trying neocolor ii pastels for the first time: swatches and sketches!

I bought some Caran D’AcheNeocolor II water soluble pastels and am trying them for the first time! The obligatory swatches of course, and a couple of sketches to experiment and figure out how they work!

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Hi! I’m Arati and I’m finally getting to swatch all my new Caran D’Ache Neocolor II pastels*. I showed you these in a Jackson’s Art* haul I did last year and this year I’m again on a no-buy year, so these were my little cheat at the end of 2021. Now, I’m not allowed to buy anymore but I am allowed to replace. So let’s see how these perform and what I can use them for.

I purchased only 12 colours – three blues, three greens, two yellows, a white, and brown, red and pink – because these are the shades I use most often in my work. I’ve already written down all the names in my little sketchbook and I’m going to swatch them here.

The first is a lovely Payne’s Grey, an essential colour in my palette. At first try they’re kind of creamy-feeling and they feel very much like a good quality crayon. I’ve done a little box of solid colour and I’m also going to do a shaded section because these are water soluble crayons and so I do want to see how they do when I wet them.

Next is Indigo, a deep dark blue very similar to the Payne’s Grey, and a little bit darker than I thought it would be. Turquoise Blue is one of my all-time favourite colours, and obviously I had to get a Turquoise Green too. This can be used for water, sky and foliage and is very versatile.A deep Dark Green, which I like to use for shadows can also be used to make other colours darker. A Lime Green is perfect for highlights and to mix with other colours as well.

With White you’re not really going to see very much here, but on the cream of my sketchbook paper it does show up quite well. Then Yellow, because that’s my favourite colour, happy and delightful, and also a deeper shade of Golden Yellow for depth and blending. This Brown was kind of chalky and didn’t have the smooth feeling of the rest. But it was alright as a colour. I’m unlikely to use much Alizarin Crimson… at least, not very much on its own, just as an accent and the same with the Salmon Pink. It’s a nice neutral pink and it’ll go well with all the other colours I have.

So here are all the colours applied dry. It’s a good range for somebody who’s trying them for the first time. I would recommend that you get the colours you know you use most of all, and a few darker and lighter ones as well to add highlights and depth to your work.

Now to test the water-solubility with my angled brush plus a little swatch which just has diluted colour if I were to use it without applying the pastel first. They do need a little more water than expected, but that might just be because of the cartridge paper in my sketchbook.

A couple of colours needed some scrubbing to actually dissolve. As you can see with the white it’s not really visible but you can see that there is white on the paintbrush when I brush it onto my finger. It’s comparable to a watercolour white, not very opaque.

The yellows are absolutely lovely with a really good amount of pigment. Brown again was really, really dry. They do tend to lighten down when you wet them so I would recommend using a thicker coat than I did when you’re laying them down in a larger space. They dry nicely, and not patchy at all. I might experiment later and see if I can get more textures by using different amounts of water in the pastels.

The last thing I tested were drawing dry on dry and also blending with white just to see whether I could make them a more pastel colour. This worked quite well, and I’ve effectively doubled my colour range as a result. All in all pretty happy so far with the range of colours I chose to get!

So here is my final swatch page. They give quite an even tone when you use them without applying the pastel first and they can all be toned down quite a bit by using the white crayon on top. They also do work well on top when the water is dry. It’ll be really useful for adding in details on a sketch. I’ll show you that a little bit later on. As you can see the white does show up on the cream paper. The yellows are so great! Not very pleased with the brown, maybe it was just the stick I had, but all the other colours work really great.

Now that I have this swatch page, let’s move on…

I’ve already prepped this page in my Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook*, where I’ve applied some gouache and done a pencil drawing.

I’m going do a base coat of the pastels on this drawing as I would normally, if I was just sketchbooking. A light coat of colour to start with over the whole sketch, and then I will eventually add water in order to make it into paint. I am using different shades as a base coat and will mix more in the second coat. That dry brown did get a bit softer with use, but not by much, it was still quite scratchy in comparison to the rest of the pastels.

I used more water this time, having learnt from the swatches page that this cartridge paper might need it. Some colours did have a deeper colour load when wet as compared to others, but this could be adjusted by adding more Neocolor in dry form later on. I noticed that the wet colour performs pretty well when blending it with a brush. Again, the problematic brown did better with more water. The yellows, of course, had no issues being absolutely brilliant as per usual.

So, while this dries off, let’s work on the gouache page which already has a coat of fixative so the gouache doesn’t dissolve too much.

I started off with dashes and some squiggles and just generally laying down some pastels on top of the gouache. I also did try kind of scratching at the pastels with the back of a brush, which doesn’t really work like it does with oil pastels. But adding water is when it comes to life. You might notice that some of the little dashes that I did are getting dissolved as well, so if I use these pastels for detailed work it would have to be the last thing I do on that piece because if I use them first, the details will definitely be lost when working over it.

The colours themselves are nice and pigmented, so they work pretty well on top of the gouache, and to a certain extent on top of themselves.

Of course, I had to try a Polychromos pencil*, because that’s normally how I work when I’m painting. So I tried them on top of the pastels but they didn’t really do very much. Hardly any effect on the pastels at all!

Next, I tried the Caran D’Ache Luminance pencil* and this worked a little bit better but not really enough to make a difference. I probably wouldn’t be able to use these on top of the pastels in my usual style when I’m making a painting. And that is quite a disappointment, I would say.

Lastly, I tried my Apsara brand glass-marking pencils which are actually a DIY pencil, not an art pencil at all and these work brilliantly because they actually pretty much work on any surface and so if I were to do details on top of the Neocolors, I would have to use one of these pencils to do so. They only come in four or five colours, though, so one would have to adjust accordingly. Finally, after peeling off the tape, here’s the result of my sketching experiment. As you can see, the pencils didn’t work very well.

Now, let’s get back to this piece since it has dried. I am going to add more detail over the top of all the areas I’ve done and, learning from the piece on the left, I’m actually going to leave the details right until the end.

Again, I’m going to try the polychromos pencil on top in combination with the pastels. Now, where the pastels are not applied, the pencil works really well, so in combination I could get some really nice textures by combining them both. Of course, I did use this to add quite a lot of texture.

The Apsara glass marker worked really well again on top of the wet Neocolor, obviously, once dry.

I went back with a Neocolor to add a bit more depth to certain areas and then wet them again in order to get more saturated colour in those areas. Working in layers was successful.

I also tried using the colour straight from the pastel by wetting it and that worked pretty well too. It gave me a more watercolour-ish effect without the texture of the pastel on the paper beforehand. It does have better coverage than watercolours do and slightly more opaque as well. I guess that depends on how much of it you use. I finished off with a little bit of the Payne’s Grey, adding shadows and that sketch is done.

This is probably how I would end up using these pastels. As you can see, some of the textures that they create are really, really nice and I can see why both Sarah Van Dongen and Monkey Mintaka really like these pastels. I would use them more often on top of gouache, I think, as a finishing layer.

But if I was just working in my sketchbook somewhere outside, these would be very handy to take with me because they’re dry and easy to transport, but they can also be used as a liquid medium.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t use my Polychromos and Luminance pencils on top of them very much, but since the glass marker pencil does work, I might try and find some more of those to use instead.

In the end, I think they were a good purchase. I would repurchase any that run out, except maybe the brown, which I would replace with a deeper shade closer to Umber or Van Dyke brown.

Overall I think it is a good idea to get individual colours rather than a set. Choosing tones you’re more drawn to means you’re more likely to use them instead of their gathering dust on a shelf.

The colours are vibrant with a good load of pigment and reasonable lightfastness. I would not hesitate to use them on an original painting that would be sold, and I will also test to see if they scan well enough for printing purposes.

They do smudge a little, so I sealed them with some fixative so they don’t rub off on the opposite page.

I hope you found this video useful. Thank you so much for watching, and I’ll see you in my next one. Bye!


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