Color Spree

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gallery Artists Handmade Soft Pastels

Gallery Artists' Handmade Soft Pastels are the latest addition to the Mungyo Gallery line of reformulated soft pastels. I've tried the Semi-Hard sticks, the Soft Squares and Soft Rounds, finding each of these products to be far higher quality than their economical price suggests. On all these new lines, quality is consistent, the manufacturer claims lightfastness and the products are AP non toxic. It's safe to use them around small children and animals.

I really looked forward to trying the Gallery Artists' Handmade Soft Pastels. So when I received a 30 color review set, I was thrilled. No disappointment here! The color range in the 30 color set is complete with warm and cool primaries and green, a full spectrum, some extremely useful tints, a few of the most useful neutrals and some very useful darks - two dark greens, a very dark blue, dark cool gray and moderately dark reddish brown. Tints include pale blue, dusty pale violet, pale yellow a little darker than ivory, a good medium pink and a light orange excellent for portrait highlights. Whoever picked which sticks to put in this range was right on form to make it a balanced set for general use. Portraits, landscapes, floral still lifes, any subject I felt like painting would be possible just using this set.

Spectrum colors are clear, true and bright. It's much easier to scumble over spectrum bright colors to mute them, or use tints to mute and lighten them or darks to darken and mute them, than it is to try to create strong brights when you don't have them in the box. The colors are so rich and vivid that I've had doubts about the lightfastness, so they may have been finding ways of using Quinacridones among the pigments or some other modern lightfast bright red-violets.

Texture on the Gallery Artists' Handmade soft pastels is very similar to Unisons and a sample stick of Richeson Handmade that I've tried. They're in exactly that category. The sticks are larger than Unisons but smaller than the big Richeson sticks and much smaller than the giant Mount Vision sticks, the other pastels I put in this texture category. They're soft, fluffy, creamy and go on easily. They'll go over all the others adding more layers. It's possible to build up strong impasto effects much easier with these than the other three Gallery pastels. Texture is consistent across all the colors, a big help if you like predictability. None of the colors in this set crumbled or had trouble holding together.

These are finishing pastels. The price is significantly higher, matches the price of Richeson handmade pastels for the same reason. They're hand rolled. They take a lot more hand labor to create than machine-rolled pastels. Sticks are uniform in size for hand rolled, which is to say they vary slightly in shape and length. It looks like each one was made with the same size dollop of paste and the roller sometimes got them a little longer and sometimes a little fatter.

They can be used on unsanded pastel paper with spectacular results. I watched an Arnold Lowrey pastel video on ArtistsNetworkTV and decided to give this set a stretch on Canson Mi-Tientes to see how they perform.

Wow. I should've known. Every one of these has been sweet on my favorite inexpensive sanded pastel paper. Here's my version of the Lowrey demo seascape:

Following the demo, I used light applications, blended and layered. These pastels gave me more layers on Mi-Tientes than others I've tried. They're comparable to Mount Vision on unsanded paper and handled a lot like my Unisons. If you like Unisons, you may want to look close at the Gallery Artists' range for some of the bright colors missing in the Unison range.

Packaging is good too. Good slotted foam padding inside a very sturdy cardboard box slides into a lightweight cardboard sleeve that keeps the box closed and gives added protection, with another layer of foam on top. I'd trust this set to be tossed in its original package into my carry bag when I go out doing street art in San Francisco. Its compact box and good range for the number of pastels will make it a great set for taking out into the city for plein air painting.

Like the rest, these are available at Jerry's Artarama and ASW. Online price is $2.99 a stick, same as the Richeson handmade at Blick. I prefer these to the Richesons because everything else being equal, the color range in Gallery Artists' Handmade Soft Pastels is more evenly balanced with fewer near duplicates even in the full range 200 color wood box set.

That's a wicked temptation. At only $499 it's a glorious big full range set for anyone who likes having a great range of tints per hue in an evenly balanced range without any major gaps. I'm impressed by the color range Gallery produced in these handmade pastels. Excellent all around, Gallery Artists' handmade soft pastels might become my workhorse pastels for street sketching.

I'm relocating to San Francisco at the end of the month. Updates might be a bit irregular since the move has me very busy, but I have lots more good art supplies stacked up to review - four more Stillman & Birn archival journals, Lukas Berlin watersoluble oils, SoHo Urban Artists products, great new brushes and much, much more. Even a Charvin premium linen canvas and set of top quality artists' oils. Of course I'll have to demonstrate the SoHo Urban Artist stuff with urban scenes! Good thing I'm moving somewhere that I can't turn a corner without seeing something paintable!

Sometime in late August or late September, I'll get my license from the San Francisco Arts Commission and pick up my old Street Sketching career. Back when I lived in New Orleans, I was one of the artists who set up in the French Quarter painting outdoors all day and selling off the easel. For more information and articles about my move, see my other blog, Robs Art Lessons. As I pack up my studio, relocate and set up to do my old gig again, I'll describe everything from how to paint for tourists to how I relocate across the continent with all of my kit and get set up again for the job I loved best - street art!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stillman and Birn Delta Series Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Delta Series Sketchbook is a top quality, archival, super tough all-media art journal with teeth! If there's a Bruce Willis of sketchbooks, I think I just met it. This handsome 6" x 8" double wire bound multi media book stood up to everything I tried on it and just kept asking for more. Begging for more, no matter how much I soaked it, the rough tooth ivory paper kept its grip on pastel and watercolor pencil marks until washed or smudged.

Recently I received five beautiful sketchbooks from Stillman & Birn, one each of all five Greek letter archival sketchbooks. Each one is archival and top quality, what varies is the type of surface - rough, medium, smooth, the color and the weight of the paper. Each of these top quality sketchbooks is best for different types of media but all of them seem flexible and tough enough for a wide variety of uses - including my favorite sketch and wash. So let's start with the Delta.

The first book that attracted me is the Stillman & Birn “Delta Series” with extra heavy weight rough ivory paper. The color’s very pleasing, a light soft ivory that’s just dark enough a white accent would barely show up, giving a warm cast to any colors I put on it. The paper is super heavy - 180lb or 270 gsm. Thicker than standard 140lb watercolor paper, its enhanced wet strength is suitable for mixed media rendering.

I wanted to know if it would stand up to anything I threw at it.

My first test page has a sketch of a white horse done with Derwent Watercolour Pencils and washed. The rough, toothy paper took the color as strong and deep as the Aquabee Bogus Recycled Rough paper, it’ll be wonderful for pastels, pastel pencils and oil pastels. I added several layers in some patches for mixed color before washing them, felt as if I could’ve added even more if I wanted to.

I washed that with a wet Niji waterbrush, squeezed heavily and gave it quite a bit of water in some spots. No cockling, no trouble, the paper absorbed the water easily and nothing bled through to the other side. I love this paper!

Below the horse picture, I chose a dark purple pencil and tested how well the multi media paper erases. I went very heavy, achieved full deep coverage quick because the rough toothy paper held the color easily. This will be great for colored pencils sketching even with the softest pencils like Coloursoft or Prismacolor.

I had no doubt graphite would come up easily, so I picked the toughest pencil to erase and lighten - dry soft Derwent Watercolour pencil. I used a Faber Castell pencil eraser to cut through the color all the way down to the paper.

Wow. It did erase completely where I gave it the most work. The paper surface doesn’t feel damaged in the erased patches either, even though I went heavy with the eraser using one that often damages weaker papers.

Delta Series paper is extremely tough. I love it. But I’d only washed it with a water brush. What would happen if I wanted to do big soggy wet in wet washes in my journal? Clouds with dropped in color or splashy drips and backruns?

I used a 1” flat brush to soak the back of the white horse page up to 1/2” from the edges. Had water floating on it and shiny at first, then got out Daniel Smith watercolor sticks and doodled into it.

My, the Delta has thirsty paper. No sooner had I started sketching than the big soggy initial wetting sank in and I was working on barely-damp paper. That was surprising, but gave me a chance to see how the toothy surface handled DS Watercolor Sticks. I love it. I got good strong color.

Slight warping occurred in the heavy washing, but it flattened out again pretty fast. With the same big brush, I laid in another big wash area above and below the ammonite doodles, then picked up color from the ends of Ultramarine and Sap Green Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks to add swirls and swooping soft-edged watery shapes. THis worked, I did get some soft edged passages especially putting color into an area that already had two water washes and a color stroke. It still soaked up the water fast!

Last, to see how pastel pencils responded on the dried surface, I added a few linear and smudged elements with Carb-Othello Stabilo Pastel Pencils. Color laydown was as fast and soft as with the Derwent Watercolour Pencils and smudging to softness as easy as a quick swipe with my fingers. The multimedia test doodle is 100% successful.

I can do whatever I want on this paper. It’s perfect for mixed media. I’d have no hesitation at gluing in photos or clippings, carving it up with a razor blade to get sparkles, splashing it with acrylics or repeatedly melting areas with a spray bottle. It just keeps taking the punishment and performing beautifully. All that washing didn’t reduce the tooth one bit.

Remember the Eraser Test in the earlier image? I did that before turning the page to drown it before doing my Ammonites Doodle, Looking at it now - exactly the same. No matter how much I poured into it, the paper didn't get damp enough on the side previously used to activate the watercolor pencil eraser test. It's still dry on dry. I can be fearless about turning the page and using both sides even if I'm using watersoluble mediums and want to keep them dry or undisturbed.

This art journal is perfect for outdoor sketching in watercolor or anything I feel like using. Even heavy washes don’t bleed through to the other side of the page and the cockling is minimal - it took a good third of a cup of water to begin to make it cockle. There was none at all from just using the Niji water brush.

This super paper is 87% alpha cellulose, not a rag paper but plant fiber nonetheless. It's forestry certified for woodland ecology and conservation. Highly uniform fiber distribution means there's tooth but no distracting texture like a rough watercolor paper often has - fine clean lines in pen or wash and smooth hard edges are easy. Internal and external sizing is probably why my purple watercolor pencil erasing experiment didn't get wet from the super soaked Ammonite Doodle. At 180lb, it's beefier than standard artist's weight watercolor paper and cockles less.

I'd have no trouble gessoing a few pages to do oils in the field or just doing acrylics right on the paper. This really can take whatever I want to do with it and I know with this archival quality, my color studies and field paintings will still be good years later when I want to do studio paintings from them. I used artist grade supplies because I know the paper will last.

The Stillman & Birn Delta Series Sketchbook is a top of the line artist’s grade sketchbook or art journal. Tough, beautiful, sturdy multi-media paper within heavy board covers in a spiral binding, the Delta is my choice when I want to be able to choose what to use on the spot. So far it stands up to anything I throw at it with so much tooth that oil pastels, pastel pencils or dry pastels would behave just as well with it.