Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble wax oil pastels are a unique medium, offering the artist watercolour techniques as well as the traditional marks that can be made from a pastel stick. They are available in a range of 84 colours with excellent lightfastness, which, taking into account their mixability, offers an infinite range available either as individual sticks or in sets; I was given a set of 84 to try out ideas.

These pastels work on a wide variety of surfaces – a real advantage for an artist who likes to experiment. As a fan of working oil pastel onto Clairefontaine Pastelmat, I decided to work on this surface first, creating an imaginary scene on light grey paper (Snowy Farm, see below).

Snowy Farm, Neocolor II water-soluble wax oil pastel on grey Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper, (33x46cm).

This was painted using the versatile wax pastels dry, wet and applied with a brush from a palette made from watercolour paper.

I began with a Pitt fine black waterproof pen drawing of buildings in the landscape. Selecting ultramarine blue and a pale yellow, called Sahara, I scribbled these colours onto a scrap of watercolour paper, which I then used as a palette. Using a synthetic No. 8 brush I mixed two separate washes from the scribbled colour. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the pigments lifted off the paper and went into solution. Diluted Sahara was introduced into the lower sky then blue added into the areas surrounding it. I changed the dilution of the wash in places to give the impression of clouds.

The distant hill was added by working a short length of a dark grey pastel onto the wet paper, giving the impression of a wooded hillside. I created a grey wash and continued it right into the foreground then left the paper overnight to dry completely. Next day, I added the tree structures and placed shadow onto the buildings using the dark grey pastel.

Breaking off a short piece of burnt sienna, I dragged this across the top of the trees, the foreground bush and the facing wall of the barn on the left. I then developed the lit sides of the other building by working dry raw sienna over the walls.

I created a wash from the added marks on the gable end wall of the building and was pleased to see that all the marks lifted from the paper to create a flat wash. Once dry, I added a few dots of canary yellow for the lit window. Raw sienna was added to the nearer bush and midnight blue for the darker areas and the cast shadow. Using the white pastel, I added snow to the rooftops, tree branches and snowy foreground.

To finish, I lightly added the track and the fence posts with the dark grey. The pastels achieved a good effect for the posts when I pressed hard then reduced the pressure as I drew downwards.

Creative possibilities

I experimented with a different surface, Fisher 400, and worked with more ideas and techniques to paint Woodland Walk (below).

1. I applied an overall wash of diluted gesso to whiten the surface. Once dry, I drew the track and trees using acrylic ink and a sharpened matchstick. I added a wash over the entire surface using the same method as before with a stick of light cobalt. Into the damp paper I added a mixed wash of ultramarine and light cadmium red for the tree line and shadows. After allowing the surface to dry, I worked with dry pastels to develop the painting, starting with a dark grey, which helped to establish the darks.

The underpainting for Woodland Walk (below) on gessoed Fisher 400 paper

2. Over this colour I worked brown and ochre into the trunks with silver grey added for highlights. The grass in the foreground was painted using short strokes from the wide range of greens available in the set, using the following colours from light to dark: Chinese green, yellow green, moss green olive brown and dark green. I spattered into the upper left branches using a brush pen and burnt sienna. I finished by scraping out some of the lighter fine branches with a scalpel.

The finished painting Woodland Walk, Neocolor II water-soluble wax oil pastel on Fisher 400, (25.5x30.5cm)

Direct results

For the final painting Welsh Farm (below) I decided to work on the smoother side of Sennelier Rough 140lb watercolour paper and drew a pencil drawing of the subject. Scribbling onto a scrap of watercolour paper, I then added a solution of Sahara yellow followed by ultramarine blue into the sky. Neocolor flows like watercolour and good sky effects can be achieved on a number of surfaces. After allowing it to dry, I added the distant hill with a mix of cadmium red and ultramarine blue.

I scraped shavings of sky blue followed by moss green and olive brown into the nearer hillside then solubilised these shavings with a flat brush, which achieved a transition from a misty hilltop down into the group of trees below.

The scraping method works well as a way to prevent drawing marks remaining from any applied dry pastel. It also helps to separate the colours when developing a background. I continued to paint a wash into the foreground using moss green and yellow green, leaving space for the track running towards the building.

I continued to paint the subject as a watercolour, adding ochre for the walls of the building and light grey for the roof. I reinforced the colour of the line of nearer trees by dragging a stick of moss green over the dry surface, which helped to create foliage textures. A mix of ultramarine blue and cadmium red was used to add a large shadow in the foreground. I applied the wash with a squirrel mop brush that works well with Neocolor II. Finally, I used the dry pastel to correct or reinforce edges lost during the watercolour process. I added silver grey to sharpen the edge of the farmhouse rooftop and malachite green to add ivy and branches into the group of trees.

Welsh Farm, Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastel on Sennelier Rough 140lb watercolour paper, (25.5x33cm).

Scraped shavings of colour were applied directly to the paper then solubilised with a brush to create a transitioned wash effect.


I enjoy working with wax pastels, but being able to apply watercolour type washes with these high-quality pastels opens up a whole new dimension of techniques when painting.

Sgraffito - This is a useful technique when using wax pastels. Layers can be scraped back with a scalpel to reveal other colours beneath.

Cauliflowers/backruns - Caran d’Ache Neocolor II lift out quite easily when dry, making them useful when correcting work or for creating backruns for textural effects when portraying foliage.

Working dry onto wet - Dragging the side of a dry pastel over a very wet surface creates a number of soft misty effects, great for portraying distant trees and hillsides. The pastel can also be dipped in water before drawing to create a more intense mark.

Scraping - I use this technique where a wash without residual scribble marks is required. By experimenting with the amount of scrapings added, the strength of wash can be varied. When dry, excess scrapings can be dusted off.

Spatter - By using a waterbrush, which gives a constant supply of water, spatter can be applied from the tip of the pastel.

Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Water-Soluble Wax Oil Pastels luminous colours are available in tins of assorted colours: 10 (£16.99rrp), 15 (£25.99rrp), 30 (£52.99rrp), 40 (£78.99rrp) and 84 (£179.99rrp) and individually (£1.75rrp). They offer ultra-high pigment concentration, and excellent covering power and light resistance.

This product report is taken from the May 2017 issue of Leisure Painter

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