Friday, 23 July 2010

Product Review: Talens Van Gogh Coloured Pencils

Set of 60 Talens Van Gogh Pencils
An artist wrote to me yesterday commenting on how much he liked Talens Van Gogh coloured pencils but how difficult they were to find in the USA.  He'd found a supply at his local art store and this is what he had to say
I must say that now that I've found a set of the Talens Van Gogh pencils, I think I'm hooked. I could only get my hands on a set of 30 but so far they are wonderful. I need the rest of the colors and probably the watercolor pencils as well.

I found a set sitting on a shelf getting dusty at a relatively local art supply shop. They had about a half dozen. They haven't been selling which may be partially due to no open stock to replace them.

Potential US customers should scour their local art supply stores. They may have them. Also, ask about them. We need to increase demand or they won't come back

When I found a supply at my local store (a US national art supply chain and mail order), the manager said they didn't sell and they have reduced what they are carrying (they no longer carry Lyra). He thought it partially due to price, partially due to no marketing and partially due to so many of the books on CP only mentioning Prismacolor and sometimes Polychromos.
That last comment made me really sit up and think.  

How many people buy pencils on the basis of what other people recommend?  Quite a lot I should think.  Well if Prismacolor and Polychromos are the only brands which ever get mentioned by artists who write books, is it any wonder they tend to take the lead in all my polls about Which is the best brand of artist grade coloured pencil?

The thing is, I believe people say what they're using is good if they are happy with that brand - even if they've never ever tried any other brands!  However to my mind, being happy with what you've got is insufficient grounds for saying that this brand is the best

I've tried every brand of coloured pencils and I think there are pros and cons to all of them.  I really like my Van Goghs.  They're not as robust as the Polychromos and the pigment strength of the Caran d'Ache Luminance are doing a very good job of wooing me at the moment (one pencil at a time due to how expensive they are due to the exchange rate!).  However if it were a straight fight between my Van Goghs and Prismacolor Pencils, I know I'd choose the Van Goghs every time. 

I decided to resurrect my 2007 review of Talens Van Gogh Pencils and give it another airing on this blog!  So here it is - rejigged into the product review format I use on this blog.

ProductRoyal Talens - Van Gogh Pencils (Artists and watercolour)
Summary:   Excellent coloured pencils which are difficult to find but well worth the effort.  If you ever get a chance to try Van Gogh Coloured Pencils, you'll be very pleasantly surprised. I'm very happy to recommend them.
Technical Details: Coloured Pencils with guaranteed lightfastness.  They helped set the standard for lightfastness for coloured pencils having participated in the original tests.  Pigments held in mainly kaolin/wax provide good saturation with smooth application and good blendability
Who should buy these pencils?
  • coloured pencil artists
  • artists who enjoy dry media
  • all CP artists who are convinced that Prismacolors are the only brand worth having!
Who should not buy these pencils? 
  • devotees of the brush!
  • Talens participated in the very first ASTM test of lightfastness in coloured pencils and the Van Gogh pencils are guaranteed to be lightfast.
  • Excellent pigment strength; lots of scope for getting saturated colour quickly
  • Kaolin/wax base for artists coloured pencils (blue top) gives very smooth and workable application - creamy soft.
  • Watercolour pencils have kaolin base and are only slightly drier in application.
  • Range of colours is not as extensive as other makes - but the range available is a very good choice. I find I always want to use their colours a lot.
  • Blend easily
  • Excellent range of greens and blues - very useful for the plein air sketcher
  • the Van Gogh watercolour pencils (white top) are the best I've come across so far - very quick to dilute to a clean wash
  • Wood used for pencils is responsibly sourced
  • Provides a safety data sheet
Think Again?
  • Very soft pencils which sometimes get eaten rather fast by sharpeners
  • I'm in two minds about the white pencil, others do it better
  • Unfortunately the website does not provide a list of colours
  • European company and european bias to suppliers
Manufacturer / Distributor:  Royal Talens Sophialaan 46, 7311 PD, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands P.O. Box 4, 7300 AA, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands
Telephone +31 (0)55 - 5274700 Telefax +31 (0)55 - 5215286

  • You can find suppliers which sell Talens goods on the Talens website.
  • It's quite difficult to get hold of these pencils in the UK and virtually impossible to find them in the USA. Which is surprising given how good they are and that they are guaranteed lightfast. 
  • I'm very lucky in having Paintworks, the main importer to the UK located very close to me and hence I can buy colours from open stock for both artists and the watercolour products. (They also do mail order both for single colours and tins - you can find prices quoted in the 2010 drawing catalogue)

The website also has a tips section for using coloured pencils and even has an outline and then an approach for using their coloured pencils to draw Van Gogh's famous painting of his room in Arles! You can download it from here.

Note: For general information about lightfastness in coloured pencils and specific information about all reputable brands of lightfast pencils see various links on Coloured Pencils: Resources for Artists.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Book Review: 100 Great Artists


100 Great Artists: A Visual Journey from Fra Angelico to Andy Warhol

Synopsis: A list of 100 artists through the ages. Each artist gets a double page spread, a timeline, two images and a short narrative.  Recently published in the UK
Summary review:  This book is good introduction to great artists for a reasonable price.  There is no definitive list of 100 great artists but this one is a good effort.  It's also a good place to start for those wanting to learn more about the leading artists over time.  Their importance is distilled down to a potted version - but it's a good book for getting a sense of who the artist was, when and where they created art, what their paintings look like and for some - why they were important.
  • covers different periods in art history over eight centuries from Giotto in the 13th century to Hockney in the 21st.
  • includes artists from a range of countries
  • useful for a skim review of artists who played a significant role in the development of some aspect of art
  • good quality publication - although not all reproductions first rate however.....
  • ....this is NOT an expensive book (less than £10 from Amazon)
Think Again?
  • artists listed alphabetically rather than chronologically - latter might have been more helpful
  • limited coverage of the twentieth century - probably limited by the publishers budget for images for modern and contemprary artists
  • leans towards a European perspective of art (but does also include non Europeans eg Hopper, Hokusai and Hiroshige)
  • a few odd choices of artists I've never heard of with a limited claim to the top 100 / does not explain the reasons behind all the choices
Who should buy this?:
  • new students of art history
  • those wanting to learn more about leading artists across the ages
Who should not buy this?
  • of limited interest to those wanting specialised information about specific artists
  • unlikely to impress those who know quite a bit about art history
Author: Charlotte Gerlings
/ Publication Date:
  • UK - Arcturus Publishing (31 July 2009)  Originally published 2006.
  • USA - Published by Gramercy (February 7, 2006) Amazon link
Technical data: Paperback -  208 pages

Monday, 12 July 2010

Which is your favourite make of hard pastel?

Conte à Paris and Cretacolour - in the Sennelier Shop in Paris

When we think of pastels we often tend to think of soft pastels.  However hard and semi-hard pastels have a place in the art supplies of any decent pastel artist.

The main characteristic of hard pastels is that they tend to have less pigment and more binder.  As a result colours tend to be less vivid and works completed only in hard pastels can seem subdued when compared to the intensity of some of the hues of 'proper' soft pastels with high pigment concentrations.  The higher proportion of binder can also make some brands seem very dry and scratchy and it's always worth trying different brands to find the one you get on with best.

The chalks used for classic drawing tend to be closest to hard pastels and a number of manufacturers provide a set of hard pastels in the classic drawing colours of sanguine, sepia, black and white. 

Using hard pastels

Pastels artists use hard pastels for a number of different purposes including:
  • preliminary sketches
  • sketching in under-drawings (as with the oil painting principle of "fat over lean")
  • creating outlines
  • getting a hard edge on top of soft pastel
  • flat surface used to rough in large areas
  • edge used for expressive lines or crisp lines
  • adding in intricate details (usually with sticks which have been sharpened to a point)
Different Brands of Hard Pastels

These sticks are typically rectagular with hard edges.   In French, the sticks are described as carré ('square' in French).
LEFRANC &; BOURGEOIS distribute the CONTE à PARIS fine art range of pencils, crayons and pastels. Conté crayons are most commonly found in black, white, and sanguine tones, as well as bistre, shades of grey, and other colors and are particularly suitable for fine hatching. They also produce 70 colours.
The website states: POLYCHROMOS pastel open up an almost inexhaustible variety of colour. They contain a high proportion of light-fast quality pigments. These pastels have impressively bright colours and a fascinatingly silky "feel".....The characteristic square-cross section allows you to draw fine details with an edge, or shade extended areas with one face. The crayons have a uniform consistency, are economical in use, and adhere excellently to paper, card, wood, and stone. They need only a minimum amount of fixing for permanence.
The website states: Artists' quality for every level of expertise.  Rich, creamy pigments for easy blending and shading.  Stronger than traditional soft pastels create less breakage and easier clean-up.  Ideal for illustration or tightly rendered drawings
From the website: The square (carré in French) CRETACOLOR hard pastels have been recognized by artists all over the world for their brilliant colors and high pigmentation. Their square shape lends itself well to painting both large surfaces and small details. The Pastell carré hard pastel full range is 72 colors, including the Brown and Gray Chalks.
Artists' Hard Pastels Daler-Rowney Artists' Hard Pastels are characterised by a velvet smooth mark, which stems from the carefully prepared blend of pure pigments. Firm in consistency, these pastels can be used to produce broad, flat areas of colour and detailed line work with equal success. 24 colours 
Van Gogh carré pastels fall into the category of dry pastels. They come in a square shape and are made of pigment, various types of clay. Only available in assortment sets.  
From the website: For authentic pastel drawings with quick, easy colour lay down, these chunky pastel blocks are perfect. Their square shape and smooth, semi-hard texture means you can use the ends, sides or edges to produce both broad and fine lines. Although not as dusty as soft pastels, the effect is equally beautiful and perhaps a little more manageable. Derwent Pastels are available in a range of 36 vibrant colours, plus the unique Derwent Blender which allows easy blending without affecting the colour density.  
From the website: Professional, semi-hard pastels, perfect for underpainting.  
General's® Classic Pastel Chalk Set contains 31 pieces
One of the factors to think about when buying hard pastels is how easy it is to replace singletons from open stock.  Some brands are only sold in sets.

Which hard pastel do people like the best?

I've had a opinion poll running for some time on my information site Pastels - Resources for Artists. It asks the question Which is your favourite make of hard pastel?

To date 270 people have responded to the poll and indicated their preference as to harder pastels and the percentage of their votes are shown in the chart below.  The current poll has a limited range of options and I'm thinking of setting up a new one including the complete range of hard pastels.
Opinion Poll (270 responses as at July 2010)

By far the most popular 'hard pastel' is Prismacolor Nupastel, although interestingly this is one of the softer hard pastels!  You can't find these in Europe so I'm assuming this is an overwhelming vote from American readers.  Similarly I guess many Americans may find it difficult to check out European makes of pastels.

Which is your favourite brand of hard pastel - and why?

I'd be very interested to hear your views about the different pastel brands - please do leave a comment.

Link: Pastels - Resources for Artists

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Book review: The Concise British Flora in Colour

The Concise British Flora in Colour (1965) by W.Keble Martin

[UPDATE: This book review has now MOVED. The synopsis and summary from the original post are below - the rest can be found at Book Review - The Concise British Flora in Colour on my website dedicated to Botanical Art and Artists.]

Title: The Concise British Flora in Colour
Synopsis:The product of a project lasting over 60 years to study, research, amd illustrate the natural wild flowers of the UK.  W. Keble Martin started before the first world war and this book was not published until 1965.  It records short descriptions of the plants with proper nomenclature and popular name.  On the opposite page are the composite illustrations of the variations of flowers within a family.  All the plants and flowers were drawn from life.  The book was a best seller when published in 1965 - a feat not yet repeated for a book about wild flowers.
Summary review: The primary reason for buying this book for me was nostalgia - for my childhood, expeditions to find wildflowers for a primary school project and (I now realise) for those wildflowers which are no longer common.  There are probably quite a few people over the age of 50 who feel the same.  Over and above that this was the book which introduced me to botanical illustration.  I loved the fact that the wild flowers were illustrated rather than photographed and what seemed to me to be the very innovative way that the flowers were arranged on the page.  I was hooked by this book and have remained interested ever since. 

A copy of the original post has been archived and is on file.
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