Oil Pastels: Cretacolor AquaStics (review)

One of my orders from Jerry’s Artarama many years ago included a tin of Cretacolor AquaStics. Advertised as watersoluble oil pastels, they looked like a fun new sketching medium to try.

Cretacolor Aqua Stic set

Here is the colour chart for my set of 40 colours and the additional 9 colours I managed to find in open stock.

Cretacolor Aqua Stic colour chart

As I mentioned in my comparison of the AquaStics, Derwent Artbars and Caran d’Ache Neocolor 2 crayons, the original range of 80 AquaStics has been cut down to 40 colours, and while you sometimes come across the discontinued colours in open stock, they are becoming increasingly rare. The 40 remaining colours are reasonably well-balanced, though the lack of a good, deep blue-violet disappointed me (luckily I found the discontinued Blue-Violet in open stock). According to the pamphlet thingy I got in the tin, there were metallic AquaStics as well, but these appear to be among those culled from the range (I also found a metallic blue in open stock online). Though my comparison post also noted that AquaStics are the cheapest of the main watersoluble oil pastels/crayons to buy individually, it seems that many art supply retailers no longer carry them; I only found one or two American art supply websites that still had open stock, and from the discount prices, I get the feeling they may be discontinuing the individual sticks and only carrying the sets in tins.

The AquaStics don’t feel quite like oil pastels. Texture-wise, they are somewhere between an oil pastel and a soft wax crayon (leaning slightly more towards the oil pastel end of the spectrum). You can blend them by rubbing with your finger, but it isn’t as easy as when you do it with real oil pastels (breathing hot air on it first helps though). You can layer them one colour over another (without lifting the bottom layer) and scrape away the top layer to reveal marks in the bottom colour. It did take a little scrubbing with a wet brush to dissolve lines made by dry AquaStics, but most watersoluble dry mediums leave some visible marks when washed. Most of the AquaStics had a nice firm-yet-smooth texture, but unfortunately some of my pastels were defective. They were cracked down the whole length of the pastel, and had a squashy and greasy play-dough texture which made it impossible to draw with them. Given how hard it is to replace the colours, this was doubly annoying.

Here is a kingfisher I drew/painted with the Cretacolor AquaStics, based on a photo uploaded to WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library by oliverandjazz (click here for a demonstration post on this kingfisher).

On average, AquaStics are significantly cheaper than both the Derwent Artbars and the Caran d’Ache Necolor 2’s, making them a good place to start if you want to try watersoluble pastels and aren’t sure if you’ll like them. However, they are quite hard to find in open stock unless you’re in America, so be prepared to get frustrated if you use up a favourite colour quickly and can’t replace it. If you can get your hands on a tin they are well worth having a play with, but at the end of the day, you could get similar results with normal oil pastels and a bit of odourless mineral spirit, and when you look at the cost/hassle of actually getting the AquaStics, normal oil pastels with OMS are probably the better option.

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