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.


  1. Those crayons look like really amazing in use. I actually have to try them. My friend, a writer at got them as a present and told me he'll give them for me to try.

  2. Hello Robert, I have been attempting to reach you via your contact page. However it continually tells me I am entering the check word incorrectly. Tried 5 different times. My email is I thought you might be interested in a new watercolor palette I have designed and am currently launching. Thanks and best regards, Steve Padden