Monday, September 4, 2017

Colored Pencil Comparison: Luminance vs Pablo (Caran d'Ache)

At the time of this writing, I quite admire the Pablo colored pencils from Caran d'Ache. Their transparency, ability to layer and blend, and creamy laydown are wonderful. My 18-pencil Pablo set is sufficient for just about anything, from portraits to landscapes to botanicals, as I mix my colors.

Recently I obtained the Luminance 20-pencil set, which only shares seven colors with the Pablo set. Luminance is highly lightfast across the entire range of 76 colors, in contrast to Pablo, which is mostly lightfast with some exceptions (the 18-color Pablo set is the most lightfast across the board, and unfortunately the ratio of lightfast to fugitive colors drops off rapidly for larger Pablo sets).

Luminance is actually mostly wax / some oil, while Pablo is mostly oil / some wax.

Both Luminance and Pablo have a color labeled "orange", and I decided to compare these two in particular.

Luminance's orange uses the pigment PO62: benzimidazolone orange, an excellent orange pigment with high lightfastness and used in high-grade artist watercolors like Daniel Smith's permanent orange and Winsor & Newton's winsor orange. Luminance's orange is among the most lightfast pencils of the entire line.

Pablo's orange uses a mix of the pigments PY13 and PO13, neither of which are used by any artist watercolors that the handprint website knows of. They seem to be much cheaper pigments, and Pablo's orange is only two stars out of three for lightfastness. (Most Pablo colors have *** or ** lightfast ratings, but there's a significant number of * colors.)

As always, in these tests I apply a colorless blender (Caran d'Ache's full bright) to the bottom half of the stripes.

Layering test of the two orange pencils.

Both Luminance and Pablo layer very well; here is about 7 layers each with distinct shading differences on Strathmore's Visual Journal drawing paper (medium tooth).

You can see that Luminance's orange can achieve a darker value than Pablo's orange.

Oranges laid over violet.

Oranges laid over prussian blue.

Next I wanted to see how transparent each color was. Looking at the ends of these stripes with the most orange pigment deposited, note that both Luminance Pablo are still affected by lower layers even at maximum strength, but Pablo is noticeably far more transparent.

Oranges laid over pink micron crosshatching.

This test cinches it: this particular Pablo color is far more transparent than its Luminance counterpart.

The question becomes: assuming this example holds as a stable comparison for both colored pencil lines, how does this affect layering and color mixing?

I'm amused at the idea that the Pablo line—still artist grade, but not the Ferrari of the colored pencil world like the Luminance line—may suit my needs better than Luminance where line art is concerned.

But I think for just a pure colored pencil experience without relying on line art beneath, Luminance is the best choice for what I want to do. Plus, unlike Pablo, Luminance's color range contains no nasty surprises with regards to any fugitive colors.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thoughts on Abstract Art and Seeing Beyond Reality

"No, I meant why do they call it a horse? It doesn't look like a horse. It's just... flowing lines..." [said Miss Tick.]

...that look as if they're moving, thought Tiffany.

— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Some say that abstract art can't communicate to the viewer in the ways that realistic art does, that abstract art is merely a selfish, navel-gazing fancy.

But all art is illusion. To believe that any piece of art objectively represents reality is pure folly, even for the most photorealistic examples.

The sweep and curve of lines, the colors used, the compositional elements—they'll always speak to the audience, whether the forms rendered look real or imaginary.

Some may refuse to take the time to see what's there, and say that if an artist cannot clearly communicate their own vision instantly that the artist has wasted everyone's time.

Yet art is not passive; no art is. Whoever looks at a piece of art still interacts with it—an on-looker's interpretation is all their own, and can never be entirely dominated by the creator, no matter how much we may wish it.

Ibis Arabesque, Ava Jarvis.

What I see in my Ibis Arabesque is grace in the curve of the "head" and "neck", movement in the waves of its body, a delineation of a light, wispy form from the outside world—yet all is of one color, merely in various shades and tints, indicating that nothing is truly separate from reality, even that which is airy and ethereal.

What someone else sees may be entirely different—most likely so, in fact.

At a glance, Ibis Arabesque merely a single shape. Meaning, though, is in the eye of the beholder, and requires introspection to reveal itself.

What do we see when we meditate on an abstract image? Mandalas are no less art than any other art genre, yet they're completely abstract. Stained glass windows of abstract patterns with sun streaming in through church windows—could you stand there and say the creators there committed no art of any worth?

If you can, yet call yourself an artist, I wonder—how much do you really see of the world?

The urban sketcher who chooses the view of a soaring buttress, or the plein air painter who paints the waves crashing against a beach—they must ask themselves: "Now that I have learned to paint a buttress or waves on the beach—what more can I do to reach beyond what the eye merely thinks it sees?"

Tiffany had once asked her father about the look of the Horse, when they'd come all the way over here for a sheep fair, and he told her what Granny Aching had told him when he was a little boy. He passed on what she said word for word, and Tiffany did the same now.

"Taint what a horse looks like," said Tiffany. "It's what a horse be."

— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I don't talk bunk when I say that seeing beyond what something looks like is true art.

When you paint what is beyond the surface, you don't have to be abstract, realistic, or anything inbetween.

Just paint what you, as your own artist, really see.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Watercolor Palette for 2017 Q3 and Q4

My full watercolor palette for the rest of 2017.

It only took several months but for now I'm "stuck" with this palette until I run down a few colors—but it's difficult for me to be depressed about that because I can get the bright jewel tones I'm fondest of out of these paints.

Also I finally just attached half-pans into the bottom of a square petri dish with blu-tak. It's weird, but I'm happier painting with this than I've been with other set ups, up to and including the portable painter. I use three little solid glasses for my wash water, numerous petri dishes for mixing surfaces, and I'm pretty content.

There are three Lemon Yellow half-pans because I'm trying out this "keep the yellow clean" method I've seen elsewhere—have one yellow pan that isn't used to mix colors, and use another for mixing—heck, maybe have one that mixes warms, and one that mixes cools.

Altogether, this is 12 single-pigment colors: lemon yellow, organic vermilion, quinacridone rose, quinacridone purple, phthalo blue red shade, phthalo green blue shade, titanium white gouache, indanthrone blue, yellow ochre, "burnt sienna" hue (transparent red oxide), permanent brown, smoky quartz (my own mix), and lunar black.

All but two are Daniel Smith watercolors. Winsor & Newton colors are yellow ochre and their "burnt sienna", which is a hue that utilizes transparent red oxide. Not a great fan of Winsor & Newton's naming schemes that rarely indicate when something is a hue; and burnt sienna is one of the last things that should be replaced with a hue.

Smoky Quartz is made from two Daniel Smith paints: mostly viridian with a little quinacridone magenta. Viridian ran out rapidly for me as it tints so weakly that I used what was left to make this granulating grey. I don't think it'll be replaced once it runs out.

Currently I want to replace organic vermilion one day with pyrrole orange, as long as it can mix with quinacridone rose to give me a lovely fire engine red.

Smoky quartz, once it's used up, is going to be replaced with a convenience mix from Daniel Smith—shadow violet.

Lunar black is... sigh. I think it's going to hang around because thus far it's difficult for me to use well. One of my few true paint regrets—as is the "burnt sienna." I really wish I'd gone with perylene green, a single-pigment green that's so dark that it's one of the handiest black paints around.

The "burnt sienna" has already been mostly replaced by the permanent brown, and will not be replaced.

I generally have a difficult time trying to think of more colors to add.

I'd much rather paint.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Intensity Tests

Recently Hajra Meeks discussed the intensity of Inktense compared to professional watercolors.

Spoilers: Inktense isn't really intense. See Hajra's video for more details, particularly on the problems with comparing isolated swatches to each other.

In the meantime, I decided to do some swatches from different lines/mediums overlapping each other to see what's more intense, and what isn't.

Water media comparisons.

I don't own Inktense, but I decided to test out Kuretake's gansai tambi, Daniel Smith's watercolors, and three watercolor pencil lines from Caran d'Ache: Fancolor, Supracolor II, and Museum Aquarelle. I used Strathmore mixed media paper (suitable for both dry and wet media), vellum surface.

For each color, I laid it down at maximum intensity. Watercolor pencils had water applied.

As it turns out, Fancolor and Kuretake's gansai tambi are both less intense than the other brand lines—and since Fancolors are student grade, that rules gansai tambi as such as well. That's actually five layers of Fancolor compared to six layers of gansai tambi to achieve even that amount of intensity.

On the other hand, the rest, all artist grade, are incredibly intense. Museum Aquarelle is two layers, Supracolor II is three layers, and Daniel Smith is also two layers. All achieve better intensity even with less pigment on the paper.

I decided to do a similar test for dry colored pencils, including dry watercolor pencils:

Dry colored pencil comparisons.

Oh Fancolor. It's again less intense, but to be expected from a student grade line, even a really good student grade line. Pablo and Supracolor II seem to be at the same intensity, with Museum Aquarelle one step up, and Luminescence performing the best in terms of intensity.

Again, these are all pretty expected results. I do have a tiny set of generic, non-branded colored pencils as well—they are so terrible that they almost have no color compared to the brands.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

State of the Artist: Sep 1, 2017

Why do I blog?

This is a question I hadn't been prepared to answer over a decade, up until now.

In large part it's because I want to share what I learn and what I think with the world at large. I like to help people—and weirdly it doesn't seem to be for any selfish reasons. If the act didn't make me feel great (and most of the time it doesn't—it's fairly neutral for me) and I was being selfish, I'd stop. If I never receive help back, it doesn't seem to bother me. If a person actively hates me, I feel sad that what I provided didn't give them the help they wanted or needed, and made them feel a lack in themselves that I didn't intend to cause.

But the other part is that for the longest time I didn't have anyone else but people online to talk about my interests. And for a long time I ached for human connection, and had very extrovert tendencies.

Naturally social media is an irresistible trap for me, and easily cuts into my own self time without allowing me time to develop myself and my skills. I've had to cut it off fairly entirely.

And both blogging and social media have lead to many non-safe interactions. As someone who just now is able to start to heal from the pain of many years of abuse, not only do I have to deal with the emotional fallout of your average internet trolls, but I also get to deal with people who hunger after my content and start to demand that I stop "acting" sick and use yoga to heal myself and get back to producing articles they like reading.

This hasn't happened in art yet, but... I really don't want that to happen. It's happened to me once already with another interest, which has stopped really interesting me enough to write much about it.

I also trust people too easily. I have everlasting faith that people can be better, even with those who feel perfectly fine throwing racist epithets at me or calling me stupid, mentally challenged, etc. And I feel betrayed every time it happens... I think, "I know you're better than this, why aren't you? Did I do something wrong? Is this happening because I'm a horrible person?"

Everything circles back to: why do I blog?

I have people I love now, who love me back. Who love me like found family, and one of whom is an artist (and my unofficial tutor). I can chatter about art as much as I like.

So the need for human connection outside of that social circle just isn't there anymore.

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be an outlet.

But if it's public, it's not really an outlet, is it. I put on my best face here. I write for an ideal audience. And doing all that costs me a lot in health and mental stability.

So I'll take a break from adding to my queue (there's a few more posts coming) and take a week or two off. And if I choose not to blog regularly again, that will be the right choice for me.

Talking about this has been a weight off my shoulders. I'm so very pleased about that. I think I'll still use a private journal, though. I frequently review my thoughts and progress, which is a definite key to learning more quickly.

Skin Color Experiments with the Pablo 18 Colored Pencil Set

Various skin tones achieved without portrait-specific, skin tone, or other specialized pencils.

I've been enjoying much experimentation and playing around with colored pencils, layering, and blending. I use the 18-color Pablo set here, which is artist grade and layers extremely well—plus all colors are transparent, which means any layer affects the layers above it and below it.

As a result, sub-surface scattering is something that can be rendered well in colored pencil.

For these skin tones, I blended with both with a tortillion—though in my case it was paper towel bits wrapped around the end of a wooden knitting needle and taped—and followed with burnishing with a colorless blender (the Caran d'Ache full bright blender). I use a putty eraser to lift the highlight.

For the lightest skin tones, I used liberal amounts of white pencil (the Luminance white pencil comes in handy, but the Pablo white is no slouch) and even burnish with white for very pale skin.

I'll note also that there's not really a way to create a skin tone recipe that works for all skin tones in specific ranges—people are really different, and the best way to create a skin tone is to look at color photographs of different folks and experiment.

Another note: skin will differ drasticly based on lighting as well. Remember your color wheel relationships, in particular complementary colors.

I also found How to Mix Skin Tones at the Virtual Instructor very helpful. You can mix skin tones with straight red, yellow, brown, white, and ultramarine pencils, or remember color theory to figure out how much of these basic colors are "in" any single pencil you own.

Example: More red, some yellow, a bit brown, lots of white can mix pale pink skin. But alternatively:

  • Two layers of carmine: some red
  • One layer of orange: some red, a some yellow
  • One layer of light olive: a bit yellow, a bit brown
  • Five layers of white: a lot white
This is the basic recipe for the first skin "ball" here. I layer carefully and create a skin tone sundae.

You might ask: why not just buy portrait-specific or skin-tone pencils? 

For myself, it mostly comes down to preferring the complex color effects from layering as opposed to using single color shading. It's the difference between the top green (alternating layers of cobalt blue and lemon yellow) and the bottom green (grass green, layered to the same value): 

A mixed green on top, and a single green on bottom.

I can control the complexities of an area of color if I layer a color with others, than if I use a single color alone. This has huge implications for shading, of enormous use in realism/naturalism—as well as my sliding scale of less representational styles.

Some artists prefer their colors to be smooth and flat; I like mine to vibrate.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.