View Full Version : Which pastels to try?

09-22-2013, 10:08 PM
I am a beginning artist and have started out with graphite and colored pencil. I am considering switching from colored pencil to pastel but not sure what pastels I should try to start.

There are two main reasons I'm thinking about pastels:
1. I find it very difficult to get really smooth blending in colored pencil like in graphite. I've seen professional works that look smooth, but it will take a long time for me to get to that point. I watched some demos of Colin Bradley using pastel pencils, and it was so simple to get the pencils to blend beautifully. (I mean in terms of the edges between different shades, rather than blending to create totally new colors).
2. I've had chronic tennis elbow in the past, and I'm afraid the fine repetitive strokes and multiple layers needed for colored pencil could cause me problems. It would help to be able to do more broad strokes and less layers.

I'm interested in a style with high realism and detail; I really like Colin Bradley's work. He uses only pastel pencil, but I'm wondering whether I should try a combination. To get the best of both easy coverage of large areas and the ability to add fine details, would I use soft pastel with pastel pencil? I read a comment that sometimes the pastel pencil doesn't stick over soft pencil. Or should I try hard pastel with pastel pencil?

I would appreciate any advice.

09-23-2013, 12:18 PM
Hello CMcLaughlin and welcome to WC forums :)

I read your post and had a feeling of deja vu as I was exactly in the same boat about 2 weeks ago. :D
I myself am brand new to the world of soft pastels and had to deliberate on which pastel brand to buy.

From what I have been able to gather through my readings, there exist broadly 3 classes of soft/chalk pastels.

1. Hard pastels
2. Soft pastels
3. Handmade pastels

Hard pastels, if I may venture, are said to be usually good for preliminary sketches/underpaintings.
Soft pastels are the main workhorse and give a beautifully blended, velvety, ethereal finish.
Handmade pastels, well they are in a league of their own. Both in terms of quality and their price :D

I reckon you would be looking at soft pastels for the time being. The legends in this range are Sennelier, Schmincke and quite a few others like Great American etc.
Handmade pastels by Unison are just a dream to work with.

But the aforementioned brands cost quite a bit for me in India. As such, I decided to go with Mungyo Gallery Extra Soft pastels which are more affordable for me. I have surprised myself at their beautiful softness and pigment strength. If you'd like to see what could be done with it, I could point you to my 3rd post in this thread:


Please have a look at the 2nd painting. It is only my second attempt in this medium and I really surprised myself!
I think these pastels can be really good for someone starting out in this medium :)

09-23-2013, 02:50 PM
Hello CMcLaughlin,

Pastels are easier and much quicker, for sure. As you're interested in high realism, I recommend you look at this WC class thread by Dianna Ponting.


I've not looked at it for a long time, but I think the class starts at page 2. She recommends materials. She teaches blending. All you asked about, I hope.

09-24-2013, 02:46 AM

Thanks for sharing your suggestions and work - such beautiful colors!

I live in China, so that makes us neighbors. And I have a similar situation. I live in a small city, so the local art stores don't have any pastels - mostly things for painting. I can buy online, but the major brands are ridiculously expensive.

Mungyo is available here, but I've heard very mixed reviews about it. I'm considering trying the Kohinoor, which isn't too bad and can be bought individually. Anyone have any experience with these? The soft round ones are called Toison D'Or, and they also make hard square sticks as well.

Charlie, thanks for the link. Diana's work is beautiful, and I can't believe she only uses the soft pastels. I'll have to look at the course in further depth to see how she's able to get such fine lines and details. From my preliminary reading, it seems most people use either hard pastels or pastel pencils for those.

09-24-2013, 01:33 PM
Actually, I went back and read Diana's information again, and she says to use "firm" pastels, which seems to include hard and medium pastels. I was confused by the comment of needing a large set of soft pastels - the terminology is confusing to a newbie.

So it seems my best option here is Kohinoor. They have both the firm and soft pastels at very reasonable prices, though there are only 48 colors available in the hard ones. Does anyone have any experience with these?

The next option would Rembrandts, but they would cost 2-3 times as much, so I'm not sure if I want to splurge until I decide what works best for me. The Mungyo Gallery semi-hard are also available and extremely cheap, but I don't know if it's worth trying a few just to see - Diana specifically recommended against them.

The other factor is that very few pastel papers are available here. I have some Canson Mi-Teintes, and the Touch is also available (though expensive), but very little else is available. What pastels would work well on the Canson?

09-24-2013, 02:41 PM

Thanks for sharing your suggestions and work - such beautiful colors!

I live in China, so that makes us neighbors. And I have a similar situation. I live in a small city, so the local art stores don't have any pastels - mostly things for painting. I can buy online, but the major brands are ridiculously expensive.

Mungyo is available here, but I've heard very mixed reviews about it. I'm considering trying the Kohinoor, which isn't too bad and can be bought individually. Anyone have any experience with these? The soft round ones are called Toison D'Or, and they also make hard square sticks as well.

Charlie, thanks for the link. Diana's work is beautiful, and I can't believe she only uses the soft pastels. I'll have to look at the course in further depth to see how she's able to get such fine lines and details. From my preliminary reading, it seems most people use either hard pastels or pastel pencils for those.

Hey that's great to know you live right around the corner :)
It's good to know someone from our part of the world:thumbsup:
Thanks for going through my painting :)

The local art stores are exactly the same here :D
In fact, they don't even know what soft pastels are:eek: oils pastels yes...but soft pastels no:rolleyes:

Diana's work is OMG! The more I think about it, the more I realize there really is no limit to the level of realism which can be achieved:clap:

Could you perhaps point me to the page number/post where Diana recommends against Mungyo?
I did note that the thread is quite old and Mungyo now has quite a few sets including Handmade, Extra soft and soft as detailed in their website. I am using the extra soft pastels.

You could go through some of the reviews of the pastel brands here on WC itself:

I could not find for Toison d'Or unfortunately. However Dick Blick features one really short review here:

Another site to review other pastel brands is Jerry's Artarama:

I wonder if pastel papers are hugely different from standard Cartridge papers? They appear to weigh similarly in the 120-150lbs range...

09-24-2013, 02:58 PM
I do believe the Kohinoor Toison D'Or brand is artist quality and decent. Kohinoor makes pastel pencils that are quite nice, actually one of my favorite brands of pastel pencils. I also believe the pastel sticks will work fine on Canson paper. Rembrandts work well on Canson paper, something you can plan on in the future.

09-24-2013, 03:31 PM
You can brush off pastels from Canson MT Touch, so in the long run that paper isn't so expensive, if you re-use it. It holds more pastel than the ordinary Canson Mi-Teintes.

Soft pastels should really be called Dry Pastels, as they are in French. Soft pastels come in different softnesses: hard (pencils, and many of the cheap square ones), medium (or "firm"), soft, and super-soft.

The student quality brands are fine to use when you test pastels to see if you want to continue with them. They are less pigment intesive, and if used on paper with little tooth, one will be very disappointed. But on a decent paper, they perform well enough.

I've tried several brands of the hard soft pastels, and I liked Kohinoor Toison d'Or best. They perform really well on sandpaper (very painterly). They have come out with a softer version too.

As with all artist's materials, one gets what one pays for. I liked pastels when I used only Rembrandt, but I fell in LOVE with pastels when I got my dusty hands on a set of Unisons, as they were so much more rich in pigment. I have to buy them online from England, as I too live in a country where pastels are rare. I import papers too, but as it is withing the EU, it is not as expensive as importing overseas. So I understand what it means to have to make do with what is available.

09-24-2013, 05:01 PM
Wow! I used to be you - for years and years I strived for colored pencils realism. When I switched to pastels I was amazed at the effects I could get.

One thing you'll find right away is that with any pastels, you can blend! Fingers, blenders like tortillons or stumps, chamois will all give you smooth gradients and blend easily unlike most colored pencils. The techniques for blending with colored pencils will give the same results and come out much more intense.

Sticks blending keeps the bright intensity and texture of the pastels at their strongest. Other types of blending, like fingers or stumps, will crush the pigment crystals and dull or mute the colors blended. This isn't a bad thing, the effect can be used to make stick-blended focal subjects stand out while equally detailed hand-blended subjects in the background recede more without losing their accuracy.

Pastel pencils will handle most like what you're used to with colored pencils. Hard pastels in square sticks give eight fine sharp points per stick or piece and give the most control. This is a link to a list on Dakota Pastels of the artist grade pastels by their firmness or softness: http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index-softpastels.aspx - handmade pastels cluster at the softest end, but certain brands like Schminke and Sennelier are what I think of as "super soft."

Super Softs wear down fast and give bold painterly effects. It's good to get some because when you've filled the paper tooth to capacity, you can get in a few last layers using the Super Soft pastels. If you ever get a chance to get Sennelier or any of the extra soft brands, you should snap them up as finishing details pastels.

But starting out with a set of hard pastels and a set of (firm) soft pastels like Toison d'Or or Rembrandt is fine.

I recommend the largest general use range you can get. "More colors" is just like colored pencils. Having a lavender that's one value step lighter and one step more bluish really is that useful and extends your range, even if buying it means you'll never replace it because it's one that you use more in small areas and accents than broad areas.

What I found, and I now have over 1,000 pastels in different hardnesses, is that I haven't met a stick I can't use. Whatever its hue and texture, sometime or other I will find a use where exactly that stick is the right one. The main difference is that early on I found some sticks and colors wear out very fast while others if I get it once, I'll never need to replace it.

I think of muted colors like olive greens, browns, blue-grays and so on as convenience colors. All can be mixed from spectrum colors and the mixed versions can be more flexible and vary in intensity. But having them means I can do that within a muted area, using Olive and Russet to get that perfect brown instead of Emerald Green and Scarlet. Likewise values.

Using a limited palette comes along with skill. I do that more often now - but it still helps to have a very large range to choose those few sticks for that painting from when I do it.

One final happy note.

Pastels are Instant Gratification.

Even working toward a slow, detailed, subtle and color-accurate realist style, you will find yourself accomplishing those effects in fewer layers with more interesting shortcuts. If you use a grisaille approach, the grisaille does not take meticulous pencil-tip rendering of every soft gradient. That's where using a dark color on light paper or white on dark paper allows all that handy thumb blending to get smooth shading and exquisite value control in a fraction of the time.

You can blend and blend all you like and get the sparkle back with final strokes that aren't blended.

Last: fixative. On non-sanded papers it's good to use some fixative. SpectraFix is really the best, a casein based perfectly clear archival non toxic fixative. It might not be carried in your art store, what's more common are the spray can type Workable Matte Fixatives. These are toxic and they don't last very long, they run out fast and the can needs replacing. It would be worth ordering the SpectraFix concentrate from the manufacturer or an international-shipping online supplier along with the empty travel size misting bottle, then mix it with cheap drinking alcohol like vodka or other grain alcohol to fill the bottle.

SpectraFix lasts and lasts, I bought it years ago and use it constantly. I would have run through a dozen cans of Krylon right now and the big bottle is still mostly full. The little travel bottle is still mostly full and I didn't use it till I moved here 2 years ago. I use it on any pastel or charcoal sketch that isn't on sanded or coated paper. Unlike the spray can ones, it doesn't darken and dull the pastel painting or shift the hues. It takes a little practice not to use too much and let it puddle on the art, cockling the paper and maybe dissolving color. Once I got that, it's been a joy.

But if that's too expensive, a can of Workable Matte Fixative helps a lot. Always go back after the final fixative coat to restate the lightest and brightest accents with your pastels. Don't substitute hairspray for it, the hairspray isn't designed to last more than 24 hours without starting to age and yellow. Hairspray can ruin the painting or drawing. Or look for a jar of fixative that is liquid to use with a mouth atomizer, the old fashioned mouth atomizer style fixatives are less toxic and less wasteful.

You can also use empty perfume bottles for a liquid fixative, the mist is fine enough for that.

Other Useful Tools: cardboard tortillons and stumps are cheap blenders for charcoal and pastels, very handy if you don't want your fingers dirty and do want a fine point to blend into details. More expensive and permanent (but possibly not available locally to you) are the Colour Shapers from the UK, they have soft silicone rubber tips in a variety of shapes, sizes and hardness. The white "Soft" tip ones are best for dry pastels.

However, a much cheaper comparable tool comes "Made in China" and might be available in your art store. It's sometimes called a Paint Eraser. Wooden handle with a red or pinkish rubber cone tip on one end and angle chisel tip on the other, this tool is a good substitute for a "Firm" Colour Shaper with two of the most popular point shapes in one tool. If you see that in your art store, pick it up to use with your pastels. The small tip Colour Shapers are the most useful for your style of realism because they can push color into very tiny details smaller than your finger or the sticks can get into.

I became an art supplies nut when I had a good low-rent living situation and a fixed income larger than my survival needs. I explored a lot of goodies and stocked up on everything, something I'm grateful I did now that I'm living on a tighter budget. Hope this helps.

Oh, papers - the pastel papers are great, coated ones like PastelMat or Mi-Tientes Touch are fantastic for realism and worth the money since any botch can be cleaned off and reuse the paper. Sanded ones are like that too, but for realism you'd want the finest grits like the Uart 800 grit sort of thing. Colourfix has a reasonably fine grit and I like that, it's also available as the Art Spectrum Multi-Media Primer to put on watercolor paper.

Coated and sanded papers allow more layering and give more freedom of textures. They're worth the money and reusable.

Also, watercolor paper in Hot Press or Not/Cold Press is a good pastel surface. You can underpaint in watercolor, blocking in large paintings or doing a watercolor or ink grisaille before painting in color. Many articles on underpainting here, in gouache, watercolor, inks or any thin paint that doesn't fill the tooth of the paper. Alcohol wash (rubbing alcohol) over a scribble sketch is another style of underpainting.

That's a glorious short cut to realism. It's like working on colored paper but the color of the paper is right for that subject, mapped out by areas of hue and value. It also eliminates white specks of broken color that demand extra layering to fill in. (So will dry underpainting by sketch with hard pastels and finger blend to areas of color and value).

So any failed watercolor painting is a perfectly good pastel surface. If you really hate the watercolor painting, rinse it off to blurs of staining color and throw some other washes at it till you like it for your new painting. Test the types of watercolor paper at your store for how pastels handle on them with a small piece to see if you like it. Trying different papers to find your favorite is part of learning to use pastels, there are so many brands and textures that you will find the best one for your techniques and "hand."

Very glad to meet you and hope to see you around often! Be sure to post your cool new stuff once you buy it, it's always great to see other artists' supplies and then what they do with them. (Such posts always make me want to get out similar supplies and do something.)

09-25-2013, 10:13 AM
Thanks everyone for all the tips.

Nilan6, in her supply list, Dianna says:

"Koss, Mungio or SMI are definitely NOT recommended nor do I advise purchasing any other pastel of "student" quality. These pastels are usually easily identified by their lack of weight, large square design and low price. They have a very low adhesive quality and if you are taking classes with me because you like my style of work, you will not be able to achieve results even close with these types of pastels."

But, as she says, this is for her style of work. So they are probably fine for some other styles.

Charlie, now I'm even more confused. When recommending "firm" pastels, would that be the round Toison D'Or or the square stick Giaconda? Dianna includes "Unison, Rembrandt, NuPastel, Polychromo, Terry Ludwig, Holbein and Windsor Newton", which seems a pretty wide range according to what I've read.

09-25-2013, 12:24 PM
C, I know, it is confusing, as there's no standard terminology. Pastels can be called "chalks" too, which they really are not. I think we did a thread about how soft or firm we rated pastels, and not two artists agreed...

I agree with Dianna about student quality, but if that is all that is available in the local store, well...

Of those brands, I would consider Terry Ludwig and W&N as more soft than 'firm', and the TL as very soft. Never tried Holbein (Japanese brand, these days). I've tested the round softer Toison d'Or in the shop, and bought the more pigment rich Rembrandt instead. But the hard square Toisons are very nice, I prefer them to Polychromos, but they are very similar. My older set of hard square Td'O is simply called "Soft pastels".

Guys, try to paint on ordinary sandpaper. That will give you an idea of what pastels can do.

09-27-2013, 02:30 PM
This is the link for Himalaya fine art supplies online: http://www.himalayafineart.com/default.aspx - as useful for people in India and that part of the world as Jacksons UK is for our UK members. I don't know how the prices compare to your brick and mortar art stores, but some of the brands you mentioned from your art store are available online.

Their stock includes some Pan Pastels, good brands of pastel pencils, soft pastels, oil pastels, and non-sanded pastel papers. Unfortunately no grit primers for use on watercolor paper though.

In your location I'd do a lot of online price checking for cost of international shipping, including checking out Australian shipping rates where brands like Art Spectrum pastels and Colourfix primers or papers are coming from the source. It might be cheaper than using USA based online companies and paying international shipping, or it might not, takes currency conversion online to figure out too.

I thought of the Australian not just by nearness on the globe (but I don't know how many flights or how easy it is to ship), not just for Colourfix but because Derivan makes a broad range of grits to mix with gesso either for pastel priming or texture effects in acrylic painting. If you can get grit shipped from somewhere else and mix with regular gesso that might work to create sanded supports.

I was given this link by a friend in India several years ago, am glad to see they expanded their products range a little since then. He didn't have any complaints with their packing or shipping.

What I might try for grit to mix with gesso is also that it can be available for industrial reasons, sand or marble dust and similar things graded for size of particles and available by the pound, clean, already washed. Someone asked on another thread whether beach sand if it's washed a few times and sieved to remove any larger particles of shell or pebbles or debris could work to make a sanded support. I think if I was somewhere I couldn't easily get sanded supports, it might be worth a try, but I'd look up recipes online for how much grit to how much gesso to make a sanded primer.

Like just down the page to "What's your recipe for Pastel Support?" Turns out the grits from hardware stores can be used too, which may mean just getting gesso from your local art store would allow experimenting with sanded supports.

Like Colorix suggested, try pastels on ordinary hardware store sandpaper to see why we all go nuts for sanded and grit-coated surfaces. They are sweet to work on and hold a lot more layers, also they grip the pastel marks and you don't lose as much of the pigment dust as on unsanded paper. How coarse or fine a grit relates to your personal style and touch too, people have favorites.

Last edit: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=593633 - linking the homemade pastel supports recipes thread because sometimes useful threads like this get separated as people answer years later.

09-30-2013, 08:36 PM
Hi! I was introduced to pastel pencils by Colin Bradley's videos as well. Roby Baer is also amazing to watch on YouTube. She uses sticks for larger areas.

I bought a set of Faber-Castells and like them. I've not tried any other pencil brands yet. I'm very new to art as well and find I adore the control I have with pastel pencils. Below is a link to something I did over the weekend with my pastel pencils alone on Canson Mi-Teintes. I didn't put in that white pencil base Colin does and like it better this way.


09-30-2013, 08:54 PM
Mungyo is available here, but I've heard very mixed reviews about it.

The more I use Mungyo, the more I am convinced they are the "Raleigh" of pastels.

What i mean is: you will find Mungyo pastels in all sorts of shops - from art stores to stationery shops and within those establishments there's upwards of 8 different lines. Just like Raleigh bicycles, the vast majority of what they make is pretty low end. However, also like the bike comparison, their very best is as good as just about anyone else's on the market. Raleigh has had bikes in the tour de france every year and Mungyo has top artist using their best lines.

I have tried the very worst of their product (chalky, pale and dusty like crazy) their midline stuff (excellent for underpainting and sketching) and their top of the line handmade (creamy, buttery and a delight to use).

Im not sure if all of their pastels are made there, but the better lines are made in Korea.

10-01-2013, 06:43 PM
JustinM makes an excellent point. Yes, do avoid the student grade pastels if you can. But the artist grade Mungyo Gallery HANDMADE soft pastels are among my favorites in the mid-soft category. I'd put them at a bit softer than Mount Vision, and a bit firmer than Unison. Really nice, smooth texture, and definitely worth a try. As you note, that (fantastic!!) thread from Diana Ponting is not recent, so this line might not have existed yet. Note: the Mungyo line names are odd - from what I understand, the handmade line is much softer than the "extra soft" line.

10-02-2013, 03:32 AM
Agree, Grinner! The "Extra Soft" are firm pastels in the Rembrandt or Winsor Newton range, maybe a touch firmer than Rembrandt. Workhorse medium texture ones. The squares are a touch softer and less pigment heavy but still decent for sketching and working outdoors with, I like my set of 48. The semi-hard are as good as any other semi-hard pastels, blend nicely and have a much better color range than the similar 120 color Richeson semi-hard set that has too many near-duplicates and color gaps.

Hand rolled are artist grade and very nice, I agree on what you say about their softness. Lovely texture. I have a 30 color set of those and it's great. I think the Extra Soft probably are too in the Rembrandt softness range and the hard pastels are good ones, so I'd be comfortable using all three together. They are quite reasonably priced for quality.

10-02-2013, 12:05 PM
Thanks for everyone's input. I ended up buying a set of both the hard and soft Kohinoors, and they arrived yesterday. After playing around with them a bit, I am pretty pleased.

I love the blendability and the quick buildup of color. I do miss the fine control I can get from a pencil, but hopefully that will get easier with more practice. I also find it hard to get the edges smooth, even using the sharp edge of the stick. Is it possible to go over the edges with a similar color pastel pencil? Dianna Ponting mentioned doing that with a black Pitt charcoal pencil, but it would be nice to do that with other colors too. I think I will eventually get a set of pastel pencils to do a few areas of fine details. If they're used on the outside edges or areas that have not been filled in yet, I would think there shouldn't be a problem if they're harder than the regular pastels, since they'll go next to rather than over them.

I tried the pastels out on both the Canson Mi-Teintes and some regular sandpaper from the hardware store (800 grit). Boy, are they different! It almost makes me wonder how Mi-Teintes can be called a pastel paper. It comes out looking a lot like crayon to me, though it does blend reasonably well. The only problem with the sandpaper was that all the colors came out extremely bright. I know pastels are supposed to give the purest color, but this was really garish. The sandpaper was a dark burgundy, so I hadn't expected that to happen, but I was relieved to find out it was the paper and not the pastels when I tried the same colors on a light green Mi-Teintes. Now I have to find a better supply of paper!

10-03-2013, 12:46 PM
I've often wondered the same thing with those edges. Maybe it's a newbie thing, I don't know.

10-06-2013, 09:51 AM
Great combination! Those look so lush and tempting. I had no idea that Gioconda hard pastels had so many nice tints! Those are very useful. A lot of times if there's a white area or white object in the painting, I don't even use white in it at all if I've got good tints. It'll read as white if I'm sticking to very light colors and use a variety of them.

Yes, it works well to edge up with a pastel pencil. There are other tricks for edging too. One of them is to use a piece of cardboard, thin metal or plastic right at the hard edge and go right over it, some masking. Another is to use a soft (white) or firm (gray) Colour Shaper to push color around right up to the hard edge.

The dark burgundy color of the sandpaper added to that brightness as well as the texture. I like working on black and dark colors to get that brightness. Try layering colors on the sandpaper, if you think the color's too intense try very lightly scumbling a complement or near complement to mute the color. Sandpaper will allow more layering.

One tip - it helps me with a box of pastels or pencils to sort them out into spectrum order if they didn't already come sorted into spectrum order. Whether that's "bright spectrum followed by muted spectrum" or bringing them all in by value or lights, then full intensity, then darks, your organization can make it easier to see colors true. Placing near neighbors on the color wheel next to each other helps something not be garish even if it's very intense. Placing complements next to each other can be garish - or can be exactly what you want at the moment. Opposite of running them over each other.

Try blending a soft edge with a stick that's a color between them - like if you did have a red next to a green, use a brown stick to go back and forth over the edge in short strokes. That keeps the uncrushed brilliance on the soft edge rather than a blended area contrasting non-blended areas.

Another way to get a hard edge with sticks is to break the stick and use a freshly broken edge along the hard edge. Sometimes this comes out sharper than the edge of an unused stick, especially if the outer coating or compressed area needs to wear off on sticks. Some sticks have got a harder texture right when you first use the tips and it wears down till they're softer - best thing if they do that is to wear them down a little on sandpaper before using on a painting. But a broken edge will have fresh soft pastel coming to a very hard edge. Rotate and repeat if it's a long hard edge.

Lots of ways to do hard edges but pastel pencils are darn handy for detailing.