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Friday, 24 April 2015

Product Overview - Wax-bars Part 1

Nobody who has been following my posts and blogs can be in any doubt that I am a staunch Derwent supporter, absolutely loving the quality of the products they have to offer. I have also been a long time admirer of their soluble waxbar, the Derwent Artbar. This is like an oil pastel in consistency, able to stick to a great many surfaces, e.g. glass, wet surfaces, plastic, oil paintings, etc. However, it is also water-soluble, which gives it the added benefit that you can paint it, similar to water-soluble pencils. Recently I came across a similar product by Reeves, the Reeves Wax Pastel. I have not been able to find a set with more than 12 colours (Derwent offers 72 – though it’s hard to find sets larger than 24). It wasn’t too badly priced and I bought a set to compare. I worked on sky blue Fabriano Elle Erre 220 gsm paper (the smooth side). Let me share my findings.

Mark Making
Let’s start with the Artbar. It has a rather unique triangular shape which I love.

When you turn the Artbar on its sharp edge, you can make wonderfully fine lines. If you use a long bar, instead of a small piece as I am demonstrating with, you will find it easy to construct longish straight lines with the Artbar.

My set of Artbars has been in use for a couple of years already and you’ll note that quite a few of them are broken. This sometimes happens accidentally when the bar warms up in your hand and then simply snaps off. Most often times it is done on purpose, though. I break small pieces off so that I can draw thick lines by turning it on its broad side.

The design of the Artbar therefore makes it easy to vary the application with a simply twist of the bar, resulting in a range of marks, without changing products. Very handy.

Reeves’s product comes in a traditional crayon form. As long as you have the crayon point, you will be able to make thin lines, although I have to point out that the line was not as thin as the one achieved by the Artbar. Since I was working with a brand new set of Reeves bars, none of the points were worked down. I did manage to accidentally break a few of them during the demonstration. This is something worth considering. They break as easily as the Artbar and I would put them on equal footing there. The problem is that once they’ve broken, the only sharp edge you are left with is the one at the flat end, which is circular and certainly much trickier to work with.

I turned the point flat (as when holding a pencil flat) to achieve the broad strokes.

I then turned it upright to see what kind of marks I could get out of the bottom end.

Layering & Scgraffito
I laid down a very thick layer of one colour in the Artbar. Note the wax crumbs that are created in the process. Reeves produced much less of these.

I then laid down another thick layer of Artbar in a contrasting colour on top of the first. I noticed that the colours did not mix to create a third colour, but each retained its own integrity. I also noticed that it was difficult to cover the bottom colour completely, although I have achieved this successfully in the past by simply going back over it again and again. The point is that it requires effort and the use of a lot of product.

I shook the wax crumbs off onto a plastic lid, which doubles as a convenient palette. I will use these later for another comparison.

I then took an embossing tool and drew a very simply design in the layers – this is called scgraffito.

It came time to do the same thing with the Reeves bar. I laid down a thick layer of dark blue.

I then laid a thick layer of dark red on top of the blue and immediately two very important differences from the Artbar. The first is that the two colours mixed to create a third colour, loosing their own identity in the process. The second was that the two colours mixed completely. I could not find a single spot where I could see the bottom colour peeking through, unlike the Artbars. A third observation was that I was left with almost no residue to shake off onto a palette.

With the two colours mixing so completely, would it still be possible to do scgraffito? Would I see the colour of the sky blue page, or would I see the dark blue of the bottom colour? It would seem that I did have some of the original dark blue left at the bottom and I managed to recover this with the scgraffito. I did manage to scrape the residue off the embossing tool and transfer this to the palette for another comparison later.

Here is a side by side comparison of the two.

Combination Wet/Dry
One of the attributes I love about water-soluble products is the fact that you can work partially wet (or partially dry), not having to paint the whole picture. I was now going to test how the two products stood up to this test. I once again started with Derwent Artbar drawing some broken lines to represent a tree stump.

Using the PentelAquash brush with a water reservoir in the handle, I painted very thin lines of water to the side of each line. The intention is to blur the line on one side so that it appears softer and lighter, as if the light source comes from that side.

I drew similar lines with the Reeves bar.

I used the Pentel Aquash brush again in the same fashion as before. I was surprised to see that I had much less control over the effect here. The Reeves bar seemed to dissolve much more quickly at the merest suggestion of water. This could work to your advantage if you had a different outcome in mind than the one I had. As it was, I was a left feeling a little disappointed. I did not manage to retain enough dry effect, rendering the technique rather useless. What could I do to change this next time? I would not use the Pentel Aquash brush. Knowing how soluble the Reeves bar is, I would use a normal brush, dip it in water, squeeze the water from the bristles (or dry it on a paper towel) and then paint the lines with an almost dry brush.

Here is a side by side comparison.

Watercolor Painting
For the next test I would use the bars as watercolors. I drew a simply design on the Elle Erre paper with an HB pencil and selected similar colour from both products.

Starting with the Derwent Artbar, I used the Pentel Aquash brush to pick paint up from the bar, dissolving the paint on the brush. I painted the sail of the boat with the loaded brush.

I then coloured the boat itself with the dry Artbar before painting it with water, dissolving the paint on the paper.

I repeated the same exercise using the Reeves bars. I started with the sail, picking the paint up from the bar.

I then coloured the boat with the dry bar and painted it with water.

Here is a side by side comparison. What is my conclusion? Both products performed equally well in this test and I would be hard pressed to conclude that one was in any way better or worse than the other. Both were absolutely brilliant.

There is another technique watercolorists often use, and that is splattering. It was time to test this possibility. Most people use old toothbrushes for this, but I have discovered that the Pentel Aquash brush is really rather brilliant at this. I hold the bar over the paper and then sweep the brush over it, causing the colour to splatter over the page. I started with Derwent Artbar.

I then repeated the exercise with the Reeves bar.

I once again had to conclude that both products stood up to this test equally well. Here is a side by side comparison.

Painting with the Scgraffito Residue
Remember those scrapings we kept aside on the plastic lid/palette? I turned my attention to this now. I picked the Derwent Artbar residue up with my Pentel Aquash brush and painted it on the page. There was so much colour that I had to clean the brush before I could put it on the paper. This could save a lot of money if you could keep the scrapings in a dedicated palette. Can you see how much colour I had left on my brush after putting down the strokes I needed for the demonstration?

I struggled to pick the Reeves residue up from the palette, but the only reason for this is that there was not much residue to start with. Once I did manage to pick it up, it delivered much the same results as Derwent and I was left to conclude that the two products compared very well once again.

Mixing Wet Colours on Paper
I had one more test to put the products through. How well could I mix wet colours on paper? We have already put them to the dry test when we layered the two colours on top of each other. I laid down two colours of Artbar and then wet it with water, using my Pentel Aquash brush. They mixed beautifully and the blue and yellow gave me a fabulous green.

I did the same thing with the Reeves bar and once again got a great green from the blue and yellow that I started with.

Here is another side by side comparison.

I keep these tests as reference sources for future projects and so was left to mark it accordingly. I gave it an appropriate title.

I then marked each test result so that I would know in future which product gave me the results I’m looking at.

What is the conclusion I reached after all this? Both products were absolutely brilliant. Derwent won hands down for the best design, allowing a wider range of mark making. Reeves would blend when dry, which Derwent would not. This is not a win or loose for either product. Sometimes blending is great and sometimes it is the last thing you want to achieve. It is best to take note of this and bear it in mind in a project. What am I going to do? Add the new Reeves bars to my older Artbars and work with both! I loved the colours it brought to my palette, even though there are only 12 colours to add. I had not been able to do a single demonstration using the same colour from either set. That means that my palette for waxbars had just grown exponentially, which is always a good thing.

In the next blog I use the two products jointly in a project. Be sure not to miss that.

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