View Full Version : Looking to play with Pastels

10-13-2015, 03:24 PM
I am attracted to the vibrant colours in Pastel painting especially for landscape work. I would love to experiment with this medium advice on the best way to start would be very welcome. I currently play with oils:) :)

10-13-2015, 04:27 PM
Hi, welcome to the forum! :)

Perhaps simply buy a small set and start to play? There is also a lot of different surfaces to choose from. You can start with affordable Canson papers or maybe purchase a set of small sheets of different kind of sanded papers.

water girl
10-13-2015, 09:34 PM
Welcome! You have an art background, so now it's a matter of experimenting. As Nick suggested, try some Canson Mi-Tientes paper and some pastels, like Rembrandts or Blick soft pastels. If you go to http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=18 you will see a Learning Center, Works in Progress and Materials links that will be helpful. Just remember to have fun!

10-13-2015, 11:39 PM
One of the challenges of starting with pastel is that there is such a variety of papers - and of the pastels themselves. Canson Mi-Tientes is a cheaper paper that is good to start out with (most people use the smooth side, not the patterned side), but if you find it too smooth to layer as much as you want, then you might try a sanded paper. Sanded papers, alas, cost much more, but you can get the feel of sanded papers by using regular hardware store sandpaper. Try a grit around 400 as a medium grit. You don't want to do a real painting, but you'll see how much different it is compared to a paper like Canson.

Pastels can be very soft to quite hard. I would choose a medium softness to start, but as an oil painter, you might feel more comfortable with a softer brand that can be layered more opaquely and worked dark to light more effectively. If you have an art store nearby that has a variety of pastels available (and perhaps some samples) that would be ideal, but chances are you will need to get some online. You can always try to get a few different brands in open stock just to get a feel for the variety. Dakota pastels also offer some sampler packs.

Here's a link to their site, where they also have a chart listing brands by softness:



10-14-2015, 07:36 AM
Thanks for the response thus far I have a couple of Art stores near to home so I think it might be useful to see what is available. Paper is a topic I had not really considered (I have large amounts of water colour paper).

10-14-2015, 08:46 AM
Watercolour paper can be all right for them, though it helps to use a primer like Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) sanded primer or gesso with a bit of pumice or marble dust mixed in. You can also use failed watercolors as good pastel paper that way! Golden makes a clear grit primer too.

Suggestion on your first pastels - get artist grade half sticks. Rembrandt are good ones, but sand the sticks off with a bit of cheap hardware store sandpaper before using them as something in how they're made gives hem a compressed coating. Look at what's on sale in your local store too, there might be good sets in Clearance in artist grade brands.

Great Americans are softer but very good overall. Sennelier half sticks are super soft, they will take a light hand using them if you get those but are great for being able to add still more layers over medium soft ones when the tooth is full. Or for teaching you to use a light hand.

Sets tend to be cheaper than buying open stock, half sticks sets best for the money, the more colors a beginner has the easier it is.

Semi-hard or hard pastels are less expensive long sticks, still artist grade ones like Cretacolor Pastels Carre, Polychromos, Derwent pastels, these are a lot of fun, again sets are cheaper than open stock though for outdoor sketching small sets like 24 or with Color Conte even 12 can be enough to do a lovely sketchbook color study before going into it with more pastels.

I keep 12 Color Conte in my vest pocket for outdoor sketching as they're bright good mixers and fine for sketching.

But if you're coming from oils you're probably more used to a painterly style. Hard pastels are good for sketching, early layers, pastel drawing, they and pastel pencils can be used for a lovely realism style.

Oh right, UK! Daler Rowney are a bit more firm than the Rembrandt, SAA ones are apparently not too bad and have a 72 color range, watch for Sennelier half sticks sets on sale and check Jacksons online because prices may be better than brick and mortar stores. Dakota Pastel has a useful list by hardness of all the brands they carry.

If your store has Girault those are excellent and versatile. Quite firm like Rembrandt or Daler Rowner (but not quite as firm as hard sticks) but act as if they're a lot softer, finely ground pigment just slides right off them.

Unisons are hand rolled wonderful pastels, may be a little less in the place they're from than to us in the USA, splendid texture and have fantastic half sticks sets. I have 120 Unisons half sticks and if I had to grab just one pastels set to go somewhere for a month it would be those ones. The box is a little large for plein air but not totally ridiculous depending on what I have to carry it in. 64 Unisons half sticks is a good range in a very portable box size.

Any 140lb watercolour paper with a grit primer is good pastel paper. Or just tone it with watercolour. Not surface is fine, it doesn't need to be Smooth. Rough may be a problem with texture and need to be worked loose.

I would also tape off a margin around the primed area to reduce cockling, and give clean edges to the painting area. Also you can tape off to a standard frame opening size and get precut matts cheaper than having them done. Like watercolour, pastels paintings should be framed under glass.

Coloured papers are a bit easier to work with than white, unless you want to do an underpainting. Black is splendid to work on for a brilliant stained-glass intensity to light bright colours. Mid-value colours are good, warm browns or tans especially or reddish browns for landscapes will make the greens of foliage and grasses look more natural. But watercolour paper can take underpainting - try a complement, light earth red under all the foliage, orange-pink light for the sky, darks the opposite on the colour wheel but just as dark. This will make a painting sing. Same-hue underpainting has its own intense effect.

I dislike the white flecks of working loosely on white unless it's a very light subject, flowers on a white tablecloth sort of thing, or a sketch. But you have the right idea from the top! Play with them!

10-14-2015, 12:54 PM
This thread would be a good place to start:

You're very lucky if you have even one art store local to you. If they have a few different types of paper that would be a great way to try them. I do most of my shopping online at Jackson's and Pullingers. You might consider Jackson's handmade pastels, they are very similar to Unisons but less expensive.

10-14-2015, 05:16 PM
Thanks for the response thus far I have a couple of Art stores near to home so I think it might be useful to see what is available. Paper is a topic I had not really considered (I have large amounts of water colour paper).

Paper choice is very important, you can get very frustrated if you use paper that fights you while painting. I would recommend Canson Mi Teints, it comes in many colors, and it is very inexpensive. It's great quality, so if you get a "keeper", you'll know it's on respectable paper.

Have fun and play, the fact that you paint in oils is very helpful. Pastels work dark to light, very much like oils, so you shouldn't struggle with the process too much.

10-14-2015, 07:08 PM
I am so impressed with the quality of information and the time so generously given in making a responding to my inquiry a big thank you.

10-19-2015, 11:06 PM
While there were great suggestions here, I did not notice recommendations for books or magazines. I found them very helpful when I was a newbie. Your local library or art store may carry beginner books. If you belong to any art groups someone may have pastel books or old Pastel Journal issues to lend. I tried many "step-by-step" demos from books and PJ to guide my initial efforts and to experience various methods. I still sometimes walk through a PJ demo when I am at a loss as to what to do next artistically. The "no-brainer" aspect of following someone elses painting steps is sort of freeing and playful and generally enriches my next personal efforts.

I wish you a joyful and productive encounter with the media I love!

10-21-2015, 07:15 AM
I am so impressed with the quality of information and the time so generously given in making a responding to my inquiry a big thank you.
Also...if yu want to see how it's done...just do a search in our studio section for WIPs ( Or the Work in Progress section. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=444)) Also the Learning centre.. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=439)