View Full Version : Hi and recommendations for newbies?

08-21-2013, 09:22 AM
Hi folks! I'm new to the forums and fairly new to art--have been experimenting with pastels now for a couple of months and coming to the conclusion that they're my preferred medium. I do mostly animal/pet portraits. My local art store has good materials, but not a super huge selection, so I've just been experimenting with what they have--although I've just discovered the Dakota catalog and am slightly mind-blown with all the options. :) I was hoping to get some suggestions as to things I might want to try next.

I started with a Pro Art set (having read that it's best to have a large spectrum to start with) and a set of Conte pencils. I'm sure the Pro Art are probably student grade, but I actually like them a lot, since they're square and a bit harder. I have a couple of Rembrandts and Senneliers, but I only end up using them a little bit here and there--I don't really understand how people are able to use really soft things like the Senneliers or cylindrical pastels in general to get fine details--all I can think of is really shaving them down to a point, which seems so wasteful! At least with the square ones I can break off a piece and have a crisp edge. Any insight on the use of round and especially soft pastels would be appreciated. :)

I tend to find myself using the pastel pencils most often--the Contes and a couple of Derwents and Carb-Othellos--along with the Nu-Pastels and some Caran d'Ache sticks that I have.

I started on Strathmore paper, realized I really didn't like the texture, and switched to Mi-Tientes (smooth side). I have liked that a lot, but then tried the Touch paper on my last piece, and liked that the best so far--so now I'm interested in other sanded surfaces. I also really want to try velour, and am planning to order some from Dakota to try. I do like to use my fingers for blending, so am not sure which surfaces are most likely to tear my skin off. :)

So, recommendations on both pastels and grounds are welcome! My biggest problem I have is that I get overly finicky and have to be careful not to oversaturate a surface when I keep going back to fix things. I'm adding a pic of one I did fairly recently to give an idea of what my style is--this is on the regular Mi-Tientes, and I used mostly pencil and NuPastel...


08-21-2013, 04:41 PM
This is really nice and make me smile.:clap:

I am also a beginner, so canīt give recommandations.

08-21-2013, 05:42 PM
Welcome! Your painting is very nice!

It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what you like and don't like. One of the nicest things about pastel is the variety of materials and the variety of techniques that are possible. If you tend towards more detailed work - and using pencils and the sharper ends of the sticks, then working with pencils and the harder sticks should suite you. Another brand of hard pastels that you might be interested in is Faber-Castell Polychromos (they're square, too).

It's quite natural to start with harder sticks if you come from a drawing background and are used to working with pencils. You might eventually transition to softer pastels, but, you are right, they are quite different. For a long time, I used the real softies (such as Sennelier) only sparingly and for final accents. If you transition into using more soft pastels, then you might want to go more towards the Rembrandt or another medium softness pastel.

Folks use the medium and softer pastels primarily on their sides (breaking them into halves or smaller pieces first). So, the effect is more like using a wider brush for painting. By using the sticks on their sides, flatter sides result and they don't remain totally round. Usually you can find a sharper edge for details after you use them in this way.

To experiment with what a sanded paper might be like, you can try a piece of regular sandpaper before investing in the considerably expensive sanded pastel papers. You may find that you want a finer grit if you want detailed paintings. You may find it harder to attain detail compared to Canson Mi-Tientes. It really comes down to personal technique and preference. Velour is often used by pet artists, but it is quite different and you can not really finger blend. Blending is done by softly layering pastels and letting the surface texture blend the colors. Detail is definitely harder to attain on velour as the surface is soft. At least that is my experience.

My advice, just experiment and have fun. You can gradually mix in some experiments with different papers and pastel brands! If you've been on the Dakota site, you may have noticed that they have sample packs for pastels - and I think papers, too! Might be worth a try!

Hope this helps,


08-21-2013, 10:25 PM
Welcome! Fantastic job on your horse painting, cute pose, put a smile on my face. Great advice from Don. I recommend the 'paper sampler' from Dakota Pastel site as well. Great way to try different papers with minimal cost.

The soft pastel learning learning center forum, has tons of info that will keep you busy for days and days. Keep at it, have fun, and learn the basics of pastel application and painting in general as you go. And continue to post your paintings in pastel studio and gallery forum, as it will get you constructive critiques (only if you ask for them), but also, invaluable support and encouragement.

08-22-2013, 09:05 AM
Thanks, folks! I wasn't sure if the Dakota sampler pack would be a good bet or not, but it sounds like it would be worth it to try. Especially good to know about the difficulty with finger-blending and fine details on velour, too. I appreciate the suggestions. :)

08-26-2013, 03:05 PM
I think Don's advice is right on the money.

For me a lot depends on size and subject matter. If i am working small and/or with tons of detail, I will often do the majority of the work in Conte Pastel Pencil (my favourite brand of pencil) but then there are other paintings I may do completely in Mungyo or Unison handmade.

A good "in between" pastel in my opinion is Rembrandt - if you're looking for suggestions you may try getting ahold of a set (i believe they still have that neat 2 tiered set with 15 full and 30 half sticks available at a really reasonable price at most retailers). Its hard enough to not be completely different from the nupastel/conte you've been using but soft enough to achieve different effects etc.

Good luck

10-11-2013, 12:17 PM
Great painting! I love this!

10-11-2013, 01:47 PM
Love the painting! I look forward to seeing more of your work :)

I will only add that many people here have recommended Blick Artist's Pastels (NOT the student grade ones) as an alternative to Rembrandts, as they are around the same softness category. I have not yet used Blick, but I do have lots of Rembrandts - I enjoy using them, but it drives me crazy that they come with a coating that has to be sanded off before they can be used on their sides. When it comes time to replace mine, I have already decided to go with Blick instead (and another plus is that the Blick line is less expensive!). Just thought I'd mention that as you start looking into expanding your collection of artist grade pastels in the harder categories.

Also, a surface I *LOVE* that, for some reason, is not included in the Dakota paper sampler, is PastelMat by Clairefontaine. I encourage you to add it to your list of surfaces to try during your experimental phase. :) Enjoy.

(NOTE: If someone from Clairefontaine or Dakota visits this forum, I'd love to know why PastelMat is not in the sampler, and whether this can be remedied.)

10-12-2013, 06:43 PM
Welcome to the dusty side! It's so easy to get seduced by the instant gratification of pastels, the gorgeous colors and fantastic effects!

One way to get detail with the softer sticks like Senneliers is simply to work larger, so that your details are larger. Another is to break the sticks so that you're using the sharp edge of the break to get thin or small marks. That works better than wastefully sanding them down to a cone point, though if you use a color to fill in a large background area you can wear it down at a slant or keep turning it to create a point for later use.

One of the things you can do with your fine detail realist style is create loose background areas with the sides of softer sticks, blend them into soft-edged masses of color and tone, then work around the sketch and use hard pastels and pastel pencils in the detailed subject or more detailed areas of the subject. That can be a time saver if you're doing detailed realism, the dark background doesn't need to have as much fine detail as the pony's nose! Wonderful equine portrait with so much character!

I love the cottony fluffy mane, it looks crinkled like the horse has a naturally curly mane or it was braided and dried while braided and then got combed out with the ripples. I think the photo may have washed out shadows and highlights in that mass on the top between the ears, compared to the original painting. That and I think you just used dark paper on this one - but when you're putting in backgrounds with softer sticks and blending them, you can tone it so it's bluer to one side or redder or browner, hint at color without just being plain black.

I used to do a lot of realism like that and avoided backgrounds because they were too much work, but a few swipes of a soft pastel or two gives a lovely effect in just moments. That's whether it's blended in or left as broken color over the paper color.

I bought the green Dakota Sampler and it was wonderful. I got to try all those different brands and find out what surfaces they liked best, also had extra greens in all the textures. I do a lot of landscapes so I can never have too many greens.

Cretacolor Pastels Carre are good hard pastels that are lightfast and not very expensive. I have the 72 color set and the only thing I don't like about it is the box it came in. I might move those into another box sometime to make that set easier to use.

Generally all the hard pastels are going to be less expensive per stick than the softer ones, but not always. I group my pastels by softness into the medium-soft Rembrandt or Art Spectrum or Winsor-Newton, the hand rolled types like Unison and Mount Visions and then the super soft Senneliers, Schminke and Ludwigs. Sometimes I use all three or four types in a painting going from hardest to softness in layers. But for realism like your style, just something in the medium category to fill in backgrounds and broad areas would be enough to get started on the different types.

Art Spectrum does six-packs in color themes, so if you got one of the neutrals ones you could try it just in backgrounds first and then get more if you like them.

The other thing that's good is half sticks sets. They're a lot less expensive and you get twice as many colors.

Girault is a good firm brand that has its own unique texture, they're narrow round sticks that you can get great detail with but they also handle in some ways like much softer pastels. I have a 24 landscape set of Girault with a couple of extra reds tucked in to give it cool reds, and those handle a lot like the hard pastels for getting detail. If you try a Dakota sampler you will have a Girault stick in it and can decide that for yourself. They're a little pricy but so worth it.

Also just looking at your horse painting, you're way past the point any pastels you want will pay for themselves. Pastels are very cost effective that way, you can always get more whenever you make a sale. Animal and pet portraits are a great subject. I specialize in cats and some of it is that I'm not trying to make a living on art so I can afford to narrow my focus to my favorite animals.

Welcome to the gang! I'm looking forward to seeing more. Also check out the Spotlight challenge, every month DAK720 posts some photos and a challenge with a theme. This month it's Autumn Colors but there's usually an animal in the lineup and probably will be again.