Oil Sticks: Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks (review)

On a recent trip into the city to meet up with some friends, I dropped into a few art supply shops while I was waiting. One of them had a clearance table set up near the door, and several minutes of rifling through it like a magpie in a garbage can yielded some Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks.

Most of these little cardboard packets contained one full-sized stick, but there were a few of these ones that contained three sample-sized sticks, including this set and one with metallic/iridescent colours. I decided to get this one since it was a cheaper way to try more colours. Unfortunately they didn’t have any white PaintStiks left. Here’s the colour chart I painted when I first got home with the sticks.

The packet claims that these will be touch dry in 24 hours. This was accurate for two of my three colours, but Wedgewood Blue took closer to 36 hours to be touch dry. Still, this puts them pretty much on par with the Sennelier Oil Sticks, and it’s still much faster than traditional oil paint’s drying time. As with other oil paint sticks, a ‘skin’ of dry oil colour forms over the stick after a couple of hours when it isn’t being used, to keep the inner paint fresh. The skin formed on the Shiva sticks was quite thick compared to both the Sennelier and Winsor & Newton Oilbars, which means that in the long run, a greater percentage of each stick will be unusable. The skin is at least easy to remove; just slice a bit off with a palette knife and then use your fingers to peel off a larger section, exposing the fresh paint inside. Texture-wise, the Shiva PaintStiks are quite soft and squishy, similar to the Sennelier sticks, and they lay down colour easily. You can also scribble with them on the palette and add solvent or a medium like Liquin to the swatch of colour and then pick it up with a brush to use it like normal oil paint. You can just push the paint around with a brush without the use of a medium, but it’s much more difficult.As I mentioned in one (or both) of my reviews for the other oil sticks I’ve tried, I’d recommend using a colour shaper for fine detail, as the chunky nature of the oil sticks can make it hard to get accurate lines.

Shiva PaintStiks are slightly shorter and thinner than the Sennelier Oil Sticks (38ml), and significantly shorter and thinner than Winsor & Newton Oilbars (58ml) but as far as I can see, the actual quantity in mls is not listed for PaintStiks. In the few local art supply stores that carry them, the Shiva PaintStiks seem to be a little dearer than the Sennelier Oil Sticks, but when purchased from the UK they’re slightly cheaper, though the difference in size between the brands means they’re probably about the same per ml.

There are 77 colours available, with 22 of these being iridescent colours. I regret not getting some of the iridescent ones to try; the art shop had another three-pack of mini sticks in Gold, Silver and Copper, but I figured I’d already spent enough money that day. They also do not have any pigment information listed – either on the sticks themselves or on the documentation on the manufacturer’s website – though they do provide lightfastness ratings for each colour. Most of the iridescent colours are lightfast but of the 55 standard colours, only about half of them were rated as *** (excellent). I was disappointed to find that the Wedgewood Blue I got was only rated ** (very good) while the other two colours were rated * (fair, though in my experience when something is rated “fair” it usually means “poor”). On the bright side, the pigment concentration in the Shiva PaintStiks is comparable with the other oil stick brands, so you can build up solid layers of colour quickly and easily.

Here’s a little landscape I painted quickly from imagination on a small canvas panel this morning. I had to use some Winsor & Newton Oilbars and Sennelier Oil Sticks as the colour range in my Shiva PaintStik sample pack was quite limited.

The Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks are a reasonably priced option for those who want to play with oil paint in stick form, though I’d suggest looking at the colour chart online before ordering to make sure you avoid fugitive colours if you intend to sell or display your work. Depending on where you are, it may be cheaper to buy the Sennelier Oil Sticks, in which case I’d suggest going for those instead, but PaintStiks are perfectly viable and will get the job done.

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Inks: Higgins Drawing Inks (review)

A few months ago I won a mystery box full of art supplies through a giveaway on Grumbacher’s Facebook page. One of the items in the box was a set of four bottles of Higgins Drawing Inks. Having never used inks before, I initially shoved them into my cupboard with no real intention of using them, but eventually I figured I should at least give them a go, so I fished them out again.

Here are the swatches for my four ink colours.

Most of the inks are transparent, as one would expect, but the white one was quite opaque. The white ink also dried with a little raised texture, unlike the others which all dried completely flat. Of the four, the indigo ink took the longest to dry. Most of the colours seemed waterproof once they were dried, but the indigo one did smudge a bit when I scrubbed at it with a wet brush.

I believe these inks are supposed to be used with dip pens or technical pens, but I don’t have any of those (my mystery box included inks and pen cleaners but no actual pens), so I just used them by drawing on the paper straight with the ink droppers. The droppers included in the bottles are quite precise and allow for plenty of control in squeezing out the ink.

There are 11 colours available (including two variations of white), but these inks don’t seem to be available outside of America; besides eBay and Amazon, the only sellers I found who carried them were Cheap Joes and Dick Blick, both American art supply retail sites. That being said, they’re only about $4-5 USD a bottle, so if you do live in America, you’ll be able to get them easily and cheaply.

Here’s a little blue wren I draw from imagination with the Higgins inks on a background created with Winsor & Newton watercolours.

Though I’m not an expert on inks by any means, I quite like the Higgins Drawing Inks. I can’t say how well they’d work in pens, but if you just want something that will allow you to do quick, loose ink drawings, Higgins Drawing Inks will suit your needs. The convenient droppers included in the bottles mean you can just as easily use them to draw even if you don’t have a proper ink pen.

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Gouache: Art Spectrum Artists’ Gouache (review)

After doing a few artists’ trading cards a while ago, I decided they were a fun way to complete paintings quickly due to their small size, so I ordered a few more packs of blank cards. At the same time, I noticed that the Primary Mixing Set of Art Spectrum gouache was discounted, so I added it to my order.

There are only five colours in the set, but you can mix any colour from the three primary colours plus white and black, so it’s actually a really good tool for anyone interested in learning colour theory and mixing. You don’t need to buy 20 tubes of paint if you can mix all the colours you need from a handful. Here are the swatches for the Primary Mixing Set.

Gouache is known for its opacity and matte finish while still handling like watercolour, and Art Spectrum gouache performs well in that regard. All five colours in my set were opaque and most had a reasonable semi-fluid consistency when I squeezed them from the tube, although the white one had begun to separate from the clear vehicle a little. They also didn’t have the awful gritty texture some brands of gouache have once they’ve been applied to paper. Though White and Black were single pigment paints, the three primary colours were mixtures of two pigments, though multi-pigment mixtures do seem to be more prevalent in gouache than in other artist grade paints. Though lightfastness information is available on the manufacturer’s website (showing that most colours are lightfast aside from some of the reds and violets), the actual pigment information is only available on the tubes themselves. I will say that the colours in this mixing set were very well chosen, as I was able to mix a wide range of natural, muted colours for my sample painting.

The Art Spectrum gouache is significantly cheaper per tube than other artist grade brands (at $7.60 or so for a 22ml tube as opposed to $7-8 for 14-15ml tubes) but unlike brands like M Graham and Winsor & Newton, the Art Spectrum gouache uses very few expensive pigments. Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow are the only exceptions and those are about double the cost of the other Art Spectrum tubes, but other than that, every other tube in the range is the same price. For this reason it’s probably the best option for beginners or those for whom money is tight (I’d also recommend Lukas gouache if you can find it, but I don’t think it’s easy to get outside of America and Europe).

Here’s a little mini landscape I painted from imagination on a Strathmore watercolour ATC.

Art Spectrum Artists’ gouache is a reasonably priced and good quality paint, with all colours providing nice, opaque coverage. It’s also relatively easy to find in most local art stores, so it would be an excellent option for art students who are learning colour theory and/or who want to be able to replace a tube quickly if they use up the previous tube of that colour.

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Oil Pastels: Tomato (demonstration)

Time for another art demonstration! Today it’s a drawing of a tomato based on a photo in WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library uploaded by olika. I did this drawing while reviewing the Sennelier oil pastels and since I took progress photos, I figured I might as well make a demo post out of it. As always, you can find the equivalent colours in whatever oil pastels you use, and you can pretty much use any brushes you want. There are also a variety of shaper tools available in different brands; many discount variety shops have packets tools with different points available at low prices, so there’s no need to spend big dollars on the branded Colour Shapers. Though I used Sennelier oil pastels and Zest-It to do this project, you could also use watersoluble oil pastels if you want to avoid any solvents.

Oil Pastels
Sennelier Oil Pastels:
-001 White
-042 Cinnabar Green Yellow
-045 Green Medium
-019 Lemon Yellow
-026 Yellow Ochre
-200 Mandarine
-220 Permanent Intense Red
-034 Burnt Umber
-023 Black

Watersoluble Pencils
Prismacolor Premier Watercolor Pencils:
-Spanish Orange
-Cool Grey 50%

Brushes and Tools
Renoir synthetic flat (size 12)
Georgian Daler-Rowney sable round (size 2)
ProArte Colour Applicator 4 (tapered point)

Zest-It Citrus-Based Solvent

Stonehenge Drawing Paper (5X7 inches) (you may prefer to use a sanded surface like PastelMat or Colourfix)

Step 1
The first step is to draw the outlines in watercolour pencils. The outline of the tomato should be drawn in yellow (I used Spanish Orange), and its shadow and the background shadow should be drawn in grey (Cool Grey 50%). This step is technically optional; if you wanted, you could just lightly sketch the outline in the oil pastels to start with, but I chose to use pencil for more control.

Step 2
Colour in the background behind the tomato with Burnt Umber, adding a little White in the area where the background meets the surface. Lightly scribble Yellow Ochre on the surface and go over this with white, then colour in the tomato’s shadow with Burnt Umber, adding a little Mandarine where the shadow touches the tomato. For the tomato itself, colour the light areas with Lemon Yellow (leaving a spot for the highlight) and the shadow areas with Green Medium. Colour the leafy bit around the tomato stem with Burnt Umber and draw the stem itself with Yellow Ochre and Cinnabar Green Yellow, adding a little White along the left of the stem for a highlight.

Step 3
It’s time to get out the solvent. Using your flat brush, wash over the background, the surface, and the different coloured sections on the tomato, washing your brush in between each section to avoid contaminating the colours. For the stem and dark leafy area, use the size 2 round. Wait for this to dry.

Step 4
Using horizontal strokes, add a layer of Green Medium and then Permanent Intense Red, bringing these into the transition zone with a lighter pressure. Add another light layer of Yellow Ochre on the surface and then go over this with white, bringing the white up into the area between the background and the surface to smooth out the transition. Go over the shadow with Green Medium and Permanent Intense Red, again adding a little Mandarine where the shadow touches the tomato. Go over the green shadow areas on the tomato with Permanent Intense Red, then go over the lighter yellow areas with Mandarine, again leaving the white highlight intact. Add a tiny amount of Burnt Umber along the right of the stem, then go over the whole stem again with a light layer of Green Medium, replacing the highlight along the left and at the top of the stem with White if needed. When working on the stem, you may want to use the colour shaper tool as it can be difficult to blend small, detailed areas with your fingers without smudging outside the lines.

Step 5
Add another layer of Burnt Umber over the background and the tomato’s shadow, glazing more White over the transition between the background and the surface. Add a layer of Mandarine over the whole right side of the tomato and around the highlight on the left. Add a little Lemon Yellow above and to the right of the highlight, and to the light areas near the stem. Lightly apply some White over the bottom left corner of the tomato to show the reflected light, and add a little more on the left in the area between the two shadowed sections. Scribble a few light lines of Green Medium in the upper shadow section on the tomato, following the curve of the fruit with your strokes, and add a line of it along the bottom right of the tomato. Using your finger, blend these layers so they are smooth (to get to the edges of the tomato without smudging over the lines, you might want to use your colour shaper tool.

Step 6
Using heavy pressure, apply a layer of Black over the background and another pale layer of Yellow Ochre on the surface, Go over the Yellow Ochre with White, blending this up into the background shadow. Blend the background using small circular strokes with your finger (using the colour shaper tool to get in close around the edges of the tomato). Using slightly less pressure, put a layer of Black over the tomato’s shadow on the ground, again adding a little Mandarine where it touches the tomato. Add a layer of Permanent Intense Red over the shadowed areas of the tomato, then go over all of it (aside from the highlight) with Mandarine. Blend this with your finger. Add a little White on the right of the tomato (between the dark sections) and on the lower left and blend this in. Squish the White pastel into the highlight to leave a solid chunk of white, and blend this outwards to diffuse it a bit. Lightly add a little more Lemon Yellow around the highlight and to the light area behind the stem, and blend this into the red. Draw the leafy bits around the stem in a little more detail using Black, then add a bit of Cinnabar Green Yellow over the top of it. Add a speck of white to the highlighted bit of leafage on the left and blend this in. On a separate bit of scrap paper, scribble three swatches of colour: Burnt Umber, Cinnabar Green Yellow and White. Using the colour shaper to pick up some Burnt Umber and apply it along the right of the stem, then apply some Cinnabar Green Yellow over the whole stem. Finally, apply White along the left of the stem and on the top right where the stem was broken off. Now all that’s left is to sign your name. Scribble a swatch of Burnt Umber and White and then add a bit of solvent to the swatch. Using the tip of your colour shaper to pick up this diluted oil pastel colour, put your initials in the bottom left corner.

I hope you’ve enjoyed drawing your tomato in oil pastels – their lovely blendability makes them perfect for achieving that smooth, shiny texture of the tomato’s skin. Until next time, happy drawing and painting!

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Oil Pastels: Sennelier Oil Pastels (review)

Though I don’t often draw with them, oil pastels are one of my favourite mediums because of how easy they are to layer and blend. Most of the oil pastels I’ve used are in the medium to firm range, but the general consensus among artists on a forum I frequent is that Sennelier are by far the softest. I wanted to see what they were like to work with so I bought myself a little box of 12 colours.

Here’s the chart for my set of 12 Sennelier oil pastels.

There are 120 colours in Sennelier’s oil pastel range, including a few metallic colours. While I haven’t tested them myself yet, the chart on their site indicates that most of the colours have decent lightfastness. At around $3 each, they’re in the middle range of cost for oil pastels per individual stick.

Sennelier oil pastels really are the softest, softer even than the Caran d’Ache Neopastels that I love. They have a texture similar to lipstick and they almost glide onto the surface. You can achieve an almost painterly effect with them, especially if you use a brush dipped in a little solvent. While this creamy texture is lovely to work with, it can be challenging to work with; after a few layers, the surface becomes very slick and reluctant to take more layers. This can be worked around a little by either putting the drawing in the fridge to let it set up and harden a bit (or just letting it sit overnight), allowing more soft oil pastel to be applied, or by using a sanded surface which takes more layers than a non-sanded surface to begin with. You could also use a harder brand of oil pastels like Holbein or Sakura Cray-Pas Specialists for the underlayers and save the soft Senneliers for the final layers and finishing touches. The Sennelier oil pastels are quite strongly pigmented and colours that you would expect to be opaque are, meaning they are especially good for applying highlights with whites or pales.

This is a tomato I drew with my Sennelier oil pastels, based on a photo uploaded to WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library by olika.

Sennelier oil pastels are beautifully soft and creamy, and though they can be used perfectly well on, I think they are especially suited for use as finishing pastels over layers of firmer oil pastels. They’re also reasonably priced, so it’s worth picking up a small set or at least a handful of colours to add to your collection and see if you like the squishy texture.

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Soft Pastels: Sennelier Soft Pastels (review)

At the same time I ordered my Unison soft pastels, I also grabbed some Sennelier half-sticks, since they were one of the brands I’d seen most artists talking about in the soft pastel forums.

Sennelier Soft Pastels

Here’s the chart for my Sennelier 20 Assorted half-stick set (my box also came with a small sheet of Sennelier Pastel Card but I haven’t used it yet).

Sennelier soft pastels chart

Unlike the Unison box, this set happily came with a good range of colours, from blues, greens and earths for landscapes to brighter yellows and violets for flowers or whatever. It also had a few colours that I didn’t have in my existing sets – such as the lovely dark red and that orangey peach colour – so it was nice to add some new colours to my pastel arsenal. Depending on where you buy them, Sennelier pastels are in the low to medium price range for medium-soft pastels (usually between $3.50 and $5 per stick). They are also carried by many art supply retailers so if you need to replace a colour quickly it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your hands on one. The range includes a mind-boggling 525 colours.

Though the Sennelier soft pastels were – on average – much softer than the Rembrandt pastels I usually work with, there was still a significant difference in texture across colours in my little 20 half stick set. Most were smooth and buttery but some (mainly the darker colours) were very hard and scratchy. In particular, the Magenta Violet, Ivory Black and Prussian Blue were guilty of this, with the latter being almost unusable (it was like trying to draw with a chunk of gravel).

Some soft pastel brands add more or less filler to different pigments to make the texture consistent across the range, but it seems that Sennelier doesn’t do this, opting to allow each pigment to retain its unique texture. I can see why some artists might find this preferable, but given that it made some of the colours unpleasant to use, I would have preferred a bit more consistency. They also seemed a lot more prone to crumbling than other soft pastels I have; when I tried lifting the orange one out of the box by its end, the whole tip of the pastel broke off and shattered into little pieces. That being said, they are a highly pigmented pastel, so provided you’re using one of the softer colours, you will get a dense layer of colour with only a pastel stroke or two. They also allow you to build up quite a few layers without filling the tooth of your surface, and they’d be a good pastel to use over the top of harder ones like Faber-Castell Polychromos or the Derwent pastels.

Here’s a little autumn landscape I did with the Sennelier soft pastels (note: I used a couple of pale Art Spectrum blues because I didn’t have pale blues in my Sennelier set).

While I’d be reluctant to buy another set of Sennelier soft pastels because of the chance I’d get a number of hard and scratchy ones I couldn’t really use, most of the pastels are nice and soft and lay down thick, dense colour. If you run out of a colour in your usual pastel brand or just want to try a new colour, it would be worth picking up a few sticks of Sennelier soft pastels to see if they suit you.

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Oil Pastels: Kingfisher (demonstration)

While perusing WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library for inspiration one day, I came across a nice kingfisher photo uploaded by oliverandjazz and thought it would make a good oil pastel drawing. I used Cretacolor AquaStics, but regular oil pastels with a little odourless mineral spirit will allow you to dissolve and blend colours in the same manner.

Oil Pastels
Cretacolor Aqua Stics:
-Permanent White
-Glacier Blue
-Grass Green
-Olive Green Dark
-Ochre Light
-Olive Brown
-Cloud Grey
-Dark Grey
-Ivory Black

-Creative Mark Ebony Splendor 3/4 inch flat
-Creative Mark Ebony Splendor size 8 round
-Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable size 4 round
-Creative Mark Ebony Splendor size 2 round

-Good quality watercolour or drawing paper of at least 300gsm. A hot press or relatively smooth cold press surface is preferable.

Step 1
Using light marks, sketch out the kingfisher and the metal bar he is sitting on (I’m not actually sure what that is he’s sitting on, but it looks like a metal bar so I’ll go with that. Dad reckons it’s a steering wheel but I don’t think birds can drive). Loosely scribble colours into the background to cover most of the surface, varying the colours to create an out-of-focus effect. Use Olive Green Dark over most of the background, with patches of Olive Brown and Ivory Black for the darkest sections, and just Olive Brown for the medium sections. Colour the metal bar in with Dark Grey along the underside and middle and Cloud Grey along the upper edge. For the kingfisher, colour his pale tummy in with Ivory, adding a little of this colour to his tail. Stroke Umber and a tiny amount of Ivory Black along the outer edges of the tail, and add some Dark grey for the shadow. Keep it fairly light at this point as you will build up the colour through several layers. Colour the underside of the kingfisher’s beak with Dark Grey, and colour the top of his head and the side of his wing with Olive Brown. Add a streak of Umber to create the dark inner edge of the wing, then add a light layer of Olive Green over the back of the kingfisher’s head.

Use the 3/4 inch flat brush to wash and blend the background colours and the colours on the metal bar, then switch to the size 8 round to wash the bird. For the details and fine lines on his tail and beak, use your size 2 round.

Step 2
Put down another layer of greens and darks in the background using the same colours as you did before. Add Umber into the darkest sections, and some Glacier Blue in the top centre and bottom right for the light areas. Wash over these once again with the 3/4 inch flat. Make your brushstrokes follow the curve of the metal bar and drag the colour outwards before blending it with a cris-crossing motion; if you just follow the edge of the bar, you’ll end up with a pronounced halo effect around it. Put another layer of Dark Grey and Cloud Grey onto the bar, adding some Ivory Black along the underside. The highlighted area on the top side of the bar should be relatively narrow. Wash over it again with the size 8 round, starting at the highlighted top edge and blending down into the dark areas, making your brush strokes follow the curve of the bar.

Step 3
Add another layer to the background with the same colours as Step 2, this time adding in some Ochre Light in the lower left and upper right corner, and adding some Permanent White over the Glacier Blue in the top area and wash it with your 3/4 inch flat. Apply another layer to the metal bar, this time adding more black along the underside before washing over it again.

Colour in the front of the bird’s head with Olive Brown and Umber, making your strokes follow the curve of his head to represent feathers. Gradate this into Grass Green with a little Olive Brown for the back of his head, with a touch of Permanent White along the very edge to show the backlight. Use the same browns on the kingfisher’s wing, and then add more Ivory to the underside of his tail, with a little Umber and Ivory Black along the outer edges and some Dark Grey for the top half of his tail in shadow. Add another layer of Ivory on the kingfisher’s tummy, with a few strokes of Cloud Grey under his belly and a few light strokes of Olive Brown near the top of his wing and around his eye. Use the size 8 and 2 rounds to wash over these parts.

Scribble with the Ivory Black AquaStic on a scrap piece of paper, and use a wet size 2 round to pick up some colour and paint the underside of the bird’s beak. You might also want to add his feet and his eye. Scribble some Cloud Grey and Permanent White in the same manner and pick it up with the wet brush to paint the top half of the beak.

Step 4
Add a final layer of your background colours, this time pressing as hard as you can before washing over it with the large brush. Give the metal bar the same treatment, laying down a thick layer of Ivory Black for the underside and a making sure the narrow highlight along the top is maintained. Add a little Dark grey and Ivory Black under the bird for his shadow, blending this up to the underside of his tummy. You may need to add his feet in again with the wet brush from your scribbled swatch of Ivory Black, so they stand out as darker than the shadow (they shouldn’t be too obvious though as they are mostly concealed beneath the bird’s tummy feathers).

Go over the bird’s tummy with another layer of Ivory, again adding a little Cloud Grey to the shaded lower half and a few light strokes of Olive Brown under his eye and near his shoulder. Using scribbled swatches again as a palette, pick up Ivory Black and Cloud Grey/Permanent White and paint the lower and top half of his beak respectively. Darken the eye with more Ivory Black paint, making sure to keep a sharp edge. If you didn’t leave a highlight, you can add one later with Permanent White. Using the Umber pastel (and adding a few strokes of Ivory Black), stroke in more feathers along the top of the bird’s head, shifting into Grass Green for the back and finally Permanent White for the highlight at the back (feather this out a little over the green background). Bring the white down along the bird’s shoulder. Now all that’s left to do is sign your name. Scribble a swatch of Umber and Ivory Black  onto your scrap paper, then pick it up with the size 2 brush.

I hope you’ve enjoyed drawing and painting this kingfisher. Remember that even if you can’t get your hands on watersoluble oil pastels, you can use any normal oil pastels with a little odourless mineral spirit to achieve the same results.

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