Stabilo Tones: Why I Love Them and Why I’ll Miss Them

December 23, 2009

More Stabilo Tone birds to look at.

Above: Two sketches of a toucan using the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Stabilo Tones (on dry, then blended with a wet brush, then applied dry again and blended with my finger). The background was pre-painted with Golden Fluid Acrylics, run wet along the top and then I tilted the book forward over a paper towel to let the paint run down. Also in the background, still visible in the bird on the right, is an old galley stamp that I had stamped on the spread after applying the background paint.

The other night I was tired from a long day at the computer and grumpy I had not been able to draw at all. I was watching television when this toucan popped on the screen and I knew it was time to get something down on paper. I grabbed my journal and sketched the bird on the left with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and then worked over it with Stabilo Tones as I've described before on my blog. It could have been a really frustrating experience because I got color all over my fingers from blending the final layers and the yellow got dirty—but I decided that was part of the charm. I also didn't care that my finger smudged the colors outside of the area I was working, e.g., on the beak.

When I finished the lefthand page I decided I wasn't ready to stop sketching so I returned to the PPBP and made another sketch, this time, of the bird in a rather odd angle. (When you sketch birds in life they will typically keep you in view with one eye and often present as "profiles." They will return repeatedly to other angles as well, but they are harder to catch without some practice, because we have to constantly remind ourselves to draw the angles we see, not the ones we think should be there. Because of this I love sketching from video when you can stop the action where you want it. It's a great learning tool to prepare you for going out into the field (or the zoo, or the State Fair, which is only about 9 months away folks!).

The drawing on the right presented a couple of "problems" for me in trying to obscure the ink lines. This is a great time to experiment and see what you can get away with. For the neck I added some light blue before building up with the yellow, which had been too transparent in the early layers. I also added some white, because I needed to make it a "tint" along the neck, but I also needed that opacity to hide the heavy ink line.

The dark areas of the beak are not ink lines, but a build up of purples and blues and browns.

A couple things happened this night. When the bird on the verso page was still wet (first layer) the book ended up closing by accident when I was reaching for something. Color transferred to the opposite page (see near the beak and see in the body of the bird on the left.

091216ToucansDETAIL Left: Detail of the bird from the recto page.

Again, there is just something fun about playing with these pencils wet and then dry, blending them with my finger. I'm getting quite distraught that my favorite light, light blue is down to a tiny stub. It is not one of the 10 or 12 colors still made. SIGH.

So when it's done, I guess I'm done. I have actually found it hard to go back to watercolors in the past few months because when I do work in watercolor I miss moving the paint around with my fingers!

Here's my point for today: be sloppy; enjoy making a mess and getting your fingers dirty; don't worry about hiding all your sketching lines—just have fun with experiments in how to do it. Don't worry if your yellow gets contaminated, just keep working.

In the end, all the stuff you learn will be useful later. For me, throwing a little blue (light, light blue alas) into the eye was a spur of the moment attempt, at the end of my drawing session, to get a bit of cool (temperature) cloudiness in the eye and yet also some harmonious color with the rest of the sketch. I'm pleased with how it worked out and happy to know I can apply that approach in future paintings.

That's worth getting color all over my fingers.

Note: you'll remember that I made this journal with Winsor & Newton Hot Press 90 lb. paper, yet in the detail image you'll see a lot of lovely paper texture—another reason I really like Stabilo Tones. That first layer, like the orange red in the beak can be smoothed out completely to fill all texture of the paper, but then when you go back to add the magenta and the light blue, etc. you can let the previous color show through depending on how fully you cover with the second color and how much you blend, and well this is just too much fun. I have to go and start sketching with them right now. Imagine the fun if you liked cold press paper!

  1. Reply

    Roz, this two page spread is absolutely stunning! The birds are beautiful, but I really like the running of the acrylic paint, it really adds to the excitement of the pages. Beautiful!

  2. Reply

    Your drawing of the toucan on the recto page is magical. I have a few Stabilo pencils as well, and my sienna-gold pencil is also down to a stub. Use it more than almost any other color in my pet portraits, and when it’s gone I don’t know what I’ll do. Manage, I guess. Thanks for another fun and illuminating post.

    • Roz
    • December 23, 2009

    donnamcm, Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy it. Toucans are wonderful birds. I almost bought one when I first started my business. I’d just received my first big paycheck and was feeling everything was possible. There were no dogs in my life at the time. I walked into a pet store to buy something for a friend’s pet and found the most amazing 5-year-old toucan, well within a price range I could afford. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. But sense prevailed. I can’t ever remember walking past a toucan without sketching it—zoos, bird sanctuaries, pet stores, whatever. They are fabulously fake looking.

    I was really pleased with the acrylic drippiness too and find I want to do it on ALL my pages! I forgot to mention that I used Quin Burnt Orange and Indanthrone Blue (well PB60, it may have been the long “A” name I can never remember—I don’t recall which Golden refers to PB60 by and the bottle isn’t at hand). These colors make such lovely neutrals.

    • Roz
    • December 23, 2009

    Thanks Kim. Ah, that sienna-gold is a wonderful color. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? But walk away and it’s so sad. Why did they stop with these. Why didn’t they ask us???

    Have you used Caran d’Ache’s Neocolor II or NeoArt? I used Neocolor IIs before I had the Stabilo Tones. They aren’t as fun for me, not as easy to blend but almost. At least the Neocolor IIs still come in a huge range.

    Hang in there! Enjoy the Stabilo Tones while you can.

    • karen
    • December 23, 2009

    Oh, the one on the right! So wonderful!

  3. Reply

    I really like the beak of the bird on the right. I know what you mean when you say they almost look plastic. It’s kind of spooky.

    • Roz
    • December 24, 2009

    Thanks Karen, that’s Dick’s favorite too.

    • Roz
    • December 24, 2009

    Jon, because they have a small ridge at the top of the beak between beak and head, a sort of gap, it makes it all look even more fake—as if they were wearing a fake bill, held on by elastic! I could spend my life looking at the space between a bird’s head and its bill—oops, I guess that’s what I have done!

    • Roz
    • December 25, 2009

    DragonLady, the Woody is the Stabilo Tone, it’s just repackaged and has a different paint job, and is marketed to kids. I see this copy says there are 18 colors, I’ve only seen in-store open stock displays for 10 colors.

    They previously made this product with 60 colors, which is what I’m using. Many of the colors I use are no longer made. Big Sigh.

    Big differences occur in the yellow, brown, and red ranges and of course my favorite light, light blue is no longer made!

    In my earlier posts about Stabilo Tones I made this clear (about the Woody) so I’m sorry for the confusion.

    A fun product (obviously I love it) but as I’ve said in my other Stabilo Tone posts, since the company isn’t supporting the full color range I really can’t recommend it to people. Better to go with Caran d’Ache’s Neocolor II or NeoArt lines even though the working properties are a bit different.

    • Carolyn
    • December 26, 2009

    what a lovely friendly colorful bird spread! happy viewing and reading this!

    • Roz
    • December 26, 2009

    Thank You Carolyn, There will be more toucan posts!!! I have been doing more toucan drawings in the new journal which won’t start posting for awhile yet (I have other pieces from this journal I want to post).

    • DragonLady
    • December 27, 2009

    [quote]Better to go with Caran d’Ache’s Neocolor II or NeoArt lines even though the working properties are a bit different.[/quote]

    Thanks! I’ve been trying to figure out what to spend my Christmas cash on, and I think I want something like w/c crayons or maybe some good markers. I’m hoping to spend more time on sketch journals and maybe a bit of altered art, so want something vibrant but not messy that I can use whenever I have a few spare moments. 🙂

  4. Reply

    Roz, this is such an interesting post and such (as always) a fantastic drawing. I use Neocolor II watercolor crayons and lately I’ve added the Portfolios to my supply inspired by Diana Trout in her book Journal Spilling. How do the Neocolor II’s compare with Stabilo Tones, do you know? I really loved reading this post! You are amazing!!!

    • Roz
    • December 27, 2009

    Dragon Lady, I wish I could recommend the StabiloTones (Woodys) but in a limited 18 color line they aren’t worth it.

    All these watersoluble crayon/pastel type things, however are MESSY in my mind, both in application (my hands are always covered with pigment when I’m done) and I have to use glassine between the journal pages with these paintings because they will rub off across the spread.

    If you want something vibrant and not messy I recommend gouache!

    But buy a small pack of something from Caran d’Ache and see if they suit you. Maybe it’s just me being messy after years of being so neat and tidy?

    • Roz
    • December 27, 2009

    Thanks Deborah. I don’t know Diana Trout’s book on journaling, but I do know that in the late 90s it seemed everyone one was using Portfolios in their journals. I was already a big fan of NeoColor IIs so I didn’t use them.

    Then one day I got a small set to take to class for students to try out and while they were very buttery to use they smelt so floral (I think it was floral, it’s been too long) I couldn’t stand to use them.

    But the students enjoyed using them and I think there were many converts that day!

    I’m also not sure about their archival qualities, perhaps Diana Trout has info on that in her book?

    For some reason I’ve always used the NeoColor IIs OUTSIDE my journal; a bit of use upon occasion, but pretty rarely—then this summer I just got the notion to use up these Stabilo Tones and boy do I love them and hate that the full range of colors isn’t available any more.

    For me the Stabilo Tones (Woodys) are slicker than the NeoColors. They go on a bit more smoothly and wet up a bit more richly (into a thicker pigment I can push around with the brush).

    When I put a second layer on (which I do regardless of the brand I’m working with) I find that the Stabilo Tones are easier for me to blend with my fingers. I seem to be able to apply a little less and get something more translucent and they don’t seem to clog up the paper as quickly.

    All great things.

    Now this said, I worked with NeoColorIIs and NeoArts long before I had the Stabilo Tones and when the STs are gone I’ll transition back to the Neos with only a bit of grumbling because at least I will still have something fun to play with. I just wish they were still made because I would only buy them.

    But I’ll adapt. It isn’t the first time I’ve lost an art supply to the “discontinued” rack.

    Also, I used the Caran d’Ache products on weird surfaces, well, different from what I’ve been using the Stabilo Tones on for the past year. And it will be nice to use the DAs on paper as well, instead of Yupo and pastel boards of various types suitable for wet media.

    The thing I find amazing about them is I think they are fatter than the NeocolorIIs (definitely with the wood case, but even if that weren’t there) and I find it easier, even when they are totally flat, to get a thin line out of them.

    Also the wood bodies have prevent breakage in my hand, because sometimes I apply really thick layers and the NeoColor IIs can crack if I not conscious of the pressure.

    Rather than buy into a product that doesn’t have a full color line though, I think NeoColorIIs and NeoArt are the way to go.

    I’ll get these out of my system and be back to gouache.

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