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Dawn over Mt. Petit Jean Outcrop
7" x 9 1/2"
Pan Pastels on white ClaireFontaine PastelMat

A month or two ago, I got some incredible review products from Colorfin LLC -- the five color Deep Dark Shades set of Pan Pastels to try and a small pad of ClaireFontaine PastelMat. I've written about both of these before -- but this time I put them together.

Wow. I love the PastelMat.

I love how the paper handles. The grain is very fine. It's like smooth paper for smoothness and getting delicate details -- notice the flicking little strokes in the near foreground tree and brush trail off to very sharp little points. This is on white. It's got seven or eight layers of color and could easily hold more, I was dabbing in strong little clumps right to the last and some areas were heavily worked, then reworked completely in different colors lighter as well as darker.

It feels smooth and acts like a heavy sandpaper. It holds the Pan Pastel powder like I was painting on the sticky side of tape. It really goes nowhere when you put down a stroke! I had a few loose grains of off colors that flew up into the sky so I tapped those off -- and that's all that fell off. Nothing that I had put down deliberately came off the page.

None of it. Zero. Nada. What I put there stayed there.

I tend to use fixative even on Colourfix just to make sure the pastel stays on the painting. Pastels are dusty. The color drops off and collects in the edge of the mat, may fall off into the frame, that happens. But not with this PastelMat so far. I don't know how it'll do with sticks but with the Pan Pastels, what goes on the page stays on the page.

It took active scrubbing back and forth to mix colors. Dabbing put new color over old with nice opacity, provided I had the sponge loaded heavily enough.

I used the rounded end small sponge for the sky and middle ground foliage. The rocks went in with the pointed Sofft knife and used up one sock, the points wear off fast if you keep changing colors on that tool. More than other shapes of Sofft knife. (Sofft knife = the plastic painting knives that get little foam socks to slip over the tips.) For contrasting texture, I used the front end of the wedge sponge on the foreground tree and the corners of the wedge sponge in its foliage where I wanted very small bits. I used the wedge sponge to sign it.

I love the PastelMat. The colors are bright and clean, the texture is something out of this world and while it's expensive, it's archival and sweet. It's coated but has a superfine grain closer to the Ampersand PastelBord or a good vellum -- but much, much more grabby for anything you want to draw or paint on it with.

PastelMat comes in eight colors in full sheets or in two different color assortments in three sizes of pads. The pad I have has a shimmery near-black color, sort of like glittering charcoal, Sienna, a nice gray and white. The other one has gold and pale gold and brown and another gray I think. I definitely intend to get the other pad and maybe get two of the larger pads so that I have it available for bigger paintings.

The price is about comparable to good sanded pastel papers like Wallis or Colourfix. I'll still be using Colourfix a lot for both oil pastels and soft pastels -- but I may be using PastelMat a lot too especially when I want detailed realism. The smallest elements can go onto this as carefully as I want to draw them and it responds well to colored pencils too -- again holding more layers than other types of paper with a comparably smooth grain.

It will stand up to wetting, though I haven't tried it yet. I've read comments on WetCanvas.com that said it stood up well to using acrylic or watercolor underpainting. Because of its special texture, I wouldn't use heavy acrylic for underpainting, more like thin it till it's like ink so that you keep the superb tooth of the surface. I doubt watercolor changes it at all, based on my experience with other papers.

Today's painting is also the first time I've used the Deep Dark Shades with the rest of my PanPastels and they really helped. The depth of darks in the middle ground are just right to give contrast with that pale sky, while the Deep Dark Permanent Red made this great little accent in the darks on the foreground stuff.

Of course now I want the full range of Deep Dark Shades and will be getting them sometime in 2010. Pan Pastels are so clean, convenient and soft, they have their own special place in my pastels lineup along with sticks or by themselves. They're the painterly ones. They're also the absolute least cleanup ones. When I finished this painting, my cleanup including cleaning all the sponges and the knife repeatedly involved exactly one sheet of paper towel. Just one.

As previously mentioned though, if you buy Pan Pastels to paint with, get actual paper towels. Cloth towels or rags don't work as well to clean the Sofft tools and sponges. Fibers from the cloth come loose and stick to them so once you get it clean you have to pluck out all the fuzzes. Paper towels don't have this effect. The nubbly kind is best for quick and thorough cleaning, but they don't have to be expensive ones.

The specialized Sofft tools are not the same as women's makeup applicators. The micropore foam is much denser than makeup applicator foam. It's formulated specifically for use with Pan Pastels and holds a lot more color. They also wear a lot longer than the cheap eye makeup applicators some of them resemble.

I found that the actual sponges seem to wear a bit better than the socks that go on the plastic knives, but everyone starts to find their own favorite tools for using Pan Pastels. The honking big oval sponge is glorious for blocking in large areas of color and will get it smooth in just a few swipes if you're underpainting with Pans.

Also the colors in Pan Pastels will mix exactly like paint if you swipe a sponge through two or three colors. You can treat them as if they were continually wet for mixing on the painting, or dab them on for opaque color over color. The less color is on your sponge, the more it will mix the layers instead of just overlaying. Both effects are equally useful. A clean sponge can be used to "hypnotize" an area the way Bill Alexander always did the water in his oil painting show.

They mix indefinitely as if they stayed wet but being dry, there is no drying time. So this new invention is a strange wonderful weird art supply with a lot of advantages and its own special look. It's almost a medium in itself, but it also goes really well with pastel pencils, pastel sticks or hard pastels.

I'm definitely enjoying this and will be experimenting more with both Pans and PastelMat. You can get both from Dakota Pastels along with SpectraFix casein-alcohol fixative, which I want to try next month since it comes in a spray can that's a mister, not a spray can with propellant. SpectraFix is biodegradable, non toxic and has no propellants, so even if it's more expensive than my $5 a can Blick fixative, it's worth it to me to know I'm not contributing to air quality problems. Also the can without propellants may actually last longer than a normal can of fixative. I'll know when I get it.

Dick Blick also now carries the Deep Dark Shades in PanPastel, but doesn't have the PastelMat or SpectraFix yet. But they do have those great coupons.

What I wound up getting this month was different, a loss leader super deep discount pastel set from ASW. I'd intended to wait till January before buying any supplies, but I forgot I was watching the Art Spectrum 60 Pure Tones set to catch it before the sale ends. It's $84.99 for a set of 60 pastels, when even ASW's low price on the 30 color sets is $82 -- so for two or three bucks more, that's twice as many. The set retails for $279. So that may be the bargain of the year. At least I kept it under $100 even with shipping, which is doing good for my budget.

I'm going to enjoy those. I chose the cheap Standard Shipping which may mean it takes a while to arrive, but better to tightwad than to get overeager and spend another $5 for speedy shipping. So that was my birthday present to me, a new toy that if it arrives in December will probably be first used on another Pastel Strokes painting.

Other than doing art, I wrote my HubPages article wrapping up my Nanowrimo experience. So today was productive, as opposed to yesterday's sleeping for 20 hours and reading Terry Pratchett during what few waking hours I spent. I gulped down both Pratchett books. I should probably review those too soon.

Soon, I go back to writing mode and begin editing Curse of Vaumuru. Somebody wish me some willpower!
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
My first pan pastels arrived a couple of days ago! Can't wait to try them.
Dec. 10th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
Yayy! Message me when you post something you did with them, I really want to see what you do, I love your art anyway.

They're awesome. They handle like paint but better than paint.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


2013 Nano Winner
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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