Reviews

www.DickBlick.com - Online Art Supplies

Book reviews have been moved to Books, linked on the navigation bar. This page was getting way too long to combine them, plus I found and purchased several more relevant titles.

Materials & Supplies

I've done short product reviews of oil pastels, supports and tools on this page and will expand each brand or product with a page of its own. Once I add the page, I'll shorten the mini-reviews to a paragraph on what it is. In addition to these reviews, I will begin independent lightfastness tests on every brand reviewed in April or May, 2009 to run a full year till spring 2010. Some brands may upgrade after the testing.

Each artist grade brand has its own place in a skilled artist's toolbox, so purchasing small sets or open stock in all the brands is probably a good way to start. Every one has its own proprietary binder, texture, color range and working qualities, so try samples of as many as you can find.

Purchasing oil pastels online or from mail order catalogs is almost always cheaper than retail stores, so don't worry about what's available in your local area. In brick and mortar stores, look for coupons, sales and Clearance items. Sometimes if you email a company's customer service department, they'll send a free sample to let you try the product. Price ranges are comparable to artist grade colored pencils or soft pastels.

My favorite online art supply company, Dick Blick, always has FREE SHIPPING on orders totaling $200 or more and carries most of the artist grade oil pastels and other supplies listed. It's an added level of savings that applies even to Clearance items and other sale prices, so I usually take the time to save up a bit and make larger free shipping orders rather than small orders more often.

Other brands are only carried at Jerry's Artarama and ASW (which I think is the Jerry's warehouse outlet). Erengi Art Aspirer and the larger sets of Holbeins as well as Mungyo Gallery oil pastels are at Jerry's along with Sennelier and many other brands. Jerry's also has the pastel holders, Gloves in a Bottle and numerous other supplies.

Cheap Joe's Art Supplies is another good online art supply company. Their prices are often comparable to Blick and occasionally run under -- I check sales at all three of these suppliers to get the best price. Also, Cheap Joe's is easily navigable and has a lot of free art lessons available online.

The way I shop is to look up the item I want and choose which supplier to order it from based on price, customer service and convenience. All of the good online art supply companies have periodic sales and seasonal sales, catalogs you can order and various deals you can sign up to get in your inbox.

Sometimes the price on an artist grade oil pastel will be significantly lower per stick in a large set, other times if you add up the open stock price of the same colors you will be paying for an overpriced box in getting the set. I check this before I order and decide how much having a box designed to hold exactly that product is worth for me. Cretacolor Aqua Stic oil pastels are an odd size that don't fit well into generic pastel boxes, just as an example.

Browsing first and choosing after some serious forethought is the best way to save money and get the highest quality art supplies.

Artist Grade Oil Pastels

Sennelier Oil Pastels Sennelier Oil Pastels are the softest artist grade oil pastels. Favored by Pablo Picasso, they have a lipstick texture that may be too slippery for some artists but go over any other brand when you need a clean highlight that doesn't blend as much with the colors under it. Colors that use traditional toxic artist pigments like Cadmium yellows, reds and oranges or Cobalt colors have a warning sticker, though these are less dangerous to handle than to ingest or inhale. Don't eat with sticky fingers or be careful to choose only nontoxic colors.

Gallery Artist Extra-Soft Oil Pastels

Gallery Artist Extra-Soft Oil Pastels, new in January 2011, are as advertised - extra soft and creamy. Nearly as soft as Sennelier oil pastels, they're available in 72 colors including a good neutrals range and are almost totally crumb-free. Reasonably priced, these are a great choice for a new artist to try soft artist grade oil pastels.

Holbein Oil Pastels

Holbeins are nearly as soft as Senneliers and come in 3/8" square long unwrapped sticks. Each color has two tints available in production. Some colors have traditional mineral artist pigments like Cadmiums or Cobalts that require a little care, but these are far less dangerous to touch than to inhale or ingest. Don't eat with sticky fingers. It might be a good idea to use Gloves in a Bottle or a holder when handling them, or tape homemade wrappers around the sticks.

Caran d'Ache Neopastel Neopastels are wonderful. Soft, easy to blend and firm, all colors are nontoxic and the sets are compact with a good balanced palette of bright hues, tints and darks in the larger sets. These are my personal favorites.

The lowest online art supply prices, guaranteed!

Erengi Art Aspirer Erengi Art Aspirer oil pastels are available only at Jerry's Artarama and ASW, online or offline. These medium soft oil pastels are closest to Neopastels and about half the price. All colors are lightfast except the fluorescents. Watch for perennial sale prices at Jerry's and ASW.

Cretacolor Aqua Stic Watersoluble Oil Pastels Cretacolor Aqua Stics are true artist grade oil pastels that are watersoluble. Long round wrapped sticks have a range of 80 colors, many useful tints, great darks and a firm texture slightly softer than Cray-Pas Specialists. Best choice for those who hate turpentine and thinners or just like watermedia.

Homerun PAS Oil Pastels

Homerun PAS Oil Pastels come from Sri Lanka. They have low crumbling, a firm creamy texture and all colors are listed as having excellent lightfastness. While I don't know if they're available in open stock in Sri Lanka, they have excellent quality and a good range. Definitely a good choice where they're available!

Cray-Pas Specialist Sakura Cray-Pas is one of the original brands of oil pastels ever created. Artist grade Specialists are wrapped square sticks and a colorless blender. They are less expensive than Sennelier, Neopastel or Holbein, close to Erengi Art Aspirer. Firm hard sticks can be used to get details and it's easier to put softer brands over them without mixing. If you start with Senneliers, you can only put Senneliers over them. If you start with Specialists, you can put any of the other artist grade oil pastels over them. All colors are nontoxic and lightfast.



Maimeri Classico

Maimeri Classico oil pastels from Italy are available through only one USA distributor and online through only one art supply company that does mail order. Priced moderately in the range of Erengi Art Aspirer, they have a firm "dry" texture, strong pigment saturation and good handling for detail work.

Student Grade Oil Pastels

The price range on student grade oil pastels varies between comparable student supplies in pastels or colored pencils down to mind-boggling cheap. Most of these brands are not available in open stock, but many have large ranges of 48, 50 or 60 colors in sets under $10.

One of the first things that drew me to oil pastels as a medium was the recognition that you can get a good large range of strong colors at a price even a kid or a homeless person could afford. Back when I worked as a street artist in New Orleans, I used oil pastels as a poor man's oil painting setup doing turpentine washes with a cheap bristle brush on equally inexpensive canvas boards.

I only sold those paintings for five or ten dollars at the time. But that was enough to buy some artist grade soft pastels to start my portrait sketching career. I drifted away from them but always kept them in the back of my mind as the ultimate fallback if I was so down and out that I had to panhandle to get art supplies to earn a living.

Some of the cheap ones have good texture. Others claim to be fadeproof or lightfast. I'll buy at least small sets of every brand I can get, then set up a home lightfastness test to put the Ultra Cheap versions of this medium through their paces.

For serious fine art, you are better off with a shorter range of artist grade oil pastels than to settle for these. But when you're filling your sketchbook, lightfastness may not matter. When you're making a big colorful sign for a yard sale or party directions, even quick-fading fluorescents may be perfect for the purpose.

Finally, if you use cheap student supplies and create a perfect fine art painting, here's a good alternative for permanence. Take it to a printer that does giclee and have it made up as archival fine art quality prints. Printing is costly but the scan isn't as expensive and you can save it till you can afford to have the prints made.



Van Gogh

These are listed as student grade on Blick, but so are the Cray-Pas Specialists. Van Gogh does list pigments on their 48 color range on at least some of them, though some just have descriptive names instead of pigment names. Modestly priced, Van Gogh are a little less expensive than a comparable set of Erengi Art Aspirer. Hardness is comparable to the Cray-Pas Specialists.

Mont Marte

From the land Down Under, Mont Marte is an Australian art supply company that provides a wide range of inexpensive but good art supplies. Back in 2005 a friend of mine sent me a set of 24 Mont Marte oil pastels to cheer me up after surgery. I still have and enjoy this set and will review it in detail. Good student grade at ludicrously low price if you live in Australia, unavailable anywhere outside Oz or New Zealand as far as I know.

Portfolio Watersoluble Oil Pastels

Made by Crayola, the Portfolio watersolubles are big giant round wrapped sticks in a range of 24. They may be very convenient for sketchbook work and student work. Texture is very soft, they are good and opaque and dissolve well with a brush. Inexpensive, the larger set is under $10 online. Nontoxic, suitable for children but higher quality than most of the children's products (except for untested lightfastness issues).

Faber-Castell Creative Studio

Faber-Castell is an established, traditional fine art supply company. Creative Studio products are their mid-range, good student grade supplies. They don't have a fine art quality oil pastel but do have a 36 color range in Creative Studio oil pastels.

"This line includes classic colour pencils, watercolour pencils, oil pastel crayons and soft pastel crayons -- ideal for high school, art students and hobby artists as well as for sketches, studies and illustrations." That pretty well settles the lightfastness question in favor of "not archival" but good quality student grade suitable for those purposes.

Holbein Academic

Holbein makes a student grade oil pastel that I haven't tested yet, but sometime in 2009 I will pick up samples or small sets of the student grade brands and scholastic brands.

Cray-Pas Expressionist

Sakura Cray-Pas student grade, round wrapped sticks available in open stock at a very low price, with a colorless blender as well. 48 color range. Affordable, but not down in the range with Pentel or Loew-Cornell. Some artists use these for larger works or to extend their artist grade sets.

Cray-Pas Junior Artist

Round wrapped sticks or chubby Jumbo wrapped sticks, these are Sakura Cray-Pas children's range. The twelve color set is $1.20 at Blick, a price leader for children's oil pastels. I'm getting these for my granddaughter who likes twelve color sets, but they are available in 16, 25 or 50 color sets if your children like more colors. Also available in classpacks.

Daler Rowney

Daler-Rowney makes a good student oil pastel, these are available in sets of 12 or 24 at ASW. I ordered a set of 24 and when it arrives, I'll review them. Not super cheap but not expensive either.

Mungyo Gallery

These oil pastels are excellent quality student grade from what I've seen in video demonstrations on YouTube. I ordered a set of 48, charted them, did a demo artwork and posted the review. Mid-priced for student grade toward the high end. Example of metallic gold shown as well as a 48 color chart and an artwork on gray pastel paper.

Louvre

Louvre oil pastels from Lefranc & Bourgeois is a mid-priced student grade brand of oil pastels available in 48 colors from MerriArtist.com . A friend sent me the link and I purchased the full 48 color set, charted and tested them for this review. These oil pastels have a translucent, firm, dry texture that generates a fair amount of crumbs.

Pentel Pentel oil pastels are super cheap. Product description at Blick Art Materials claims these are "fade-resistant and long-lasting" so they may even rate well for lightfastness. If not, they are still a great choice for sketchbook use, studies, illustrations and art cards.

I have seen some stunning good paintings done with Pentel by some Asian and other artists.

Loew-Cornell Loew-Cornell is about $5 and change online for a set of 60 with an extra white stick, these are available in most stores under seven or eight bucks for the big set. That's handy for sketchbook use. Revisiting an old friend, I discovered they were better than I remembered with good opacity, medium-soft texture and excellent blending at a dirt cheap price.

Niji

Another of the super cheap brands, from a familiar Japanese art supply manufacturer that does excellent children's supplies and graphic artist stuff. 12, 24 or 36 color sets at a low, affordable price. I will be trying and testing these.

Reeves

Reeves is a division of Winsor & Newton responsible for children's supplies. Many of their children's supplies rate with student supplies from other companies. Lightfastness claims on the Blick listing suggest these are good student grade oil pastels. I've come to trust Reeves quality. Sets of 12, 24 and 48 in the way under $10 range.

Prang Sketcho Prang is a familiar brand from watercolors and other art supplies in many art classes I took as a child. Price is at the high end of the low-low range, just under $10 for a full range set of 24. No open stock. Giant 1/2" wide sticks in bright almost fluorescent colors are suitable for very young artists.

Crayola Favorite of school supply purchasing lists all over the USA, Crayola oil pastels are available in sets of 16, 28 or a classpack of 336 with 24 sticks each of 10 colors and 48 sticks each of black and white. Sascha will enjoy these, we'll see whether they fade when I do my lightfastness tests.

Other Orphan Mediums and Similar Art Supplies

Some products may or may not be considered Oil Pastels because their formulas are different or their working properties and texture are different. Or even because that's not what the manufacturer calls them. Artist Crayons fall in this category, although some of the watersoluble ones seem like watersoluble oil pastels to me.

Caran d'Ache makes a variety of artist crayons and stick products at very high quality with high prices. NeoArt is the newest, but Neocolor I artist crayons may be something like oil pastels. Neocolor II watersoluble artist crayons are something I used to have in a set of 40 and loved. Opaque, smooth and creamy, my 40 color set had a good range of tints and shades as well as brights and was useful in all the ways oil pastels are.

Lyra, Staedtler and other companies make watersoluble artist crayons. I will be trying these other brands in the future.

Oil Sticks are very different from Oil Pastels in that they dry, cure and harden into a paint film that can be dusted or varnished. More than oil pastels, Oil Sticks are closer to "oil paint in stick form" and the paint film must be removed before you can draw or paint with them. Several artist grade brands of oil sticks are available and I will eventually try at least one stick of each of them. Prices vary, but all are in the "oil paint" price category.

Encaustic is painting with heated wax and requires specialized tools like a heated surface or a hot plate to melt your blocks, metal tools to apply it and so on. I don't know much about it but it is definitely in the category of Other Orphan Media. It's relevant because it is an ancient artform that is the root of oil pastels, colored pencils, artist crayons, even children's crayons -- and it can be extremely durable, lasting thousands of years. I'll try this sometime after I've tried all the oil sticks and artist crayons available.

Oil Sticks are very different from Oil Pastels in that they dry, cure and harden into a paint film that can be dusted or varnished. More than oil pastels, Oil Sticks are closer to "oil paint in stick form" and the paint film must be removed before you can draw or paint with them. Several artist grade brands of oil sticks are available and I will eventually try at least one stick of each of them. Prices vary, but all are in the "oil paint" price category.

Encaustic is painting with heated wax and requires specialized tools like a heated surface or a hot plate to melt your blocks, metal tools to apply it and so on. I don't know much about it but it is definitely in the category of Other Orphan Media. It's relevant because it is an ancient artform that is the root of oil pastels, colored pencils, artist crayons, even children's crayons -- and it can be extremely durable, lasting thousands of years. I'll try this sometime after I've tried all the oil sticks and artist crayons available.

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks are not watersoluble oil pastels by any stretch of the imagination. They are great artist grade watercolor in stick form. Used dry on wet watercolor paper they can create some gorgeous strong effects and they dissolve faster and easier than pan watercolors. For me, their main use is as if they were pan watercolors -- portable, dry and easy to handle with a waterbrush. Drawing on wet is a great use for them though! See a sample of dry-on-wet drawing in my product review.

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II

I used to own a set of 40 Neocolor II artist crayons. They were what I moved up to using instead of oil pastels at the time since they were lightfast, artist grade and had a similar creamy texture to the cheap oil pastels I was using. They are more opaque than Cretacolor Aqua Stic and the texture was similar but seems a bit softer in memory. I was always frustrated that I hadn't bought the largest set, so I will be getting a big set and trying those again. They may get recategorized as oil pastels.

Loew-Cornell Aqua Crayon Sticks for Artists I purchased a 30 color set of these on Clearance from Blick in 2008. Nontoxic, the tin claims the product is lightfast. The color range includes some traditional artist colors like Yellow Ochre, strong on primaries rather than an evenly balanced spectrum range. Much harder than the firm end of the oil pastels, they are like wax crayons in texture.

I use Dick Blick's website as one of my online sources for detailed information on products, it usually gives me a good place to start. Often details like pigments used and color swatches are available especially when I check the open stock. So if you are interested in researching more about any of these products, click on the link below.