Studio Saturdays: Experimenting with Art Supplies

Top mixed-media artists always recommend road testing new art supplies as a great way to feel comfortable with them. Yet how often do we really do that? Guilty as charged. When I’m working on a project I tend to reach for what’s most familiar, thinking if I experiment with something it will take too much time, and I might not be happy with the results.

I was thinking about this as I read Steven Bland’s Jumpstart article in the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, “Art Supply Experiments: Izink Pigment Inks.” In it, he puts Izink ink through its paces, painting with it, creating a color spray, using it with a stencil, and more. I was so intrigued by his process that I decided to try some experiments of my own, and I was blown away by the process and the results.

art supplies

I chose some Caran d’Ache Neoart water-soluble wax pastels as my guinea pig art supplies. I purchased them at my local art store a few months ago, figuring I’d use them some day, but they’ve been sitting in a drawer languishing, thanks to my laziness. I already had Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels (which I love), but these were a slightly different animal. (Note: Apparently these have been discontinued by the company, but some art supply stores and websites may still carry them).

For one, they were larger and chunkier than the Neocolors, and “wax” was in the name, so I thought that might give it a different consistency. I chose four colors that I knew I could be blended to create more: Dark Carmine, Grass Green, Middle Cobalt Blue, and Lemon Yellow.

Experiments with art supplies, using water-soluble wax pastels
For art supplies to experiment with, I chose these water-soluble wax pastels.

I started by making basic color swatches, scribbling twice with each color on watercolor paper, and adding water with a paintbrush to the second swatch. The color was so vibrant and saturated, even more so than the Neocolors. The more water I added the more it behaved and looked like true watercolor, and the more saturated it was, the more it edged toward the look of fluid acrylic paint.

Wet and dry color swatches of art supplies
The first stop on the road test of these art supplies was to make wet and dry color swatches.

I tried some blends next, and loved how the colors melded together. I even got a lovely brown from mixing Dark Carmine and Grass Green.

Blending Caran d'Ache Neoart wax pastels
The Neoart wax pastels blended beautifully, even making a brown I could love.

Next, I rubbed swatches of scribbled color with a soft cloth. From left, Dark Carmine scribbled hard and rubbed with a dry cloth, Dark Carmine and Lemon Yellow scribbled together and rubbed with a damp cloth, Middle Colbalt Blue scribbled lightly and rubbed with a dry cloth, and Middle Cobalt Blue and Lemon Yellow scribbled lightly over each other and rubbed with a dry cloth. Rubbing the color with a dry cloth created a bit of an aura around the color.

Rubbing wax pastels with a rag
These wax pastels are soft enough to rub with a wet or dry rag.

One of my favorite techniques is using watercolor with stencils—I like that it makes the images look less defined. I rubbed the pastels on a nonstick craft sheet, added water with a wet brush, and brushed it over the stencil, kind of sloshing it around and not being ultra-careful. Love. This. The colors are soft, but they also pop. It’s so easy to layer and saturate colors, too, just by adding more pastels to the craft sheet, or by taking a wet brush directly to the pastel, and then painting.

Stenciling with wax pastel art supplies
Stenciling with wax pastel art supplies, I discovered they can mimic watercolor paints.

The pastels are a bit clunky to draw with, since there’s no point. You can sketch with the edge of the stick, as long as precision isn’t a goal. I drew an apple, softening the edges a bit with a damp paintbrush, but leaving some sketched lines intact.

Sketching with wax pastels
Sketching is a bit clunky with the pastels, but it can be done.

Curious about how these art supplies would work with gesso, I brushed some of the medium onto watercolor paper, then did the initial swatch test again. This time, the scribbled pastels picked up the texture of the gesso, which was a great effect. When I wet the color it floated on top of the gesso, behaving more like a wash.

Testing wax pastel art supplies on gesso
The wax pastels on gesso; when wet, they float on top like a wash.

Texture time. I took a scrap of vintage ledger paper and a pastel stick, and rubbed the pastel over the paper as I pressed the paper onto the side of a basket. Not sure I’d marry it, but we might see each other casually.

Wax pastels over a textured surface
Road testing these art supplies over a textured surface produced this.

Bubble wrap was nearby, so I rubbed some pastels on the bumpy side, lightly misted it with water, and pressed it onto watercolor paper. Nice mottled effect, and I’m sure I’ll visit that one again.

Wax pastel art supplies used with bubble wrap
Using bubble wrap as a printing device, the pastels produced a great texture.

Since the pastels are fairly soft I thought I’d see how they’d perform with a rubber stamp. I rubbed three colors on a stamp, lightly misted it, and pressed it onto watercolor paper. The top right stamped image is the second stamping, which still has a lot of color. While the image was still wet, I went over parts of it with a wet paintbrush to move the color around a bit. For the second line of images I added more pastels to the stamp, then gave it a good blast with the mister. I got three good prints, and I love how the very wet stamp produced a watercolor-y image.

Wax pastels with a rubber stamp
Using the pastels with a rubber stamp misted with water produced a range of effects

I was curious how the color would work on fabric. I rubbed pastels on a craft sheet, and with a wet paintbrush created some flowers. The color went on so easily—it immediately soaked into the fabric, but also allowed me to shade the image. If I made a mistake, the color easily lifted off with a paper towel. Obviously this piece couldn’t be put through the wash, but it’s good to know that the pastels are a great fit with fabric as well as paper.

Wax pastel art supplies on fabric
Using the wax pastels on fabric allowed me to shade the color.

For my last experiment with these art supplies I challenged myself to create an art journal page using the pastels as the only medium. I stenciled a background, splattered it with paint from a wet brush, made some marks with bubble wrap, and added some stamps. I painted book pages with water-added pastels, cut the paper into leaf shapes, and glued them to the page. I tore one of the painted flowers out from the canvas fabric and stitched it to the page with embroidery thread, collaging it with a napkin painted with the pastels. A border was created around the image with drawn pastels brushed with a wet paintbrush. The page was edged on all four sides with the pastels to add a bit of depth, and gone over with a wet brush.

Art journal page using wax pastels as the only color medium art supplies
An art journal page using the wax pastels as the only color medium art supplies.

Bonus: Use a swatch of fabric as your rag and incorporate it in your  next collage project!

Paintbrush rag as collage element
Everything is useable in art, including paintbrush rags.

I feel so comfortable with these pastels that I will never hesitate incorporating them into my artwork, and I’ll continue to explore their possibilities. A couple of hours were all it took to make me feel like these were my new best friends. Time well spent, considering that my confidence level soared, and my hesitance and trepidation for using these guys flew out the window. I’m thinking about what next to bring into the art lab; maybe a couple of finds from the recent Association for Creative Industries Show, or some mediums I’ve been meaning to road test.

Read Steven’s article, then head to your studio or workspace and spend a little time with a new or neglected supply. See what magic you can make.

Pick up more art supply techniques from these resources from the North Light Shop!

March/April Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Read Steven Bland’s article on experimenting with art supplies in the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Breaking the Rules: Inventive uses for Supplies and Materials from ArtistsNetworkTV
Go ahead, break some rules as you discover clever ways to use your art supplies in Carolyn Dube’s video Breaking the Rules: Inventive uses for Supplies and Materials.
Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons 2014 Supply Stash Series Collector's Edition by Jane Davenport
Get great ideas for using your art supplies in the 2014 Art Lessons Supply Stash Series Collector’s Edition by Jane Davenport.
Top 10 Acrylic Painting Techniques with Chris Cozen from ArtistsNetworkTV
Learn about acrylic paint and techniques in the video Top 10 Acrylic Painting Techniques with Chris Cozen.



2 thoughts on “Studio Saturdays: Experimenting with Art Supplies

  1. I have been using wax/oil pastels for many years, they are a serious art material and need not cost very much. At one stage all I could get were children’s ones, but now several well known companies like Cretacolor make them and they are beautiful and creamy to work with either dry, or wet. I love the vivid colours and the somewhat unpredictable results. Its very easy to make mud when blending dry colours, but a little baby oil or oil painting medium helps overcome that. The only disadvantage is they do not dry out, ever, but as long as you bear that in mind they are a fantastic fun mixed media colour source, and I find that if they remain a bit sticky, a spot of chalk dust, or (in my case) matching eye-shadow powder will soon fix the problem. Pastel dust will take the stickiness off the colour as well.

  2. This has inspired me to experiment with my oil pastels that have been sitting around for a few years. I haven’t read that article yet but will read it tonight and then sit down and play. 🙂


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