Color Spree

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

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mungyo Gallery Artist's Soft Pastels

Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels are a discount artist grade brand of medium-soft round soft pastels. Don't mistake these for the Mungyo Gallery Square pastels or the cheaper student grade ones - these are artist grade and claim lightfastness even though they use hues for some mineral colors. The range of 200 is available in a wood box set, various set sizes from 12 on up to 200 and open stock colors can be found at Jerry's Artarama and ASW, same as some other brands like Erengi Art Aspirer oil pastels.

Because they are non toxic, these make a good choice for artists who work around small children or pets. This is a tradeoff. Genuine Cadmium and Cobalt pigments have certain working properties, especially in wet mediums, that aren't duplicated by using other pigments - especially in watercolors, acrylic and oil painting, real Cadmiums are far more opaque than their color-matching hues. This isn't necessarily as much of a problem with soft pastels, all have a dusty consistency.

In some of the more expensive brands, you'll find the hardness of the stick will vary with the working properties of the pigments. Sennelier is well known for using as little binder as possible and not even trying to keep the consistency the same between different pigments - the up side is that you get the pigments you chose and learn to use those colors in their unique ways.

For beginners and for anyone who doesn't have a big collection of pastels, that can also get frustrating. Other artist grade brands will use fillers to "even out" the texture of various pigments. Mungyo Gallery Artist's Soft Pastels have a consistent texture across all the sticks, you won't find one so soft you can barely hold the stick and another one almost like a hard pastel or gritty. Pigment load is pretty good. It's not up there with my expensive hand rolled Unison pastels but it's decent, especially for the price.

Hardness is in a category with Rembrandt and Art Spectrum, of that category I think the greatest pigment load can be found in Art Spectrum... along with a number of toxic mineral pigments that are more dangerous to breathe than the non toxic Mungyo Gallery. So when you choose a brand of soft pastels, it's important to balance health concerns, working style, how much protection you want to use while painting, ventilation and feel.

I'd definitely recommend these as a frugal alternative for beginners over any student grade brand. They're soft enough for easy sketching and blending, their medium texture is versatile and the color range is excellent. They are available in open stock, so it's possible to replace colors used in sets, fill out weak color areas in a mixed-brand collection or put together your individual palette choices. That's another important element in whether an art supply is considered artist grade - can you order fifteen Indigo Tint 3 sticks because you're doing a honking big painting with a vast span of Indigo Tint 3 sky, or are you stuck buying them in sets and getting a lot of colors you might not use?

If you, like me, are teaching a talented, underage artist and want to make sure she or he has artist grade supplies, this type of product is the best thing to start them off with. Toxicity may be more dangerous to young people whose bones and bodies are still growing than to adults, also youth are less likely to wear gloves, use barrier creams, make sure they've got adequate ventilation or wear face masks. They want to get down and make a mess painting, even when they're skilled enough you'd think they're adults. So if you're buying these as a gift for an underage pastelist, both the price and their non toxic hues are in favor of Mungyo Gallery Artist's Soft Pastels. These are the round ones.

I haven't tried the Squares. Those are half the price, which to me suggests that they might have twice the filler even though they are listed as lightfast. Those are priced and shaped comparable to Loew Cornell soft pastels, the original Blick student grade soft pastels, Alphacolors and similar products. These round, labeled sticks are much closer to Rembrandt in feel than any other brand I've tried.

The wood box is probably a veneer over sturdy MDF like the Mungyo Semi-Hard set, with a second tray to hold all the colors. I would recommend it as a sturdy box even if it's not the type of solid wood boxes that pricier brands like Winsor & Newton or Sennelier produce - it also doesn't cost as much and the one I have with the Semi-Hard set is just as good for protecting the sticks.

The cardboard box sets are packaged the same way as those 64 clever little Mungyo Gallery half sticks that I love for a sketch set. A sturdy cardboard box has two trays filled with slotted foam and foam padding on top to protect the sticks, then for added protection against the box falling open, it slides into a cardboard sleeve. If you're putting a set on edge inside your backpack for sketching outdoors, that sleeve can be a lot of help! Even if it drops off a shelf, it's less likely to fall open and the sticks are less likely to break with all that padding.

Here's the color range of the 60 color set that I bought. It has a reasonable number of darks and tints for a 60 color range, a good spectrum and good choices in warm and cool neutrals. I used a piece of gray Canson Mi-Tientes for the swatches so the values on the tints would be easier to see. One gray almost precisely matches the paper, but the white shows up very clean and strong, distinct from the tints.

The size of the box on this 60 color cardboard set is pretty convenient, it'd fit in any backpack or messenger bag for outdoor sketching and painting. That may be another good use for Mungyo Gallery Artist soft pastels - because they're not toxic pigments, they may do less damage to the environment when puffs of dust come off your easel. You're not poisoning the squirrels and birds with them or putting Cadmiums into water runoff.

Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastel rounds are often on sale at both Jerry's Artarama and ASW. Watch for sale prices on the sets and on open stock. If you want a lot of colors for a very low budget, give these a try with a small set or a few chosen open stock colors to see how you like them. Some of my friends hated them because both Art Spectrum and Rembrandt beat them for pigment concentration. I enjoyed them and would be very happy to use this set outdoors or over at the farrier school to sketch the horses. Less concern about toxicity balances against the stronger pigment concentration in Rembrandt and Art Spectrum for a medium-soft pastel.

They handled very well on Canson mi-Tientes, either smooth or textured side. They smudge easily, are quite softer than any of my hard pastels and will carry several layers even on unsanded paper.

For best results in soft pastel painting rather than quick sketching, I recommend getting some hard pastels, some medium pastels of this type of hardness and some hand-rolled or super-soft pastels such as Sennelier half sticks, Schminke, Unison or Richeson Hand-Rolled. For a bargain startup, Gallery Semi-Hard, Gallery Artist Soft Pastels (round) and some Richeson Hand-Rolled pastels might make a good initial investment. They're better than student grade, in the artist grade category, but in pastels especially where most of what you're paying for is pigment load versus filler, you'll get what you pay for.

They definitely beat the other super-bargain brand I've invested in - the Yarka Soft Pastels. Mostly on palette. Texture is similar but the Yarka palette has serious gaps especially in pure tone yellows, oranges, reds, violets and strong greens. Yarka's got some good blues and is strong on gradated tints, but often the brightest color in a pigment range is still a mid tint rather than a pure tone. So if you already have some Yarka soft pastels, you might consider filling out the range with full intensity Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels. They're close enough in texture that they'd play well together and be interchangeable.

Yarka has been recategorized as Student Grade for palette range issues, although the Yarka ones do include genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts. Don't mix them if you're buying these for an underage friend or student, Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels are better for anyone who may have toxicity issues.

Below is a sketch of my granddaughter's dragon toy as a flying dragon on pale yellow Canson Mi-Tientes, textured side, done with Gallery Mungyo Artist Soft Pastels. These and a pad of Canson mi-Tientes would be a great sketching combination.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Derwent Inktense Blocks

Derwent Inktense Blocks are the latest wonderful invention from the mad color scientists at Derwent Pencils. They're still only available in the UK, but if you live in the USA or other countries you can get them from Pencils4Artists online.

They're worth paying international shipping rather than waiting for the USA or your local country's Derwent distributor to get them. These sticks are convenient! Available in 24 color tins or 12 color tins, they come in sturdy thick slotted foam within the tin unlike the flimsy styrene slotted holders some other stick shaped products do. It's the same thick soft foam that's in the Derwent Pastels tin and the same good sturdy tin. The lid comes completely off, so you may want to toss a couple of large rubber bands around it to chuck it in your backpack or satchel.

They're ink on the go. Add a Derwent water brush or Niji or Sakura water brush, any of the new water-in-handle nylon water brushes and you can do ink painting anywhere you want. They're also great for sketching.

Best of all, nearly all the colors are lightfast unlike many colored pencils. Derwent has a full color chart with lightfastness ratings on the Blue Wool scale available at All colors except Poppy Red, Shiraz and Fuchsia are lightfast - anything 6, 7 or 8 is considered lightfast for artists intending to sell their works.

So in your sketchbook, use the whole 24 color tin. When you're painting to sell you can mix Chili Red with both lightfast yellows to get oranges, Tangerine to get red-orange or Violet to get a magenta hue. If you purchase the 12 color tin and want all the colors lightfast, you can swap in Chili Red and Violet for Poppy Red and Fuchsia from open stock.

Dry, they handle better than the similar Prismacolor Art Stix. Those are Prismacolor core material formed into a stick, good for use with colored pencils because you can fill large areas with them and use them on their sides. Derwent Inktense Blocks have the same convenience but a slightly different texture, both softer and dryer at the same time. Almost pastel-like, they blend very nicely when dry with less wax in them than the Prismacolor product.

Of course the Prismacolor Art Stix don't wash with water, but you can get wash effects using odorless mineral spirits, Bestine rubber cement thinner and other thinners with colored pencils. They're both quite useful products because they're compact and entirely made up of pigmented material. No waste and you get eight good sharp corners for tight details and thin lines. Self-sharpening too if you wear down the ends at an angle for a chisel point, this also allows some thick-thin calligraphic strokes.

Of course the first thing I did with my set was color chart them. As usual, Derwent has a fine eye for which hues are absolutely essential in a smaller set. I could mix anything with the 24 hues charted here. Notice that all of them did photograph fairly true with my webcam. Some light colors drop out on scanners and photos, but others don't - it may be coincidence but I like it a lot when an art supply's lighter colors don't vanish or turn into the next hue. Lemon yellows should remain yellow, not turn lemon green or vanish to white.

Like Derwent's famous Inktense pencils, these Inktense blocks can be activated once. After wetting and drying, they become waterproof. It's easy to glaze layers over previous elements you painted in without dissolving them, which can lead to a beautiful effect when used with other colors or with watercolor pencils or water mediums. Like Inktense, a little goes a long way. The colors are very strong once washed, the color chart itself shows this. The bottom of each swatch is where I pulled color off the scribbled area into clean white paper and it's still strong.

At the same time Derwent came out with these blocks, they created two good accessories for them that I'll be ordering from Pencils4Artists. A set of three rubber Grippers are handy if you want to keep your hands clean, though the blocks didn't come off on my fingers when I did today's sketch below. They're useful for anything that size of stick, which is similar to the Prismacolor Art Stix and most hard pastels. Grippers could be handy for a wide variety of stick mediums. If your hands sweat, they're a great convenience. Alternately you can just pick them up with a bit of paper wrapped around the end.

There's also a Grate 'n Shake jar with a grater lid. You can scrape the blocks over the grater lid to put Inktense powder in the jar, add a few drops of water and create strong liquid washes for painting - a great convenience for those who want to use these blocks for Japanese ink painting especially.

Like the Inktense pencils, they work fine on any sort of paper and can also be used to paint on fabric permanently. I think that may require heat setting with an iron to keep it from laundering out. The main thing to remember if you're trying that is to experiment on scraps first and make sure the Inktense pencil or block is completely liquefied - heavy dry applications may not dissolve completely and so they'd activate again on the next water wash.

You don't need much to get a strong, beautiful effect with these blocks. I love them and expect to use them constantly - a couple of masking tape tabs on the tin and it'll come with me anywhere. Here's the first sketch I've done with them as an example, a winter scene that looked so nice dry that I really should've snapped another photo before washing. Take my word for it, even dry it had a cool, "broken color" loose sketching effect that's gorgeous. Better still, get some and try it for yourself both wet and dry.

I've also created a YouTube video review demonstrating Derwent Inktense Blocks, so I thought I'd embed it in this entry:

Let's see if that worked!

Edit as of May 8th: I added the information about lightfastness to this review and also have some good news. Dick Blick carries Derwent Inktense Blocks in 12 and 24 color tins plus open stock. So you'll have no trouble putting together a custom tin of 12 if you want a smaller selection that's 100% lightfast, or replacing any color you've used up because you enjoy them so much.