Friday, June 13, 2008

Book review: Multi Brand Color Chart for Pastels

The Multi-Brand Color Chart for Pastels by Marie Meyer was published yesterday by Huechroval. I've been sent a pdf preview copy of it - on which this review is based - and a hard copy is on its way to me from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The idea behind this new publication is that it should help all pastel artists when choosing their pastels.
Every pastel artist seems to be on the lookout for something that will round out their collection. It might be a whole category of things — the darkest darks, colorful grays, a wide range of greens. Or it may be something very specific. As you go through your pastel box I’m sure you frequently think “This stick is nice, but I wish I also had something that was a bit different.” You might want a pastel that is cooler or warmer, lighter or darker, brighter or grayer. Whatever the case, this book is intended to help you identify what the marketplace offers that will fill those gaps in your collection.
The title is intriguing and I know all pastel artists love colour charts – so I’m immediately attracted to the idea of a colour chart which covers all brands – but why does it need to be in a book? The reality is that this book provides a great deal more information.

I was somewhat sceptical to start with but have been won over by this book during the course of reviewing it and Q&A dialogue with Marie. This is a very informative book prepared by somebody who has taken a great deal of care over its scope and the analysis undertaken. It deserves a place in the library of every serious pastel artist and I'm very happy to recommend it.

Here is a summary of what it provides - and then a summary of what I like and what I would like to see in any future revisions.

  • A set of pages which analyze the colour of all the pastels tested – by hue, value and chroma (Intensity or saturation). (Now you know why the company is called Huechroval!).
  • You can see an example on How it works. For each small group of hues there is a colour chart where the vertical dimension measures the value and the horizontal scale measures the chroma/intensity. Each colour on that page is then referred to as a step and, for each step, on the left hand page is a chart which tells you which brand of pastel (ie by brand code and colour code) what the hue, value and chroma values are for each particular 'step' in the chart.
  • Information about the coverage provided by each brand. Coverage is what you get depending on how a particular pastel works in different types of surface. The results are not quite what you would expect. I know I was surprised!
  • Information about the dimensions and weight of each pastel, number of colours offered and country of origin - with graphic images to scale.
  • answers to frequently asked questions about the analysis
  • a graphic illustration for all manufacturers of where their brands fall short of the range of possible colours!!!
What I like about this book

So far as I'm aware this is a completely innovative book (based on a known concept - the Munsell color space) inasmuch as I've never seen a book like it before for any medium which specifically addresses the needs of the artist. The colour analysis has a clear conceptual basis and, unlike some other books on the market, the analysis has been done in what appears to be a completely independent and rigorous way.

It provides information about pastels which should be of great help for those artists who are looking for help with understanding colour and value better - and developing the range of pastels they own and use. It will help people to identify and plug the gaps in their current stock at the same time as avoiding duplications and near-duplications.

In addition:
  • I can see this book as being a huge aid to sorting pastel boxes by value.
  • Using this book means that I now have a very good chance of being able to identify which pastel needs replacing even if only have a tiny stub left and replacement needs to be via an online purchase.
  • I really appreciate analysis which is independent of both manufacturers and retailers – that way I know there are no unstated business interests influencing what is being said.
  • I loved the fact that the choice of pastels to be tested and included in the book was determined by those which are offered in open stock in the USA. (see list below) There is no way I will ever buy a brand which only deals in complete ranges. (An aside – I’ve now had 114 responses to my poll What is your favourite make of soft pastel? on my Pastels – Resources for Artists site)
  • The section on testing and analysis of softness/coverage was fascinating to read. Her table of average coverage ratings will probably make a lot of pastel artists think seriously about trying a few pastels in brands they’ve not tried before! There’s another comment I could make – about an interesting correlation – but that would be giving away too much!
  • It’s the very first time I’ve seen a thorough analysis of dimensions and weight of pastels. I suddenly started looking at my pastel sticks in a whole new way! Some of this basic information was quite startling. A value for money index looks possible on the basis of this information.
  • Bill Creevy - who I rate - likes it too!
"Your book is the most successful body of work to delve into the practical concept of 'pastel-brand' color selection. Color theory is one thing: but the reality of pastel painting is the actual colors the pastels are as they come from their manufacturers. The unique color of the individual pastel stick is what each pastelist has to realistically work with.

Perhaps not all pastelists have problems with color; maybe color is not an issue for them. But for those artist for whom color is problematic, your book will be an immense aid. Especially since your book's wide scope covers every conceivable brand of pastel commercially available to contemporary pastelists.

Excellent work."

Bill Creevy, PSA Hall of Fame Honoree, author of "The Pastel Book"

What I'd like to see tackled or improved next time around
  • Life would be sweet if Marie could come up with an analysis which also included
    • a scale for evaluating hardness and softness - which recognises that this tends to vary according to hue! If this were just to be limited to evaluating darks and indicating information for dark pastels I'd be very happy as these are the ones which can be most problematical to work with at times. (Notwithstanding that, in my opinion, both the Unison and Terry Ludwig dark sets are excellent!)
    • details on lightfastness. (I'm not optimistic on this one as the pastels community as a whole has totally failed to drive forward the issue of tackling lightfastness for pastels in terms of developing an International Standard and testing against it!)
  • Those who are resistant to the the Munsell concept of perceived colour analysis may also be resistant to this book's potential benefits. I'm not sure why but I do know there are some (said mentally smiling at the person who'll be reading this and thinking "She means me!")
  • The font size used for the body text is rather too small for me. I'm reading on screen - which is the way I do a lot of reading these days and I can't get it at a comfortable size and still read it easily on screen - and this option won't be available to other people. How about an electronic pdf version which makes the information more accessible for those with optical defects? (Although given all my comments about additive and subtractive processes earlier in the week I do recognise that this causes problems due to screen quality). I'd be happy with a CD for the text and the printed sheets for the colour chart!
  • The website still needs a few more details to keep people happy - but that said, it's still looking pretty good for a new venture.
One of the neat features of this publication is that you can specify how you want it delivered
  • Option 1: Stay-flat wiro-binding.
  • Option 2: Unbound, 3-hole punched.
  • Option 3: Unbound, un-punched.
Given that artists tend to keep practical information like this in different ways (ie it's not like a conventional book) I think this is one innovation that others might like to think about!

The publication is priced at $39.99 (£20.57 at today's exchange prices). It's being sold direct from the website and not via Amazon so I don't think you can expect to get a discount on that. I've suggested to Marie that it would be helpful if she indicates in the main order page on the website whether or not mailing costs for despatch to other parts of the globe are included or extra - and this might have been done by the time you read this.

There's a mailing list and I've signed up as Marie promises more publications - including one for coloured pencils!

  • Multi-Brand Color Chart for Pastels published by Huechroval June 2008 ISBN: 978-0-615-20306-5
  • Order direct from Huechroval website
  • Pastel brands covered (plus see below)
  • Art Spectrum
    Caran d’Ache
    Diane Townsend
    Great American
    Mount Vision
    Terry Ludwig
    Winsor & Newton


  1. Oh, that Munsell....burns me up.

    Ha ha! I'll be reviewing the book as well, and am excited for the full color chart, et al.

    The reason I may be able to overlook the color theory oddities that I don't agree with is that Marie is applying a thorough physical study of the actual pastels - not just theoretics.

    This review is so good, I wonder what I'll have left to write?

  2. Since I'm not on top of Munsell yet - but do have an appreciation that hue value and intensity are the three key dimensions of colour space I'm just not hung up about the theory

    What I do think is especially helpful is having a guide which actually tells you based on scientific measurement that this 'colour' in this brand is more intense than that 'colour' in this other brand. Or that if you're going to have a fight of the darks take a look at these sticks because of of their h, v and c values.

    You'll think of something Casey - I knew you'd be the first to comment!

  3. Hardness scale and light fastest would make this a perfect classic!

  4. They're still working on the lightfastness test for pastels

    This book is no longer available


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