View Full Version : What defines an "Art Medium"?

02-10-2008, 05:32 PM
As a booksmart, practice dumb beginning artist hoping to live long enough to do something that I can post without having to swallow my ego and be ready for much needed and well supplied C&C, I have become fascinated by the often rancorous "debate" over what qualifies as meeting the standards of a particular "Art Medium". What is a Pastel, what is a drawing, what is a painting, when does something become "mixed media", etc.

I started this thread since I find myself (correctly or otherwise) posing such philosophical questions in other threads where I don't really know if it is appropriate. As a real Newbie to forums (even though I have been working with PC's and the forerunners of the Internet and WWW (anyone remember BITNET), I never felt comfortable posting in public forums until I hung around this one for a while and found out that while serious critique is appreciated and desired, flaming comments are not tolerated. This made me finally engage and in a very short time I have made disembodied friends that I cannot believe are so generous and engaging.

Most of this is likely due to the enormous sacrifices that many, but especially Pat and Jane, make to support WC in general and the OP forum in particular. They have welcomed me and encouraged me, even put up with my long winded commentaries. They have also, like so many others, displayed a refreshing sense of humor about art and life, without sacrificing the serious committment to it. If we cannot occasionally laugh, then it might as well be another 9 to 5 job. Whether professoional or tyro extraordinaire like me, everyone seems to be welcome and encouraged to be diverse in their styles and personalities. I have come to appreciate the dry wit of some participants I have not even communicated directly with. Others have made me feel so comfortable that most people will not really believe how much of an introvert I really am!

I have not even scratched the surface of all the various media I'm interested in at WC, but have, for somewhat serendipitous reasons, landed in the OP forum as sort of a "home base".

This brings me to my basic question?

What are the boundaries of particular Art Media?? This is, I think, especially pertinent in this forum since the "debate" over what is a "pastel", "soft pastel", "oil pastel", "wax pastel", etc. has been often personal and rancorous in, at least, the print media I read.

Now, for a personal sermon. Those familiar with the formal concept of "debate" know that it really is not an exercise that is intended to search for or even present "basic truths". Instead, debate is about persuading people your opinion is correct vs. your opponents. For this reason I have come to dislike intensely the way society tosses the term debate about as something that helps us reach understanding of complexities of issues.

What we really should seek is "dialogue". Expressing viewpoints without asserting that someone else is "de facto" wrong. Exchanging ideas. Being open to changing your mind based on others arguments. Pushing the boundaries of thought to new frontiers and asking questions we sometimes can't answer. As a trained scientist, I have encountered the frequent misunderstanding of what "science" says by the general public. It is not a maliciousness on the part of the public, but that scientists sometimes lapse into saying things loosely that lead people to think our statements are black and white.

However, just as I have discovered in studying books on art, it is the luscious, countless, underappreciated grays that really define the world about us and their contrast with the "non-gray" that makes those beautifully vivid colors so vibrant you can feel them singing out to you!. Take out the grays and suddenly those bright colors become a canvas of garish, loud, and sometimes disappointing noise that seems dissonant without something to hold it together. Like music of a symphony, even the smallest, seemingly unimportant instrument is often the key to holding everything else together. My wife is a trained musician (although, like many visual artists she wouldn't be able to endulge that passion withou her day job). After marrying her, I began to attend the local Symphony in which she played for about 30 years. I learned so much and was fascinated by what you could learn just by listening closely. The oboe. What a puny looking little thing which smaller symphonies generally have only one player. But when the concertmaster comes out, it is the oboe that everyone tunes to. All my life I had heard its sound but never realized what it was. Bad oboeist, bad symphony guaranteed.

Art is like a symphony, to me. Some composers I love, some I like, some I can take or leave, others I give my tickets to someone else. And there is always someone else that is willing to take them.

I find that as a non-professional, I don't understand some of the passionate arguments about what constitutes a particular art medium. In the past it was much easier, I think, because the technologies were just being discovered and the space between was like Mendeleev's periodic table of the elements when he first proposed it. Some distinct clusters of known elements with lots of white space between. Technology has increasingly blurred that distinction.

Even here in the OP forum we encounter the question of various types of OP binders and working characteristics. Some quickly say, oh this or that brand is the BEST. That may well be true for them and their technique of application. It may not be true of someone that works in a completely different style. I don't mean this to be preachy, I sometimes do the same thing. But I am beginning to see that things aren't so simple all the time. Senns are the best...if you like to ..... I can't help but buy every brand, even cheap one, just to see what they are like. Portfolio water soluble OPs are student grade, but they have a really nice creamy feel to them remeniscent of Senns, only a tiny bit firmer. I have come to love NeoPastels but found a review in the Product Comparison Test Forum that said they were hard and waxy. For that person they are not right, for me I love them. Who is right? Neither one an both of us.

I put this in a separate thread so those that would rather not hear my long, philosophical ramblings can skip easily over it. However, I would be interested in hearing what other OPist think about what the boundary of OP medium is. Jane and Pat, e.g., both like to use Oil Bars also. Does that mean they are out of the OP boundary? I have heard Pat refer to using Walnut Hollow Oil Pencils. Is that ok?

It seems to me that while there are holdouts and purists, Watercolorists in general have taken a somewhat more open stand in defining what constitutes "Watermedia". I got a fascinating book not look ago by Chris Leeper called "Realism in watermedia". North Light, ISBN 1-58180-508-X. He describes how he evolved from a "purist" in watercolor, to a true believer in using other watermedia (acrylic, gouache, etc) if it enhances the end result. He describes taking a disappointing watercolor and figuring he had nothing to lose started puttering around touching up various areas with acrylic. Suddenly he realized that what had been, in his eye, a so-so watercolor came to life.

Yes, there are limits and legitimate, logical places for categorical separations. But I hope the OPist I have come to love in this forum remain open to inventiveness, innovation, experimentation and never repeat the stoic dogmatism of the establishment that resulted in the "Salon de refuses" in the early days of Impressionism (interestingly first meant as a derogatory term).

A final thought. While some often say oil pastel was invented by Sennelier at the request of Pablo Picasso, Sakura's Craypas actually predate these and the name was coined from the combination of Crayon and Pastel. It is true, though, that Sennelier's "Oil Pastel's" were developed by Jacque Sennelier at the request of Picasso passed on to him via a Parisian friend. Picasso wanted a medium with the characteritics of oil paints but the spontaneity of pastel sticks that could be applied without extensive preparation to virtually any surfaced. His initial order was for 50 sticks each of (can't remember exactly the number now) of colors and he worked with Sennelier in developing the earliest color set (fairly heavy in varied grays). Sennelier made extras and put them out in his shop where people snapped them up. Later, the term Oil Pastel was coined mostly as a marketing term. However, the history is interesting in that Picasso saw the need for a medium that transcended and bound together characteristics of other distinct media.

Pat recently posted about a society that is respected placing a ban on Oil Pastel work in their show. I wonder if Pablo Picasso were around if they would refuse his submission because of its medium, OP??? I doubt it.

So the irony, for any that have lasted this long.....OP's have often been maligned, but their origin and thus their very soul as an art medium heralds from the mind of one of the twentieth century's most respected artistis (even though, personally, many of Picasso's works are not that appealing to me personally, though I respect his talent and contributions to the evolution of art).

So, if anyone has had the patience to read all this rambling, I would like to hear thoughts from others on this subject. If not, at least the thread should sink rapidly like a lead baloon and be out of everyone's sight.

I leave you with my interpretation of a classic work by one of my favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh. He's probably spinning in his grave, but I meant it as a statement of respect for his style of working: Neopastel on Canson Mi-Tientes, 12"x16":
:music: :heart:

Pat Isaac
02-10-2008, 07:07 PM
Ah, Bill what a wonderful treatise. I am going to try and respond to some of your ideas. I'm not always as erudite as I like to think.
Artists certainly have their own ides as to what constitutes the definition of an art medium. I think all would agree that professional grade in any media is the best. Student grades can be frustrating, though I have to admit that I have seen some incredible work done with student grade materials. This is where the archival quality comes into focus.
I remember BITNET, first thing in my school.
An introvert????:lol:
I understand debate. My youngest daughter was on the HS debate team. They had a subject and the leader determined which side you would be on and the idea was to persuade everyone that your position was the right one whether you believed it or not. Dialogue is what we do.
I learned long ago that everything is not black and white. I used to think it was.
Yes, it is the oboist that tunes us. What a nice analogy.
I have always said, try out the options and do what works for you. There is no one right for everyone.
I'm not sure what you mean about the OP boundary, Bill. Do you mean when does it turn into mixed media as opposed to being and OP? Lots of OP artists use other media with their OPs. I know the Oil Pastel Society requires that the work be 80% OP to enter their shows. That makes sense to me.
I have had a watercolor lying around for a few years and decided I would never finish it so I coated it with clear gesso and began an OP over it. I then decided what a great way to use up large sheets of WC paper and I like the wc underpaintng. Experimentation is always good, lest we become stale.
Vangogh certainly is not spinning in his grave and the i s very nice interpretation. He is one of my most favorite artists.
Well, I guess I've rambled enough and thanks for this thread, Bill


02-10-2008, 07:08 PM

Carey Griffel
02-10-2008, 07:24 PM

Really nice thoughts to read! I appreciate it when someone takes such time to really explain a thought process. I'm fairly new to OP and have never really taken much time to think about the labels that people have put on...the differences between drawing and painting can be vast--or not--depending on how one works and what one's views are.

For myself, I'm not sure such definitions are always helpful (except that various societies must place limits, of course) in the grand scheme of things because art is as subjective as emotion, I think.

But anyway, mostly I wanted to say I love your picture!! Actually, if you will believe it, just yesterday I was copying a part of the same picture with my OPs! I've always loved Van Gogh's work and recently have been studying a great deal on his life and paintings, techniques and whatnot, and will be doing quite a few studies in OP. (I don't think my attempt yesterday was nearly as successful as the one you have here...so I am grateful for the chance to see yours!)


02-10-2008, 11:57 PM
Bill, the boundaries between some media (Or is it mediums?) are quite clear such as between oils and watercolours. Sometimes the group or the individual will decide the boundary. Different groups or individuals will have different boundaries. Insecurity can influence whether the definition is broad or narrow. In the nineteenth century the use of body colour or opaque white was widely encouraged in watercolour but now it is discouraged. Many of Degas' methods of working with pastel would be discouraged today. The boundaries keep changing but a great painting is still a great painting. Creativity and imagination will always shine through.

The different colours in a painting should work together like the instruments in an orchestra. Some harmonize while others contrast. The muddiest colour can look like beautiful transparent flesh in the hands of one artist but in the hands of another can just look like, well, mud.

I think when we write about the quality of different brands we are mostly referring to the quality of the pigments. Certain brands were developed for use in art education as a brighter alternative to crayons at low cost. Longevity was not a factor but ease of cleanup was. While they may be good for hobby use they are not meant for professional use. In good conscience, I could not offer for sale a work which would fade or deteriorate over time. Senneliers, Holbein Artist and Neopastels were developed for professional use, so these are the ones I use now. When I mix media, e.g. watercolour and oil pastel, I must be convinced, myself, that they are compatible. Have you ever thought of doing lightfastness tests on the different brands and colours? If you do, I would love to know the results.

This is a very good thread and I love the job you did on the Van Gogh. How about a Renoir or a Sargent? They would be difficult but fun.


02-11-2008, 01:18 AM
Pat, Paula, Carey, Wendell--

I am gratified by your kind words. I was very afraid people would look at this and go "Oh Good Grief!!". I would have been thrilled had just one of you responded as you have. If no one else ever even looks at this the satisfaction of knowing that individuals of so much greater knowledge and expertise would have something positive to say about my ramblings is incredibly flattering.

Pat- I guess I wasn't sure what I meant either which is why I asked the question. I think you hit the nail on the head, though, by the example of a standard of say 80% of the work must be of a particular type of medium as being a legitimate and fair benchmark.

Wendell - I agree whole heartedly that the distinction between professional grade vs. student grade is much more of a black and white issue. I probably didn't state it very well, but my comments on comparing brands was meant to specifically refer to comparing among artist quality brands.
Actually, I have quite a few varieties of both student and artist grade OPs and it might be interesting to select a variety of similar colors from each and lay down test strips and compare lightfastness. I also have been thinking of taking various varieties and using a simple kitchen scale to make simple marks using various measured amounts of pressure with different brands to illustrate in a quantitative way the working characteristics and how pressure alters the character of the marks applied. I also was wondering if you had any thoughts on making Oil bars rather the OPs out of those oil paints. I'm sort of interested in trying that.

Carey- I sincerely doubt your efforts at Van Gogh could be less successful than mine, but I appreciate the flattery anyway!! I would love to try and see how various (particularly impressionists) artists oil or pastel work could be accomplished using various OPs. Copying the Masters has been a time honored way of learning!

Paula- One word is as expressive as pages! Thanks!!

The four of you have made my ??? week, month, year...Take your pick.

:D :heart: :music: :wave:

Thank you!


02-11-2008, 01:31 AM

I had to add that a couple of years ago my wife and I were able to go to an exhibit of Van Gogh and Gaugin in Arles that was at the Chicago Art Institute. (We also saw a Manet and the Sea exhibibition there later). I got a marvelous bargain on a huge Van Gogh book with enormous detail on his life as well as plates of his work. It was this show that impressed on me how you cannot ever imagine the brilliance of color that some of these paintings have when seen "in the flesh" because you simply cannot capture the interplay of texture and light on them in even the best reproduction!!!

Whenever I go to art museums where you can take photos, I try not only to capture images of whole works but zoom in on various parts of the paintings to capture closeups of the brushwork and appliction out of the context of the whole picture. It is sometimes fascinating just to study a tiny detail and then back away and see how that transforms into a meaningful element.

I hope I get this paraphrase right, but I think Picasso said something like most people take the sun and make it a yellow spot. An artist takes a yellow spot and makes it the sun!


02-11-2008, 12:17 PM
Bill, I really like your Van Gogh painting - his style and OPs seem to go
together. Great colours.

You have covered a lot of ground here, and I'm going to respond to the some of the things which particularly drew my attention. All of the following is my opinion - I’m not trying to persuade you of anything.

The 80% rule which Pat talks about reminds me that a similar % is used in the Plein Air forum to determine whether a painting can stilled be called a plein air when it has been touched up in the studio - the “rule” is 80% on site/20% in studio. Can a painting which is painted in a car be called a plein air? The purists in the group say no, you need to be out in the elements before it counts as a plein air. So what if you have the window open? The heater turned off in winter? I think you have to use common sense in making distinctions and judgments. If, as Pat says, you are entering a show and there are rules, you should abide by the rules.

I think that a definition of what constitutes a particular art medium can be useful when understanding and discussing the technical difficulties an artist faces when using them. I don't have to worry about inhaling dust or wearing a mask or buying an air cleaner when using OPs, so I don't need to concern myself with those discussions here at WC. However, if I was using soft pastels, these would be of real significance to me, as I am allergic to dust.

With regard to watercolorists being more generous in their definition, you must have missed the split in the Watercolour Forum into Watercolour Gallery and Watercolour Plus Gallery, which occurred because, horror of horrors, people were posting watercolour paintings on Yupo, paintings including watercolour pencil or ink, paintings with some gouache, etc. in the Watercolour Forum.

Oil sticks/oil bars are a bit of an orphan here at Wet Canvas because they partake of aspects of both OPs (in their stick form) and Oil Paintings in their chemical makeup. I have seen some posted in the Oil Painting forum, and Pat welcomes them here.

We have a thread at the top of the Forum on ‘Critiquing Guidelines’, which is a good thing to read through from time to time. As is pointed out there, it should always be remembered by those posting paintings that we are all expressing opinions, and no one is right. We as artists have our own way of working and our own artistic vision, and our critiques will be coloured by that. When we read critiques of our paintings, we need to pick and choose from the responses those that seem to help, and ignore those that don't. Since in our Forum we do not require a C & C to be added before a critique is offered, if you get one when you didn’t want one, just ignore it. And when you have given a critique and your suggestions are not followed, you should recognize that they didn't fit with the poster’s vision, and it's their vision which matters.

From my own artistic perspective, I love to blend my OPs. Is this the only way to use OPs - no, just my way. I try to point out that I come from an oil painting background and like my OPs to look like oil paintings. I try to point out that there are people who like theirs to look like soft pastels, etc. But sometimes I just respond to what I see from my own perspective without qualifying my response. I don't have time to state my particular perspective each time I critique, and over time we get to know one another and it isn't necessary.

Does the choice of OP brand matter - I think so, IF YOU WANT TO BLEND. I try to say that every time I'm recommending the softer brands, pointing out that harder student OPs do not blend as well. I have encountered a number of members, particularly in the WDE forum, who are very against OPs because they bought cheap ones and couldn't get them to do anything. Others comment about the horror stories they have heard about OPs. I try to counteract this by strongly recommending that people buy professional quality OPs. If you buy harder student grade OPs and can get them to work for you - great! But if they put you off OPs and you tell everyone that OPs are impossible, that isn't good for the image of the medium. Buying better quality OPs doesn’t guarantee success obviously, or all of us who use Senneliers would be Picassos, but it sure helps.

Part of my job as Guide is to forward the interest in our medium and I want to provide information which I feel will make success in using OPs most likely. This also applies to experiments with mixed media involving OPs. I feel it’s important to remind people of potential problems. I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment – I like to do that myself. But I provide what information I have concerning similar experiments. If it doesn’t matter what happens to your work in the future, these issues need not concern you, but you at least know some of the potential hazards involved. I feel it would be remiss of me to have such knowledge and not pass it on. Another part of my job is to respond to posts, which I try to do. I probably won’t be able to spend this much time on all of your posts, but I felt this time it was worth doing. Now, Back to Painting. Jane

02-11-2008, 01:34 PM
Bill, thank you for the thoughful post. It was nice to read your ideas about op, many I had never even considered before :)
Beautiful job on the VanGogh! I love the movement you have captured! Please do more!
Reisa :)

Carey Griffel
02-11-2008, 02:39 PM

It's been an interesting discussion! :) I couldn't agree more about seeing paintings in the flesh--particularly when it comes to something like a Van Gogh. (And especially with his, book reproductions are often far, *far* off the mark!) And OP is a great medium to play in for studies.

Wendell, I am currently doing some lightfast tests of a number of different student brands. They have been up for about two months now, so it'll still be a few months before I will have a real peek at them...but so far, none of them have changed that I can see. (Yes, it's winter, but there's still plenty of sun down here, believe me. :D )

I'll probably be posting some results around the end of summer or so.


Pat Isaac
02-11-2008, 02:53 PM
Several years ago I saw an exhibit of Van Gogh's portraits. They were incredible and so wonderful to see in the "flesh". It makes all the difference. That was also true of our trip to Italy this fall. I am afraid I just walked around with my mouth open.....After all this time the frescoes are still gorgeous in color and they are much bigger than I would have imagined. Just amazing.


02-11-2008, 03:07 PM
Reisa- Thank you for you comments; the warm welcome and encouragement I have been given in the OP forum guarantees I will do more and, I always hope, better.

Jane- A very special thank you to you (and Pat) for your thoughtful and substantial comments. This is because I realize how much heart, blood, sweat, passion, tears and love you both pour into this forum as well as the OPS. I also know from involvent in other organizations that the cost is often enormous sacrifice in your personal work. And, my guess is too often we that wander about begin to take that for granted and forget that these things don't just run themselves. I hope you believe how deeply and sincerely I mean that!

One thing I want to make very clear to everyone is that I hope no one takes my comments and periodic satire or humor as indicating that I view the things I talk about lightly. And I hope no one views this as anything other that an honest curiosity about some of the more philosophical aspects of art in general and OP in particular that comes with being trained as a scientist (=professional skeptic).

If I tend toward a bit of hyperbole periodically it is never meant to be malicious. Quite the contrary, it is the openness and sincerity of the folks I have met here that really allows me to feel I can ask such questions and not worry about offending someone. I know Pat rolls her eyes when I say I am an introvert, but it really is true (although I must admit to being a greagrious introvert if you like oxymorons)!

I know that you, Jane, and Pat, with official responsibilities sometimes don't have the lattitude of expression that many of we visitors take for granted; you have specific roles and repsonsibilities to respond in timely fashion to questions that must often become a tedious task. You both are fabulous proponents for WC and OP and I am constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of your collective knowledge.

I find it hard to disagree with your comments. As I said earlier, I think I pwasn't as clear as I should have been regarding my feelings on assessing brands; Wendell also made this point well.

While I talk about trying cheaper brands of OP, I absolutely agree that there is a bright line between Artist and Student grade materials. My comment, a bit foggily, was intented to apply to the importance of keeping technique in mind when comparing among ARTIST grade materials. In fact, it wasn't until I purchsed professional grade OP's I began to become less frustrated and more excited about them as you point out.

One small caveat, if I may, would be your reference to hardness of student grade OPs. (I probably am simply reading more into what you say than you intended, so forgive me if that is the case).

I assume Senns, Holdbein, NeoPastel, and CrayPas SPECIALIST (not Expressionist) to be of Artist quality. Under that assumption there is a definite gradation in "hardness" and "dryness" among those brands. Specialists have professional grade pigment but do still have a very stiff, relatively dry consistency that is similar to many cheaper OPs. Yet there are occasions when those characteristics are what I may want for a particular purpose. The sketch I posted in the Sketch Thread interpreting Pat's Melons and Plums demo was done entirely with Specialists. I think, though, I probably wouldn't recommend them to other beginners because they are harder to get detail that many expect and are disappointed when they have trouble attaining it.

Again - Thanks to everyone for your most enligthening comments. This is exactly the sort of exchange of views and ideas I was hoping to get and felt awkward about including in my posts in other threads.

I look forward to getting to know all of you better and hope you come to understand how uplifting finding a place like this has been for me! I'm not sure I ever really understood the emotional depths from which comments from long time artists arose until recently. It is beginning to become clearer to me and for that I thank you all!


02-11-2008, 03:15 PM
Pat and Carey--

The brilliance of his sunflower paintings when you see them almost make you feel like you should tear the pictures of them out of your book because of the injustice they do to them.

I could not believe the absolute brilliant yellow they radiated. I gawked like a kid on a gradeschool field trip!

As for history, Carey, did you see the article (I think in Smithsonian) regarding a large number of letters from correspondence he conducted with a young artist he got to know. Apparently they portray a very different, mentor like side to him that his extensive correspondence with Theo did not show.

I think they were going to be on exhibit. I'm sure you probably know about this, but if by chance not, let me know and I'll find the article.


02-11-2008, 03:20 PM

I bet you would LOVE the icons and church frescoes we saw on our trip to Russia. I'll try to post some in the Ref Image Library if you are interested!

Which raises a quick question. If you are allowed to photograph artwork in a museum, does that mean it is alright to post on a forum like this???


Pat Isaac
02-11-2008, 03:39 PM
First off, Bill. I don't see why you couldn't post it as it is your photo.
Also, thank you for your nice comments to Jane and myself. When someone directed me to this site years ago, I became instantly hooked and I'm still here.
It is true that there is a definite degree of softness and hardness in the professional brands. It's nice that there is a choice between those brands, because not everyone loves the real soft ones and vice versa.
Okay, I'll take gregarious......:rolleyes: There is the eye roll.....


02-11-2008, 08:47 PM
Bill, I like your after Van Gogh painting very much. You have captured the energy and beauty of his his brush strokes very well.

As far as this discussion of mediums goes, I think as Pat mentioned, alot of the "ranking" of mediums as well as artist grade versus student grade within a given medium, has to do with the archival qualities of the medium type and medium brand. Artist grade materials are generally supposed to have been light fast tested, I believe.

I think that oil paints are generaly considered the king of 2 dimensional mediums due to their proven ability to last through the ages. Though their are soft pastels from the 1700's , I do not know how they are preserved. I think works on paper are generally considered to be more fugtive in the "big" art work and thus watercolors, soft pastels and oil pastels are considered by some to be "lesser" than oil paintings. I think that in the above order these groups have had to deal with being on the fringe and thus snub each other from fear that they will endanger whatever progress toward wider acceptance they have acheived. Color pencils as a serious artistic medium are probably the only ones "newer" than OP's as a medimum used on paper. I think acrylics have not been around long enough to prove their durability in comparison with oils. I think there is an underlying implication that a "great serious artist" would only work in a medioum that would last for many centuries. Thank goodness our contemporary world seems to allow for many types or artistic expression, "success" and audiences.


02-11-2008, 10:31 PM
Thanks for your views. I think you are probably correct. It seems generally accepted, from what I have read, that in particular the durability and substantiveness of the support is an important factor in what people are willing to pay for various art works. Even though I have seen many artists, regardless of medium they work in, comment that is is probably not especially justifiable. A well curated paper work would probably outlast a poorly cared for oil on canvas. In terms of longevity, the argument should, it seems to me, be fairly moot in terms of the media themselves since all artist grade materials are made from the very same pigments. The difference lies in the various binders and other non-pigment components. OP should, it seems, be regarded as archival a medium as oils given that there is really very minor differeneces between the two. If the support is durable (perhaps binding the paper to a more substantial backing (????) then it seems there should be little difference. In fact, OPs can easily be used on canvas, hardboard or other traditional supports used for oil painting.

I guess I can begin to see where many justifiably might see a clear dichotomy between traditional pastel and OP. In some ways OP is really more of a variant of the oil medium. In terms of longevity traditional pastel would seem to have a slight edge since it is about as close as you can get to pure dry pigments. Making sure it stays stuck to whatever you put it on; therein lies the rub (if you will pardon the rather feeble attempt at a pun)!

Pat, I'm curious as to what the primary medium is of the society you alluded to as banning OP in submissions. I'm going to guess it was most likely NOT a traditional pastel group, but I'm wagering oil painting was their fancy. Care to tell me if I'm warm or cold????


02-13-2008, 09:51 PM
I think defining a medium depends on the needs or circumstances of the definer, in many cases at least.

I've been a WC member for six years and remember when most regular posters know most of the other regular posters, and there was a rather quiet forum called simply Pastels. I began using oil pastels as a response to my allergy to dust, but was one of very few. Then the forum got a lot busier, more oil pastelists came on board, and we were asked to put "oil pastels" in our thread titles in case the soft pastel enthusiasists wished not to open them.Eventually we got a sub-forum and now a full-fledged forum; a defining of media that makes sense now but wouldn't have in 2002. It's not so convenient for me because I often use both kinds together and can't post them in either forum but oh well:wink2: The world apparently doesn't revolve around me after all, so I post them in the Landscape Forum!

When I started using oil pastels I didn't know the artist-grade ones existed. I was having fun with the cheapies, so am not so quick to condemn them. I would tell a beginner to play around with them a bit before running out to buy the expensive ones, and then to try only a couple of each artist-grade brand before making an investment. (I dislike Sennelliers, love the other three brands)

I guess the answer to most of these various issues is, "it depends", but the bottom line in here is that this is a very friendly, caring, accepting, open and generous forum and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

02-14-2008, 04:19 PM
Thanks for your viewpoint and the history from the perspective of someone that uses both "soft" and "oil" Pastel.

Sometimes I feel like "The man without a country" since I like all sorts of media and art.

The nice thing is that there are now some reasonably priced "Artist Grade" OPs available. I just received a set of a new brand manufactured in China known as ArtAspirer and their 90 color box set is very nice. I just got them and hope to post a description of them in more detail, but they come in one of the nicest, best designed and produced "wood case" that holds the set. My very quick impression of them (from the similarity but better desinged case to the color names and pallete) is that they are mean to be a slightly cheaper competitor to Sakura's Specialist line, only round instead of square. Labels all list CI names of actual pigments used and all have +++ lightfastness rating (except for the fuorescent colors which are fugitive and so stated". They can for now be purchased as a full set of 90 wit 2 blenders and wooden travel case for less than $70 at Jerry's Artarama. They belong to the harder style end of the spectrum.


02-14-2008, 06:44 PM
To Bill: The Erengi (ArtAspirers) case looks nice, but Sakura got theirs designed right: their case folds flat so the lid can hold the second drawer of OP's so you can access all the sticks at once (particularly handy for plein air), and there's a "lip" so you can extract a stick easily. The Erengi's lid stays upright so you have to find somewhere else to put the second drawer, and the partitions are so tight it's difficult to extract a stick. I do agree it appears Erengi is targeting the Specialists; they've already knocked them out of the local Jerry's store.

02-15-2008, 02:33 AM

I have to concede that the failure of the hinges on the lid to fold back annoyed me as well. What I found really nice was the thick foam padding both in the lid and, somewhat to my surprise, on the bottom of the top tray.

Initially I though that the aluminum inserts in the trays were not removable because they were so tight. After I got them out the first time I bent the edges in slightly and they are much easier to take out. It is curious that they did not make some accommodation for removing these (or for the lid) since I was pleasantly surprised to find the top try with a tiny rounded depresssion on each eand to allow you to get hold of the tray.

Actually, I really wasn't knocking Sakura's design. I actually like it for the same reasons that you mentioned, but I find the cardboard liners kind of thin and really would like to see the foam padding that the AI OPs have in their case.

Of course,it doesn't really matter what kind of box they are in if they are not quality OPs.

Have you just seen them in the store or have you used them?? A Jerry's store locally!! Oh, my wife would have a heart attack if she thought I could run down the block to Jerry's. A Michael's was bad enough, but I don't think she could take a Jerry's in the neighborhood without taking away my credit card!!! I did get some colourfix paper and it is rather different. Now I'm trying to work up the courage to actually assault a sheet of it with OP.

BTW, I need to go over and see how your Melons and Plums are comming along.

Thanks for your comments.


02-15-2008, 07:01 AM
Hi Bill. I don't see the advantage to removing the aluminum inserts, it doesn't make the sticks any easier to access. Yes, the local Jerry's had the Erengis on sale for the online price so I thought I'd try them. I think I have 11 student and artist's brands of OP's right now. I've been planning a project on doing the same simple subject in basic colors to compare them all for color richness and blendability. (That's waiting until after I finish Pat's project--she'll be glad to know!) I'm sitting on a motherlode of papers (not all for OP, I also draw) to test too, eventually. Locally I have access to Jerry's, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Aaron Brothers, Asel's, the UT (U. of Tx) bookstore, and a local blueprint shop that carries art supplies (but they're dropping the art stuff--I think Jerry's hurt that aspect of their business), but with judicious shopping there are good prices at all of them--Strathmore papers were cheapest at the blueprint shop, for instance, so that'll be a loss since I like them better than Colorfix (just goes to show what a noob I am). I'll be interested in hearing what you think of Colorfix.

02-15-2008, 01:00 PM
Well, from one "noob" to another, I really like reading your commentary. I'm afraid I tend to get caught up in my excitement and be somewhat like the title of Pat's weekly "chat" thread, an Oil Gusher.

I will have to do inventory to see if you beat me out on brands, but it seems you are like me. I love to try different things when I see them. Is it a "Newbie Senndrome" (bad pun:o )? I like your ideas about testing things out. In fact I have been planning some lightfastness tests that Wendell suggested and would be interested in your opinions. You seem to have a very methodical way of looking at things that appeals to the scientist in me (even though I don't always sound like one).

The thread is here:

I am realizing that I have gotten so caught up in my initial excitement about becoming involved in the OP forum and what great people there are out there that I find myself not working on "pushing paint around" which is what I need to do. I saw a work of an old man walking by a building in another thread and didn't comment, but you are going to be hard pressed to keep calling yourself a "noob" with work lke that. Your comment about the ruler mad me :lol: :lol: :lol: .

I really enjoy your postings and am always elated when you find something to say about my comments. I also really liked your much more brief art history lesson in the thread dealing with Rembrandt and still life. You seem to have followed a path similar to me in some ways. Got obsessed with art and wanting to do it and had more time to read than paint and tried to digest every book you could. It's nice to have some background knowledge even as a noob.

I think I just proved my point about getting caught up in the moment as I now realized so I will stop. Austin in a nice city and my only dissappointment was a dissappointing bat emergence from the Congress Street (??) bridge when I was there for some meetings a number of years ago. As a native of Louisiana I was raised probably less then 50 miles from Texas in a little town just south of Shreveport and have much in common with the "Texas" cultural background.

Bye and thanks.

:wave: :wave:


02-15-2008, 05:18 PM
Hi again Bill. :wave: I've noticed that we seem to have a lot of things in common and have followed similar paths. I'm a computer programmer, which accounts for my analytical background. My one "art" hobby is photography (till now), so I've been willing to make critiques here concerning compositional issues and people haven't minded, but I haven't commented on painterly techniques since I have none yet.

However, you are newly retired and can devote your time unabashedly to art. I am nowhere near retirement age, but after the latest corporate layoffs I have found myself old and jobfree for an extended time in a town where companies prefer to wait, maybe months at a time, to hire young people for cheap rather than hire someone with experience who could learn the job inside a month and make them productive sooner. There's a ready supply of them from the many schools in the area and they're flocking in from elsewhere. I could say much more but you should have the picture. Fortunately I have resources and am getting by, but it's certainly not the way I had planned my career and my retirement. :(

Back to art. I've submitted one work to this forum. I think you'll find it interesting to read through, and you'll discover my art background. Here's the thread. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=405047) I had also thought about lightfast tests but it sounds like you've already volunteered :evil: so I'll defer and keep to the one experiment I mentioned. And don't go thinking you've got more OP's than me--I can get 3 more brands with a short car ride. :lol: I'm going to include a box of crayons, too, just for the fun of it. Frankly, I've never heard of any mother complaining their kids' work faded into invisibility over the years--maybe we've been brainwashed into only thinking we need to buy the expensive stuff. :D

Meanwhile, you're right, we should both be painting, not yakking. So bye! :wave:

02-16-2008, 03:29 AM
:lol: :lol: :lol:
Bob, I really enjoy reading your comments. It seems odd how small a world it is sometimes. My wife is a musician at heart (Cello) and played in our Symphony for nearly 30 years. However, to make a living she works as a Systems Programmer at a large national insurance company based here.

Sorry to hear about your job situation. I hope all works out for you.

Ok, I'm not going to push the OP record issue, but do you have every color or pencil prismacolor makes, a sizable assortment of their art markers, many of Derwents CP's and serveral varieties of Pastel Pencils, not to mention a sizeable collection of Oil, Watercolor, and acrylic paints. Some other things I won't mention since I'm not sure my wife knows I bought them and she might see this. BTW, do you find it hard to look through the monthly North Light catalog and find books you haven't already bought (hopefully only once because looking at it in the bookstore you remember you already had that one BEFORE you bought it)???? I won't even go into the brush categories, easells, papers, etc.

I got started when my wife gave me an oil painting class at the local tech shcool in 2001. I think she thought it might divert me from my computer builing hobby which was costly. People ask me how many I have and my response is usually "Running now or all of them". Built our house several years ago and had two Cat 5 and 2 R60 coax pulled to every room and networked the house.

Unfortunately, I don't think my wonderful wife realized that ART is not CHEAP. In fact, I think it may be a more costly habit than the computers were now.

I'm starting to babble, but really enjoy hearing from you. BTW, I also am a digital photo nut. On our 16 day trip to Russia las year I fell a little short and only had 9,000+ pictures when I got home. I want to upload some images to the Ref library, but I have so many I don't know where to start.

Now, if I could really afford to do all this it would make my wife a lot happier and less worried about my retiring!

From a transplanted southerner,
"You have a nice day, now, ya hear!!! We'll be seeing ya'll tomorrow sometime."

:wave: :wave: :wave:

Pat Isaac
02-16-2008, 08:02 AM
Sorry to hear about your situation and hope things work out for you soon. You seem to be managing and I hope you are painting.
I have every color that prismacolor makes...:p Santa gave me this huge box of them a few years back. I like to do colored pencil drawings also. There is never enough time for all the art I want to do.


02-16-2008, 11:56 AM
Bill, this will be (relatively) short since I'm going out for the day. I do, in fact, have every Prismacolor pencil, and I have pens and charcoal and .... But I've never been exposed to how to paint (to keep it short), so I save money not buying oil and acrylic paints and accessories. The watercolor class I took was "be free and paint with your soul"; I would have rather learned basics, like how to create a smooth wash, how to glaze, so forth; I guess I prefer more structured teaching when learning the basics so that I'm confident that I did learn the basics, and I can take it from there. I've stayed away from pastels because my wife is allergic to dust and we have nice clean white carpeting throughout the house, but since pastels looked like a good way to introduce colors to a drawing (and faster than CP's), and since I discovered a box of OP's in a corner of a drawer (bought during college days probably thinking they were soft pastels) and liked the feeling of drawing with them, that's why I'm here. So I've concentrated on drawing, which is something I did learn right but am very rusty at (and some said not very good at, if you read my thread), and being unemployed has meant I focus on what books are worthwhile to learn from and which ones can be passed over. So while I do browse over Jerry's and North Light catalogs, I can resist unless the item or book directly addresses something immediately useful. It sounds like I might have more fiscal discipline than you. :) A real pity, though--I used to keep Barnes & Nobel singlehandedly in business (and not from just art books). :lol: I can discuss photography later. Perhaps we should take that and other topics to PM so we don't bore the others. I have to run.

And Pat, I'm doing okay, and you are right. I won't have any problems keeping busy once I do retire. That's why I wanted to pick art up now, so when that day comes I can hit the ground running. I'll admit I'd like to be good enough that people would like to buy my stuff. I wasn't planning a second career at it, but make enough so it would pay for itself.

02-16-2008, 05:47 PM
Hey Bob The best website I've even seen for direct approach nuts and bolts instruction is from the recently deceased Charles Sovek. He published his last book free on line available page by page at this web site. He published dozens of articles and has written sevaral books as well, all accessable thru this site. Just looking at his paintings is a learning experience.

02-16-2008, 09:15 PM

EVERYONE is more fiscally responsible than I am!!!

As for drawing, I would love to be able to do as well as you do!

Ditto about Barnes and Noble.

Pat - Truth is I wish I could use them like you. Actually, so as not to appear a materials hog, I have a sort of extended family whose daughter is now majoring in Art in college and I have been giving many of my "overstock" to her so they can be put to good use.

:music: :heart: :music:


Pat Isaac
02-17-2008, 10:50 AM
That is certainly a good way to get rid of overstocks. When I had to move my studio this past fall, I was able to give other artists who were moving any materials that I didn't want and it was a good way to have them used. I'd still have them all if I hadn't had to move....:rolleyes:


02-17-2008, 12:35 PM
I have been blessed all my life with a great family (although I did not always realize it) and since I started college a string of VER"Y close friends that have looked after me (I didn't marry until after 40 and really expected to live a bachelor life married to school). I have had 3 or 4 families that I became "part of". I was always a better "Uncle Bill" than I think I would have been a father (although I have two lovely, vibrant and independent minded stepdaughters I am very proud of and love).
My father was 17 years older than my mother and died the year I came here. My Mom died in 1993 the year I married. My "in-laws" became real parents to me and I didn't realize how much they had come to mean to me in those years until we suddenly lost my "Mom"-in-law early last fall after fighting breast cancer for over 36 years. I don 't know if this makes sense, but I was caught off guard by how much her death would touch me and how much of the void of my natural parents they had become because they were so similar. She was a wonderful person that always gave more back to the world than she took and she showed us how to live bravely and when the time had come to accept and leave this world with great dignity and thankfulness for the years she had.

Boy, talk about OT, but in a way this OP forum has given me a touch of that feeling of warmth and extended family that I have experience throughout my life. People are tolerant, forgiving, caring, and honest. I feel fortunate to have discovered this place where I can share things with others and have learned so much.

What defines an art medium?? The spirit and caring of the artists, whatever their skill level, that put something of themselves in every piece they produce. The materials are important, but not so much as the love and vision with which they are added to some lifeless support and at some point bring that support to life with their work. Art media are the tools, regardless of their makeup, that allow an artist to share a tiny part of their soul so that their spirit lives on long after they move to a more spirtual studio.

Who are the great masters? Everyone I have met here that truly strives for something that expresses their feelings and spirit. It is just that a few from each generation will be remembered by a larger audience than others. If the work is from the heart, it is a masterpiece no how small the audience that appreciates it.

:music: :heart: :music:

Pat Isaac
02-17-2008, 12:51 PM
What a nice tribute to all those in your life, Bill. I had a similar situation with my in-laws and I really miss them.
It's true that the media are only the tools with which the artist shares his/her passion.
I'm glad that you like it here and I have learned much from you already. We are happy to have you join us....:D :music:


02-17-2008, 01:20 PM
Thanks very much. You were a big part of encouraging me to ovdercome my fears of posting. It is one of the highest complments I have ever gotten to think, at least as far as art is concerned, I could have had anything of value to offer you. Thank you (and, though I don't always say it, Jane as well).

:music: :heart: :music:

02-17-2008, 08:24 PM
Scarefishcrow- Hey, Newbie..I'm one also after not doing anything
except different jobs for 35 years after art school- which taught me nothing, by the way. I just started using oil pastels because they were 3.99 at the store and watercolors were 24.99.
Hated them at first- I remembered Cray-pas as a kid and didn't like them- but now I love their insistence on retaining their nature. I started with the cheap-o stuff, then tried Sennellier, and I really prefer the cheap stuff. Senellier is too mushy for me. No personality. (shrug. { emoticon,}if there was such a thing.) I have to say, I use them for sketches only, and use oil paints for "serious stuff", but I must say I like the oil pastel results better...

Pat Isaac
02-17-2008, 08:37 PM
It's true that many OP artist do not like the softness of Senneliers. There are harder brands of the professional grade that you may like...i.e...CaranD'ache neopastels or Craypas Specialists. See what you think.


02-18-2008, 02:11 PM
Welcome Curlytop! If you are looking for the nicest people and place on the WWW you found it right here in the OP forum (thanks, particularly to Pat and Jane). I stumbled into OP's sort of by accident, too. What you say reinforces what I've felt all along, different techniques require different working characteristics of the OP itself. Pat is exactly right. Many people use a variety of OP brands at different stages of a work...stiffer, drier for underpainting and block in, something like Neopastels which are firmer, but creamy for initial modeling, and often softer forms like Holbeins or Senns for final touches. In particular, I've seen a number of people refer to difficulty in doing fine line and detail with OP. That is particularly why I like Neopastels (and, in fact the new Erengi ArtInspirer line that competes with Craypas Specialists) because of the thinner round, but firm texture, they can be used in a large openning sharpener to form a very distinct point that is great for finer detail work.

Welcome and from one Newbie to another, the more the merrier!!!

:wave: :wave:

Pat Isaac
02-18-2008, 03:33 PM
There is an oil pencil that is put out by Walnut Hollow that many of us use for fine detail. Prismacolors can also be used.


02-18-2008, 04:18 PM

I've seen those. Are the similar to what are called, I think, Polychromos by Lyra? How do they feel in application?

Pat Isaac
02-18-2008, 04:33 PM
No, they are not like polychromos. They are definitely and oil based pencil. It is sometimes hard to use them after may layers of OPs, but I have been able to use them after a few days of set ups. I use them primarily for drawing in my initial sketch as the OPs cover them completely. I also use them in portraits for fine detail. The polychromos are harder than prismacolor, but of the same ilk.


02-18-2008, 05:31 PM
Faber Castell makes Polychromos, Lyra makes Polycolor, Walnut Hollow makes Walnut Hollow (they keep it simple!). They're all oil based, but not being a CP artist, I couldn't tell you the subtler differences between them. Walnut Hollow touts their pencils' transparency, however, since they're meant to be used on wood and not cover the grain. Whether that means they're more transparent than the usual CP, again, I don't know.

Pat Isaac
02-18-2008, 05:41 PM
I tend to think that Walnut Hollow is an entirely different pencil as it is strictly oil based and not in the same league as a colored pencil. That is my take on them. I cannot attest to their transparency as I just use them for detail and they do not seem as waxy as the CPs.


02-19-2008, 05:27 PM
Pat -

I've seen those at Michaels and Ben Franklin. Perhaps I'll try some out.

:music: :heart: :music:

Pat Isaac
02-19-2008, 09:18 PM
Yes, Michaels does have the and that is where I bought mine.


02-28-2008, 05:48 PM
Yes, Michaels does have the and that is where I bought mine.


Pat, I bought a set of 24 Walnut Hollow Oil Pencils at Michaels and brought them with me. I really like the way they feel and apply to the support. I had tried some quite some time ago and remembered not being that impressed. Whether they maade some changes or I changed, they really are nice to work with.

Thanks for bringing them back to mind.


Pat Isaac
02-28-2008, 06:00 PM
I do really find them helpful for details and I don't know if they have changed or not as I came upon them from a discussion here on WC. This particular artist used them almost primarily. I also like them for sketching in the painting.


02-29-2008, 11:45 PM
Pat- I know that the name rang a bell and when I looked through the 24 color set, I realized that it did not include some colors (e.g., metallic, and some pastel shades (in the color sense of the word pastel) that were in those I boughe at least 2-3 years ago at Ben Franklins on sale. They were in two sets of 12 colors, one box supposedly "pastel" shades, the other I'm not sure what they called it but it had some metallic hues in it. Digging through my CP collection I began to find them. In retrospect I really didn't give them much of a test run since I was just entering my CP phase and buying every CP in sight. A little wiser, I can now tell the difference between them and typical colored pencils in the smoother lay down and more physical rather than optical blending.

Is this how you would evaluate them?? I don't know if it's just more experience or observation, but they truly are quite different from the behaviour of traditional CP.

I know in some of the sketches I posted this week I probably stretched the bounds of what should have been posted in the OP forum, but this is where I hope to develop the sketches with OP later. Is that a reasonable rationale. Posting a sketch in pencil that will be used to develop an OP work would seem to be out of place in the Pencil forum since I don't even get a chance to browse there since this place has gotten so active I find it hard to keep pace with everything going on. Does any of this make sense to you??

:music: :heart: :music:

Pat Isaac
03-01-2008, 09:57 AM
Bill - I wouldn't classify the oil pencils as CPs, though the base of many CPs is oil and that is why they also work for detail in OPs. I do think they are different and CP artists would not consider them CPs. Anyway, I do like them for sketching in my subject and for detail.
I am going now to order my EGPs......:D