Color Spree

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CarbOthello Pastel Pencils

CarbOthello Pastel Pencils are old friends just recently replaced. These were the first pastel pencils I had in the 1980s. At the time I was frustrated with them because I'd bought them open stock from an art store's closeout sale. They'd been sitting in the shop for a long time and gave me so much trouble with internal breakage that I had a love-hate relationship with them.

Very different from handling a nice new set that came safe in its tin. These are great pastel pencils. Like the Cretacolor pastel pencils, these are fully watersoluble. You can sketch and wash with them, giving a unique contrasting texture if you go back and forth between wet and dry passages. Colors are strong and opaque. They have a slightly different, softer feel when sketching, encouraging loose sketches and smudging.

Not one of them lost a point. When I got my old ones, half of them crumbled when I tried to draw and then of course got sharpened to half mast as they were pre-broken inside their casings. Either Stabilo has dramatically improved the product or I just had the luck of getting some severely battered pencils when I first tried them.

Even then, I loved them for their softness, their opacity, their covering power and ability to get strong color in fine details. These are artist grade pastel pencils suitable for use in a painting you plan to sell. They're also particularly useful for sketching under oil paintings if you prefer a violet or brown tone to blend with your colors instead of possibly muting them with vine charcoal.

Currently, a full range set of 60 CarbOthello pastel pencils is available that includes a set of Stabilo Point 88 fine line washable drawing pens. These are excellent for sketch and wash techniques. I'll be reviewing them in another post since they've become another useful part of my sketching arsenal.

Here's an iris sketch I did on Strathmore Charcoal paper with CarbOthello pastel pencils, showing a variety of effects. They smudged well and gave me plenty of layers on the heavily worked dark petals.

Iris sketch, 6" square by Robert A. Sloan

Pastel pencils may be the right choice for you if you love the look of dry pastels but like to work small. Some artists use pastel pencils exclusively even on very large paintings to produce fine-detailed realism or photorealism comparable to colored pencils realism. Others like to use them with other dry pastels to provide linear elements, create details or add textures like crosshatching.

They're versatile and portable. If you intend to transport yours, definitely invest in an elastic-band pencil case with sufficient padding, either the leather Global Classic pencil case or one of the zippered nylon equivalents or pencil easels. Leather's my personal favorite but price is comparable for either sort. Pastel pencils of any brand are going to be more fragile than even Prismacolor colored pencils.

Round, with color-enameled barrels and gray tipped ends, CarbOthello pastel pencils are standard pencil width rather than extra wide like Conte sketching pencils or several of the Derwent pencil lines. Because internal breakage is an issue with all pastel pencils, it's better to use the included CarbOthello Sharpener and replace it as soon as you feel any resistance to the sharpening. A new hand sharpener will feel very easy, like slicing paper with scissors. As soon as it's dull it will take more effort turning the pencil. That's when to change sharpeners, you can switch the old one over to using with graphite or hard colored pencils.

Stabilo includes three useful accessories in the 60 color tin: a Stabilo Carb-Othello Sharpener, a kneaded eraser and a double ended paper stump. The best way to erase pastels or pastel pencil is by lifting gently with a kneaded eraser if it's heavy or you want to take up just one layer, or rubbing with a kneaded eraser. The Stabilo Carb-Othello Sharpener is specially designed with a short cone and a special blade to keep from cracking the delicate core within the wooden casing. It's available separately at Blick for $2.04 and I recommend buying a handful of them so that you can replace it as soon as it starts giving trouble.

An alternative product is the wide hole General's All Art little red sharpener, that's proven effective for my Cretacolor pastel pencils. Don't just use a regular kid sharpener, let alone an old one. If you have a double hole sharpener, use the wide hole and a fresh blade for any pastel pencils.

The inconveniences of CarbOthello pastel pencils are the same as any other pastel pencils. They need a sharp blade and short angle hand sharpener, shouldn't be dropped and survive best if kept in an elastic band pencil case for travel. CarbOthello's quality is superb and the one problem I had with them is reduced to a normal level for this type of product. Definitely consider this brand when you invest in pastel pencils. If you like a very large palette, it doesn't exactly match the colors in the Cretacolor 72 set. Like colored pencils, multiple full range sets can give a greater variety of hues and values than only one.

Stabilo emphasizes lightfastness with this product, which makes CarbOthello pastel pencils a great choice for artists doing gallery work or high end commissions. The price is very reasonable compared to similar products. Blick does carry the Stabilo CarbOthello sharpener for these pastel pencils, other pastel pencils and colored pencils like Prismacolor that are prone to internal breakage.

Below is a sketch on Ampersand Gessobord preparing for a painting in Winsor & Newton Artisan watersoluble oils. The surface is actually white, that's just the lighting in my room making it seem darker and bluer. If you only get one or two of these to try them, violet and a deep brown are good choices for undersketching animals or landscapes, better than black.


  1. Thank you. This review was informative.

  2. Thank you. I have just recently unearthed my 24 tin case of 30 year old carb-othellos. (The lid has a lovely picture of horses obviously done with a water wash over the finished piece... will never discard it.) You have answered a lot of questions and worries I had about them. Some of them are difficult to sharpen due to internal breakage but those that aren't are beautiful to use.