Posted on Tue 11 Jul 2017
Ihave a huge range of pastels in my studio, from the hardest to the very softest, in a vast range of colours and tones and I am in a position where I just buy new colours that catch my eye, or replace much loved ones that are running out. I must admit, though, that there are still occasions when a new set of pastels can tempt me – their luxurious wooden cases calling out to me to part with not inconsiderable amounts of my hard-earned cash!
I must admit that Jaxell was not a brand with which I was familiar but when I was asked to review Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels, I was interested to see how they would perform. A full set of 90 pastels duly arrived from Great Art, presented in a smart cardboard box containing the pastels in two trays of 45.
Foxgloves, Treen Cliff, Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels on Sennelier La Carte pastel card, (23x50cm)
This was worked up from a small sketch, done perched on the cliffs in early summer, and inspired by the good selection of Jaxell pink pastels.
A closer look
The box is well constructed with additional foam inserts to protect the sticks in transit and all arrived in pristine condition. In fact the box is robust enough to take out and about for a bit of plein-air painting.
Each pastel stick is 66mm long with a diameter of around 10mm and wrapped in a clearly marked label. The first thing I did, as I systematically do with all new pastels, was to remove the labels. This instantly makes the pastel stick a much more versatile tool for covering large areas by using the full length of the stick. It also allows me to assess the colours in the set more fully.
The range of colours available in this full set is quite broad, with a decent choice to cover most subjects. There is a useful selection of yellows and oranges, especially the palest yellows. The earth colours are well represented and the reds are strong. Particular favourites in this set for me are the English reds, the Indian reds, ultramarine deep III, the pinks and the gold ochres. There is also a good selection of greys, which I feel would be invaluable for tonal studies such as a life class work.
Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels are, on the whole, smooth on application with good coverage. They are not the softest but they give up their colour readily, especially on sanded surfaces. These pastel sticks are fairly robust, too, which is something that I look for, as I object strongly to sticks disintegrating in my hand. They do, however, snap cleanly into half or thirds where needed and do not crumble like some brands of soft pastel. I have always had a fairly heavy hand when painting and most newcomers to pastel will start this way so an ultra-soft pastel can be a little frustrating.
Portscatho Chill Plein Air, Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels, (27x27cm)
Worked on a board roughly primed with Colourfix Pastel Primer, this plein-air study was made using the pastels straight from their box, on a very cold breezy winter day.
Whilst putting the Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels through their paces I found that, with my particular approach, they work best on sanded surfaces such as Sennelier La Carte pastel card or used over Art Spectrum Colourfix pastel primer. They work especially well on UArt 400, which is a paper I am trialling at the moment.
Although these pastels can be liquefied with brush and water for underpainting techniques they are, in my opinion, better suited to pure pastel work. As with my normal practice, I used them in conjunction with other pastel brands and found that this worked extremely well. They blend well and coverage is good, with some of the lights having a particularly nice opacity.
When starting out with pastels, either as a student or for a change of medium, a good selection of colours is an absolute necessity. Unlike oils or watercolour, a basic set of 12 colours is not going to give a reasonable palette and, as handmade artist-quality pastels can be expensive to manufacture, a large set is generally a major investment. Whilst there are plenty of economical pastel brands on the market, their quality can often be poor with a scratchy feel and limited range of colours due to the cost of some of the raw materials. I do believe that these cheaper sets are often what put artists off going further with the medium as they do not give a true experience of the pleasure of using smooth artist quality pastels.
However, I feel that Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels offer a decent spectrum of lightfast colours that provides a real taste of the potential this wonderful medium has to offer the artist. They play well with other pastel brands and are very competitively priced. In my opinion, they would be a good choice for both newcomer to the medium and for those looking for a good range of colours at an affordable price. They come in sets of 15, 30, 60 or the complete set of 90 and, most importantly, are also available in single colours.
Richard Suckling studied at Cambridge School of Art and worked as an Illustrator for a number of years. He is represented by Church House Designs, Congresbury, www.churchhousedesigns.co.uk; The Cottage Gallery, Wedmore, www.thecottagegallery.co.uk; Out of the Blue, Marazion, www.outofthebluegallery.com; and Beyond the Sea Gallery, Padstow, www.beyondthesea.co.uk. www.richardsuckling.co.uk