Monday, August 31, 2015

Bonus product review: PanPastels

Pan Pastels, I'm hooked

For my birthday this year, I asked for PanPastels by Colorfin  along with some Art Spectrum paper. I had been painting with soft pastels for years. In fact, I worked almost exclusively with them until I got sick back in 2005. That's when it was recommended I stay away from the medium because of the dust. But things have changed. I'm on my feet and feel great again, so I've returned to my earlier love.

Although I had these PanPastels in my drawer for several months, I didn't really play with them much. They seemed a bit hard to manage. I was used to sticks of soft pastels where I would swoosh vibrant color onto the paper and get started immediately. With this product, you don't use sticks to apply color, instead you use applicators that are sold with the pans (see photo below) and you don't use your fingers either. It was simply foreign to me.
Most kits come with applicators.

Here are a few of the "painterly" applicators

Then a few weeks ago a friend emailed me about a paint date and mentioned PanPastels. I thought gee, I should pull that stuff out and see what I can create. First, I reviewed a few videos online to see what methods were being used. Then I pulled out a square mat board, not heavy on the tooth side, drew some hollyhocks and put my first marks down.

The first thing I noticed was that lack of dust. Although there is some, and would still recommend painting with the board upright, the dust is minimal. I also noticed that if I pushed too hard on the pan of color, I would create more dust. So I had to learn to glide the applicator more gently.

While you can pick up a lot of pigment (each pan is made of pure pigment), it doesn't last very long on the applicator, enough for about two to three strokes. This was hard for me. I'm used to sticks with an endless flow of color--just like pencils--until I've used up everything. After a few clumsy tries, I finally got some sort of a rhythm going, where upon I put the pigment on the applicator and then on the painting,  then back again.

Here is my first result:

First project--Hollyhocks--on mat board.

Starting with the upper left flower and using a round tip applicator,  I found it difficult to spread the color. But if I placed the applicator on the board gently and with slight pounce, it was fine. What I discovered was that the applicator was more like a paint brush rather than a stick. This was a whole new experience for me.

Of course, I was working on a very dark mat board (maroon), which meant I had to add more layers. But in time I figured out that if I didn't press hard, either by picking up the pastel or placing it on the board, I was successful.

My next project was on a Canson Mi-Teintes paper, waffled side. I chose a grey background color and painted lemons. The problem here was not the pastel, but more the choice I made regarding the paper color. Dah. I totally forgot that yellow and black (or dark grey in this instance) create green. So my lemons were not as brilliant as I would have liked them. Because the PanPastels are more translucent than regular stick, it was hard to lighten them up to the color I wanted.

Here's the second project:

This was a challenge as yellow turns green on black or dark grey.

The tooth on this side of the paper was sufficient to hold the color, but I learned that grey and yellow don't mix well for getting shimmering yellow.

Next, I decided to use Mi-Teintes paper again but this time on the smoother side in light grey. The subject was grapes, which meant I used more reds, purples, greens and some yellows. I abandoned the painterly applicator and instead used the mini sticks. They look like the tools women use to apply shadow to their eyelids.

I could tell I was getting used to the product as the pastel seemed easier to apply. The colors mixed faster and I wasn't fighting the background color. My only difficulty was adding those last bits of highlights. I had to really load the applicators with lots of white/off-white pigments to get the effect I wanted.

More success here, although highlights were
difficult to create.
I also used the pouncing affect to create a more mottled look in the blue/green background. I think this product would also be great for creating a painting in pointillism. Perhaps another exercise down the road?

Since I had asked and received Art Spectrum paper (slighted sanded) back in February, I thought it would be appropriate that I try another project--a Croatian boat--with that. This time I selected a pale pink colored sheet of paper. Usually with any sanded type paper, the artist can instantly feel the texture and the grip it has on the stick. The colors go down spectacularly. I used the painterly applicator, the mini stick and what they call a sponge bar.
As expected the color went down very smoothly. I used the sponge bar which created a wonderful blended background. Wow, it was so much fun. Then I used the other applicators to draw and paint the boat. Because I had a little trouble on the highlights with the grapes, I decided this time to use a white pastel pencil on top of everything. It worked!

On Art Spectrum paper, used pastels pencil for highlights.

You'd think I would be tired by now but instead, I became energized. In fact, I was like a kid in a candy store who wanted to try more and more. I even bought more colors on Amazon and Dick Blick, along with a few more tools. That's when I decided to tackle a more difficult and larger piece, which ended up being even more challenging that I expected.

I pulled out a mountain/palm tree picture from the Palm Springs area. I thought I'd use a sanded paper, this time UArt 500 grade. Pretty heavy duty but cool when working with stick pastels. I wanted to see how the applicators would hold up.

So I began with creating my background, sky first and then the mountain, using the sponge bar. I was excited about how wonderfully everything laid down. The colors just seemed to paint themselves and I was only a guide. I was content beyond words.

My hand-made pastels came in handy.
The difficulty began when I started to work on the palm trees. I couldn't get the details I wanted. The applicators were also being eating up by the sanded paper. I went through three or four applicator covers in an hour. Even the mini sticks tips were falling apart. I was frustrated.

But then I realized not all paintings have to be created by the same product. I can add whatever I want, whenever I want. After all, I'm the artist. So I pulled our the hardest color stick I own, Nupastel, and started adding my palm trees. For the foliage on top, I found I could create soft lines with the PanPastels and then more distinct ones with the Nupastel. Best of all, I even added my own hand-made pastels. What fun I was having.

Although I struggled with the last project, I think it turned out rather well. I'm feeling so good about this product and it's potential, I'm hoping to put together a video soon in order to show my students how much fun it can be.

(Note: Videos can be found at:

The biggest challenge of them all. Eventually
used stick pastels for details.
Well, that's all for now. Hope you enjoyed this bonus product review. Next issue is due October 1 when I will return to Early American art.

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