Pastel pencils are not a part of basic Zentangle supplies but they have found their way into Zentangle. Which ones are the best? What if I already have some, but not the ones that are recommended for a specific class? Let me share my thoughts.
Pastels sneaked info my artistic journey with one of Zentangle’s project packs. If I remember correctly, my first paste pencil came in their Project Pack 7, the light blue one. It was a General’s pencil, really smooth and silky, and it worked great on Zentangle’s new grey tiles. There were some more pastel pencils in later project packs (three in Project Pack 11). I gathered five General’s pastel pencils and got some interest in them as a medium. Then I took an opportunity of being in a big art supplies shop abroad and hand picked a bunch of pastel pencils by Caran d’Ache. Later I ordered a few by Conte a Paris in a local shop and finally ordered five colors by Faber-Castell. In the meantime, I bought some Stabilo’s Carbothello, too.
Enjoying the Pastel Pencils
Even after buying some of them, I haven’t used them much. What changed that was a great Black Magic class I took from Annie Taylor (ArtyZen). In the class, Annie showed how she used pastel pencils on black tiles. Not only have I started using my pastel pencils, but I also started using my black tiles much more. I’ve always had a love and hate relationship with black tiles and never really got comfortable using them before. As a result of feeling inspired, I started exploring Annie’s technique. Experiments with combining pastels with other supplies finally resulted in publishing my Glow on Black class.
Which Should I Choose?
Already in Annie’s class there was a discussion about different brands of pastel pencils, which worked best and why. And it’s true that not all are the same – some are softer and smoother than the others and the vibrancy of colors also differs. Some students really wanted to buy those that I was using in my class. Aren’t we all really excited with trying out some new supplies? Guilty as charged – I’m the first to admit that there never seems to be enough art supplies in our lives. But I also know that our budgets are limited and I wanted to do a test. I was hoping to prove that we should start using what we have instead of always longing to get new supplies.
Which led me to drawing four different Glow on Black Mosaic tiles, using a different brand of pastel pencils in each of them. The color scheme was also different, obviously because I only had 5-6 different pencils by some brands. Check out the results (top left – Caran d’Ache, top right – Conte a Paris, bottom left – Faber-Castell, bottom right – General Pencil):
Differences Between Pastel Pencils
The pastel pencils I tried all had certain pros and cons.
The ones by Caran d’Ache are really vibrant, but they are a bit harder than the others. That actually makes them better for some more detailed work, like coloring and shading smaller shapes. The downside is that they are sometimes really scratchy.
Conte a Paris were my favorites for this particular task. Really soft, with a wide lead diameter and vibrant colors, they were great to use to color the background. But, being so soft, they are not the best choice for the detailed work. Let me just add that they are really chalky, meaning you’ll see a lot of powder when you use them.
Pitt by Faber-Castell is a great choice and that particular producer is my go-to option for many supplies. Also a bit harder, vibrant and smooth, I would not hesitate choosing them if I only had to choose one brand.
Last but not least, General Pencil‘s are really different. Soft and silky, almost buttery, lovely to use as they glide smoothly on paper. That is really important for using original Zentangle’s tiles, some of which are really delicate (check out my blog about paper tiles). The downside is that the colors (at least those that I own) are not as vibrant, as some other fellow tanglers reported, too. Still, so easy and lovely to use and – look at the result! Fab, if you ask me.
Take a look at the mosaics below, created with the drawings you saw above:
In the meantime, I also got some Carbothello pencils by Stabilo. These are from a cheaper price range. However, they remind me of Conte – they are soft and vibrant. I would maybe say that these would be my first choice, considering the cost-benefit analysis.
For my particular class the use of other supplies can make up for what some pastel pencils lack. Use some lighter colored pencil shades, more white and copper / gold to add more shine, as well as more gold Gelly Roll. I did just that in the bottom two drawings.
My general advice is: do not ever let the lack of supplies prevent you from creating art. Use what you have. A tip that I love giving is to buy several pencils by piece, choosing the colors you prefer. If you get to like them, you can buy some more or even the whole set. But first make sure that you like not only the brand but also the particular medium if you haven’t used it before. The interesting thing is that the price of individual pencils is usually not more expensive than the average price per piece purchased in a large set.
I would like to point out that the paper plays a significant role when you use pastel pencils. Original Zentangle’s paper tiles are great for that task as the paper surface has some tooth. Smooth paper is not a good choice because the pastel pencils will not be able to penetrate the surface, which will result in dull colors. There are special pastel papers by many producers, which you will find in all art supply shops, and that is what you should choose if you decide to cut your own tiles. The most important thing is that the paper surface is not smooth because the pigments have to blend with paper fiber.
It is hard to resist the temptation of always buying the new stuff or the supplies we saw used by another artist for that artwork that looks oh-so-lovely. Nobody can say that the high quality supplies are not worth the using but that’s certainly not what makes a great artist.
Use whatever you have! The worse supplies are the sad ones we never use.