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View Full Version : New Twist on Old Question - Pastel hardness


ArtistMelinda
02-06-2014, 09:22 AM
I have read the old threads about the debate of hardest and softest pastels.
But there are few newcomers that didn't make all the lists so I hope you don't mind re-addressing these pastels?

1. Where would you rank Dick Blick's brand, Mount Vision, Bloxx, and Art Spectrum in comparison to each other ? I can't seem to get a feel on those in regard to each other.

2. Has anyone used Dick Blick's yet? I have a few and I'm pretty happy with them (portrait colors)- they seem smoother than Rembrandt. But I also use a lot of Rembrandt so that may affect my judgment in regard to liking them.

3. I saw Unison and Mt Vision go up and down the list. Anyone mind commenting on them in comparison to just each other? Or is it more a matter of how you intend to use them rather than relative softness?

4. As an aside, has anyone used the really soft pastels to do a complete color portrait (not as just a finish but throughout)? It seems you would not be able to get much detail (unless that was the intent of course).

Thanks so much for any clarification you can offer. Pastels are expensive and I don't like having a pile of mis-mashed types - I'd like to pick something and invest in it. I am well set with the hard end, I am foraying into the softer end but am afraid of the really soft stuff. The few sticks I have (Sennellier and Schminke are so terribly soft they disenigrate in one swipe across the paper, make LOTS of dust or smear all over the place. I'd like something harder than those but softer than the DB and R I have. That's why I was looking at MV or Unison.

Thank you!

robertsloan2
02-06-2014, 10:42 AM
From what you're saying about Sennelier and Schminke, they're not likely to be your favorite texture. I use those as finishing pastels, the marks that can go in when the tooth is saturated and it won't take any more marks. They're very useful for that.

I like to keep a range of hardness. Using just one brand of pastels in a given painting will give its own look.

I put Mt. Vision and Unisons and Gallery Hand-Rolled, Richeson Hand-Rolled in their own texture category of Hand-Rolled. These are lighter, fluffier, have a different feel going on. They are in the softest third batching by softness but very different from comparably soft formed pastels.

Terrages and Soft Form, the Diane Townsend pastels and Henri Roche have in common tha there's pumice in the formula. This gives them the ability to create more tooth on unsanded paper and a certain feel unlike anything else. So some of my answer to this is that hardness is just one quality of a pastel's texture.

Giraults are quite hard, very near the semi-hard pastels texture - yet they have a smoothness that lets them behave like much softer pastels. I love the unique feel of Girault.

The best thing to do is try out these different brands with a few sticks. Think about monochromatic ranges, like blues or muted browns. Get light, medium and dark value sticks in each of the brands you want to test, then do small studies with them.

I prefer having variety and a large collection because one way of working is to steadily layer from hard to soft and then choose the texture of the soft pastels at the end - whether hand-rolled or not - to suit the painting. It gives me the greatest flexibility in effects to have that many different pastels with a full range in each. I bought small to medium or large sets in all the brands I could to build up a collection of about a thousand - and reached a comfort level where I can always find the color and texture I want for the painting I want to do.

I will continue to collect and that's fine.

Rembrandt is a wonderful choice for a medium versatile softness and texture. They're consistent, not too pricy, good quality and can do the effects of both hard pastels and soft. To use them as a workhorse brand is a good idea, keeping a medium or large full range of hue and value in them will let you do other things.

Hard or semi-hard pastels aren't too expensive. A large set of hard pastels is rewarding both for sketching and painting entirely in hard pastels and for setting up for using softer ones over it. I'd recommend that to almost anyone. They're good for sketching, for small works, for studies and for their own texture.

So my organization is in three hardness categories - hard, medium, soft - then within them by textures. Hand Rolled is its own. So is Roche-Terrages, the pumice ones. The pumice ones seem to like non sanded papers better.

Beyond that, I've found each brand of pastels seems to have a favorite paper and will have different effects on different surfaces. So that's fun too. Exploring materials can be costly or it could be a slow exploration leading to good combinations.

This is also where getting together with a local friend if possible, a distance one if you're willing to pay a bit of shipping, can help. You can put in a joint order, whoever accepts it breaks all the sticks and each gets half sticks of both sets or batches.

Another good way to get more to play with is to watch the Swap Shop. Sometimes people abandon a brand or type of pastel, sometimes they change mediums, either way it's common to find good sets or batches at low prices used in the Swap Shop. Or visit pastelist friends, share your supplies, try theirs.

Pan Pastels are completely different but part of my overall tool set along with pastel pencils. Pan Pastels are good for underpaintings and when used for middle and final layers too, have a more painterly result and their own texture.

Pastel pencils are very similar to hard pastels, one can be substituted for the other easily. Pastel pencils mainly have the advantage of clean hands by wood case and the disadvantage of not being able to use the stick on its side. So they're somewhat in the hard pastels category.

It's good to have at least a small set of hard pastels for first layers. They're less expensive, blend and mix well if you use a small palette and are very good for establishing layers easy to blend and work over. I usually blend that layer completely smooth unless I'm doing the entire painting with them.

Hope this helps. Your results will vary with one more factor - your hand. Some of us are light handed, others heavy handed, still others may have their own varied pressure tricks. The more you paint with pastels, the easier it is to discover your favorite techniques. This is why joining groups and hanging out with other pastelists is so great, it lets you try things you don't need to buy.

Some brands that do multiple textures have put together collections with multiple textures, like Richeson, you can get something with semi-hard, medium and hand rolled pastels included in the same starter set.

DAK723
02-06-2014, 01:21 PM
I guess I don't get too fussy when it comes to hardness. I would categorize them in 3 basic levels of hardness, hard, medium and soft. The softest pastels such as Schminke and Sennelier can be used from start to finish, but I also find them hard to handle. I have done portraits with them, but you need to layer and cover broader strokes underneath to "reveal" thinner lines, if you know what I mean. I just don't see that much difference between the medium soft pastels, such as Girault, Mt. Vision, Daler-Rowney - even Rembrandts, which are considered one of the hardest of the medium range. I haven't tried Blick's or Art Spectrum, but I think they would all fall into the medium softness range. (Blick, if I remember correctly, is the same as Daler-Rowney). I don't think there is enough difference in softness so that it would change the way I work or have a different look or result if I interchanged any of the medium softness brands.

Hopefully some Unison users will chime in. I've never used them, but they are closer to the "softer" end of the list than many of the other brands I mentioned.

I'm sure you have seen the Dakota list, but if not, here is a link:

http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index-softpastels.aspx

As I mentioned, as far as I can remember from past discussions, Blick is made by and the same as Daler-Rowney. So, based on this list, the other brands you mention (Mt. Vision, Art Spectrum, Blockx) are all fairly similar and slightly harder than Blick's.

Don

Studio-1-F
02-06-2014, 02:20 PM
You might consider purchasing a Sampler Box from Dakota : http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/softpastels-dakota-samplers.aspx

The Soft box includes Blue Earth, Blockx, Daler-Rowney, Girault, Great American, Mount Vision, Richeson Soft Handmade, Schmincke, Sennelier, Terry Ludwig, Townsend Soft & Terrages and Unison.

Including all but the Blick and Art Spectrum brands that you're also curious about.

Please also consider Ludwigs and Great Americans. They are soft but creamy. They don't crumble to dust as readily as the Senneliers that I have grappled with.

Anyway, I agree with Robert. You can read everyone else's opinions and reviews and reports all day long, but nothing compares to actually trying a brand of pastel with your own hand, to see if it supports the techniques and the intentions that YOU have. :thumbsup:

Jan

Lynndidj
02-07-2014, 01:28 AM
It sounds to me like Giraults would be perfect for you. They are hard enough to draw with but go on like butter. Unisons are lovely to work with. They are highly pigmented and blend easily - with other pastels and if you like, with your finger. Mount Vision pastels are great. They have a wonderful texture to them and go on smoothly. They are "work-horse" pastels in your collection. I break them into 1/3's so I have an edge and a smooth side. The Thunderstorm Grays are a must have in any landscape artist's palette. I believe that Bloxx are similar to Girault. All of these pastels play well with others. The only pastels I have found that I do not care to mix with other brands are Great American. They must have some kind of different binder or something, but they have almost a slightly greasy feel, for lack of a better term. I just don't have good luck blending them with other types of pastels. Hope this helps - but trying them out for yourself is the best way to decide :-)

Lynn

SAS Designs
02-09-2014, 03:47 PM
Relief!!!! I am a very very beginner, and I bought a few Sennelier and figured I must be doing something VERY wrong, because no matter how gently I tried to use them, they just crumbled. Had the hardest time just getting the paper off. Also tried a few Schmincke, not as crumbly, but still hard for a "beginner."

I kind of made my own 'sampler kit' and right now, the Pan Pastels first, then some Mt. Vision seem to be the most "teachable" for me. So relieved to hear others talk about the Senneliers, and realizing I'm not as clumsy as I felt.

sansea
02-21-2014, 08:49 PM
I have read the old threads about the debate of hardest and softest pastels.
But there are few newcomers that didn't make all the lists so I hope you don't mind re-addressing these pastels?

1. Where would you rank Dick Blick's brand, Mount Vision, Bloxx, and Art Spectrum in comparison to each other ? I can't seem to get a feel on those in regard to each other.

2. Has anyone used Dick Blick's yet? I have a few and I'm pretty happy with them (portrait colors)- they seem smoother than Rembrandt. But I also use a lot of Rembrandt so that may affect my judgment in regard to liking them.

3. I saw Unison and Mt Vision go up and down the list. Anyone mind commenting on them in comparison to just each other? Or is it more a matter of how you intend to use them rather than relative softness?

4. As an aside, has anyone used the really soft pastels to do a complete color portrait (not as just a finish but throughout)? It seems you would not be able to get much detail (unless that was the intent of course).

Thanks so much for any clarification you can offer. Pastels are expensive and I don't like having a pile of mis-mashed types - I'd like to pick something and invest in it. I am well set with the hard end, I am foraying into the softer end but am afraid of the really soft stuff. The few sticks I have (Sennellier and Schminke are so terribly soft they disenigrate in one swipe across the paper, make LOTS of dust or smear all over the place. I'd like something harder than those but softer than the DB and R I have. That's why I was looking at MV or Unison.

Thank you!
Robert , hope you don't mind but I copied and pasted your wonderful evaluation of pastels. It's info for a new pastelist to read and understand soft pastels .It's also a great review for all of us.Tx