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