Art Products

An Introduction to PanPastels and Sofft Tools with Malcolm Cudmore

14th April 2020 Estimated reading time: 3 mins

I am completely won over by PanPastels and Sofft pastel applicators. Accurate and expressive drawing is at the root of everything I do. This combination of medium and tools means I can draw and paint at the same time – from initial broad strokes to detailed marks in exactly the same way that I work with pencils or oil paints and brushes.

A 5 minute sketch with Panpastels displaying all the basic shapes and valuesWithout really needing to learn any new techniques, I found PanPastels intuitive to use from the very first strokes. What’s so striking is that a little goes a very long way indeed. The pastels are really heavily loaded with pigment – which is moved around and blended with the same tools that you’re drawing with. Straight away, they became my “go to” medium of choice for life drawing – enabling me to work rapidly to mass in my biggest value shapes right at the start with even the shortest poses. As an oil painter, I have trained myself to concentrate on massing in my biggest value shapes first before refining down to individual features and details. PanPastels and Sofft tools make this a complete “doddle”!

I’ve found they work best on regular papers with a good weight and reasonably smooth surface. Currently, I’m using Clairefontaine Multi-Techniques paper all the time. It’s a robust, 250gsm heavy “craft” type paper with some tooth. In addition to white (slightly lighter at 200gsm) they make a natural and a grey version – which are my favourites! You don’t need to use special “pastel” surfaces. PanPastels don’t need a heavy tooth to grab the pigment in the way that conventional pastel sticks do. In fact, heavily textured supports (such as sanded or similar specialist “pastel” surfaces) can wear away at the “socks” that fit the ends of the Sofft tools – breaking down the foam. Using smoother papers gives excellent results, preserves the tools (I’ve successfully washed my “socks” a couple of times when they’ve become too heavily loaded with pigment). Virtually no dust falls from the finished work (even if tapped) and I’ve not felt the need to use fixative.

Working with the UK distributor, I have devised a set of 10 pans which I use for workshops. Although I mostly use the set for figure and portrait work, it is equally suitable for other subjects. Colours can be mixed direct on the painting or on a piece of paper kitchen towel (I do this a lot) before applying. I mix the PanPastels colours rather like I would mix oil paints on my palette. I’ll be writing further about mixing and blending in due course.

For final details, I have added a couple of Conté crayons to my kit (white and brown). Soft pastel pencils would be just as useful. I also occasionally use a chalk clutch pencil (actually designed for dressmakers) for drawing fine highlights.

The two Sofft tools I use most are #1 (wider rounded end – like a filbert brush) and #2 (wider square end). Both enable me to make broad strokes and, by adjusting the angle of contact with the paper, smaller more focused marks. There are two other tools. A narrower, oval filbert (#3) and a pointed triangular blade (#4). The little foam covers (“socks“) are available as separate replacements. A range of shaped sponges and other applicators are also available (very like those used to apply cosmetic make up).

Everyone that sees the results is impressed by the subtle way that flesh can be rendered with ease with these products. I’ve even had people think my sketches are paintings or drawings because they do not have the “granular” look of traditional pastels. PanPastels are not just a novelty art product. This is an artist quality medium and easily the equal of traditional pastels. They even offer some advantages over the traditional medium. There is virtually no dust – making them especially suitable for those with allergies or working in confined spaces. Powerful, artist quality pigmentation means that each pan will last for a very long while. The Sofft tools make this a very suitable medium for artists who already draw and paint.

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