Missing the Point
I’ve been using pastel pencils for decades. They are wonderful for adding detail. But, only if they have a good point. And that’s the issue. Keeping a good point on a pastel pencil is like trying to keep a good point on soft-serve ice cream. Impossible!
Pastel pencils have a soft pastel center surrounded by wood and each brand varies in the relative softness or hardness of the pencil. Dakota Art Pastels 2016/2017 catalog has kindly organized their assortment of pastel pencils from softest to hardest (see page 26). (If you are a pastel artist and don’t know this “pastels only” company, get acquainted at www.dakotapastels.com.)
Currently, my favorite pastel pencils are:
Carbothello Pastel Pencil-softer rather than harder with a standard-sized barrel. This has been my “go-to” brand because unlike all the other brands, it sharpens fairly easily, has a good range of colors, and is carried by most suppliers. And lo and behold! Stabilo offers a pencil sharpener (Art. NR. 4514) that actually works with this pencil (though not with all of my others).
Caran D’Arche Pastel Pencil-softest with amazing colors that match their semi-hard pastel sticks (cubes). Their pencil 788-089 is my favorite deep red/brown for use in portraits. I don’t know of another pencil brand with this wonderful color. All of their portrait colors are really great. But, these pencils are a nightmare to sharpen. They are produced by a 100-year-old company in Switzerland. I believe it is family owned (or so I was told at the little French shop I mentioned in my last blog). They are not as readily available as some of the others. Supply issues, I’ve been told.
Conte Pastel Pencil-harder than the other two and yet, pretty fragile, come in fabulous colors. For an exercise in staying in a Zen moment of non-attachment to outcome, try sharpening these. They will severely test your resolve to stay cool.
The Whole Point
Yesterday, I was at my favorite local art supply store, Meininger’s (www.meininger.com) in Colorado Springs. The original Denver store is one of the oldest art supply stores in the west…more on that great story another time. I was grousing about the fact that they were out of the Stabilo sharpeners and also about how hard it is to sharpen pastel pencils in any case. Kiki, one of the several friendly, helpful and knowledgeable associates there, steered me to a pencil sharpener from Germany that she said she uses with great results.
HA! I thought. I’ve tried them all with little to no success. But she pulled out a little round brass number (Alvin 9867) I had somehow overlooked. She demonstrated it to me and sure enough, it worked! A beautiful sharp point on a soft pencil. It has a large and small opening for pencils of various barrel sizes. About the size of a quarter it’s pretty expensive at nearly $9.00, but the blades are changeable and what’s a little dough compared to a sharp pastel pencil point. Nada!
I took my treasure to the studio and used it on all the pitiful points of my various pencils. Success! I went back and got another one and all the extra blades they had. Then in preparing to write this blog, I did a quick glance at the Dakota catalog. Sure enough, they listed this little sharpener as well as the Dahle 133 (p. 52) which they claim works with all the pastel pencils they offer. This will be my next purchase even though it costs $18.95. I'll let you know how it works.
The Final Point
Here is the “take away…”
- Pastel pencils can be sharpened successfully and easily.
- Make friends with the wonderful people at your local art supply store. They are an invaluable resource.
- Don’t overlook the obvious. I had a great catalog with a potential solution right under my nose…well not really…it was in the closet under a stack of books.
So, use your pencils with abandon knowing you CAN sharpen them to a perfect point with the right tools, but I don't think I'd try them on on ice cream.