One of the things I like best about making art is the opportunity to try new things and see what happens. Particularly if “things” include new materials and methods. Recently Mirna gifted me with a set of PanPastel Artists’ Pastels that she hadn’t used yet and they’ve been sitting on my desk reminding me that I wanted to crack them open and see what they were like. I remember being intrigued by them when they first came on the market, but as I don’t really work in pastels my curiosity was mild and I had no burning desire to make the investment to see what they were about. Recently I’ve started following Kristin Baugh Shiraef (@krztns) on Instagram and they use the pan pastels to incredible effect. With Mirna’s generosity came an opportunity to tinker a bit myself.
The set I was given is the Starter Set in Shades (30053), which comes with five colours: Violet Shade (470.3), Ultramarine Blue Shade (520.3), Permanent Red Shade (340.3), Chromium Oxide Green Shade (660.3), and Hansa Yellow Shade (220.3).
The set also comes with an assortment of sponges for colour application that remind me quite a bit of makeup sponges. The pastels come in shallow pans that twist together into a column. As I was twisting them apart I discovered that the green, and only the green, had taken some damage so the cake was broken resulting in Hulk-like fingers before I realized there was going to be a mess. Clearly these pastels need to be shipped and stored carefully to prevent this from happening. Tangentially, I am wondering if any of the YouTube hacks for fixing broken eyeshadow would work to restore the green… However, once the loose powder was shaken off, the green was quite serviceable, so it wasn’t a huge concern. My hands and desk were easy to clean up and on I went.
Initially I applied each colour to a page in my sketchbook to see what they moved like when pushed by skin and to see if I could get a sense of how drying they were to use. One of the reasons that I don’t like working with chalk pastels in stick form is I find they dry out my fingers in a way that puts me off a bit. I didn’t have that issue with the pan pastels, although it may take a longer session with them to get a more complete sense of that. An hour might not have been long enough to make that assessment given that I tend to work for multi-hour stretches when I can. I really like how smoothly the pastels apply by hand and they were easy to blend together with fingertips. That said, it isn’t all that easy to blend a consistent colour out of two others the way it is with paint. I don’t think that’s necessarily a limitation, but it is something I think about because I work with paint a lot and I’m always mixing things to create new shades. PanPastel does make an extensive range of colours, so as long as you have the resources, there are many options out there.
I moved on to the sponges that were provided and ran into my second minor hiccup: some of the small sponges provided are meant to go onto the end of a palette knife-like tool that is sold separately which I did not have. This limited the utility of the smaller sponges to me in that moment. However, the large triangular sponge was a lot of fun to play with! I found the colour saturation with the sponges was much higher than I was getting with my fingers and I found I started to really appreciate the pastels once the sponge came into play.
I then experimented with a variety of inks and other things that were laying around my desk to see what would happen when they were layered over a base of the pan pastel. I was really impressed by the fact that the pastel did not clog up any of my pens or markers. It stayed on the paper and the inks travelled over it quite smoothly. I think my favourite combination was when I layered some acrylic texture gel with tiny glass beads in it because the clear acrylic sealed down the grain of the pastel (I applied it toward the end of a sponge-streak) and then the glass beads reflected the colour in interesting ways. This picture was taken a bit before the acrylic was fully dry:
The only drawback to these that I can see is the same as any chalk pastels I’ve ever worked with: they aren’t good for books unless you are able to seal them to the page with fixative. I can see that step being worth it on large pieces, but I don’t know that it is for me in a sketchbook. Your mileage may vary. On the whole, I think these are a really interesting material. I can see myself playing with them more, although I have to admit, I would prefer different colours. I can see doing some really expressive things with hair colours and skin tones with these when working on the fantasy illustrations I’ve been doing lately. I am thinking of using the blue to do the hair in a portrait I am working on of Shaava, the High Elf wizard I am playing in my current D&D campaign. She has lovely blue hair.