View Full Version : How to build a good selection of pastels?

12-12-2013, 09:18 AM
Hello all,

I am just starting in pastels. I have picked couple of sets. One for portraits and one for landscape. My main interest is portraits, animals and landscapes.

I watch a lot of videos and try to read as much as I can. I see many pastel painters with hundreds of shades of each color. My question is, what is the best way to get a good selection of colors? Individuals? sets? Which ones? Or do pastel painters collect those colors over a time period?

Thanks for any advice in advance.


12-12-2013, 12:34 PM
Hi, Murat. Here are a few recent threads on this topic :
-- http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1332053
-- http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=602130
-- http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=603279

Hope this helps!


learning to paint
12-12-2013, 10:14 PM
How to build a good selection of pastels? A dozen at a time. Just keep trying, buying, but donít buy a whole batch at once until you have experimented with many brands. Each is lovely, but they are all quite different from one another. My try-it list would certainly include Unison, Sennelier, Townsend, Schmincke, Mount Vision, Girault, and several more. I know itís tempting to buy full sets, or smaller boxes filled with wonderful colors, but itís far wiser to take this one step at a time.

12-13-2013, 07:53 PM
Check out sales. Pick up artist grade sets on deep discount, also watch for big coupons like 40% off one item or 20% off your order over X amount. They are cheaper in sets than open stock almost always. Some people find sets contain colors they don't use. If you like a variety of subjects, this won't happen. You'll find subjects that demand them. If you like animals, they include birds and you can find any hue on a bird or lizard. Landscapes include gardens. People wear clothes. Even the very bright colors in their variations become useful - cityscapes with screaming orange traffic cones and colored lights and signs, people's jackets and shorts...

Try the Swap Shop, because sometimes people will leave the medium for another or they bought a set in a brand they don't like and want to sell it to get more of what they do. Also check out eBay, Craigslist and so on. When you get pastels used you can sometimes get an immense bargain and they are good to the last little fragment.

Also - email Dick Blick and ask for samples of the artist grade brands they carry. You will get one to three pieces of the brand and be able to test the sticks to see what feel and softness is your favorite. Jerry's Artarama also does samples and has a few brands like the Gallery Mungyo ones and Girault that Blick hasn't got. Dakota sells samplers of ALL their brands in a color assortment - I got the Greens assortment and every one of them was good in its way.

It's good to have a good range of hard pastels - Nupastels, Cretacolor Pastels Carre, any of the long skinny square stick brands although some aren't lightfast. Then medium-soft ones like Rembrandt, Blick Artist or Art Spectrum, finally some super soft or hand-rolled ones like Sennelier, Schminke, Terry ludwig (super softs) or hand rolled like Unisons, Richeson hand rolled, and so on.

Hard pastels are good for sketching, first layers and underpainting. Also give a lot of control and fine details, closest to "drawing" with them.

Medium-soft are versatile, the ones like Rembrandts and Art Spectrum are usable in all directions.

Hand-rolled have a unique fluffy texture and layer easily. Those or super soft ones like Sennelier are good for finishing and final layers.

When the tooth of the paper is full and any further strokes just push color around instead of adding it, using softer pastels can add one or two more layers. This is why I work hard to soft unless I'm working entirely within a texture, which does work. The softer ones it's easier to get painterly, turn them on their sides, paint loosely.

Look for half sticks sets. They are usually bargains. For starters a good sized Hard Pastels set, then a half sticks set of Rembrandt or Art Spectrum and a half sticks set of Senneliers to budget would get you general assortments in a workable range.

But fill it out with different brands on sale and as you find different used sets. I have about a thousand pastels and some were half sticks to start with, some came used in a couple of grab bags and I got a whole big set on clearance when Winsor & Newton ones were discontinued - then got lots of extras hunting down that brand across several online sellers. Things like that happen, especially with gift sets. The stores will clear out last year's gift sets to make room for new stock and you get tons of artist grade supplies cheaper than usual and sometimes in nice cases or boxes.

On colors, think about the color wheel and make sure you have lights (tints) and shades all the way around. Yellow and some orange shades turn green, but yellowish browns are good to take the place of them on the color wheel. The three earth tones that always turn up in watercolor sets are important too - a yellow ochre sort of color, a reddish earth like Burnt Sienna or Iron Oxide and a dark brown. Some grays, try to get greenish, bluish and violet grays as well as neutral gray.

Deep darks with some color are more useful than black. Extra light tints that are almost white are more sparkling than using pure white. A pale peach accent on a blue plastic or ceramic bowl will sparkle more than a plain white highlight. There are lots of color tricks that work with deep darks and very light tints that make ordinary black and white look dull.

Also in physical stores, sometimes they discount broken pieces. Snap those up if they do, most artists break their sticks anyway so you can use halves on their sides.

It's not a bad thing to collect lots and lots of pastels. For me it's oddly meant that they wear down slower. I'm less likely to need to hunt for exactly the right stick as to use the one that's at hand and play with limited palettes from a very big range going for texture or mood.

Ah. Watch for odd sales too, like Terry Ludwig's "Mystery Boxes." Every year he does a sale where slightly flawed sticks - off color from their color number or have bubbles or aren't perfect - go into boxes of 14 different colors and you just take your chance what you get. They're usually a nice mix of warm and cool, bright and dull, light, medium and dark, he packs them well. If you can get to the actual store during his sale, there's a garage sale he runs at the same time.

They accumulate over years. I never found a stick I didn't like or a color I couldn't use. It may look ugly at first glance, but then when I'm painting I find out I really did need gray green and a light bluish gray green to modify it and that weird purplish muddy color is just great in the shadows.

12-13-2013, 08:53 PM
Wow. Thanks Robert. Great advice....

I just ordered the 80 color set of Panpastels. I tried a few colors and really like them.

I will follow your advice. Getting samples from different websites is a great idea....

Thank you again...

Bill Foehringer
12-20-2013, 05:52 PM
As you proceed you will find that you don't use some colors so sets don't help as much. Unison does have some interesting sets. Otherwise I buy individually so I get what I use. I watch for sales of course, buying even if the need is not there.
Lately tho, I have been deliberately buying colors I don't have that I can envision working into paintings as complementary to colors I normally use. The complements can be used to grey color patches or as stand alone as pure color patches adjacent to excite the eye.
Since I paint landscapes I use alot of blue/cool colors and tones in the sky so I am buying those constantly. Sunsets, sunrises, fall colors need a supply of warms.
I think as you paint more and more you will just find yourself buying as you go and building up a supply in that way.
LOL, pastels are tools. When we had a big old house and I still did mechanical work on our cars I found that I accumulated alot of tools along the way.
You will accumulate alot of pastels.