Color Spree

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alvin Ruling Pen and Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons

Ari Cat with White Whiskers
Pen and watercolor with Neocolor II white whiskers

Behold the beauty of my cat's bright white whiskers! I have been trying for over a decade, really the past fifteen years since I got this cat as a six week old kitten, to render his beautiful white whiskers against his dark black mask. White gel pens skipped, stuttered and picked up paint from whatever dark color I pulled them over. White watercolor turned out to be too thin and translucent even applied with a narrow fine brush and once, with a dip pen.

Alvin Ruling Pen in case
approx. 6" long minus loop

Some time ago I bought an Alvin Ruling Pen. I read about this type of pen for making fine lines with an even clean edge. Ordered it from Blick and tucked it in among small things to bring a large order back up to Free Shipping level. I love getting free stuff so when they do a big coupon I'll do that. 

Then it went in a drawer and I forgot it was there, moved to California, never got around to trying it. Recently was looking for something else and found it, so took it out meaning to experiment. Like dip pens it's a little more cumbersome than my Pigma Microns or Pentel Pocket Brush pen. It needs to be filled constantly, per line almost. But the results floored me.

It wasn't that hard to use. I liquefied shavings from the white crayon by dropping water in them in a porcelain palette well and stirred around till I had a nice thick white liquid about like Half & Half for consistency - not quite as watery as ink or watercolor but still definitely liquid. Got a drop of the stuff into the tip of the pen and dared to put a whisker onto my perfect cat portrait which I hadn't reserved any whiskers on.

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II artist crayons set, closed

Wow. It was lovely. Next one skipped a little because the drop was almost used up, but I chalked that up to light hitting it intermittently and accepted it. Started reloading every whisker or two to get it right and finally had the results I wanted.

I chose the white Neocolor II crayon because they were a little more handy than digging out a set of acrylics to use acrylic paint and the same thing applied to white oil paint with the additional hassle of cleaning up after it. I wanted something watersoluble I could clean off the pen whether it worked or not and thin enough to flow like ink, opaque when thinned that far. It was my best guess for opacity at that liquidity and I wasn't wrong.

While my product photos are downloading, I'll give a little history on my Neocolor II crayons. I first bought them on impulse at Dixie Art Supply on Jackson Square in New Orleans when I'd sold a bunch of portraits, made my rent and bills and saw this beautiful set of watersoluble crayons sitting out. They were a little expensive but completely new art supplies. I thought they'd be easier to use than gouache or acrylic with a wet brush and I was right. They are fantastic. So I bought a set of 40, experimented, the paintings didn't sell because they weren't portraits of people's loved ones but I liked the results both wet and dry.

Then I found out that they could be used for face painting. They're pigment rich, non toxic, opaque, easily liquefied and blend wonderful. I started using them with costumes for Mardi Gras and various conventions, found some professional face painters using them and treasured the set for that. Lost them in a move, so years later replaced my set of 40 with the 84 color set. Colors below.

Neocolor II Watersoluble Artist Crayons 84 set open.

Look at that rich variety of earth tones, all those lovely lights and darks. I like having certain colors in my palette for both face paintin and painting. These are lightfast, pigment rich and have a texture a lot like firm oil pastels - very similar to the Caran D'Ache Neopastel oil pastels I reviewed on my oil pastels site. Used as paint by liquefying shavings, they are opaque about like a good gouache but do not have the matte look of gouache.

Instead, the surface is a little waxy and has a bit of shine, less than graphite but more like a latex paint. It's a lovely look in itself. Moreover, a toothy surface for going over it with more dry marks or with oil pastel. Thin them far enough and like gouache they become transparent. Thin them just enough and you can easily lay light over dark with a brush.

I have also tried the similar Cretacolor AquaStic watersoluble oil pastels. I'm not sure why Neocolor II crayons don't get called watersoluble oil pastels, they act just like them and are a step softer and more opaque. I prefer the Neocolor II to the AquaStic product but both are very good and versatile.

These are a far cry from the Crayolas you used as a kid. They are an adult artist material and works done with them either mixed media or by themselves are archival, lightfast, top quality and can be sold with confidence. If your skills are high enough to sell your art, they will easily pay for themselves as a bold, saturated medium with enormous possibilities. My big set is currently $148 at Dick Blick and I've got a small pocket set of 15 in my cart for my next art supply order. They are wonderful for field sketching in the same way watercolor pencils are, sketch and wash is easy with them.

They are extremely cost effective! You can sketch fast on toned paper like Canson Mi-Tientes or just use watercolor paper and tone it with a wash. Wet and dry effects are easily controlled and their bluntness encourages free style looseness. However if you want fine detail they can be sharpened in a pencil sharpener or with a knife that doesn't need to be sharp. That white stick is great for dabbing in an eye highlight if sharpened.

Overall five stars for both products, a great new tool and a wonderful, versatile old friend painting, drawing and sketching medium.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

Emu in Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and watercolor
7" square on watercolor journal

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Life happens and I fell behind on a number of things. Today's new product is the best of its kind - with just one caveat.

The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen takes a long learning curve!

I bought this pen three or four months ago. I had enormous trouble controlling it at first. The point is not the same as my Tombow dual tip brush pens or even my Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers, Pitt Artist Pen brush tips, Pigma Micron brush tips. It's exponentially more sensitive with a much finer tip - and so it's much more sensitive to pressure. Much more likely to flow thick when I want thin or flip off into another direction with an unexpected tremor.

Cat sketches from last May when I first got the pen.

The lines are a lot rougher in the ones I first did with it. I couldn't control them as well and sometimes overcompensated, made the whole line too dark. I started penciling under anything I did with it.

I recommend this pen wholeheartedly. The tip is unlike any other brush pen. It's actually a very fine brush with hairs and the best tip of any round brush I've played with, comparable to the best sable rounds. It has real hairs and the ink is of course proprietary but waterproof, archival and black like the better Pigma Micron brush tips and so on when absolutely new.

It hasn't worn down despite a lot of sketching. The main thing is, don't expect great results on first use. Practice with it. One great exercise is to try lettering freehand with it - do a text in your art journal and don't worry about botched letters or unbalanced ones. I still occasionally get too-thick lines in my monogram signature as I get used to its unparalleled sensitivity.

I bought it because James Gurney recommended it - and thankfully, he mentioned that it was super sensitive and took a while to really learn.

What I didn't realize was that in learning to control this pen, my overall pen work would become so much better. I've spent decades relying on the clean lines of Pigma Microns and Rapidographs, technical pens with a mechanically smooth line. The expressive thick-thin lines are coming into my work more now on this scale now that I've got the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

It's about $15 and the cartridge packs are reasonable too. Much more like a fountain pen than the usual disposable brush pen. Of course it'd make a perfect writing instrument for someone using Chinese or Japanese traditional scripts, most brush pens originated as writing pens for Asian calligraphy. But this one really tops the list for fine detail and sensitive control of line.

Educate your hand and invest in one!

Asian Leopard Cat
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Watercolor ATC

The Asian Leopard Cat ATC was a breakthrough that made me realize just how powerful this pen can be in my illustrations. I deliberately let myself use very small marks and pointed strokes, made the fur shaggy, used strong marks and light marks deliberately to create the animal's markings without hard edged shapes. The results stunned me. This cat would not have been so natural or illustrative without the perfect point on the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

Expressive lines are harder to learn than smooth line work and cross hatching, but once you get it you'll never turn back! i still haven't used up that first cartridge either, done dozens of these drawings and renderings without a skip or a blotch. Letting it sit for a few days capped doesn't make it blob or choke either - as always my supplies rotate and I can go a week or two without using it, then decide I need line work again.

So if you like brush pens, get a Prismacolor or Pigma Micron or Pitt Artist Pen brush tip just to start and then get one of these to upgrade. Keep the thing in your pocket, sketch with it often and don't expcet perfect results until you start getting them. Penciling first so that while inking you concentrate on line control rather than design helps a lot while learning - the Asian Leopard Cat and Emu were penciled first. But now that I'm more used to it, I've begun doing quick cat gestures without penciling again and gotten good results! They will come! Just be patient with yourself and make yourself use it often till they do!

For an easy, introductory brush pen, get a black Tombow Dual Tip for notans and thumbnails, then add a gray or two for value studies. The larger brush tip is a bit more forgiving and will also help you avoid extraneous detail in preliminary drawings. I find I tend to do more detailed drawings if thumbnailing with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen due to its size and fineness but it fills in black areas well and can create halftone textures by hatching. Thumbnails may become another good practice activity if you hatch your middle tones.

The pen is available at Dick Blick and probably other art supply stores and I got cartridges at Amazon, so that's a convenience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Holbein Artists' Soft Pastels 36 Half Sticks

36 Holbein Half Sticks

A surprise gift from a dear friend added a new brand of pastels to my habits both at home and plein air. These are nice pastels. Medium-soft, they feel a bit like Rembrandt half sticks and very smooth. 

The color range in a set of 36 was excellent especially as a flower palette. I use a Colourist style so having good tints aronnd the spectrum, a few good spectrum darks and quite strong brights more than made up for relatively few neutrals. No actual grays and no cooler dark brown are a little inconvenient but nowhere near as bad as missing tints.

Your favorite hues may or may not be included, so I present the photo of the colors first. It's a bit overexposed. The reds and oranges aren't all tints, though there are good tints. Also some spring green and intense aqua colors. One workhorse somewhat dark sap green can easily be modified and lightened with green tints and a dark warm blue, maroon and relatively dark violet-cast blue help for shadowing. They're nice pastels for outdoor use or indoor. You'll find yourself overlaying pure hues if you want to mute them but they're all there.

 Cover of the set with a US quarter on it for scale.

Most of all, the set is so small it literally fit in the pocket of my khaki pockets vest. It's waist length with various medium or small zippered or velcro closed pockets full of art supplies, pocket watercolor set, assorted pencils and pocket size journals. I wear that whenever I go out. This is the first set of soft pastels that fits in that handy pocket. The box is 6 3/4" x 4 3/4" sturdy cardboard box with styrene tray and foam overlay inside a sturdy clear sleeve made from that strong tough material used for CD and small electronics packaging. You know, the stuff you need a tin snips to get at the USB key you just bought.

Normally I carry a 12 color Color Conte set but now I've finally got soft pastels in my "hands free" going out kit! Tuck some 4" x 6" pieces of sanded paper inside the box over the foam and you're good to go for plein air. You can even cut them with 1/4" matting edge around the sides. 

What fits in my vest pocket would fit most jacket pockets I've ever had. I always rate packaging on pastel sets and this one may wind up outliving its contents. I like the cardboard box, slots and sleeve style of package anyway for sturdiness and the exact size of this kit just put it in the same space as 10 or 12 color sets I've used in the past. Very, very handy!

Two Daffodils, 9" x 12"
Holbein pastels on Bogus Recycled Rough sketch paper.

Here's one of the pastels I've done with this set. The green cast darker blue shows up more clearly blue in the photo than in person, where going over it with the mid-dark sap green brought it to a nice blue-green. Cameras do that sometimes. Other than that the hues are very close. 

Medium softness in a category with Rembrandt or Gallery Mungyo Soft Rounds (extruded), these are good little workhorse half sticks. One commenter on an art site I belonged to mentioned there's some question of lightfastness in Holbein pastels. Several of them categorize Holbein pastels as semi-hard rather than medium-soft but I've seen photos of the full sticks and they're rectangular so this may be a different product from the same company. The two reds and one orange seemed to have a slight fluorescent zing so that could be the issue. 

So whether or not these are as archival as other artist grade brands, they are an excellent choice for early layers, for sketching, most of all for fast color studies when you're out and don't want to be burdened with a large box. The full range of Holbein pastels is about 140 or 144, quite a good range, and those are long rectangular sticks that look fatter than the usual hard pastels sticks. They may or may not have the same texture. But their Artist's Soft round sticks are just good workhorse soft round sticks. You may want to replace those problematic reds with an orange-red and a magenta Rembrandt or some more lightfast brand if planning serious paintings. Or do a home lightfastness test if you have a sunny window. 

I'll give these a provisional B grade because of the lightfastness rumors, would love to hear from readers on that issue pro or con and whether that's all the colors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Henri Roche Metallic Pastels

Heavy Metal Pear 6" square
Henri Roche' pastels on Uart 400 sanded paper

Above is my latest grand experiment with Henri Roche' metallic pastels.I had the delight of getting six pieces of these from Isabelle at La Maison Du Pastel to test them out and write them up. They are lush. They are rich and beautiful. The metallic pastels are much softer than the other Roche' pastels, which have a pleasing firm texture but go on very smooth and lay down a lot of color. 

The solid color Roche' lay down a lot of dust and do like the technique Degas used of laying in a layer, spraying fixative and layering again. The fixative is important even on sanded paper and especially with the metallics. I laid in the darkest silver, nearly black, for the background and went over it with color in a way that worked gorgeous in life - the sparkle is still there and the color mixes with it beautifully. I did the background first and then my usual technique of getting rid of loose dust. I held it over the trash and snapped firmly with my finger. 

Oops. Half the color came off. It really needs the fixative for early layers to adhere well. So use a good fixative with these pastels. I used Krylon Fine Art Fixatif which is workable fixative that has some UV protection. Others may prefer Spectrafix, but the misting head on my Spectrafix bottles sometimes spatters and I didn't want to do that in a painting where I really needed fixative layers to hold it together.

Roche' has nine shades of gold, nine shades of silver from a white iridescent to a black iridescent and nine shades of copper. The two copper pieces I got, one was slightly lighter and more golden. I'd expect some of the coppers to run dark too, almost like bronze. You can get Roche' metalics anywhere Roche' pastels are sold. Online that would be, which also carries 3, 12 and 36 color half sticks sets and the amazing full range set of Henri Roche' pastels in two lovely rosewood seven drawer cabinets. Isabelle is recreating or creating a thousand colors and so the full range set costs a bit more every time I look, but you get more colors so it's about the same. It will be the largest pastels range in the world when she's done I think, and plans this for 2020 so that's not too far off! Very cool if I get a bestseller and win the Literary Lottery.

Till then, I love these pastels for their intense color and unique texture. The paper they liked best so far oddly enough is Bee Bogus Recycled Rough paper, which isn't archival so I'm still looking for their favorite paper. A finer grit sanded paper might be great, they did well on the Uart but generated a lot of dust from how gritty it is - it's one step short of Wallis for rough grit.

Holiday Ornaments
6" square on Stillman & Birn Beta rough watercolor paper

 Metallic Roche' performed well on my Stillman & Birn Beta pastel journal. I've been priming some pages with Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer but painted about half of them just on the rough white watercolor paper since it has a small texture element with deep tooth just like the Bogus paper. Wow! They did great on it. Background of green velvet was done in Rembrandt half sticks with a few touches of Unisons, the ornaments themselves entirely in Metallic Roche'. This was yesterday's daily painting.

Again, the dust piled up around the strokes. Metallic Roche' are very soft and will give thick impasto strokes. They are beautifully opaque, when creating edges I was able to easily go over darker colors or other colors to get a hard edge. They handle a lot like Sennelier instead of like the other Roche' - very soft and dusty, but rich and opaque. 

A few days before that, I'd tried them on Strathmore Artagain paper.

Silver Fish 8" x 10"
Henri Roche' pastels on Strathmore Artagain paper, pinkish gray

Strathmore Artagain paper does not have as much tooth as Canson Mi-Tientes. Its surface is almost smooth though its colors are beautiful with flecks of dark fibers in among the lighter ones for a tweedy effect. Roche' colors did not rub deep into the paper the way they did on the Bogus. They floated on top of it and made a thin film. The metallics behaved better, giving me thick impasto strokes and gorgeous opacity even on this annoying paper.

I really don't like the Artagain much and I now know the other Henri Roche' pastels hate it. Every pastel has its favorite surface and its hated surface. Henri Roche' metallic pastels are wonderful if you want a strong, shining metallic effect that is opaque enough to go right over dark or light layers in other pastels - even thick layers will be covered.

The pinkish cast to the silver on both the silver ornament and the silver area of the pear comes from the reflection of a bright orange t-shirt I wore to paint the ornaments and a bright red seat cover on my chair. Metal reflects everything around it so a pinkish cast to metallic accents is going to happen to my photography. Unfortunately the one on Artagain didn't photo well, the white iridescent highlight on the silver vanished because the camera happened to catch a lot of light on the silver itself. It's more distinct on the Heavy Metal Pear and in life both the silver fish and the silver ornament look more like that.

I recommend these metallic pastels for accents and special effects. One of their best features is that you can do values with them. The wide range of values means an artist could do machines or metal objects justice and still give a matte metallic shine to all the values in the painting. Flat areas of gold or silver or copper will gleam the way the real metals do, this is another good choice for haloes and ornamental goldwork, or metallic backgrounds to colorful subjects.

Many thanks to Isabelle for the samples! These pastels are high priced but worth the money if you love the effects. The metallics take a light hand and give wonderful impasto effects, the dust actually adheres well to itself which is some of why a hard snap knocked over large chunks of it. With fixative those big texture elements do adhere solidly. 

I haven't tried either metallic or color Roche' with a water or alcohol wash yet, but I rarely use my most expensive pastels for a flat underpainting. I'd recommend using an underpainting with Roche' and save their brilliant colors and intense effects for final layers where they can be seen. Polychromos hard pastels would be a good choice for underpainting, or that grand workhorse Rembrandt.