View Full Version : Advice for beginner

02-14-2015, 07:45 PM

I recently decided to dig out my 24 set of polychromos pastels that I have had hanging around for an age. I was also given a set of 36 pitt pencils for my birthday in January. Of course, having absolutely no idea what I was doing I decided I had to have some soft pastels too. I ordered half a dozen SAA soft pastels to try out.

They arrived today and even a quick play was enough to see the difference between hard and soft pastels. I think I could love pastels now; the combination was so much fun. At the moment I am just going to carry on playing but I would like to save up to buy more soft pastels, 6 is obviously very limiting!

The thing is the SAA ones are cheaper than many others, but for me still not 'throw your money around' cheap. As they are all I have tried, I like the feel of them and am not likely to reach 'exhibit your work' status is there any point in me trying others?

I guess I am trying to ask, is there a world of difference between those and unisons, blue earth etc or would I only notice much of a difference in use if I ever got really good?


water girl
02-14-2015, 08:06 PM
Welcome! I'm not familiar with SAA pastels, but I'm sure some of our members are. I'm assuming you are not in the US, so your pastel choices may be different. Some of us use the hard pastels to lay in the first few layers of color, then go over that with the softer pastels. I see that you use colored pencils, so your leap to pastels isn't that far. We mix our colors in layers, as you do with the pencils. I hope to see your pastel work posted soon. Don't be shy. We are a very welcoming group.:thumbsup:

02-14-2015, 10:46 PM
I've heard the SAA pastels aren't too bad, something like Daler Rowney or Rembrandt medium soft extruded sticks. So they're probably good ones to start with. Softer pastels do handle differently, if you can try samples of different brands you may find another texture appeals more to you. But I've got the impression they're more low end artist grade than better student grade.

02-15-2015, 05:42 AM
Thank you for your reply Karen. I am from England, it seems to be unfortunately in terms of buying art supplies. Good deals appear to be very rare here and coupons more like 10% than 40%, I'm sure you've heard it all before.

So far I have only done a couple of sketches, just working out how to make marks on paper really. They have also been copies of pictures I have liked in art magazines so although they probably do not bear enough of a resemblence to be recognised I still feel like I shouldn't post them. When I have a go at something of my own I will post it.

Hello Robert, it is probably your fault I have picked up the pastels! The reason I am a bit hesitant to try other pastels is that I probably will prefer really expensive ones and I could then end up spending huge amounts of money when really the SAA ones are likely to outclass my ability for a long time to come.

02-15-2015, 09:32 AM
That's understandable. There are ways to reduce the costs. One of the biggest is to look for people selling used collections on eBay. They might not be labeled, they will be used, they sometimes come with very good storage systems or boxes and the price is a lot better than new. That can also leave you relaxing about the cost when it comes time to use them.

I've found it helps beginners to have more pastels rather than fewer. The more available tints and values in each color, the better. But there is some good news on the level of how many are actually needed.

Think of the six spectrum colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. Now split each of those categories into two that lean toward their nearest neighbor, "warm and cool" versions. lemon yellow as green leaning, warm orange cast yellow as orange leaning. Reds that are orange-scarlet and reds that lean purple or cool. Warm colors are red, orange, yellow, cool ones green, blue, violet. Blue is cool no matter what, so people differ on whether the greenish blue is warm or cool vs. purple blue - but having both helps a whole lot.

That's 12 pastels.

Now two tints of each of those colors, one a medium value and hte other lighter, and one shade (the color mixed with black). Yellow shades down into olive green which is a very useful color, so that's where yellow ochre and other gold colors come into in setting up the spectrm with values. One shade of each. Then half a dozen Deep Dark shades that are closer to black.

Half a dozen very light tints closer to white, just the basic six color spectrum at the value extremes.

That palette, using browns for some of the darks, or including some browns and grays on the side whatever ones you like, is complete. With that you can paint anything. There's a class in Pastel Learning Center about color, you could use your pastel pencils to do the exercises in it. ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way. It helped me a lot to need fewer pastels and better organize the lots of pastels that I have.

What I found is that most general assortments of 60 or more will have everything you need and enough tints that you're not using up the white stick three times faster than anything else. Having more sticks can also reduce the amount of blending you need to do in order to get the hues you don't have. Getting the value right is a lot more important than having exactly the right color.

But at the same time, the cheapest way to get lots to work with is to take pot luck with second hand sales. The prices go even cheaper than deep discount sales. Look for discontinued pastels too, the price drops way low as dealers get rid of them and even if you can't replace a loved stick with the same brand, you've got it to work with. That's my two answers to the problem.

Also in sets they tend to be cheaper than buying sticks individually and most general assortments are well laid out as a palette for that range. I have a 12 color set of Winsor & Newton half sticks that's actually convenient for landscapes, it's got brights, a white and three earth colors with warm-cool yellow, red, blue and green. Frustrating to lack violet with it but I can make do with warm blue and cool red together.

If you do build on what you have a stick at a time, try to build up to that 12 color spectrum and get an extra white, you will need it.

02-15-2015, 06:59 PM
Thank you Robert. I am unlikely to use eBay. I have had family members have real issues at times and ended up deleting my account as I was so put off. I know there are deals to be had but I would rather not have the worry.

Based on the assumption that I would get the full set of the SAA pastels at some point, I chose a couple of unisons from open stock in colours I thought looked like they had no equivalents in the SAA (or Unison 63 set- just in case). I also added a couple of the schmincke pastels - just for fun, although from what I have read these are super soft (?). This means I can try out different makes and then buy a bigger set without duplicating colours. Internet order again so not sure when i will get them; it's not urgent though. My only concern is that in the catalogue the SAA pastels don't seem to have many very light lights or very dark darks. It may just be the printing as it can be miles off at times.

Yes I did spend a chunk of my Sunday looking at little squares of colour. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

Thank you for directing me to the colour class- it looks good and from what I have read so far looks like I will be able to apply some of it with what I have. I am already confused with the violet underpainting in the first lesson- apart from it being from the cool side, why violet? Going to take more reading I think...

02-15-2015, 07:35 PM
Violet is a good base color because it's dark yet it has a hue. I like doing sketching in violet and working up from it because it won't muddy the colors over it the way a black sketch will. There's various reasons. Violet is very much a friend to green, it makes green areas in landscapes shine and look rich instead of flat and monochrome.

Unison 63 half stick set and 120 half stick sets have a huge advantage in how they are laid out. You can see equivalent values across different colors with that layout making it easy to control values in the painting. I love that set. I got the bigger one and 120 Unisons seemed complete in itself, I don't run into "don't have the right color and value" when using it. A good range and a convenient box size.

Half sticks are always a good bargain. It's rare to use up a stick entirely and they do always list the colors by number and name so you can replace it if you do use up one.

02-15-2015, 08:00 PM
I'm from England too and pretty much in the same boat as you- new to the medium and wanting to buy( sorry) try everything! Look at Cass Art here in the UK, they have several stores in London and online as well. The Senelliers are great value compared to anywhere else I've seen, and I've researched extensively. Ive also got some Unisons which were from Paintbiz in London and managed to fill an empty box 18 for 29.99 any colours I wanted. I'll be going back for more at some point! My workhorse pastels are Rembrandt because again Cass Art were doing great deals on them.

02-15-2015, 08:06 PM
Wow Robert, It is like having my own art consultant! You could charge a fortune for this ( but please don't).

I think the set of 63 Unison half sticks would be my limit. That would take me 2- 3 months to save up for. I would also have to like them much more than the SAA ones.

Thanks again for your help.

02-15-2015, 08:24 PM

Thanks for that. i will look up those places, I haven't come across them before. I am in The Midlands and order just about everything over the internet as I haven't yet found an art shop nearby.

Hope you continue to enjoy your art explorations. I love coloured pencils and am now getting interested in pastels (as well, not instead of). I enjoy sketching with pencils and pens. I love how watercolour looks but at the moment it appears to dislike me.

02-16-2015, 12:50 AM
Heh, watercolour dislikes everyone, it's got the longest learning curve of any medium. So convenient and compact for going out places and so difficult to control. I came up out of coloured pencils too and pastels changed everything. Pastels are all about instant gratification, they go so fast and splendid yet you can still get great realism with them just working a little larger - or gorgeous impressionism. I think of pastels as more expressive.

02-17-2015, 03:00 PM
You may want to check out Jackson's art supplies online. They seem to have the best price on Unisons. I ordered from them several years ago and even with international shipping, they were cheaper than I could get the in the US. They arrived here without so much as a chip.

02-19-2015, 01:51 PM
Thanks, I have seen them at Jacksons. Strangely enough they are currently cheaper on amazon (from Jacksons) than direct from Jacksons themselves.

It is that waiting time when I don't even know if I will like the few I have ordered and I still can't stop myself searching for the best deals on sets of 60-70 soft pastels.

It helps that I wont have the money for a while- no 'accidentally' buying a set.

I don't know what happened to me. Until last September all I really did was the odd graphite sketch and just worried about shape and values. Since discovering coloured pencils I have become obsessed with colour. I think it would almost be worth buying a set of pastels just so that I could look at them like a piece of art in themselves.

02-21-2015, 07:06 AM
What an interesting...and revealing....last sentence in your post Sydney.

So many people do just that...they get hooked on buying materials purely because they fall in love with them, and often, I KNOW that the box, or paper, remains untouched for ages, if not for ever. the wrappers never come off the pastels, the paper sits unused under the bed, in case it gets spoilt.

Do beware of falling into this trap. I have seen a pro painter out and about with a small cigar box with no more than 20 pastels in it, a carrier bag with a board and a few bits of paper held on with bulldog clips, and a wonky easel. He produced magical images!!!!!

It is NOT about how many pastels you have. It is not about which brand you buy....you can always try a single pastel from one brand or another to find out the difference between hard and soft, yes, but please worry not about the minute differences between one brand of soft and another brand of soft. You can produce excellent work with either, or both. And lousy work too!!!!

And USE your papers. It is great to buy a sheet of different types, to try out - and in the UK, you just need to shop around for the cheapest deals, JACKSONSART on line is always good value, and generally will be cheaper than most shops, as will GREAT ART. I recommend you begin with pearly grey sheets of CANSON MI TEINTE.

You will read lots about sanded surfaces.....BUT they will eat up all your pastels, it is difficult to blend on them, and all in all, you will learn a lot more by using Canson paper to begin with. Degas did gorgeous paintings using paper as his surface!!!

also, get some SPECTRAFIX fixative. It is non toxic, which is marvellous, and with it you can learn how to layer with fix between layers.

If you have a decent set of pastels, my recommendation is to get cracking. use up a sheet of Canson, try out all your pastels, learning all the various ways they will make marks. then, get some vegetables out, and start working with colour, still life, using your eyes. Or when the weather improves, get out to garden or park, and try working outdoors. Try always, if you can, to work from life, your eyes see much more than a camera does.

There are brilliant books out there to learn from.

Doing is much more creative than buying....................


02-21-2015, 09:24 AM
Thanks for your comments Jackie,

I was careful to put 'almost' worth it. I don't have the inclination or the money to actually go ahead and buy something that I wont use. My husband thinks he hit the jackpot because I am so cheap to keep ( romantic huh?).

The box of 24 polychromos I bought several years ago for 4.99 are broken in half to make them easier to use ( and some broken into many more pieces after my daughter has dropped them on the floor several times). I loved looking at them all pristine and perfect, but it is like food- It is great to have a plate of beautiful looking food but I wouldn't buy or make it unless I (or someone else) was going to eat it.

I have a range of paper and have used most types at some point depending on what I want to get out of it. As long as I recognise the limitations of cheap paper I will continue to use it alongside the rest. if I don't mind, why should anyone else? I understand why if someone was saying 'this isn't working and I don't know why, please help' whilst using cheap paper, but I am just getting on with it and enjoying it.

I LOVE coloured pencils and have what I consider to be a lot now, but type does matter to me with them. It isn't even just student vs artist grade (whatever that really means). If I had only ever tried Derwent coloursoft and CD Luminance I probably wouldn't have fallen in love with pencils. FC polychromos are what did it for me. A few luminance alongside sometimes, but not on their own- I just don't get them on their own. I have no desire to buy more pencils, only replacements as mine get worn down.

Hence trying several types of pastel. I know I like them enough to invest some money in them as I get the gut excitement when using them. I just want to see if I can find my 'polychromos' equivalents before buying a set.

I do appreciate your comments Jackie, I know I often sound like I am faffing around!

03-05-2015, 11:38 AM





these are all half-stick sets , a good way to get quality on a budget .


SAS Designs
03-05-2015, 11:53 AM
I was just going to suggest 1/2 stick sets, but see Ed has just done that.
SUCH a good way to get a variety, and try out different brands.

I don't know if you can get a friend in the states to help - if so, Jerry's Artarama has a "house brand" ( Rob can tell you a lot more about them, if you can do this) that's a great place to start.

03-05-2015, 02:42 PM
out of curiousity , i went back to the unison website and clicked ' where to buy ' .
there is a link to ' saa ' retailer , so i opened that and found their pastel brand to look and learn .

at retail , their sticks look to be a bit under a pound
and the unison halfs ( in sets ) a bit over .
- it wasn't clear that the uson halfs were sold individually .

if i lived anywhere near the unison house/village ,
i'd call and ask about visits/tour , and maybe buy on the spot .
an adventure ... :D