Product Review -- Erengi Art Aspirer artist grade oil pastels.

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Erengi Art Aspirer is a new brand of artist grade oil pastels manufactured in China. These affordable artist grade oil pastels are a godsend to the artist on a budget who likes doing large works.

I don't have a year for their invention, but it's sometime after 1990, the publication of Kenneth Leslie's excellent source book, Oil Pastel, Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist. Medium softness, they're a little more firm than Caran d'Ache Neopastels with good opacity in the light colors and varied opacity in the darks. Round wrapped sticks are 2 3/4" long by 3/8" wide.

Below, you can see a painting I did primarily with Erengi Art Aspirer, a few accents and details were added with Senneliers.

Apples on Blue Silk by Robert A. Sloan, Copyright © 12/2008 all rights reserved. Created with Erengi Art Aspirer artist grade oil pastels.

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I purchased a set of 50 colors in a cardboard box from Jerry's Artarama to try them, since it was on sale for $34.99 -- a very reasonable price for artist grade oil pastels in a large range. I was delighted with their texture and blendability. The color range in the 50 color set is well balanced for portraits, landscapes, florals, any subject you like.

Later, I planned a plein air trip and decided to invest in the full range 90 color, 92 stick wood box set on the advice of some friends. I was delighted with the box. It's small. Only 10 3/4" wide by 7 1/4" deep and 1 3/4" thick, it isn't cumbersome at all.

The wood box set was a genuine bargain on sale for $79.99. It's varnished with what looks like several coats of polyurethane. The inside lid and the underside of the top tray have thick foam padding permanently attached to keep the pastels in place, while both trays are metal-lined like a French easel drawer. This is the perfect plein air box for oil pastels.

The 92 sticks include two Colorless Blenders and a short range of fluorescent colors that aren't lightfast, but lots of fun if you use them for highlighting, for signs, for other ephemeral uses where it doesn't matter that they won't last. The other colors have good lightfast ratings from the manufacturer. I will be testing all my oil pastels this summer and post follow up articles on the results in 2009 and 2010, but I am satisfied their descriptions are probably accurate.

What makes the wood box useful is that it fits Neopastels, Holbein and Senneliers too. So if you remove the colors you use least from the wood box, you can pack in select colors from open stock in other brands and customize your set. I definitely recommend the wood box set if you can afford it, the box is worth it and with the quality of these pastels you may get it to pay for itself in one good painting or several small ones.

I recommend Erengi even for street painters and artists on very limited budgets because it is one of the least expensive artist grade brands and its softness lets you cover more area with it than if you used cheaper oil pastels. Jerry's Artarama does carry these in open stock, so it's easy to replenish the set or try a few of them to see if you like them. I have a feeling this product is an exclusive made for Jerry's since I've seen it nowhere else but ASW -- which is owned by Jerry's and has the same call center.

When I say these are Medium, I'm speaking in relation to other artist grade oil pastels. Compared to the cheap ones like Loew-Cornell, they are extremely soft. They mix on the paper and do not dry. I let my painting sit for three days between the first two layers and the third, so that it might stiffen up a bit and allow more opaque coverage. It was still soft, so I put it in the refrigerator inside an archival photo bag (to keep condensation from dampening the paper).

Cooling the painting did work to stiffen my underlayers and allow me to work over them with warm Erengi. Their medium softness lends itself to temperature tricks. Sennelier and Holbein go over them well. I used a sample bright yellow Holbein to brighten some areas on the apples and it covered opaquely without mixing as much as the Erengi sticks did. Sennelier white, a pale yellow and a red went over them easily.

Both did mix when I blended them deliberately to feather out shading on some highlights and color details. So these oil pastels definitely play well with others.

Drawing over Sennelier with Erengi pushes it aside, because it's stiffer. This can be an effect you want sometimes, since you may want to move color without removing it and change a color area along an edge.

Affluent artists may still want to have some of these around to complete a hardness spectrum with Sennelier at the soft end and Cray-Pas Specialist at the hard end. Erengi are quite softer than my sample Specialist stick, so they're good for later layers over Cray-Pas. If you don't get a full set in anything else, consider the wood box set of Erengi because all its colors are useful and the box is a good permanent piece of equipment that'll last long after the pastels are used up.

I'm thinking of doing some large works so that I use them up fast and purchasing a second large box just to accommodate a mixed-brand plein air set. Jerry's and ASW repeat the sale often -- this is one of the perennials in their holiday and seasonal sales, so watch for the sales and buy them online unless you have a Jerry's store in your area. Jerry's will ship out of the USA at a higher shipping rate, but the discount may well make up for the shipping.

Here are my homemade color charts for my full range Erengi set, scans adjusted to be as close as possible. For true color, you may need to try the pastels yourself. A printed color chart does come in the wood box as an aid to reordering.