All of the Deep Darks are extremely rich and colorful but very dark, there's an entire set of those available.
Texture varies between colors a bit because they're not formulated for uniform texture by adding fillers, the Art Spectrum pastels are pure pigment. So some colors are softer than others, some are a bit more crumbly than others, but all of them are very strong and blend well. They work fine on a non-sanded paper, as you can see in the sketch I did below on the smooth side of Canson Mi-Tientes. On Colourfix sanded pastel paper, these artist grade pastels sing. There's something about their texture and the Colourfix texture that works perfectly together, not too surprising when they're made by the same company.
With the sale set in my possession, now I'm dreaming of picking up the full range of Art Spectrum, 154 colors in a wood box set. There are also 60 and 120 color wood box sets available. Colors and their names are well organized with letters for whether they're tints, shades, extra light tints or pure tones. Art Spectrum also makes a series of twelve Super Soft whites, actually near whites with just a little pigment to them so you can give a golden or pink or violet cast to your white highlights.
Some of those extra light near whites are in my set, and I can attest to how soft they are and how useful it is to have tints that light for "white" highlights. Using a complementary highlight can make something pop, even if the color's not noticeable by itself. Even the actual white comes in Warm or Cool, the cool white being a very bright cold white and the warm white a gorgeous pale white with a creamy cast.
I found the range I got in this set really worked because I can mix the extra lights gently over pure tones to get intermediate tints, and the Deep Darks are so useful. Some of the Australian colors like Australian Green are splendid in foliage and a nice change from the Pthalo greens -- it helps to have a lot of pure pigment greens that vary in warmth, intensity and value. I was very happy with the variety of greens available.
Art Spectrum also makes a half stick set of 20 colors that precisely match the Art Spectrum Colourfix papers. This can be so useful for sky holes if you're using a blue paper for background and not painting the sky, or subtly connecting a painted area with the bare area with a texture change. They're an interesting limited palette by themselves, some of those hues came up in my box as Pure Tones.
Overall, I would recommend Art Spectrum for the medium-softness workhorse pastels over Rembrandt. I will review Rembrandts later on, but I found I liked the Art Spectrum a lot more. These are a good all-around pastel for sketching, for serious painting with many layers on sanded paper, for pretty much anything you want to do with pastels. Try them with a few sticks from open stock or a handy six-pack, and watch for sales or coupons online.
Hay Bale Study One
8 1/2" x 11"
Art Spectrum pastels
"Ivy" Canson mi-Tientes pastel paper, smooth side
Photo reference by Paula Ford for March 2010 "Spotlight" challenge on http://www.WetCanvas.com