View Full Version : YAMAP (Yet Another Materials Advice Post)

03-05-2016, 02:09 PM
Hi, all,

[I've been lurking around the edges of the forum for a couple of months, and have really valued all the great advice y'all generously dish out. I wanted to frame the eternal materials question in my own specific way, but I assure you I've read MANY of the other discussions on the subject around this forum before doing so!]

I'm a complete newbie (to art, really, not just pastels), but after taking a couple of intro classes it's clear to me that soft pastels are the medium I want to focus on. I was immediately in love. And now I have the tricky decision of which pastels to purchase. A lifelong challenge for all of you, I know. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Robert.) Because a class I'm signed up for soon suggested them, I purchased a set of FC Polychromos hard pastels. But clearly I'll want softer sticks, and that's where y'all come in.

I want to come at this from two angles, advice-wise.

1) I have the Dakota samplers arriving early this week, CANNOT WAIT. So once I have them, how would you suggest I go about getting a feel for them? What are things I should attempt to get a sense of how they work for me?

2) If you were considering ONLY THE COLORS of the pastels in question, with price as no object, which line would you purchase to get the most intense chromatics, and how would you choose to supplement that line to get the range of darks/lights/neutrals you want to work with?

My thinking here is that I can use the sampler to determine which brands feel good to me, but I still have only web-based color-charts to determine which color sets I need/want. Unsatisfying. (And yes, I know about Dakota's color charts, but that seems like an expensive way to solve the problem.)

Thanks so much!


03-05-2016, 02:40 PM
Welcome John! The Dakota sampler set should give you a good idea of which pastels you might like and which you won't. To test them I would suggest just laying sown some wider swaths of color (break the sticks in half, perhaps). Then see which pastels do what you want as you try and layer on top. You can lay down some of the harder pastels first and see how the softer layer over them. Try using only medium sticks. Try using only soft sticks. You may find that you love the really soft ones. You may find that the really soft ones are beyond your control at this point in your experience. Lots of things are possible!

All the major pastel brands have beautiful, intense color. I would look at colors by what I need. If you do landscapes, then I would look at landscape sets and see who has a good selection of greens and blues. If I was doing portraits and figures, then I would be looking more closely at those colors. What some brands have less of is grays and darks. Mt Vision has some nice gray sets - I think Ludwig does too, as well as darks. I would not worry about comparing the colors of different brands. Whatever brand you get will be fine.

All that being said, I would wait to supplement anything you initially buy. When you create actual paintings, they will tell you what you need more of. For example, many folks like to add a hard pastel set (yes, I know you already have one!). They ask what sets, should I get all 120 of so and so brand. You might be like me and need about 8 hard pastels - a few dark browns, blues, greens. Some folks only use the really soft pastels for final accents. So, they may need no more than a dozen.

My usual recommendation for beginners is to start with a medium softness brand and see how you like them. Since you will have the sampler pack, that should help you decide which level of softness you may like best and for the bulk of your work.

I know this is a vague answer, but it really depends on what you like, what papers you may be using, how much you want to layer (or not), etc.


CM Neidhofer
03-05-2016, 06:55 PM
Seems like you still can't go wrong with a 60 1/2 stick set of Rembrandts. It's what I learned with, and still use them. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

03-05-2016, 09:44 PM
Seems like you still can't go wrong with a 60 1/2 stick set of Rembrandts. It's what I learned with, and still use them. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Rembrandts are a great way to start. My first set of artist grade pastels as well. I think the medium hardness is easier to start with than very soft pastels, but it is hard to say how another person will feel. You really can't go wrong with any artist grade brand.


CM Neidhofer
03-06-2016, 07:03 AM
Rembrandts are a great way to start. My first set of artist grade pastels as well. I think the medium hardness is easier to start with than very soft pastels, but it is hard to say how another person will feel. You really can't go wrong with any artist grade brand.



03-06-2016, 10:32 AM
Christine, you're so right. The only thing better would be a 90 or 120 color half stick set of Rembrandts. These are workhorse pastels that do include all the brightest bright colors. I bought it late, after getting many other pastels, but that 60 color half sticks set is so convenient with such a good assortment of colors that it became my easy set - the one I use when going out or when I don't have much space to paint.

Tip for Rembrandts - sand off the compressed coating or they will sometimes skip and not make much of a mark at first. It's something about how they're made, some medium texture pastels get a hard coating. Maybe they lacquer them or something. Whatever it is, that has to come off for best effects.

Polychromos are AWESOME for hard pastel sticks and useful throughout.

For super soft pastels, Schminke seems to have brilliant color but so does Sennelier. Terry Ludwig has great brights in some colors but the entire range is green avoidant - greens are pre-muted and not as saturated, to my frustration. Many are so far toward brown I wouldn't even call them green. That's just the range.

Sennelier has those olives and muted greens but also a good value range of bright greens - and sometimes those are needed. Clothing, manufactured things, dumpsters, cars, all sorts of human objects DO come in artificial bright greens. Green light that comes as bright as red is important in nocturnes. Most of all, I can't easily use green to balance reds and tone other colors if I'm not using a pure green of the right value. If I meant to tone it with brown I'd reach for a brown.

Mount Vision is good. They have some glorious brights and are huge, so generous in size that it's easy to get three or four good size pieces per stick and arrange them in different palettes.

First thing I do with new pastels - chart them. List the color name and number and brand in the case of those Dakota Samplers, make a chart. Using gray paper for it may make the extra light colors a little easier to see and identify. If I had it to do over again that's what I'd do, and then keep the charts in pockets in something like an Itoya Profolio. This allows replacement of favorite sticks.

However, past a certain point it's not as important because I wind up with the same rich red-orange several times over in similar textures and paint by "I need a rich red-orange here" or "a blue-green tint about value 3" or whatever. I organize color by a 12 color wheel, warm and cool versions of ROYGBV - versions that lean toward their neighbors. Muted colors still get organized that way. Tints and shades are muted compared to full color but are still pretty easy to organize.

Next we get to texture. Hard vs. soft is not the only texture variable. There's also smooth or gritty, with the Diane Townsend pastels and their pumice texture allowing more layers on non sanded paper. Hand Rolled pastels like Unison, Mount Vision, Gallery Mungyo Hand Rolled, Richeson Hand Rolled have a light fluffy texture, lighter in the hand, go on smoothly, I like how they act a bit softer than they really are. Those also give an added sparkle to the painting.

On the other end, Girault pastels are extremely dense and pigment rich but very smooth, have a medium texture but glide on so smoothly that it's as if they were softer.

All of them are good. All work well together and this takes some trial and error. The last factor is your "hand" or how hard you press, how you hold pastels, the kinds of marks you enjoy making, your particular taste. You can learn pressure control and the longer you pastel the easier it gets to use a light touch or scumble - but you will always do so in your own way, just as you learned to write but your signature is distinctive. You can get so good at writing that you're a calligrapher but signature however elegant, will be unique. That's what happens with pastels too. Your strokes become yours, and this even gets clearer the more practice you get.

So play with the samplers to get an idea of different textures. Many are good for special effects, you can use this stick to get that look and another brand for a different look - and both the same bright aqua. Both can be used in the same painting and still harmonize because color's organized on that color wheel and its principles.

Most of the good brands have a full range of colors. Some have unique colors that are rich and lovely, like some violet-to-gold ranges in Girault and Mount Vision. These are reasons why some of us wind up owning thousands of pastels and adding more all the time - without really wasting or neglecting the ones we already have. It just means buying fewer replacements and more new experiments.

03-06-2016, 02:14 PM
Thanks so much, all of you! Now on to the experimentation, with great glee...


03-10-2016, 03:23 PM
One brand you won't get in your Dakota sampler set is available only from Jerrysartarama; Mungyo. They come in Gallery Handmade Soft (200 colors), Gallery Extra Soft (200 colors), and Gallery soft squares (75 colors). The handmade variety sticks are about the size of Unison or Mt Vision, and very similar in texture/softness. The soft (round) variety is about the same size as Rembrandt, but somewhat softer (and I find they lay down better than Rembrandt). The "soft" square variety is much harder and more like Polychromes. They have one other line they call "Standard Soft", but I don't recommend them; be certain to look for the word "Gallery". The best parts are not only are they well pigmented and considered professional quality, but the prices are unbelievably low! They can be purchased individually or in sets. Amazon also has a few sets, but I suspect they get them from Jerry's. My new students are purchasing either the handmade or extra soft sets, and are quite happy with them. For that matter some of them have purchased both varieties as the handmade ones work over the so called "extra" soft ones very nicely.

03-10-2016, 06:21 PM
"Standard Soft" are their student grade, suitably cheap, and come in half sticks for a good convenient large range at a low, low price. I'd get them for color studies, kids, pavement painting, they're no worse than other student grade like the original Blick Pastels or anything like it. Dyed chalk texture.

Mungyo Gallery also has Semi-Hard which are firmer than the Soft Squares, good long rectangular hard pastels sticks in a range of 120 colors. I got the full range and really like the range, plenty of tints and darks and fewer near-duplicate colors than some other hard pastels large ranges. Well organized range.

Soft Squares are good inexpensive pastels. I've got a set of 48 that I use more often than I expected to, gift from a friend.