View Full Version : Sennelier and? for underpainting

05-26-2016, 10:44 AM
If I purchase a small set of 30 Plen Air Sennelier assorted pastels what other brand should I get for the under painting or is it necessary to use both. The more I read the more I get confused.


05-26-2016, 03:19 PM
the short answer is, you don't need more. The longer one would be: but you will probably benefit from having also harder soft pastels.
My first pastel set was Paris from Sennelier. I fell in love and didn't want anything else. I had only "plain" papers (not sanded) and I didn't have any problems with Senneliers being "too soft and creamy".
Months later, I got Unisons. Then I finally understood why the others had told me to get something harder in the beginning (like Rembrandts). Unisons are probably softer than Rembrandts but they are easier to handle than Senneliers. It's easier to paint details for example (their edges stay sharp longer).

But I am glad I got the Paris first. It was important for me to start with what I really wanted.

You could also buy Terry Ludwig's pastels, I would say that they are about as soft as Senneliers.

I would start with one brand and give it several months to decide what to buy next. If it is possible where you live, you could buy several sticks of different brands to test.
What I find useful is to have one white Schmincke (very very soft) for highlights. I don't paint landscape though.

Sennelier has a very nice very dark green and TL has his famous dark violet. Both sticks are well known, I bet you would be able to google their numbers.

05-26-2016, 09:31 PM
Yes, the more info you have the more confusing it gets. That's because there are literally dozens of different papers and dozens of different pastel brands. And, then, with all that, everyone has a different way of painting!

They key, whether it is oils, pastels, watercolors, etc. is to just try it! Your experience will give you the info as to what brands you like, how you use them, and when you use them (underpaintings, highlights, your workhorse brand, etc.). It depends on papers and technique, too. If you find that the initial layer of very soft pastels makes it difficult for you to layer - or if you find that the very soft pastels are being "chewed" up at an alarming rate, then you will know to try a more medium or harder brand.

If you can buy a few sticks open stock from a couple different brands of varying hardness, this may help you decide. Dakota pastels and Fine Art Store also sell sample packs, although they may give you more brands then you really want or need! A few Rembrandts, Mt. Visions or even a hard pastel such as Polychromos may give you some ideas.


06-08-2016, 12:52 PM
I'm usually the proponent of "try lots of brands, consider collecting" and so on, but you mentioned something important. You're getting confused after reading more and more.

Sennelier are among the softest. They will wear down quickly, they come in a range of 525 colors, one of the largest ranges. They aren't the most expensive yet they are a very high quality brand. I have known many good pastelists in New Orleans who bought large Sennelier boxes and just kept track of the numbers to replace worn down sticks before they're entirely gone - or carried nubs into the art store to match colors, which works.

Underpainting can be done with the same pastels.

Go very lightly and loose on your paper. If it can take liquid washes, swish water over that with a brush to dissolve it into something like watercolor, establishing areas of light and dark, warm and cool, or complementary colors the same value (an earthy red under green grass, or a nice shell pink under sky blue).

If the paper can't take water, scribble lightly with the side of a stick same as you would for a water wash, then smudge it with your finger or a piece of pipe insulation or a chamois to smear it around and rub it in making a smooth area of color with vague fuzzy edges. Presto, a dry underpainting with the same pastels.

If you do this you won't need to use any other brand of pastels.

If you want to save a bit of money in the long run and are prolific, you can buy a set of semi-hard or "hard" pastels such as Nupastel, Cretacolor Pastels Carre', Mungyo Gallery Semi-Hard or any such brand to have some underpainting and sketching sticks. By category I'd recommend the Cretacolor tin of 24 because that's a big enough range for under painting, the tin is very handy and sturdy (unlike the horrible styrofoam tray of the full range 72 set), and those are lightfast ones suitable for sketches that may stand up as art in their own right.

If you underpaint with semi-hard pastels that will slow the wear on your Senneliers.

If you just use Senneliers the soft texture will force you to learn a light hand, barely touching the paper in order to layer. Schminke and Terry Ludwig are equally soft, they're the big three super soft ones. You will get opaque marks over more layers if you use firmer pastels for those early layers. Strong pressure makes thick impasto marks that may have to be brushed out to change something instead of just worked over.

Look at the softness chart at Dakota Pastels. I find it very useful. I have at least small sets of everything on it and often choose which pastels to use by what effect I want and where I'm working - and what I'm working on.

There's a great variety of surfaces too. Unsanded papers, my favorite is Canson Mi-Tientes. Sanded, that'd be Uart for its variety of grits and that I can use wet or alcohol washes on it without melting the sand, also Colourfix for its variety of colors and that it can take water washes. Another option is 140lb watercolor paper with Hot or Cold/Not press surface and a clear sanded primer like Colourfix, Supertooth or Golden Pumice Gel.

On watercolor paper or Uart or white Colourfix, you don't even need to use pastels for underpainting. There's also grabbing your watercolors, gouache or even oils to do the underpainting. Use very thin oils if you do, lots of turpenoid or mineral spirits to very little paint. But any water base paint thinned to a wash can work to do your underpainting. Sanded clear primers can let you rework old watercolor paintings with pastels and then prime over them to get a sanded surface that holds lots of layering.

Rembrandt gets mentioned often as a "workhorse" pastel, medium soft and still has enough firmness for some hard pastels effects, soft enough for some softer pastels effects, very general application. They also come in half sticks. If you wanted to try a Medium texture they are a good choice, what I'd do with multiple textures is underpaint with Cretacolor Pastels Carre' (hard) and build up the painting with layers in Rembrandt, then use the Sennelier for final details and last layers after the paper tooth is filled with Rembrandt.

With Sennelier alone, go lightly on those early layers. When blending colors actually use a blender on early layers, save the sparkling scumble effects for layers that will come later and be directly visible. Or scumble lightly enough you can do it several times over before the finish.

If you get used to Senneliers and like them but want more colors, there are larger half sticks sets up to the 120 color Paris Collection which has everything I'd think of as essential for most subjects, or go beyond that into the bigger wood box full sticks sets.

I've been tempted for most of my life to get the full range Sennelier set, but need to have the space and big table to lay it out as well as saving up the money. I've spent more than that and now have way more pastels than that over many different brands. I don't regret it since I do like the variety in my collection and have discovered how much I enjoy Unisons and Rembrandts and Great Americans as well.

You don't need more pastels than you have. But as they wear down you can think about what to try next. One thing you can do to explore different textures is email Blick and Jerry's Artarama asking for samples of the brands they carry in open stock. I have yet to try a set of the Blick Artist pastels but very tempted to a large half sticks set, the sample I got was a somewhat crumbly brilliant full saturation bright orange-red. Sample sticks are random colors and give a good feel for how they work in your hand.

That's the third factor besides softness of pastel and type of surface. Some people have a heavy hand, others a light hand. Sennelier teaches a light hand and control of pressure.

Softer pastels wear down fastest and with a small assortment you may find the white wears down very fast lightening areas. Extra tints help a lot, also let you do "white" accents that are blue or orange or green or something that makes them harmonize better. But you can expand by open stock sticks or by getting additional half sticks sets that have an advantage of good storage - the boxes Sennelier uses are great.

Sky blues tend to wear out fast as well, and some greens do. It varies with what you paint most and how you use them. Keep track and if you're constantly substituting or need 3 layers to get a hue you need, a larger set may help a lot.

I'll be interested to see what you do with that plein air range!

06-30-2016, 01:33 AM
I have a very limited brand of pastels. I started my pastel works with Mungyo and then went on to buy Gallery, Koh-I-Noor soft pastels and recently i purchased Sennelier. As a routine now I use the Mungyo for my underpainting and in the second and consecutive layers I apply Koh-I-Noor and Sennelier both. This arrangement works pretty well with me.

Posting one of my recent works created using the above pastels.


07-05-2016, 01:10 PM
Oh, this is great! Love your lyrical style and rich colors. Beautiful sky holes on those graceful trees, gorgeous lines. Very workable combination, Gallery and Koh I Noor are good ones. Sennelier are the softest and very lush. Way cool! The light in this is fabulous!

07-05-2016, 07:19 PM
Now i think is 30 Plen Air Sennelier cover work made only using this set? if so it seems true what i sometimes thinked if hues arecorrect i dont need much pastels (i know very likely only manfacutruer knows). i have giant amount now but i bet i never again cannot afford such amount pastels and i bet when go old and get own aparment i dont have room big collection even. i try learn more bleding and how colours change when i change background colour.

Moqui Steps
07-31-2016, 09:58 PM
I have found that the Sennelier are too soft for my way of working on sanded papers for the underpainting. I use hard pastels first, followed up by semi hard, then the very last bits are done with softies.

So my advice is get some hard or semi hards to do your underpainting and save those yummy Sennelier colors for the final strokes.

Of course, if you like how the soft pastels work as an underpainting go for it!