Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Let's Talk About Pastel and Chalk Pencils: Conte, Stabilo, General's, and Koh-I-Noor

Even though my current obsession is charcoal, I haven't abandoned my other beloved mediums, of which there are many. Today I will focus on some brands of pastel pencils that I have tried. I'll discuss them in two categories: "chalk" pencils and true pastel pencils. I use General's and Koh-I-Noor chalk pencils and Conte of Paris and Stabilo Carbothello pastel pencils.

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All of these pencils have their own merits, and I am glad that I have the selection on hand because I have better results sometimes when I use them together and with standard pastels and charcoals. I have been using my Desert Song Multi-Functional pencil sharpener for all of my pastel pencils lately, and I recommend it highly. I have another review post for this sharpener that covers all the details, so I will not talk any more about it here.

General's Pastel Chalk Pencils

I am not sure how they did it, but the General Pencil Company managed to produce a pencil with a soft pastel core that does not crumble or break constantly. They are labelled "pastel chalk" pencils, but they are more like pastel than chalk- perhaps the name merely differentiates them from oil pastels. I bought the set of eight neutral colors, which includes black, white, light and dark grays, beige, burnt sienna, peach, and dark brown. They are great colors for portraits and wildlife drawings. There are larger sets available with additional colors as well.

First, I have to mention the erasers on the end of each pencil. They may erase the pastel at first, but I have found them more useful for blending. They get dirty fast, and the rubber is too hard to erase cleanly. I use my kneaded eraser when I have to remove marks, but the pastel in these pencils is very easy to erase with any soft eraser. 

The pastel marks are subtle, requiring a bit of layering, and they leave a lot of dust behind. I could not make a complete artwork with these pencils alone because they are not meant for extensive layering, so I use them to create an under-drawing or to blend color in small areas. Their softness should make them great for highlights, but the pigment is too weak for this, usually. However, General's white charcoal pencils are fantastic for adding small highlights as they have opaque white cores. I have only tried the neutral set of colors along with General's white and black charcoal, so I cannot comment on other colors, but sets of twelve and 24 are available, and all of these sets are very affordable. 

Koh-I-Noor Chalk Pencils  

KIN pencils are the polar opposite from General's in terms of pigment and texture. The cores are quite hard and sharpen to needle points, although a needle point is not very practical. Despite their hardness, the KIN chalk pencils have excellent pigment load, and I love the silky feel of the chalks when I draw on paper with them. They remind me of Conte crayon more than chalk, and they are even harder than my semi-hard pastel sticks. 

I only have dark and light sepia and white pencils from this line because they came in a mixed media drawing set. I have a sanguine pencil, labelled "red chalk" from this set as well, but the core is like waxy crayon and not at all like chalk. The matching crayon stick was the same way. They are nice, but they do not mix well with the other chalks from the set. 

I checked out the chalks on the Koh-I-Noor site and found that the company has both dry and oil chalks in pencil, stick, and 5.6 mm lead forms. KIN is a pricier brand than General's, and the choice of colors in this line is limited to traditional drawing shades: white, black, sepia and sanguine. They have sets of hard pastels that offer a large color range, but I have not tried them, and they are hard to find. 

The texture and pigment in the KIN pencils makes them perfect for initial stages of pastel paintings (working from hardest to softest), but I enjoy sketching and drawing with these pencils all by themselves. Their ability to hold a point is very useful for rendering small details. The white is too hard to use as a top highlight, but it is great for blending other colors and for drawing on toned paper. I love to mix the sepia and white pencils with charcoal in my drawings.

image of shaggy dog drawn with Koh-I-Noor Chalk Pencils, Nitram Charcoal, and Prismacolor white pastel
I used the Koh-I-Noor chalk pencils and sticks, soft
Nitram charcoal, white Prismacolor Nupastel to
make this sketch of a Pulli dog

Conte of Paris

Famous for the original Conte crayons, Conte of Paris makes very nice pastel pencils, and this was the first brand I tried when I became curious about pastel pencils. They are fatter than a standard pencil, and they have a 5 mm thick, semi-soft pigmented core. I bought a couple of blister packs (six pencils each) from Jerry's Artarama for under $11 each (as of this writing, they are $10.24). I have the portrait and "dull" color assortments. 

My pencils have different numbers on them than the charts available online, so I will list them as best I can. The "dull" colors are dark and neutral shades including black, gray, bistre, raw sienna (or red brown), olive green, and dark ultramarine blue (possibly Prussian blue). The portrait colors are light orange, "flesh", cyclamen (a magenta shade), Naples yellow, red lead, and light blue (maybe King blue) . 

I love these pencils because they offer a lot of pigment and superb blendability. I wasted some pastel core trying to find the best way to sharpen them, but then I bought the Desert Song sharpener, which will accommodate just about any size pencil barrel and sharpens pastel pencils beautifully. Two colors kept breaking no matter what I tried, however. The raw sienna and Naples yellow are just stubs now, and I got little use out of them, which sucks because those are very important portrait colors. I think they had faulty cores since the other pencils were fine. 

Conte of Paris pastel pencils come in blister packs of two or six and tins of twelve and 24, and 48. They are also available as open stock, which I love. Price is the only downside besides the occasional dud core as Conte pencils are more expensive than others. You can start out with a small pack or a basic selection of open stock colors without going broke, however. The individual pencils sell for under $2, and sets vary greatly in price. 

Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils  

If I were to rank my pastel pencils, the Carbothellos would be number one due to quality and price. These pencils have 4.4 mm cores, fit in standard sharpeners, and offer great pigment, blendability, and durability. I bought the set of twelvefrom Amazon to try them out, and I would love to get more colors in the near future. They are available as open stock and in sets of 12, 24, 36, 48, and 60. Open stock pencils at Jerry's are $1.29 right now, and sets start at about $15. The prices for the sets do not vary much between Jerry's, Amazon, and Blick, but open stock pencils are always cheaper at the art supply stores. 

The best thing about the Carbothello pencils is that you can use them for detailed drawings or to add tiny details in larger pastel paintings. They are soft enough to use on top layers, but hard enough to make crisp lines. On the other hand, they are not practical for shading large areas. They are also water soluble, but I did not like the result when I tried this feature. This may be because I am used to water color and Inktense pencils, but I have found that wet Carbothello makes a dull mess.  

There are several brands of pastel pencils that I would love to try next, including Derwent, Cretacolor, and Faber-Castell Pitt, but these are pretty expensive brands. Good thing all three lines offer open stock. 

Upcoming Posts:

I have a lot of pastels from various brands and lines, and I have a feeling that I may need to spread reviews over multiple posts because I have a lot more to say about them individually. Currently, my stash includes Rembrandt, Prismacolor, Lowe Cornell, and four different lines from Mungyo. I also have piles of pastel paintings that I have not yet photographed or scanned, so perhaps the next two or three posts will contain some debut pieces.

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