Color Spree

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

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.