01-03-2012, 01:15 PM
I learned how to use pastels and oil pastels and loved it. Unfortunately, my work has been on hiatus for a few years. Plus, I only did stuff for class.
I love mixing oil pastels and soft pastels on dark paper. On light paper, I prefer to use one or the other. I'm looking at new sets and I'm a little overwhelmed. What I want is to use pastels as an exercise for my watercolor painting business (painting pets and landscapes so far) and eventually as an option for my clients. I also love doing portraiture.
No insult intended, naturally. I know this medium is an art form all it's own, and spectacular work can come of it. I'm just not as attached to it as I am watercolor, thus less skillful, thus less marketable.
Any suggestions for a line of pastels or papers? I'd like a sketchbook of different colored papers, and maybe a course list of exercises, since I've decided I need to devote an hour/day on sketching alone, which I include pastels as materials for sketching.
Right now my ideas are way too big for my poor little head:wink2:
01-03-2012, 06:02 PM
For a sketchbook of different colored paper, Canson Mi-Tientes comes in 9 x 12" sketchbooks with six different colors - muted warm and cool colors. So does Strathmore Artagain. Both of them are good unsanded pastel papers for sketching, fooling around and having fun.
If you want a spectacular bridge with your watercolor - get some sanded pastel primer like the Golden Pumice primers or Clear Colourfix Sanded Pastel Primer or Colourfix Supertooth (also clear). It's as clear as white glue - that is, very clear once it's dried, and if you paint that over any failed watercolor you have an instant underpainting. Pastel on sanded paper is a real treat whichever type of pastels you're using.
Oil pastels, I have an entire website with lots of product reviews on different brands. It's in my signature. Skim the reviews, then email Blick and Jerry's Artarama for samples to see which ones you like best. Artist grade ones are much more likely to be lightfast than the cheap ones. I wouldn't sell anything done with cheap ones without warning the buyer (who may accept a discount and buy a sketch because they love the dang thing anyway, but that's their go as long as I'm honest about it.)
Dry pastels come in several categories. Try samples. Ask for samples from online art supply companies to find out your favorites, or buy a few from open stock and try them before getting a set.
Pan Pastels are unique. They're like dry paint. You use Sofft tools, micropore sponges and applicators that look like women's makeup applicators and are not. They hold a lot more pigment and don't wear out anywhere near as fast. It's important to get the Sofft tools if you try Pan Pastels. The great advantages of Pan Pastels are that they blend like paint, so you don't need as big a range of them.
I have produced a decent color wheel with the 5 color Starter - primaries, white and black. 10 color Painters set is a complete painting palette with secondaries and useful earths. 20 color Painters set is all the pure tones plus black and white, while the 20 color Tints, Shades and Deep Dark Shades are convenience colors that I personally love but can live without if I don't want to spread out all four trays. For plein air, I'd carry 10 Painters colors. Get the assortment bag of Sofft tools to find out which ones are handiest for you.
There are good tutorial videos on http://www.panpastel.com (http://www.panpastel.com/) that might interest you. Check those out to see if you'd like them, then if you do I'd suggest starting with a Painters set for maximum flexibility. 20 color Painters makes it easy to build on it to a full range, which is how I got my full range set.
The other cool thing about Pans is that you can use them lightly to create transparent veils of color similar to watercolor washes or ink sketching. I sometimes use the Deep Dark Shades for monochrome sketching, one of my monochrome sketches is in the Landscape section of the gallery.
Pans are their own category. You can go over them with any of the others or you can use them for the entire painting, or add them onto a watercolor painting for interesting mixed media. Be sure to watch all the videos! It's important to dab the sponge two or three times before each stroke or they will start taking color off instead of putting it on - unless what you want is to wear off most of the color for very thin "washes."
There are several threads on Pan Pastels including a monster one from the past and a current Pan Pastels thread here in Soft Pastel Talk.
Next category: Pastel Pencils. These have a texture similar to Semi-Hard or Hard Pastels, in handy clean pencil form. Like Pans, they are among the cleanest types of pastels. You're not smudging with your finger unless you want to. Very favored by animal artists, you can get a whole lot of detail with pastel pencils. They play very nice with watercolor over it, and two brands specifically state that they're watersoluble: Cretacolor Pastel Pencils and Carb-Othello Pastel Pencils both claim to be watersoluble.
So with those you can take a wet brush and turn it into wet color anytime you like. They are versatile, clean and handy. If nothing else, pick up a violet one for sketching under landscapes - the violet blends up into landscape colors better than black or charcoal. Effects are usually created similar to using pencils or colored pencils, but they are much softer than even most colored pencils. To sharpen them, the best way is either to use a razor blade and hand sharpen, or get the Multipoint Sharpener hand crank one from Jerry's Artarama - the only sharpener I know of that won't bust their points.
Handle pastel pencils like they are precious fine china. They get internal breakage and the points drop off when being sharpened unless you're careful not to drop them or bang them around. A leather or nylon elastic-band pencil case is very good to keep your pastel pencils safe. Saves a lot of replacements.
Pastel Pencils are extremely good for working very small, including ATCs and ACEOs - collector card sized pastel paintings. Or paintings with linear, pencil-like textures and effects. Good for animals when you want a lot of detail, good for anyone coming from pencil into pastels, good for sketching.
Semi-Hard or Hard Pastels: Usually long skinny square sticks maybe 1/4" wide and between 2 1/2" to 4" long. They come in various brands. They are all good. Cretacolor Pastels Carre are exactly the same as their pastel pencils, watersoluble and the same 72 color range. Prismacolor Nupastel have a beautiful texture and some great colors, range of 96. Richeson Semi-Hard have too many near-duplicate colors in their 120 color range but are generously long and reasonably priced. Mungyo Gallery Semi-Hard come in 120 colors with a much better balanced palette around the color wheel, plenty of tints and darks. Color Conte sticks are my personal favorites, though may not technically be hard pastels since they are baked. Those blend well though. Even a 12 color set of Color Conte can mix well either smudged or blended with sticks. Best of the hard pastels for lightfastness and expensive quality, Faber Castell Polychromos in a 120 color range. I miss those a lot, they're still in Arkansas and I won't see them again for some time.
Try samples of hard pastels from Blick or Jerry's Artarama, then get a big set of the ones you like best. These are useful either for sketching entirely with them, or for first layers that get blended in and let you use softer pastels over them. Hard pastels are not as dusty as the softer ones. These categories get messier and dustier the softer you get.
Even with hard pastels I like having handy wipes at hand, or take a bath towel and get one end wet for about 12". I wash my hand on the wet end and wipe it dry on the dry end between colors. Very convenient and laying the towel across my lap reduces the amount of colorful dust around when I'm painting on a drawing board in my lap.
Medium Soft Pastels: Most of them. These are the average soft pastels like Rembrandt, Art Spectrum, Mungyo Gallery Extra Soft Rounds, Mungyo Gallery Squares, Richeson soft rounds, all the "normal" texture pastels. Blick Artists' soft pastels are at the soft end of this range. They are versatile. You can do a painting entirely with them. They are dusty, they'll get all over where you're working. They blend easily with fingers, blenders or Colour Shapers. Fast, powerful and useful. Get as many colors as you can, the biggest assortment possible. I prefer general assortments to Landscape or Portrait assortments because even in faces or landscapes there's those moments you need a red-violet or a blue-green instead of lots of earths or lots of blues and greens and browns without red-violets or pinks.
Email Blick and/or Jerry's Artarama for samples, compare prices and look for what's on sale too. Very often gift sets go on sale or even Clearance - after the holidays the gift sets are sometimes cleared out to make room for next year's gift sets.
Medium Pastels used after Hard Pastels will carry your painting a little farther while still preserving the tooth. When you can't add any more pastel, that's when to go to one of the next two categories by texture.
Definitely look at artist grade. You never know when that color study or sketchbook piece may appeal to a buyer. I have only one or two exceptions to not using student grade.
If you like drawing in pastels on the sidewalk, the cheap $9.99 for 48 colors big sets of Blick Pastels (not Blick Artist, the original) are really good for that "paint an illusion on the sidewalk and let the rain wash it out" thing. They're cheap, bright, expressive square sticks. Same with Loew-Cornell ones and other cheap brands.
For plein air and color studies, the Mungyo Standard half stick pastel sets of 32 for $5.99 or 64 for $9.99 are fantastic. The little box is very sturdy with a slotted tray in a heavy cardboard box inside a thin cardboard sleeve. I use these in my sketchbook often. They're cheap student grade, I don't expect them to be lightfast, but that's a huge range in a very small box for a very small amount of money. I have yet to try a home lightfastness test on them, once I know which colors fade I might even sell pieces done with the non-fading colors if there are enough of them. For now I mostly use them in my sketchbook or for studies before doing a painting in artist grade pastels.
They rule for just experimenting and playing because of their cost and convenience. It's also a nice range.
Hand-Rolled Pastels: Mount Vision, Richeson Hand Rolled, Winsor & Newton, Mungyo Gallery Handmade, Unisons. All of the "hand rolled" brands have a characteristic super soft "fluffy" texture that's gorgeous. They run expensive, even the less expensive brands like Richeson and Mungyo are a bit high. Mount Vision is a super bargain if you know you're going to do a lot of large paintings because the sticks are gigantic. Again, you can do the entire painting in these or you can build up layers of Medium pastels and use Hand Rolled pastels for finishing layers to give the sparkle at less expense.
They are pricy and once you're good at them, they pay for themselves. Mungyo Gallery ones have a beautiful color range, very balanced, but smaller sticks like the Unisons rather than the gigantic Mount Visions. I get really tempted sometimes to save up for a full range set of Mount Visions and get a pastel box to keep them in - MV comes in ugly cardboard cartons that are a little difficult to lay out and keep open in the studio. I break those sticks in thirds or fourths to have easily handled pieces.
Super Soft Pastels: Sennelier, Schminke, Terry Ludwig. Sennelier half sticks sets are a good bargain, twice the colors for the price and very reasonably priced especially online. I've seen the 120 color half stick set go as low as $99 on sale. Terry Ludwigs are thick rectangular brick shaped pastels that are super soft and fluffy. Ludwigs have an advantage as finishing pastels because that gives you eight corners to use for very tiny details added after filling the paper tooth.
All of them have lovely super soft texture. All can be used by themselves beginning to end, but will wear down quicker than the Medium pastels and a little faster than Hand Rolled ones. They pay for themselves. Those last layers when you need them are priceless and the look of uncrushed pigments with absolutely minimal binder is beautiful, same as Hand Rolled in some ways.
For a beginner I'd suggest a set of Hard pastels, assortment as big as you can afford (or full range since the biggest full range is 120), at least 24 color for convenience in mixing. Then a good sized set, as large as you can afford, of Medium soft pastels, whatever's on sale or used and good in Swap Shop. The biggest range you can afford. Try the Hand Rolled ones and watch for sales on them, compare them in samples to the Super soft ones and choose some Finishing Pastels. Sennelier Half Sticks sets are probably your best choice for inexpensive finishing pastels unless you fall in love with the Hand-Rolled texture. It doesn't need to be a big Half Stick set, even 20 Sennelier half sticks would be enough to add finishing details if that's all you do with them. But if you can afford it, larger half stick sets give more versatility and allow exploring heavier use of them for the whole painting.
Other Stuff You Need: Storage
Never throw out the cardboard boxes with foam lining. They are useful for storing open stock. Sometimes when you buy open stock Senneliers or other brands, they will come in small sturdy boxes with slotted foam lining holding three pastels. These are also useful for storage and the liners can be put into a bigger box side by side. Another advantage to buying Assortment sets over open stock - it comes with a foam-lined storage box of some kind that you don't need to buy separately.
If you really take to the medium, consider getting a pastel box with memory foam like the Dakota Traveller series or the Heilman boxes. In future when I'm more prosperous, I plan on getting a big Heilman to start consolidating a lot of my pastels. Big wooden box sets are beautiful for studio use and take up table space. It helps to break the sticks in half so you don't need as many trays spread out at the same time to see the full range.
I lucked and bought a 200 color set of Winsor & Newton medium soft pastels when those were discontinued, in a gorgeous wood box set. When I peeled the labels off the sticks and broke them in half, I was able to get all 200 colors into each of the two trays and as I use up the colors, I'll replace them with similar colors in Rembrandt or other similar pastels.
Richeson and Mungyo Gallery have "wood box" sets that are wood veneer on MDF, not as fancy as the more expensive Wood Box sets but they look good and are loony sturdy. I really like those boxes. They are tough! They stood up to a cross country move by UPS so they are excellent in their ability to withstand a lot of beating and protect the still-fragile pastels. Color Conte come in compact plastic boxes that stand up to being knocked around in backpacks and messenger bags. I'm very fond of that packaging too.
Unlike watercolor, storage does become a serious issue with pastels. It helps to have as many colors as possible, in as sturdy a box as possible. Most of my collection is now in a small Dakota Traveller except for all the hard pastels in their various packages, the Winsor & Newton set, plus a whole lot of used pastels some friends gave me or I bought cheap, including all the samples I tried from Blick and Jerry's before deciding what to invest in.
Definitely comparison shop. More often than not, you pay less per stick in sets than in open stock - until you get up to Wood Box sets, where the price of the box may add $20-$50 to the price of the pastels in it. Main thing is to check that before buying. Advantage of open stock - you don't get colors you'll never use. Advantage of large assortments - you find out those ugly colors are useful once you're stuck with them the way I did, then realize that some sticks wear down faster than others but some of the ones that never wear down are still used often, just in very small areas.
If you do not want to collect over a thousand pastels and do want to set up your palette without relying on Assortments (which give you lots of earths, lots of tints and shades, a full spectrum range regardless of what colors you use often or not), this thread is very long and VERY good: Soft Pastels Learning Center, ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way by Colorix. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=527268)
A good 30 color palette all in spectrum colors with their tints and shades is on the first page. Add some useful earths if you're into animal painting - yellow ochre with shades and tints, a good reddish earth like Burnt Sienna, a good dark brown, maybe a set of cool grays like Paynes Grey. She gives the color numbers for Rembrandt, which is an excellent "workhorse" brand of medium soft pastels. Equivalent colors are there in most of the medium soft brands like Blick Artist or Mungyo Gallery Extra Soft if you don't like the open stock Rembrandt price.
Also, reading through the class may help you understand color in pastels better, how to mix colors in Pastels and make a small palette work like a big one, and of course kick your understanding of color right through the roof even though you've painted in watercolor for a long time. This class completely changed how I see color, it let me start using color as powerfully as value in painting. Much of it can be applied to any medium.
There are other great classes in the Soft Pastel Learning Center - a big long series on figures and faces, a wonderful class on Snow by Deborah Secor, plus a tutorial on realism by ponting (Dianne Ponting) using pastel pencils. If you like fine detail and refined realism in pastels, go directly to her class and study how she did the dish of candy - then get Pastel Pencils for that technique. Without a lot of linear marks, Ponting's method is slow, rich, gorgeous and uses some techniques similar to Charlie's.
But for working in bold Impressionism, Charlie's class will really help. It may even help you with watercolors too.
Enjoy! Yep, I like writing very long posts sometimes. Wanted to give you a good overview of the materials by type so that you can get a good idea of what you want. It's possible you won't want to use hard-medium-soft at all, some artists stick strictly with Nupastels or strictly with Unisons or Senneliers, that's why to try the samples before getting Lots.
Other Stuff You May Need: Fixatives
Fixatives come in two or three types. They're used to spray pastel drawings and paintings on non-sanded paper, so that the pigment won't fall off.
Matte Workable Fixative. Krylon is very popular. Blick has a house brand that runs about a dollar less per spray can. Several other brands exist. Some brands also have Archival Fixatives that never yellow, last a good long time, are usable as museum quality fixative. All of these aerosol can fixatives have one thing in common.
They will darken and deepen the colors of your drawing or painting. (It's a painting if it looks painterly with obvious varied strokes that are part of the final effect and usually covers the entire surface. Drawings to me are more linear and use the paper or surface color as part of the finished art.)
You may want this effect. I know I used it a lot when I did portraits out on the streets of the French Quarter. Everything looked better a little darkened, except lost highlights that I could add after the fixative dried. Get used to restating light and bright colors with final strokes over the fixative and don't fix them or it turns into a vicious cycle.
Aerosol fixatives need to be used in large well ventilated studios, like with a suction fan drawing the toxic fumes away, or outdoors. Walk outside to spray them. Spray lightly, let it dry, spray lightly again, repeat 3 or 4 times if needed. Do not soak the paper in the first go even if I did this more times than I can count. Soaking the paper is less effective at creating more tooth and more dramatic in darkening the color, it may dissolve and move color around too. I just had bad habits.
Your cat will get up and leave the room if you spray normal aerosol fixatives indoors. He's right to do so. Breathing it is bad for your lungs too and it smells bad. There is a better solution.
SpectraFix Fixative is another new invention like PanPastels. It's in a category of its own - completely non toxic and environment-friendly, it's made from casein milk solids mixed with drinking alcohol. You can get it in a large misting bottle or as concentrate to mix with cheap vodka or Everclear or any white strong mostly-alcohol liquor. With the concentrate, they also sell a smaller travel size misting bottle. I think it's a bit cheaper in concentrate and separate bottle form. Certainly takes less storage space and you can take it on planes when flying to other countries because it's not flammable till the alcohol is added.
SpectraFix takes patience. It takes longer to dry than the volatile dangerous explosive aerosol liquids. You can't light it to turn it into a torch to bake spray-painted enamel paintings like you can with normal fixative or cans of spray paint. However, once you spray it, that just smells like you poured yourself a drink - it's got a fresh, pleasant odor.
Absolutely do not spray too much SpectraFix in one go! It will melt the color and run, creating an Alcohol Underpainting in fused and permanent form. Of course you may want that effect to make interesting runs and wet effects, some artists use liquid SpectraFix with a brush to do cool wet underpaintings.
It doesn't darken the color or change the luminosity of pastel. It's just that instead of 2 or 3 minutes drying before spraying again, I've had to wait five to ten minutes per spritz or even more for it to completely dry. It will, in several light applications, protect as thoroughly as Normal Matte Workable Fixative.
I have been gradually switching over to SpectraFix for a couple of years. The misting bottle, you really need to learn how to do a light spray with it. That took practice. The up side was that my cat didn't run out of the room, I didn't choke and I had to give up Fixative Darkening in favor of pushing the values with the sticks instead. I also didn't lose that beautiful sparkle that pastels get, so in the long run it worked better. Just remember it's got a learning curve and be patient. In an arid environment it might dry faster.
Things You Don't Need But Might Want: Blenders
The fun ones come on your hand, five per hand unless you had a nasty accident with a power tool or something. Assorted Fingers will push the color into the paper, darken it slightly with skin oils and potentially let future art historians check your DNA with the occasional lost skin cell to prove you did the painting. Bleed or spit on the outside edge if you want to be dead sure they can do that.
Finger Blending will dull the colors by crushing the pigment crystals, allowing very soft blended edges like Wet In Wet watercolor. The down side is also the up side - it dulls the colors and the sparkle, so you'll wind up reducing emphasis to finger blended areas unless you go over them with fresh strokes. I use Finger Blending in background areas and when I think something on the painting distracts from the focal area and needs softening, muting and reducing its importance.
Colour Shapers are expensive rubber paint brush like tools, the original ones are pricy from the UK but it's something you buy once and use over and over. The white "Soft" tips are best for soft pastels. Gray "Firm" tips are okay though, dark gray "Clay Shapers" are best for oil pastels. Don't use the same ones for oil pastels and dry pastels. They come in sets or individually. Try one in a medium size like size 6 to see if you like it, Chisel shape is one of the most useful shapes. Then collect others including big ones if you like their effects. They even make quite big oversize ones an inch or inch and a half wide for blending out big areas.
Colour Shapers will also dull and darken pastel areas while softening edges, but not as much as fingers or chamois. They still break the crystals but are probably the gentlest blenders. There are inexpensive Kemper Tools and painting tools used for oil painting that if never used with oil paint can also be used like Firm colour shapers for a good deal less money, double ended with red rubber tips in two shapes, one on each end. Blick has the Kemper one. It is really, really good for oil pastels and you can get by with just the Kemper tool for oil pastels. These are also good for depositing color into tiny details you can't get at with a big blunt stick.
Chamois - the artists' chamois come in very small squares five to seven inches across but are finer grain and better made than the auto repair chamois that comes in a big piece. Your call if you want to spend that much for a nicer artist grade chamois or just grab a car wash one and use that for blending. Works like fingers but without the skin oils. Will still dull and darken pastels pushing soft edged areas to "background" status.
Tortillons and Stumps - these are the rolled cardboard blenders used for charcoal or pencil drawing, they work just like that with pastels too. Most useful in pastel drawing, they're a good way to deposit just a little bit of thin color over white to get a pale tint by transparency. Scribble a patch of color on the side, rub the tortillon (one ended and hollow) or stump (double ended and solid, can be sharpened in a pencil sharpener) into the color and apply. Takes a little practice to get used to creating values with these but if your style is drawing on white and light colors, they can help stretch a short palette into a big one with tints-by-transparency.
Things You May Need If You Pastel A Lot: Face masks, Gloves in a Bottle, Artist's Air filtering machines or HEPA filtered air purifiers. How often you use soft pastels that have toxic pigments has something to do with how often or how much you'll need to use the protective gear. If you stick to nontoxic pastels and don't blow the dust off the painting (and into the air) but stick to tapping it out over the trash bin, these are less important.
If you like genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts and other mineral pigments California demands a label on, then face masks, gloves, skin barrier creams and air filters may become more important, especially if you work large on pastels every day. For once in a while use especially with non toxic brands, it may not be as important. Read the descriptions on the online store pages and manufacturer pages, look for "non toxic" or the CL label (California Warns You This Product May Make You Sick) before investing, think about safety on that.
Rubber mat to put under the easel. This can save a lot of heartbreak and is also easily washed off. Carpet bits or a rug under the easel will help too if it's not hard for you to vacuum, which it is for me.
Easels - an easel that tilts forward slightly helps let the dust fall off the painting while working large. I just use a big or medium drawing board with clips and hold it in my lap, but that's an adaptation to disability. If you can stand at an easel, an easel is a better solution.
I hope you come to love this medium as much as I do. It's not as compact and portable as watercolor but it's got a beauty all its own - and cleanup can be minimized by having good dust management. That wet towel helps a lot!
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