Pan Pastels Extra Deep Shades Great for Sketching

Stormy River

5" x 7" PanPastel on white wirebound ProArt sketchbook paper, by Robert A. Sloan
5" x 7" PanPastel on white wirebound ProArt sketchbook paper, by Robert A. Sloan

Pan Pastel Deep Darks rock!

In http://hubpages.com/hub/Painting-with-Pan-Pastels, I went into how to paint with the new Pan Pastels by Colorfin LLC. These are the very softest pastels available. In brief, they're applied with special Sofft tools that look like makeup applicators but aren't -- they have a new microfine composition that's much more dense and picks up more pigment. They're also more long lasting and sturdy than makeup applicators.

Recently at the IAPS show, Colorfin introduced a new range of 20 Deep Darks. I didn't get to go, but I read about it from some friends who did. Two new products are available now through Colorfin, the 20 color Deep Dark Shades one full stage darker than the original 20 Shades, and a wonderful ground called PastelMat that has very fine grained coating unlike my favorite Art Spectrum Colourfix. I'll review the PastelMat in another Hub.

I'd been planning to buy the additional 20 Deep Darks as soon as I had the budget anyway. Yesterday a package arrived with supplies to review -- samples of PastelMat and a five color set of Pan Pastel Extra Dark.

In my earlier article, I tested the five color Painters Set colors to see if I could mix anything I wanted just from black, white, Hansa Yellow, Permanent Red and Ultramarine. The happy result was that I could -- a five color Painters set would make a good start for someone who doesn't want to invest a lot in a new type of pastels before they know if they'll like them.

To my complete delight, the five color Deep Dark Shades set is a perfect sketch set in itself. If you enjoy Derwent Graphitint tinted graphite pencils, tinted charcoal or tinted charcoal pencils, sketching in any dark but slightly colored soft dry medium, then you would thoroughly enjoy the five color Deep Shades Pan Pastels set. I'm treating this little set as a carry-along sketch set, because used lightly on white paper it's a grand sketch medium as well as extending the range of Pan Pastels for serious pastel painting all the way down into rich deep darks as cool as the Terry Ludwig deep dark sticks.

The five colors included are Hansa Yellow Extra Dark, which is a nice olive green very different from the other greens, Chromium Green Extra Dark, rich and deep for pine shadows or for sketching foliage, Ultramarine Deep Dark, Violet Deep Dark and Permanent Red Deep Dark. The red Deep Dark is as useful as a Tuscan Red Prismacolor. Bringing just a little of it into black or dark areas really livens them up.

Together, these five deep darks make great sketching colors because if I don't keep dipping the pan and let the Sofft tool get only a little on it, I can get a wide value range for sketching. It's like with charcoal -- do the darkest areas first and then as it lightens keep working toward the lighter areas. The look is a lot more painterly though.

Stormy River began as a sketch under my color chart in a wirebound ProArt sketchbook that I use for a variety of sketch mediums. It's a normal vellum surface drawing paper, not sanded or anything else -- yet the Pans worked on it beautifully. The initial sketch came out looking great by itself, but I kept going adding some light grays into the clouds and a little white to give it a bit more layered, painterly coverage.

So it may help to add one pan of white if you're taking a Deep Darks set out as sketching materials, if you want to make the sketch turn out a little more heavily worked by lightening up each of the deep darks while keeping a heavy painterly look. Below is the color chart I started on the page above Stormy River.

Five Deep Darks Color Chart

Five colors set of Pan Pastel Extra Deep Shades charted. Scan is true to colors. These are muted deep darks suitable for sketching and especially good for nature sketching.
Five colors set of Pan Pastel Extra Deep Shades charted. Scan is true to colors. These are muted deep darks suitable for sketching and especially good for nature sketching.

Monochrome or Polychrome Sketching Colors

Each of the five colors included in the Extra Dark Shades set of five would make an excellent monochrome color. Ultramarine Deep Dark would be wonderful because any blue monochrome comes out gorgeous. Permanent Red Deep Dark would be interesting by itself or combined with both of the Deep Dark greens in a redwood forest. Violet Deep Dark is a fantastic storm cloud color. 

Most of the clouds in Stormy River were sketched in with Violet Deep Dark at first, letting the color wear off as I worked in toward the lighter areas. I accented them with a little Ultramarine Deep Dark and went over the lighter areas with Paynes Grey Tint, but I could easily have done those storm clouds monochrome just by working dark to light. 

The greens worked together beautifully in the foliage, but either would work as a monochrome or combined in a landscape that's mostly foliage without much exposed dirt.

Combining the greens with Permanent Red Deep Dark led to a beautiful range of browns and grays, suitable for any kind of soil or rocks. I chose to use strong areas of Red Deep Dark to give an impression of the red iron soils that I've seen up on Mt. Nebo and other local areas, also when I visited Mississippi there were a lot of places that had red mud. If I were doing a different area I would've easily grayed it out using more of the green blending with it.

You can clean the pans easily with a paper towel. One thing to remember about using Pan Pastels is that you do need to get actual paper towels. Normally I use old diapers and other cleaning rags for cleanup on art supplies, but a ridgy textured paper towel is the best for cleaning Sofft tools and wiping off the top layer of the pans after mixing colors by dipping a tool into more than one pan.

The happy thing is that they don't mix in a way that makes as much of a mess as watercolor pans when you dip into green and then into a red pan in order to use a mixture. Only the loose powder on the top will be mixed, half the time just blowing on it gets the wrong-color powder off. 

The amount of dust generated by Pan Pastels is minuscule compared to any other kind of soft pastels. Every grain of it is usable unlike sticks. It's also a bit safer for breathing even though Pan Pastels do use traditional artist pigments, with sticks some artists have to wear breathing masks and gloves if they use genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts too often to avoid health risks. 

Five color Extra Deep Shades set

Compact stack of five Pan Pastel Extra Dark Shades in front of a PanPastels postcard and some taller stacks of Pan Pastels on my drafting table.
Compact stack of five Pan Pastel Extra Dark Shades in front of a PanPastels postcard and some taller stacks of Pan Pastels on my drafting table.

Small and Portable

One of the big things I love about the five color set is that just by itself, it takes up so little space. The pans are 2 1/2" across and the stack is about 2 1/2" to 2 3/4" high counting the lid on the top. They screw together securely but you have to be very careful to line them up exactly before screwing, or they can tilt and attach insecurely. It became a habit to screw pans together gently and check to see that the stack is straight before putting them away.

That solid little cylinder of colors could easily fit in a pocket or the pocket of a backpack along with a small Moleskine journal to sketch anywhere you like. I will probably still get the 20 color Extra Dark set because buying fifteen more colors individually would cost about as much as getting the 20 color set on sale. This small set will become my sketching set and sit out when I've got the main set put away on the shelf. It's too easy to get all the main colors in a landscape with these five.

Below are the five pans spread out for use, with the tools sitting on or next to them. Once I set this five color set out as my sketching set I'll probably take out the two knife sleeves and just put  a couple of extra mini applicators in the storage jar and/or an extra small sponge with a different shape.

I like the wedge sponge the best, it gives a painterly look like painting with a wide flat brush. However, the round-ended sponge is wonderful for doing cloud shapes and building up the puffy parts of cumulus clouds as well as doing similar shapes in foliage. I can get fine details with the corners of a wedge sponge, so those two and mini applicators are enough to work with if I just brought it along on a trip to Mt. Nebo or went outside in the yard.

Five Extra Dark Pan Pastels open for use, with tools

Five Extra Dark Shades Pan Pastels open for use with tools. The wedge sponge standing on end behind them came in the tool jar under the stack along with two Sofft knife covers and the mini applicator.
Five Extra Dark Shades Pan Pastels open for use with tools. The wedge sponge standing on end behind them came in the tool jar under the stack along with two Sofft knife covers and the mini applicator.

#9 for my HubChallenge

#9 of 30 new Hubs for my HubChallenge. I am way behind, but I may still catch up before the 24th!
#9 of 30 new Hubs for my HubChallenge. I am way behind, but I may still catch up before the 24th!

Conclusion

I never would have thought of Pan Pastels as a sketching medium but this little five color set has shown me that they're so versatile they're good for every stage of painting. In doing serious large paintings, I may well start with the Deep Darks to establish my values and then work into them with Shades (pigment mixed with black), Masstones (pure pigment colors, the brights) and Tints (mixed with white).

Most artist grade soft pastel lines produce sticks with the same pigment in different tints and shades, so that you can have multiple values of the same color. Often the shades will shift hue the way Hansa Yellow does, becoming a yellow-green Shade and an olive green Extra Dark Shade, but tints will tend to retain their identity. 

Tints and Shades are convenience colors because the 20 color Painters set has all the pure pigments plus black and white as long as you add Chromium Green separately. It's not hard to mix a little white or black into the Tints to make Extra Light Tints, but mixing Extra Dark Shades smoothly takes a little work. So in painting I know I'll get a lot of use out of the Extra Darks as mixing colors and convenience colors. 

But for sketching, these super dark shades are great all by themselves. The overall look of the sketch is much more like a Graphitints drawing. It's muted but hues are distinct, the value range is wonderful for being so long and the soft transparency of lighter applications gives the Deep Darks a special look of their own. I don't care if it's a little redundant -- this small set has its own special place in my lineup and it wouldn't surprise me if I used them up fastest.

That happens in other mediums all the time -- the darkest colors wear down first because I'm doing value sketching under everything and then filling large areas of deep darks in many dramatic scenes or dark backgrounds on portraits. So if you're looking at trying Pan Pastels, consider either a five color Painters set -- or if you prefer muted tones more like tinted charcoal and graphite, try the five, ten or twenty color Deep Darks. They're good all on their own.

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Comments 4 comments

waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

I must admit, these pan pastels are new on me, but they look quite good, the way you can stack them and the application seems a bit better, I'm quite used to pastel sticks, but these seem like they could have more advantages for sketching and blocking in some shady tones....must seek some of these out, just to test them out!


robertsloan2 profile image

robertsloan2 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA Author

Thank you. These do have a lot of expressiveness and they're wonderful for fast sketching. I know you'll do wonderful things with them.


Jeanne Guerin-Daley 7 years ago

Thank you, Robert, for such a thorough summary of your experience with pan pastels. I have recently been learning about them and I plan to try them out. One big selling point for me, is the low-dust factor. Since I often paint in my living room these days, I have packed away my pastel sticks, and I've been using watercolor. I don't want to force my family to breathe in pastel dust just so I can feed my art addiction.


grinnin1 profile image

grinnin1 4 years ago from st louis,mo

I love pan pastels as well! One of my students recently purchased a whole batch so I have gotten to "play" a bit and they are wonderful. Always loved pastels, but hate getting them ground into my fingers, breakage, "dragging" on corners, etc. Pan pastels allow you to paint! The only downside is the initial cost- I'm saving my money!!Thanks for a great and informative hub!

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