Color Spree

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set

I first noticed the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set back in 2004 surfing a Jerry's Artarama seasonal catalog. It was on sale for the holidays for about $7.99 or something like that - a plastic lead holder and six 5.6mm fat chunky leads in a little plastic case. Portable, handy, and protected, the color range is pretty similar to a classic Conte stick set with a cool addition - graphite.

The six sticks from left to right are soft 4B graphite, firm compressed Charcoal, Dark Sepia, Light Sepia, Sanguine and White Chalk. The basics for "Trois Couleurs" style sketching on a brown or gray page are all there. Both Sepia sticks have a dry firm feeling a lot like a Conte stick or Polychromos hard pastel. Sanguine is a little different. Waxier, it's an oil based formula that has the texture of a very soft colored pencil. White chalk has the same texture as the compressed charcoal and the Sepia sticks.

The leads are very fat, not like the usual size of graphite leads for a lead holder. The lead holder is accordingly fat and fits nicely into the hand a bit like a marker. It keeps my fingers clean with these powdery, smudgy mediums - even the Sanguine smudges beautifully - and it can all go in a shirt pocket with a pocket Moleskine for sketching.

The leads are in a sturdy, heavy little plastic box with snap-on lid. I'd probably put a rubber band around it or tape the lid down if carrying it vertically, but it has a thin foam pad under and folded over the sticks under the label to keep them from breaking. Very good little leads case, sturdy and dependable. The only thing that would improve on it would be hinges, but those sometimes break off and you're left using a rubber band on a Conte case anyway. This is that same sort of clear heavy plastic as the Conte crayon boxes.

I thought of this set as a redundant whimsy since I have full ranges of soft and hard graphite pencils, plenty of charcoal and Conte crayons for sketching. But I've always been fond of lead holders for their cleanliness and this set did prove to be as convenient as I thought it would be. Bring along a tortillon or stump for smudging though, if you want to take advantage of the holder to keep your hands clean!

I've done three sample sketches in Dark Sepia, Sanguine and Charcoal in the photo and posed the little set with a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" hardbound sketchbook for scale. You can see how compact this setup is. The lead holder has a four prong clutch grip and opens easily by pressing the top button. Leads slide out for easy replacement.

When they're used up, all the Cretacolor drawing leads are available in boxes of six at Jerry's Artarama. There are a few others: Soft and Medium Negro leads which look darker than graphite and are probably a carbon-graphite mix, Sanguine Dry, which presumably has the same texture as the Sepia colors, 2B and 6B graphite and either a Soft or Medium charcoal, the hardness that wasn't included.

These are just six of the most popular leads and I can see why they are that popular. The oil based Sanguine lead has a great texture in itself and lets you try that texture when the Sepia leads already have the compressed drawing stick texture. These, a kneaded eraser and a sketchbook are great for those moments of inspiration.

Current regular price is $10.83, but the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a perennial sale item. I recommend it to anyone who likes sketching and drawing for its convenience, variety, sturdy packaging and compact size. This might live in the pocket of my Blick canvas sketchbook cover, since it's got everything I need for sketching in a form that'll fit into it neatly.

Cretacolor also has a variety of other sketching sets and kits including the Black Box and the Monolith Black Box, Creativo, Artino and Teacher's Choice sets. Look for the sketching set that suits your habits and budget, they're all high quality supplies and usually in good sturdy tins or cases. Any of them make great gifts.

The Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a good gift choice too for a friend who sketches, or as a small gift to self along with a new sketchbook. I'm enjoying it a lot and wondering why I took so long to buy it. This is great.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mungyo Gallery soft pastels

Mungyo Gallery soft pastels are good student grade pastels at a loony cheap price. I bought the 64 half stick set from Jerry's Artarama, but I have also seen these sets in hobby stores, art stores and craft stores. The price is low and the quality very high for the price.

The packaging is excellent. I noticed this with my first half stick set of 32 - there's a sturdy cardboard box with glossy printed cover, styrene insert inside and then a cardboard sleeve that the box slides into. A foam pad and plastic foam pad cover the pastels to keep them from getting damaged. This packaging is fantastic.

The cost is kept low because the sticks are small, 1/4" square by a bit over an inch long. So this keeps the entire set compact. With that elegant packaging, I don't need to worry about slipping it into a bookbag vertically or tossing it around in a backpack. It's the perfect carry-along pastels sketch set.

The color range is well chosen and strong on chromatic bright colors. This is a great thing for a colorist - you can find those good aqua and red-orange and other tertiary hues as well as a great assortment of greens and blues for landscapes. Plenty of warm earths and a few good tints allow for mixing good skin tones too if you're more interested in sketching the people at the park than their background.

Four fluorescent colors up at the top left are extremely fugitive. All fluorescent colors are by their nature - the pigment degrades as it soaks and reflects UV light for the fluorescent effect. But when you're doing creative art journals, sketchbooks, holiday decorations, crafts applications or signs, durability isn't always a primary consideration. Also anything in a bound book is likely to last much longer even if the pigment is fugitive because it's only exposed to light when someone opens the book to look at it.

So I'd recommend using the fluorescent colors only where you know it's for a temporary use or know the art's going to be protected from light most of the time. They're fun for practice sketching and gorgeous for giving some zing to illustrations - if the prints are the final durable form in a mixed media production, then go for the fluorescence. They can really pack a punch glazed over similar colors or used as small accents - or used heavily on black for a black-light painting for parties.

The soft texture is consistent across all colors. That makes them predictable and easy to handle. They smudge easily like any pastels, but being softer than the hard pastels range, they also go over each other to seven or eight layers on nonsanded paper. It's easy to turn them on their sides for broad strokes because the small square sticks aren't wrapped and are already the perfect size for plein air. It's also easy to turn a stick on an angle and get small details with a sharp corner or wear the edge of the end down to a chisel tip for doing thin lines.

Jerry's Artarama carries Mungyo Gallery pastels in two forms - soft wrapped sticks and square wrapped sticks. They do include calcium carbonate - chalk - so these can rightly be called chalk pastels. This gives them a slightly different look from artist grade pastels, a little more matte, a little less glittery from pigment crystals interacting. Once blended they look the same.

They also handle the same as other soft pastels. This is vital for practice and sketchbook use. Some well known professional painters commented when I posted my contest entry at Jerry's that they use these constantly. One fellow who's won numerous major contests was on his fourth box of the half sticks because he uses them so frequently for plein air studies and sketching.

So if you want sketch pastels to conserve those several dollars a stick artist grade pastels for commissions and gallery paintings - these are a great choice for studies, sketchbook use, illustration, any use where you're not concerned about lightfastness. They have a lovely look in a finished painting that's unique to them and the colors mix, scumble, blend and handle wonderfully.

You can't beat the price for that little set to bring along no matter where you go - I got my set for $9.99 on sale and that's the larger half stick set, there's also a 32 half stick set that's even tinier. The box is 9 1/2" x 6 1/2" x 5/8" thick - fits into any school bag or backpack, weighs very little and holds a huge well chosen range. I recommend this set for a sketching and plein air set for anyone.

It's also a great starter for beginners with its huge range, good packaging and compact size. If you really want to be frugal, try using Mungyo Gallery soft pastel half sticks on fine grit sandpaper from the hardware store as well as regular sketchbook paper, brown paper cut from grocery bags or printer paper.

I bought this set to enter the Jerry's Artarama Summer Pastel Challenge, deadline just passed. My entry was on Richeson Premium sanded pastel paper, a very high quality artist grade sanded paper. I had no problem layering and building up a full colourist painting with the Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels, they handled as well as the artist grade brands and produced a great entry. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post it in a review though, should probably wait till the contest is over to see if I won anything. Trust me though, it came out as well as it would if I'd used pastels that cost far more.

Here's a sample sketch I did following an oil painting video on Jerry's Artarama by artist Wilson Bickford. I liked his anatomy of a wave demonstration, knew I could transpose it to pastels and had my Mungyo Gallery half sticks handy. My surface is 65lb smooth white sketchbook paper in a Reflexions 8 1/2" x 11" hardbound sketchbook also from Jerry's Artarama. It's similar to most lightweight sketchbook papers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lukas Cryl Acrylics

Lukas Cryl acrylics are available in artist grade, economy grade and student grade. Checking on the Jerry's Artarama site reveals a variety of textures and price levels from Lukas Cryl liquid and "pastos" heavy body artist grade acrylics, to economy grade Lukas Studio Acrylics and student grade Lukas Terzia acrylics. All but the bottled liquid acrylics are available in sets.

On my last order, Jerry's Artarama generously included a trial set of Lukas Cryl acrylics. From their heavy body coming out of the tube, these are Lukas Cryl Pastos in Cadmium Yellow Light, Madder Red and Ultramarine Blue. They're little tubes, about 10ml or thereabouts although I couldn't find mention of the exact amount - bigger than the 5ml Winsor & Newton watercolor tubes but quite smaller than 15ml Daniel Smith watercolor tubes.

They certainly chose a good sample triad! Although my scanner has gamut issues with yellows and reds that result in the yellow looking more like Cadmium Yellow Medium in the scan, the color is actually a strong balanced yellow that's spot on for hue with Cadmium Yellow Light in any other form I've used it. Also, it's definitely Cadmium Yellow Light rather than a hue - it has that relative opacity and needed to be quite thin to be used like watercolor as I did in the sample painting.

The pigment load is excellent. Very finely ground and milled, the pigment was still very strong when I had it thinned past "ink" where it's got the texture of the water. I had to add even more water to get a transparent glaze of the Ultramarine. I set out little dabs in a porcelain palette and mixed secondaries, created a color wheel and strip of color swatches to test the secondaries - all are good mixers including that old favorite Ultramarine that I'm so familiar with.

Areas where I used the paint more thick have the usual satiny gloss of acrylic paints used full body. Areas where I thinned it like watercolor have a more matte appearance. These acrylics are definitely on par with other artist grade brands and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone. As with other Jerry's Artarama specialty brands, these are reasonably priced compared to other artist grade brands and often on sale.

A twelve color wood box set is on Super Sale for $89.99 that includes three brushes, 12 37ml tubes of Lukas Cryl Pastos, a palette knife (metal trowel from the photo), stretched canvas and one canvas panel, plus a wooden palette inside a compartmented wooden sketchbox. Looks like the canvas and board fit neatly into the lid of the sketchbox, making it a pretty good setup for painting plein air.

I am also pretty sure that since they sent the trial set with my order, Jerry's would probably send you one if you use their Contact form to email them and ask. I encourage you to try them for yourself, these are good acrylics.

I also used a porcelain flower palette to mix them. This is my favorite palette for using acrylics if I'm going to wash it out, since it won't stain and any dried acrylic rubs away in strings as soon as it's washed. Jerry's carries porcelain flower palettes too for under $10, so does Blick (the Blick one is an inch smaller) and Daniel Smith (a giant 9" wide one). So if you prefer using acrylics thick like oils, a traditional wooden palette or butcher tray would be better. For thin watercolor-like washes though, the porcelain palette can't be beat.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set

The Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set bundles several moderately priced house brand goodies in one amazing discount package from Jerry's Artarama. It starts with a 120 color pencil easel, that's on sale right now for $23.99 and is a perennial sale item along with the 12, 24 and 36 color sets of Raffine colored pencils, watercolor pencils and graphite pencils. What you get in the bundle, currently on sale for $39.99 is the 120 color pencil easel with a 36 color set of Raffine Colored Pencils (on back of easel in my photo), 36 color set of Raffine Watercolor Pencils (shown), and 12 Raffine graphite drawing pencils (shown on front flap at the far right.)

In effect, you get one of the colored pencils sets and the graphite pencils set free if you buy the whole bundle, so that's the most cost effective way to get them. Also, notice what that colored pencils easel is. It's an elastic bands colored pencils case. The sort that protects the most delicate soft wax colored pencils or pastel pencils from ruinous internal breakage.

36 + 36 + 12 does not equal 120 ... that leaves you easel loops to put at least 46 more assorted loose pencils into the easel to have them handy right along with the kit. So the 120 color pencil easel is a great organizational solution. Right in the photo, you can see I took advantage of it by putting in some sample pencils I got for reviews, odd lot pencils I bought in open stock and any stray pencils I like to use regularly into that bottom flap with my 12 graphite pencils.

The mechanism is simple to make the case stand up. Slide a plastic bead along the cord, that tightens up the fold and holds the easel steady with your pencils upright. This is great on a table or anywhere you've got space to lay them out. But these easels are good in another way.

Leave the cord loose and all three panels are easily accessed at the same time as one long strip of pencils. That works for draping it on your lap while you sit in the recliner watching movies. It can also be rolled or folded up with just one side - any of the three sides - upright, very versatile that way if you find yourself working in a small space. I love these pencil easels as much as the slightly more expensive leather Global Classic pencil cases. They are exactly as good for pencil protection and ease of carrying around - a bit larger, so it depends on how you carry things around whether the larger ones (72 or 120 size) fit in your bag or backpack.

Now to the pencils themselves. Jerry's Artarama has certain brands that I haven't found anywhere else besides ASW - Raffine, SoHo, Turner and Lukas. The description is excellent. Both the colored pencils and the watercolor pencils are soft and have very strong laydown. They're described as artist grade, but not available in open stock - however, the price is so low that getting them in sets if you start wearing them down quick isn't going to break your budget.

Lightfastness isn't mentioned on Jerry's description. To me that means - treat these as something for sketchbook use, warn a buyer if you use them on a piece for sale that they may not be lightfast and should be kept out of direct light. I may someday do a home lightfastness test on them but until I've got something like that, I'd treat these as "Illustrator pencils." They handle with the ease of artist grade, they're very soft, the watercolor pencils are brilliant when they're washed and very strong even used dry. Softness and easy solubility are comparable to Staedtler Karat Aquarelle watercolor pencils, they're very similar to those.

But if you prefer sketching in colored pencils, this bundle is something that'll help you get a lot of good supplies for a very low price - and once you use them up, stray other pencils will rapidly fill the rest of the pencils case. I think they sneak drawers at night to mate and leave other mystery pencils lying about in the morning. It's a great bargain for some excellent supplies!

Here's a color chart of both color sets and the graphite pencils.

The colored pencils set includes gold and silver pencils. These can be great for scrapbooking or signing cards, adding a little sparkle to envelopes for cards, any sort of decorative or holiday work is improved by them. It's a good strong gold pencil too, a little brighter than many that have a more bronze look.

The watercolor pencils are just as strong used dry, they're very similar in softness and laydown. A wash brings out the color boldly and many of the colors have high tinting strength. The watercolor pencils are extremely soluble and handle well - as well as the Staedtler Karat Aquarell that were my favorites before Derwent did their New Formula watercolor pencils. So these are among the better watercolor pencils I've ever used. Softness is a big plus.

The set includes a size 4 pony hair brush. I think it's pony or camel. It's heavily sized and a bit blunt, but perfectly usable if I were taking this set out on a plein air trip and just looking to wash over watercolor pencils instead of painting fine details with a very pointed round.

The graphite pencils are in a "soft sketching" range from 2H to 8B. This is wonderful. I don't know if you've ever run into this with boxes and tins of pencils with multiple hardnesses, but the high B grade ones wear out faster than the H pencils. High H pencils have specialized uses in drafting and so on, but for sketching what you need is a set like this.

So overall, the Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set is a great bargain for anyone who's fond of sketching. High quality Raffine sketchbooks and drawing pads are also available from Jerry's and ASW so if you're looking for a gift for that compulsive sketcher, or for yourself when you are just tired of running through pencils too fast, give your budget a break and pick up this bundle. I've been meaning to get it for years and now I'm glad I did.

All three pencils sets came in cardboard packages with one folded cardboard sliding tray inside. I'm not fond of that form of storage for colored pencils, though the cardboard on these Raffine ones is a bit heavier than on some other brands I've found in this format. Another good reason to look at getting the bundle rather than buying the sets separately, any colored pencils sets benefit from living in an elastic bands case or a good fabric canvas roll.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Derwent Metallic Pencils on Black Book

I reviewed Derwent Metallic Pencils back in March, and the Derwent Black Book on September 1st.

Today in my email I got a cool little handout from Derwent announcing that they're changing the look of their Derwent Metallic Pencils with a lovely new tin and paint job. The pencils will now be hexagonal silver pencils - still skinny enough for a normal electric pencil sharpener. They'll have a metallic blue angled stripe to show what line they are and a color dipped end to show what color they are, rather than each one being dipped in its metallic color.

One of the things I like about Derwent's changes in pencil paint is that they're moving toward more ecologically friendly, water based enamels for it. While some of the older paint jobs were gorgeous, the company's concern for the environment runs higher than just appearance. Besides, the new style is very striking so they haven't sacrificed anything.

The new tin art has a blue peacock butterfly in Derwent Metallic pencils on black. I'd already done strip samples of the Metallic range in the back of my Black Book, so I thought hey, let's see how these two products go together. The handout raved about how great they are in combination. Let's test that.

You see the test above.

Wow. The smooth but heavy paper in the Derwent Black Book has enough tooth for some strong applications. I did some layering in some of the shaded areas in order to blend colors or just to run foreground elements over background elements - no problem. Some of the pencils are softer than others.

Two problems emerged. The metallic red seemed hard and didn't go on as heavily as the other colors, but I was able to get it to go on well after rolling it. I might've gotten some fixative or something on the point too, so I'll see if the problem continues. The copper pencil had to be sharpened with a knife because the core went off at an angle and didn't sharpen properly, but once I had, it came out fine.

The rest of course, performed perfectly.

This drawing looks much darker in person, though still rich, metallic and visible. A side effect of using metallic pencils on black paper is that unlike some other combinations that fade or get muted in scans... metallic on black will brighten up fiercely in a scan and look spectacular online. So keep this combination in mind when you need to do something to decorate a website.

Do your art manually with metallic on black, then open it in Gimp and notch up Contrast once, that takes the silver to about white. That's all I did to adjust the scan. Fiddle with the black or use the bucket fill to knock it down to pure black and you can lay something like this as a header over a black background, light text page seamlessly. I think I got close to it anyway, but if I were going to use it as a background online I'd want to push it that extra notch more toward purity of the black background or color-pick the art background and match it on the site just for smoothness.

So that's something to think about in choosing Derwent products, look at how they work together. It's a great combination, the flyer did not exaggerate that at all. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Derwent Black Book

Derwent's Black Book is a new and exciting sketchbook just introduced by one of my favorite art supply manufacturers. Known for innovation, Derwent had already created the most opaque white pencil it's ever been my pleasure to use in the white Derwent Drawing Pencil, and the light colors in the Drawing range are just as powerful on black or dark colors. What better to use them on than a spiral bound, hard cover black sketchbook with heavy black paper?

The pages are thick and strong, resembling card stock. The surface is smooth but surprisingly toothy, allowing fine detail with white pencils, inks or even gouache. I'd say given how heavy the sheets are that gouache or white Chinese inks would be just as good as dry mediums on this strong surface paper. The sample I received is A4 - a perfect size to fit on a scanner bed without slopping over the way 9" x 12" sketchbooks do.

The end papers are the same as the pages, giving you two more sheets for sketching, drawing or doing color charts. Below is my color chart for Derwent Drawing Pencils on the Black Book's matte black inside cover. The number at the bottom is probably a lot number or inspection number, it didn't seem to relate to anything else about it.

The only other black page sketchbooks I've run into was a Canson mi-Tientes one that has a heavy woven-look texture and of course is bound with that texture on top. The backside of Mi-Tientes is smoother but still much more rough than the Derwent Black Book pages. I could easily do very detailed drawing in white or light on black using gel pens or dip pens with opaque white or mixed light ink. While most colored inks are transparent, blending some white with them will render them opaque just like using white gouache or body color with transparent watercolors.

Another medium that may work beautifully with the Black Book is oil pastel. A quick spray of local wildflowers crossed by a fern shows how strong and bright oil pastel looks on this apparently too-smooth paper. I got good coverage with only moderate pressure.

Derwent Metallic pencils will also work beautifully on the 200gsm black paper and give a brilliant shine to it.

For any opaque drawing medium on black or dark paper, I usually do a value sketch with white pencil. Derwent Drawing Pencil in white is my favorite for this. On the oil pastels sample, I used the white oil pastel under the stems but not under the fern leaf to show the difference. It will not only make light colors pop brighter, but like doing a black or dark color value drawing on white, it helps organize my values and lay out the drawing better.

Light washes and watercolor pencils can be used on this 200gsm paper, but I wouldn't advise heavy washes over the whole thing all at once. Gouache could be a beautiful medium on it if you're not soaking the paper through painting large areas all at once.

Here's how oil pastel sketching looks on this strong, heavy black paper. Slide in a sheet of computer paper, tracing paper or glassine to protect the back of the previous page with oil pastels or other mediums that may smudge the facing page.

These black sketchbooks aren't currently available online in the USA as far as I know, though some UK online supply companies have them. Ask your local art store to stock it or email your favorite online art supply company suggesting they add this new sketchbook to their lineup of Derwent products. It's well worth the money and looks as if it'll be very popular, especially with how many iridescent, metallic and opaque dry mediums are out there crying for a good black surface!