Color Spree

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gallery Mungyo Soft Square Pastels

Gallery Mungyo Artist's Soft Pastel Squares are about half the price of the soft round pastels. At that price, I didn't expect to like them at all and didn't bother to buy them even though I liked the Soft Rounds and Semi-Hard pastels. They couldn't possibly be that good at that price, they must be something horrible, right?

Well, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of mine gave me a set of 48 soft squares. No, they aren't on a par with Art Spectrum, Rembrandt or Unison, let alone the hand-rolled pastels or Senneliers. You do get what you pay for.

But for a bargain pastel these are very sweet. I should have remembered how much I liked that little 64 half stick set. They're a lot like those - bright, soft, consistent in texture, easy to handle and sweet on unsanded paper. They're great sketching pastels and best of all, so inexpensive you can just go ahead and fill huge sheets of newsprint or sketch pads with them.

They aren't as pigment rich as the soft rounds, but they're not bad either and have a good texture. Reasonably soft, they go over hard pastels well. Texture is consistent across all the colors. The narrow wrapped sticks are easy to handle and give color name and number for easy replacement of most-used colors from open stock.

These are available in open stock from Jerry's Artarama or ASW, also at some chain hobby and art stores. Moderately priced, these are great for color studies, sketching, goofing around and having a lot of fun.

The manufacturer claims highest lightfastness for them but this hasn't been tested elsewhere as far as I know. I'd be very interested if someone in a sunny climate set up a year-long home lightfastness test with swatches of these and other Gallery Mungyo pastels by putting swatches in a sunny window and checking them against swatches kept in the dark for fading.

Watch out for fluorescent colors, by definition those are fugitive. The fluorescent effect is created by the pigment degrading, so they will fade rapidly and be dramatic until they do. Anything else though, the manufacturer's claims are worth something at least. They could be facing truth in advertising lawsuits if they can't show the pigments are lightfast, though not all testing is done with the pigment combined with the binder.

For something at this price range to claim lightfastness is pretty impressive. I know there are some modern pigments that are more lightfast than their original counterparts, like Permanent Alizarin Crimson vs. original Alizarin Crimson. So that to me is a point in their favor. If something came out really well using these, I wouldn't feel bad about selling it.

As opposed to certain other cheap brands of pastels that I have not reviewed because I didn't keep them or like them. You don't see negative reviews here mostly because I'm starting with the supplies I like and haven't kept the ones I couldn't stand. I hated ALphacolor pastels and almost gave up on the medium because those were the first ones I got. These are much better and very reasonably priced.

Here's a scene that I did with them on brown Aquabee Bogus Recycled Rough Sketch Paper. They perform beautifully on rough unsanded paper. It was easy to get broken color when I wanted it or layer a bit and fill the tooth. Colors are vibrant, consistent and easy to blend using sticks. I didn't finger-smudge anything on this one but on another sketch, they smudged fine.

Geese on the Water by Robert A. Sloan, 6" x 9"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Derwent Onyx Pencil

Derwent Onyx Pencils are another specialty pencil from Derwent. This time it's a pencil blacker than 9B graphite. The set comes with two Dark and two Medium Onyx pencils, a hand sharpener and a little white vinyl eraser on a bubble pack card. Very convenient little sketch set.

Onyx pencils are wide barrel, painted in environmentally aware matte black water based lacquer and dipped with a shiny black end and green slant band. They're easy to tell from your other Derwent pencils in a jar.

I love a good soft, dark, high B grade pencil whether it's a 6B, 8B or 9B. That's my favorite for sketching and drawing. The darker the better. Most of the very soft B grade pencils also smudge easily. Derwent Onyx, oddly enough, doesn't. It will smudge but not with the extreme loose messiness of a 9B graphite pencil, where I'll do half my work by reduction with an eraser. It smudges more like an HB or a B - moderate smudging, but not something like the H range pencils that scarcely smudge at all.

This is great for getting controlled texture effects and keeping my drawing clean. The main drawback to the super soft dark graphite pencils is that if the side of your hand brushes any finished part of the drawing, clouds of smudges will start to appear everywhere. I wind up spending half my time lifting those out with a kneaded eraser and carefully working around details to get them to the right value again.

Onyx pencils produce a clean, crisp line with a good texture. I did a couple of shading bars, one with the Dark Onyx and the other with the Medium ONyx. The difference is a bit more distinct in person than in the scan. Both of them get a good deep dark at the end of the shading bar, comparable to a black colored pencil more than any graphite pencil. Yet it's still got a little graphite sheen and in the mid values handles pretty much like a graphite pencil.

It's not as soft as I thought. The advantage is that the Onyx will hold a sharp point better than a 9B while giving a deep dark in your graphite drawing. The disadvantage is that it's not going to be as easily smudged for a quick line-and-smudge sketch comparable to pen and wash sketching. Each pencil has its own character and the Onyx has a unique feel and style.

Because it's more firm than the dark B range pencils, I can get crisp lines and clean value shifts when I want them. It gives very good light marks as well, shown in the wombat's highlights. I did little or no erasing on the wombat sketch, but where I did decide to lighten a highlight the Onyx lifted much more easily than a black colored pencil such as the Derwent Artists' or Coloursoft.

The only comparable products I've ever used are Design Ebony pencils. They too produce a very dark line or tone yet hold a strong point. I've enjoyed Ebony pencils for years. I got my first one in high school and loved it, better than any normal graphite pencil I'd ever had. Derwent Onyx is like that, but more so. I've got plenty of Ebony pencils now but the deep darks I got in my wombat sketch and shading bands are visibly darker than I've gotten with Ebony pencils.

These are wonderful tools for anyone who enjoys drawing or sketching in graphite. They're good all by themselves or you can combine them with Derwent Graphic graphite pencils for a full range of graphite values. Once again, Derwent is pushing the boundaries of what pencils can do, something that's all to the good for any sketcher!

Of course the final test for any type of pencil sketching is how well it shows up in a scan or a photo. Graphite drawings are notoriously difficult to scan. Either you have to darken the scan till the highlights are medium gray to see the lines, or you lose all your light values entirely. I'm happy to report the Derwent Onyx is a lot easier to scan than comparable graphite pencils. My medium and light values did show up in this scan without darkening it too much. I deliberately did the little weeds behind the animal lightly to see at what point the line drops out in scanning.

Onyx stands up to the test, which makes it a very good pencil for drawing and posting your work online. It's a good thing the blister pack has two of each because I know I'll be using these pencils a lot!

Wombat study in Derwent Onyx pencils on Derwent Soft Cover Journal by Robert A. Sloan.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Aquabee Co-Mo Sketch Pad

Aquabee Co-Mo Sketch Pad is an 80lb double-sized multimedia pad available from Bee Paper. Anything with "Aquabee" in it is designed and sized to be used with at least light washes.

The paper is a Neutral Ph, Natural White sheet made with 20% post consumer waste fiber by its cover description. I'd call it more of a Bright White in person. I love the clean bright surface of this paper. It's also micro perforated for easy removal of sheets, whether that's because someone bought your sketch, you hated it and wanted to chuck it or you wanted to cut it up to use in a collage. Listed for use with Pencil, Pen and Ink & Light Washes, it's good for all three and a few other mediums besides.

Described as "Toothy, textured surface with excellent erasing qualities," it has a fine grained texture almost like cold pressed watercolor paper in miniature. The hills and valleys aren't so huge that they'll break pen lines done on the surface, but pencil lines will break up very nicely and so will pastels. Below is a pastel pencils sketch done on my 5" x 7" pad.

The texture of the paper has very narrow horizontal lines as well as a nondirectional "cold press" type of texture. It works very well with broken color and gave the water area a little more of a horizontal feeling when I went lightly. On the rocks, going over it with three or four layers of pastel pencils eliminated the texture. It held up well to multiple layers, although I was going lightly since this isn't a sanded pastel paper.

It's as good as any drawing paper for use with pastel pencils or hard pastels. Sketch mediums like Pastels Carre, Conte crayons and other hard pastels should go very well on this paper and it stands up well to wash techniques for watersoluble pencils and perhaps oil pastels.

So let's have a look at pen drawings with watersoluble Tombow dual tip pens on this interesting new paper.

These sketches were done loose and light with Tombow dual tip brush pens. I used two or three layers of color in some areas but didn't scrub the surface or try to blend out any soft edges. For sketching and doodling, the paper's excellent. I got good crisp hard edges when I wanted them and the surface encouraged that loose, playful approach to sketching.

This landscape, also created with Tombow Dual Tip Brush Pens, had a few problems. It may not be visible in the scan, but some areas where I blended out color with the colorless blender became oversaturated and the surface pilled. Also in the dark mountains area, where I toned colors with six or seven layers in some areas, I got some pilling and areas wearing off. It dried nice and flat though, even though it cockled slightly while I worked on it. I stopped working on any area where the surface texture got damaged, so the painting still worked overall.

Then I checked the back of the sheet for this page, the one I seriously battered with layer after layer and scrubbing with the colorless blender. To my pleasant surprise, there's no ghost image and no color bled through. The double sizing prevents bleed-through, so it would be very easy to work on both sides of these pages even though they're relatively lightweight for watercolor or multi-media paper.

Student watercolor paper is usually 90lb and that's considered very lightweight for watercolor papers. The only other sized paper I've tried that flattens out this well is the Strathmore Aquarius II specialty watercolor paper, which is very thin and still handles watercolor well without cockling.

So let's see how a light wash looks on this paper. First, a watercolor pencil drawing:

Pencil handles very well on it. I used Derwent New Formula Watercolour Pencils, which have a soft, consistent texture similar to soft graphite pencils and most good artist grade colored pencils. Again, the paper texture gave a delightful look to my dry sketch. It would be very easy to do tonal sketches with any soft pencil on this paper. The slight horizontal line texture gives overall unity to middle pressure tonal layers where it shows up most.

Then I used a wet watercolor round, not dripping but thoroughly damp, to wash my drawing. I dragged color around, let it puddle in some areas to get a smooth wash of color and used all my favorite watercolor pencil techniques except painting right out to the edge. I was fairly sure it'd cockle at that light 80lb weight if I did a big wash edge to edge and wanted to see if it'd dry flat with a moderately strong wash puddle in some isolated areas.

It dried good and flat. My scan shows a little cockling because it wasn't completely dry when I scanned, just touch dry. Now that it's sat in the pad for a few days, it's completely flat and I'm satisfied the cockles don't last.

The pencils performed beautifully and the wash just enhanced it. This paper is good for sketch and wash, pen and wash, pencil and pen sketching. It handles wet effects well until you scrub the surface, when it turns out to be a bit more delicate than sturdy, heavier watercolor papers. Lifting without scrubbing won't wreck it, I lifted some areas on this cat sketch successfully.

Erasing was as easy as any other paper, I had no trouble lightening or picking up color with my favorite kneaded eraser.

I'll definitely pick up some more of these pads for general sketching. The wire binding at the top is convenient and lays flat in my scanner. The back board is sturdy enough that I don't need a drawing board with it and the paper quality is excellent.

This is the second time that a Bee Paper product turned out a lot better than I expected. The Aquabee Bogus Recycled Rough sketch pad became one of my favorite unsanded pastel papers for sketching. With two successes so far, Bee Paper is becoming one of my preferred paper companies. I hope to try some more of their modestly priced, good quality products.

Aquabee Co-Mo Sketch pads are very inexpensive. The 30 sheet 5" x 7" pad I tested is $2.99 at Dick Blick. 6" square, 9" square, 9" x 12" and 11" x 14" pads are also available ranging up to $6.49. If you like sketching in a variety of wet and dry media, these inexpensive pads are a great resource. Try a small one and see if you like it. I know I did, despite the pilling when it's overworked.