View Full Version : Help need to solve a pastel dilemma

09-16-2015, 09:14 PM
Hi from a new member,

After a gap of a few years, I have recently become interested in pastel painting again, and I have enjoyed using my Conte's and Rembrandt’s. But now I'm thinking of buying a higher quality softer pastel to put on the top layers. I was hoping that forum members might be able to answer a couple of questions.

First I would be interested to know if the visual difference between the top quality pastels is obvious in comparison to the medium quality ones, like the Rembrandt’s? or is the difference more subtle?.

Here in the UK, Mount Vision pastels have recently become available, and sell at £2.60/$4.03 In comparison, at the moment, Schmincke pastels are selling at £2.14/$3.32 which I believe is a bit cheaper than you can buy them for in America.

Given that both pastels are very good quality, is the larger size of the Mount Vision's enough to justify the purchase, given that the Schmincke's are also on the large side?.

If I do buy, I think that I've narrowed it down to those two brands, as I don't want to buy the very softest pastels, which crumble.

Best wishes

09-16-2015, 11:09 PM
Mount Visions are hand rolled and excellent. They have a fluffy airy texture and go very well over Rembrandt.

I use different brands together all the time. Mount Vision are comparable to Unisons but quite a lot larger! Schminke are about the size of Rembrandt and very, very high quality, super soft "finishing" category.

To me it's a matter of texture categories.

Color Conte sticks are hard pastels. Others include Cretacolor Pastels Carre' or Nupastel and so on, long hard rectangular sketching sticks with the least pigment concentration, lowest price, firmest texture. Good for sketching and linear work and underpainting. Can be used alone. Any of these can be used alone but takes skill.

Haven't tried the Conte' soft pastels yet but expect them to be more like Rembrandt in texture - medium soft extruded sticks. Versatile, can act like hard pastels to get linear sketching marks and rubbed in blended passages, or go over other layers for a more lush painterly look. i sometimes work entirely in Rembrandt on small works.

Hand Rolled are their own category and sometimes act sotter than they are. I've used them to finish over medium ones. Mount Vision are a bargain for their size, which is so large I usually need to break a stick into 3 or 4 pieces rather than halves to get usable sections. They're fun and have a good color range. I have a set of 120 Unison half sticks but would happily buy more Mount Visions if I had the budget and a nice case to keep them in. Tried the 25 chromatic set and love them.

Sennelier, Schminke, Terry Ludwig and to some extent Great American are the Super Soft ones that I can still get a mark when the tooth of the paper's full. They go over anything else. They wear down fast so it's a bit wasteful using them from the start with a lot of layering and easy to fill the tooth of the paper too fast with them.

I collect pastels. I probably have too many and you don't need anywhere near as many as I do, it's a thing. It's also the result of semi-annual sprees over more than ten years, since I'm always attracted to picking up something new or something on clearance or used or whatever. I never met a pastel I didn't like or have a use for. Even the stupid cheap kiddy student grade ones that fade are fun for pavement painting and spare good pigmented ones, also non toxic when you have grandkids who want to join in.

Schminke are the very softest pastels. Some claim they're softer than Sennelier. They are in a category with Sennelier. You have a good price on them. Very good. But they may crumble and will wear down quickly.

I would recommend Mount Visions in a good range for your favorite subjects, or by sets if there's a sets discount. I usually get pastels in sets. Schminke, a small general assortment or a half sticks set can be really useful for those times the painting isn't done but the paper tooth is full.

If you don't get sets, color suggestion. Draw up a color wheel with two versions of each of hte six colors, each leaning toward its neighbor. 12 color wheel. Lemon Yellow for green leaning yellow (very bright not orangy) and warm (butterish orange cast) yellow, yellow-orange and red-orange, orange-red and purple-red/magenta, red-violet and blue-violet, violet-blue (Ultramarine) and green-blue (Pthalo or Monastral or any greenish cast blue), blue cast green (Viridian or Pthalo), yellow cast green (Sap Green or any yellowish green.

Two tints of each, darker tint and lighter tint. Six extra light tints ROYGBV nearly white. One shade of each of the 12 color wheel, possibly using yellow ochre and browns for shades of yellow and orange or just add browns on the side and get the olive greens of yellow and orange shades. Six deep dark shades ROYGBV. Then some grays and browns, organized by value - yellowish (ochre) reddsih brown, darker grayer brown, greenish, bluish, violet grays. Maybe a dozen grays and browns.

This palette is pretty much complete in about 60 colors for any subject. Muted colors and grays and browns are convenience. The pure spectrum hues and their tints and shades are essentials.

However, that said, the 25 Thunderstorm Grays is a lovely set of muted color grays and wonderful for skies and seas and many other subjects. There's something to be said for a really big palette with bright saturated colors, medium saturated, muted colors, lots of tints and shades. If you got a full range set Mount Vision would be a fantastic one, but need studio trays or a pastel box for them.

Mount Vision comes in boxes of 25 that have an annoying habit of the clamshell lid falling closed. Three could be combined by breaking sticks in thirds to have 75 colors in one box, but you'd still have the lid problem. I'd recommend getting some sort of pastels box or carrier for them.

Schminke boxes are nice heavy cardboard ones with slotted foam, lid can be put under the box to hold it open and use the slotted foam for good protection. Again two boxes same size can be combined for easier storage and smaller carrying.

Leave labels on unused parts of sticks and/or chart them for reordering.

I have also found that the more pastels I have, the less often I wear out any stick at all. There's always a different one a little closer to exactly what I need at the moment or I'm changing sticks more often, especially on later layers. I do sometimes use limited palettes but most often chosen out of a larger range.

At about 200 or so it gets really comfortable in terms of colors and the entire rest of my collection is about unique textures and effects. And of course specific odd colors. Mount Vision has some ranges that combine complementary pigments for gorgeous in between hues like violet to gold range. Those are a lot of fun and a color can make me think of a subject and start off a painting.

Anyway, iteration umptieth of my pastels collecting post. Hope this helps. If you don't want crumbly soft get the Mount Visions, good value and great fluffy texture over medium ones.

09-16-2015, 11:45 PM
Rembrandts are a high quality pastel but are one of the harder pastels in the so-called "medium softness" category. Schmincke may be the softest, so if you are looking for something softer than Rembrandt but not super soft, I would go with the Mt. Visions. The Mt. Visions are still a medium softness brand, so you may not notice that much difference between the Rembrandts and them. But, personally, I like the Mt. Visions for their high variety of greens for landscapes. They have some other really useful "colorful" grays and other colors not found in Rembrandts. When choosing pastels, I am much more interested in the colors and variety I can find in different brands. Rembrandts, for example, don't have really good darks, so you may need to look elsewhere for a few darks that you may need. As mentioned, Mt. Vision has many grays. To add highlights and light colors when you layer, you may need a super softie such as Schmincke. So you may end up with one main set (such as Rembrandt) but a dozen of this brand and a dozen of that.

If is hard to recommend brands of pastel as they are all a bit different and it is impossible to know what someone else likes. If you can possibly visit an art store and ask if they have any samples this would be worth a lot. If not, if you can buy just a few sticks from open stock, that would give you some examples to compare. Plus, even if you aren't that thrilled with the brand, if you choose colors you need, you will use them anyway.

Just my 2 cents.


09-17-2015, 04:10 AM
Thank you for your replies so far. Just to clear things up. I start a painting by using the hard type Conte pastels, and I use these for the first couple of layers. I then switch to the Rembrandt's. I know that you should go from hard to soft, so I was looking for something that could be layered over the Rembrandt's.

Do forum members finish off your paintings with Mount Vision?, or would you finish off with something softer? I am tempted by the low sale price of the Schminke's, but I've also been impressed with the reviews of the Mount Visions too.

One final question, please. If there were two identical paintings, but one was finished off with the Rembrandt's and another with either Mount Vision's or Schminke's, would the difference be obvious?

09-17-2015, 05:03 AM
Dakota Pastels have a chart showing how hard or soft each brand is, this is the link (http://www.dakotapastels.com/docs/Pastel-Lineup.pdf) to it.

I find I use mount vision more in the middle with art spectrum, then Ludwig, unison and schminke toward the end

09-17-2015, 08:15 AM
Two things: 1) Mt Vision are great, but if you are looking for something noticeably softer than Rembrandt so you can finish over them, I would recommend a softer brand than Mt Vision. They are a bit softer, but still not soft enough that there is a significant difference between those brands. Since you are not looking for a super-soft brand, I highly recommend Unison for you. They are lovely to use, distinctly softer than Rembrandts, but not nearly as soft as Schminke/Great American/Sennelier, which are the softest 3 I've used. Have fun!

2) There are so many different styles of finishing pastel works that it is not necessarily noticeable whether someone has used softer or harder pastels. It depends on the kind of support/paper that was used, and whether the artist has a heavy or a light touch. If someone has a heavy hand and uses super soft pastels and does so on a sanded paper that holds a lot of pastel, you can usually tell! Otherwise, there is huge variety. Have fun experimenting :)

Barbara WC
09-17-2015, 02:45 PM
Stephen- have you considered Unison pastels? They are made in your country, are a premium pastel, and a nice complement, I think, to Conte and Rembrandts. Unisons are one of my favorites

As you can tell from this thread, everyone has their own opinions. I personally do not like Mount Visions, they are a bit firm and brittle for my taste, and I don't like the huge stick size, even broken down smaller, although many people love them, and they are a good value for the size.

I would suggest, however, trying both Unison and Mt. Vision if you can, to see how they compare for you. Schminke is in a whole other ballpark- it really is the softest pastel out there. They fill the tooth extremely quickly, and are best used for the last highlights, in my opinion. I have done some small paintings using Schminke only, but no matter the paper, can only get two or three layers in with a light touch. They almost feel like talcum powder soft to me... That said, I do keep a white Schminke on hand for occasional highlights in my paintings...

09-17-2015, 07:39 PM
Thank you for your replies. I'm looking for something that is very distinctive from each other. I think that I would be disappointed if I bought a large set of high quality pastels, and then I found it was difficult to separate them from Rembrandt's.

When we say "finishing pastel" does this mean that the highest quality pastel is used to add a complete final layer, or our we talking about adding a few final highlights?

In other words, if we say that a pastel painting should be made up of hard, medium and soft layers, how do you use your softest and best pastels?


09-17-2015, 08:02 PM
Softest aren't necessarily "best" in that way. The hard-medium-soft guideline is really about how many layers you use and what surface you use. Hard won't go over soft like soft will go over hard. But if you are finished with a painting, you are finished; if you were able to get all of your desired layers in without needing the softest ones, then there's no need to force it. Or you may only need a finishing touch in one or two places and if the hard/medium won't stick, or if you want a thicker application, you reach for the softies. Just know that some surfaces take more layers and hold more pastel before you need to start going softer.

But some people do entire paintings in just softies, or just medium, or just hard. It's nice to have three distinct softnesses and then to experiment to find what works for you. :)

09-17-2015, 08:07 PM
Finishing pastel does not mean highest quality pastel. I use my best pastels on the whole painting. For me that's Mt. Vision. I start the first layer with harder pastels - NuPastel and Rembrandt. That layer gets scrubbed or washed into the paper, the medium soft Mt. Visions make up the following layers, and the real softies like Schminke, Senns and Great American go on last for tiny highlight touches only so I own far fewer of those. For me, all of those are "best" at what they do.

09-18-2015, 01:43 AM
I often use Unisons over Rembrandt, the fluffy texture of hand rolled makes them go a little farther. But I've also painted entirely with Unisons.

I don't actually use the Mount Visions as often for logistic reasons, since I love the Unisons set so much. They aren't as large, are very fluffy and pigmnt rich, go on well. Great American and Terry Ludwig are both soft-soft with rectangular shape allowing very painterly strokes.

Eh, try anything you can get in open stock and decide for yourself. I categorize by textures and put hand rolled together in a group because they all have a certain slightly more sparkly look.

Barbara WC
09-18-2015, 03:36 AM
Stephen S- I suggest trying 2-3 sticks of each brand you are interested in before settling on a large set. We all have very different touch with pastels, use different surfaces, and all have different ways of working, so it's hard to know what you will like.

When I think of a finishing pastel, I think of a pastel used for just a few highlights in the painting, or maybe light passages to indicate something like fog or mist. For that use, Sennelier or Schmincke would be good (there are a few harder Sennelier pastels, although most are very soft).

Unisons and Mt. Visions are softer than Rembrandts and either brand can be used entirely on their own- I find it easier to create soft edges (say for a cloud) with a Unison than with a Rembrant. Unison, Mount Vision, Sennelier, Schminke do feel quite different and are softer than Rembrandts, so no worries about them being too similar. Stay away from Daler Rowney, that one is more similar in many respects to Rembrandt.

09-20-2015, 10:19 AM
Thank you for all your advice. I actually ended up ordering Blockx pastels. Mainly because they were on sale at a 50% discount, but also I have read good reviews. People who use them say they're soft, but not so much that they crumble.