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.