Product Review -- CrayPas Specialist oil pastels
CrayPas Specialist oil pastels are artist grade, no question about it.
Dick Blick Art Materials
lists this brand as Student Grade, but I've been informed this is an error on their website. Since they have so many pages, I can understand why something like that could have slipped under the wire. CrayPas Specialist oil pastels have excellent pigment concentration, texture and handling quality.
CrayPas Specialists are firm, so they are good for details. They also blend well. In American Eagle, the drawing below, I was able to create smooth gradations and strong highlights using the corners of the square, wrapped sticks.
American Eagle, 5" x 7" CrayPas Specialist on Canson mi-Tientes by Robert A. Sloan
I did not expect to like this brand. I'd already tried the other artist grade brands and had one sample stick in a dark green. I preferred softer, more opaque oil pastels when I compared that with Sennelier, Neopastel and Holbein. Contrast with various student grade pastels and some fun controlling the loose application of Senneliers has shown me the real value of CrayPas Specialists.
They are firm but they go on smooth with much less crumbling than less expensive brands. The binder formula is very smooth and they blend well despite their firmness. Coverage is excellent and opacity is good on most colors.
Lightfastness ratings are between * and *** marked on each wrapped square stick along with a color number, name and pigment or pigments. These are listed in abbreviation and can be looked up online to compare with detailed descriptions of pigments.
The full range of CrayPas Specialist oil pastels is 88 colors, available in a wood box set that my friend Bill claims is even nicer than the Erengi Art Aspirer two-tray wood box -- it's similar to the Erengi box by his description. Unfortunately this set isn't easily available online, the largest set I've found is the 50 color set I just purchased at Blick.
Edit on May 20, 2011: I've since purchased a used 88 color full range box online that was barely used. Bill LeGrande was right about how great the wood box is. They're easy to carry, well organized and well protected from smears and dings. Instead of the slant area in the cardboard box, a narrow piece of cardboard folded down leaves finger space to pull up one stick from the row easily - same general idea for making sticks easy to remove. They're packed in comfortably close and don't rattle. This set would stand up well to being packed into a backpack or messenger bag.
The wood box is a little smaller than the Erengi full range wood box and doesn't have the metal liners, shoulder strap or handle. It's still a sturdy, wonderful wood box and the full range is glorious. I found many useful colors in the larger set that I wished I had with my cardboard box set. It's worth it if you can get it, but the Erengi box is a little better suited for reuse as a plein air box with mixed brands if you purchase another full range set when you've used up the Erengi pastels.
The cardboard box does not have a slotted styrene liner. Instead a clever cardboard insert has a slanted side above the tops of the pastels allowing me to easily remove them, with flaps coming up every five sticks to keep them organized in groups and stop them all falling to the end of the box.
If I were taking my CrayPas Specialists out either to a coffeehouse or plein air, I would naturally tape it or add a rubber band to keep it from coming open in my bag. It's a well designed box and I like that cardboard insert better than the usual styrene ones.
The price is reasonable, a bit higher than Erengi on sale and close to Cretacolor AquaStic. I have not yet tried layering them under softer oil pastels but have the opinion of many artists including Professional and Signature members of the Oil Pastel Society that they are excellent for the first, firmest layers in a serious painting. For fine details the corners of the firm sticks are easier to control than Holbeins, at least for me.
CrayPas Specialist have their own proud place among fine artists' palettes and I recommend them without hesitation. The best palette for a serious artist is to get a few of each of the artist grade brands, discover your favorites and what you use each of the textures for. Either get them open stock as needed or purchase sets -- I tend to cost them out per set to see whether I'm getting a better price than open stock at least to start.
Sakura invented CrayPas in 1925. While I'm reasonably sure these are not the original formula, it feels like I'm handling a bit of history in using them. The box lid clearly labels them as Artist Quality Oil Pastels and these are the top of the line CrayPas. They deserve their good reputation.
Below is a color chart of my 50 color set. The range is chromatic with a good variety of purples and violets and some great earth tones plus two grays and a dark green-gray. Mars Violet is an odd and useful color I found helpful for toning several areas on the eagle where brown or gray just weren't right. I marked the color numbers under the swatches.
The set includes a nice metallic gold, very bright and light, metallic silver and a slightly yellowish colorless extender. Testing it at the bottom of the chart, I blended a light application of pink and then a mixture with some blue scumbled over it to get a smooth clear lavender. I used black under the white swatch.