View Full Version : Mary Grand Pre Art: What Brand should I buy? What technique is this?

09-18-2006, 08:46 PM
Hi-- I'm new to this forum, as well as pastels. Ever since I saw the artwork of Mary Grand Pre (she did the book covers for Harry Potter, as well as many other children's books), I have wanted to start using pastels. I absolutely love her technique and the way these pastels really *pop* with color. I have been reading up on pastel techniques and different brands, but I can't seem to decide what kind of soft pastels would be best for the kind of work Mary Grand Pre does. I plan on buying a set of Conte Pastel Pencils, but I also want a set of regular pastel sticks. Here are a few examples of her work:


Here is a whole album dedicated to her Harry Potter pastel paintings:

So, my question is: What kind of brand of pastels do you think would be the best for this technique? What would you call this technique in the first place? Any other tips would be appreciated!!!


09-18-2006, 09:46 PM
:cat: You're definately going to need some darks Jessica and some vibrant colours as this work contains both. Do check for color fastness when you get to looking at those vibrant ones. You're going to need a lot of control so I would bo with something slim for a main set like NuPastel or Polychoromas and Terry Ludwig for the darks. Although his are large they're wonderfully rich. Once you have a large set of multipurpose colours you will need to suppliment it with others as you go.

And...welcome to the forum and to pastels...you will love them. Good luck...this looks like nothing but tons of fun to me.!! :wave:

Cheers, Dianna

09-18-2006, 10:07 PM
actually, i'm not sure what the best brand of pastel pencils would be best-- any suggestions for that would be great too!! :-)

09-18-2006, 10:21 PM
oh, don't get us going on brands again! <joking!> as mentioned in a bunch of other threads, go thru dakota pastels, get the big sampler set, and give a go at ALL the brands! every one seems to have their own 'top list', it is alot like handwriting--i prefer a fat, roller ink pen, while someone else likes a super fine. i also like some padding while i know plenty others who like a hard board under their paper--its all preference. but what a fun ride to figure it all out!!

09-18-2006, 10:46 PM
I love Carb Othellos's and ContÚs though ContÚs are hard to sharpen.

Cheers, Dianna:cat:

09-18-2006, 10:57 PM
Okay, so I was reading on another thread in this forum that pastel pencils don't work well OVER soft pastels, and that they just pick up the color. (I was thinking that you would use pastel pencils for details after you put down a layer of soft pastel color, but i guess i was wrong.) So, with that in mind, i guess i'm now looking for pastels that are vibrant, good for layering color, and can be used for detail work. (Sorry to keep changing!!) You both have been a lot of help, thankyou!!! :-)

09-19-2006, 01:14 AM
Depending on what pastels you use on the bottom and what paper you are using, some pencils do work over top and can also be used for blending a layer of soft pastel. You would have the most success layering them on top if you were using sanded papers. Usually I use the pencil to lay down colour the same as with a stick... using the pencil only if the area is too small to do with a stick. So technically they are being used side by side more than layered. I find the Derwent and Pitt are the hardest of pencils and the hardest to use flattening out softer papers like Mi Teintes.

Cheers, Dianna :cat:

Mary Brigid
09-19-2006, 03:59 AM
welcome to a great site Beagle. And welcome to soft pastels. After trying many types of papers i found the sanded ones the best. Says I and I only on my 20th painting!!!!! You will get great advice for the very generous artists here

09-19-2006, 09:24 AM
I would back chewie's suggestion of trying the sample set at www.dakotapastel.com, and the Nupastel and Polycromos are good hard sticks as is Holbein..you won't find any "one" brand that will fit all your needs, unfortunately, so best to try a few and see what works for you:wave: , and welcome!!!

K Taylor-Green
09-19-2006, 11:29 AM
Hi and welcome to the forum! Tressa is right, you are going to end up with a mixed bag in the end.
I use pencils over soft sticks and it just depends on the paper as to how well it will layer. Too bad we don't know what kind of paper Mary uses.
As chewie mentioned, the Dakota sampler is the best way to try all the brands and make a decision.

09-19-2006, 11:22 PM
First of all, thank you all for your help!! :-) All of your suggestions are great.

Since I'm a lowly college student with a small budget, do you think I really need pastel pencils in addition to soft pastel? It seems like (correct me if i'm wrong) the softer the pastel the more vibrant the color. But, I wonder if it might be better to just get a "harder" soft pastel that I could sharpen or use the broken edge to do small detail work...

I guess what I'm trying to decide, is it worth buying a set of pencils, or are they essential to detailed pastel paintings, like Mary Grand Pre's work?

Again, thank you all :-D

09-20-2006, 12:21 AM
Hi Jessica! :wave: Welcome to WC and the Pastel Forum! I can see why you like Mary GrandPre's work; it's beautiful - quite lively and colorful.

I'm a relative newbie to pastels, but I just would like to add another thing you might consider in making your decision about the type of pastel to use, and that's the scale of the work you intend to produce. Generally, I am finding, the smaller the scale one works in, the harder a pastel one might want. Details that one might easily accomplish with a softer pastel on a large sheet of paper will be very difficult with that same pastel at a much smaller scale. If the works you showed us in this thread are on a large sheet (say, 24x36 or thereabouts), it's possible that a pastel of medium-softness (such as Rembrandt, Girault, or Art Spectrum - to name just a few) may have been used. I think the suggestion about the Dakota pastel sampler is a good one, so you can see what works well for you, and at the same time, you might also think of trying their paper sampler, as the type of paper can make a big difference too.

I also wonder if one of the Harry Potter fans might be able to provide some more details about the artist's work (type of pastel(s) and paper used; scale of paintings, etc.). There's a forum on the site you linked, http://www.veritaserum.com/forums/index.php?act=Search&f=
Who knows, there may be people on that site who actually know the artist. :)

Edited to add: Look what I just found! It's the website of the artist herself: http://www.marygrandpre.com/

I didn't realize it, but she has also had an extensive career besides her Harry Potter work, with many awards from several groups, such as The Society of Illustrators, for her illustrations for a huge variety of publications (such as the Atlantic Monthly). I read one comment she made that her work didn't really take off until she realized she didn't have to give up being an artist in order to be an illustrator (there are also comparisons of her work to such masters as Modigliani). I don't know if Deborah Christensen will happen upon this thread, but as MaryGrandPre apparently works exclusively in pastels, an interview of her might make for a very interesting article for the Pastel Journal.

09-20-2006, 02:17 AM
OOHH! I could kick myself! I came across a wonderful book at the library about pastels, but I can't think of the name of it. It covered oodles of brands and the qualities unique to each brand such as hardness and soforth. This would be perfect for you. I'm sorry, but maybe a trip to the library (as if you're not already busy!) would help. I do know that the pigment used will cause variances in the hardness of the sticks, but the brands also vary distinctly. Kitty Wallis taught me how to make pastels and it's one of the most useful things I've ever learned, artfully speaking. Its also quite messy but fun. I use softies like Rembrandt, and homemades, and also use the pencils for detail work, but as mentioned, they work better using a sanded paper. Hope this helps.


Deborah Secor
09-20-2006, 04:35 PM
I don't know if Deborah Christensen will happen upon this thread, but as MaryGrandPre apparently works exclusively in pastels, an interview of her might make for a very interesting article for the Pastel Journal.

Always open to such ideas--thanks!

09-20-2006, 07:41 PM
I find the Derwent and Pitt are the hardest of pencils and the hardest to use flattening out softer papers like Mi Teintes.

What do you mean by "flattening out" the paper? Would you not recommend buying Derwent or Pitt? I think that I'm going to buy:

a set of pastel pencils (not sure what brand yet),
a larger set of Rembrandt soft pastels for the majority of the work, and
(as i need them) i think i'll buy some individual Senniliers for highlighting and getting bright colors on the top.

Does that sound good to you guys? :rolleyes: What pastel pencils do you think would go well with the Rembrandt and Senniliers? I'll be using the pencils for detail work where I can't fit a regular pastel stick, so I need them to be vibrant in color as well.Thanks!! :angel:

09-22-2006, 11:24 AM
Hi again...I've only used Pitt, so I can't make a comparison. The "flattening out" comment was likely about how a hard pencil could, if used with a heavy hand, pull off the earlier layers of pastel (and if used with a really heavy hand, might score the paper).

It's very hard to advise someone on the type of pastel to use, as they "feel" different to different people. Perhaps you could buy a single pastel pencil of a couple of brands, to try them out and see which one you prefer. Dakota, in their catalog, has fairly detailed information about each of the different brands, including a chart on comparative softness (they have a similar chart for soft pastels). I believe Dakota mentions that the Pitt line has softer colors than the next softest one, which I think is Carb-Othello, according to their chart, but again, I've not particularly noticed that myself. My work isn't aiming for particularly bright colors, though.

Shane Keene
09-23-2006, 01:11 AM
Here's my two cents on the pencil aspect of this thread: Pitt pencils are very hard and will definitely flatten the tooth (texture) of softer papers like Mi-Teintes. Also, if you're looking for vibrant colors I don't recommend them as they are really quite dull compared to most other brands. I have multiple sets of pastel pencils and (for vibrancy) would recommend Conte. They are soft and easy on softer papers and they are quite vibrant. Also, if you are using Rembrandt sticks the Conte pencils will layer over them if you don't put them on too thick in the areas where you plan to use pencil.

Hope this helps.

09-23-2006, 09:03 AM
Don't like to recommend which brand to invest in either but I do want to warn you about using Sennilier for your super softie. They are so soft that they tend to crumble and fall apart and are too expensive for that type of problem, in my opinion. My personal preference is for Terry Ludwig or Schminke. I use Rembrants as a basic set but also really like Windsor Newton. There are so many brands to choose from and it really is a personal choice. Girault is another good basic stick. If you have a local art supply store it's always fun to go examine pastels in person. As far as pencils go I don't use them, so I have no advice.

09-23-2006, 01:17 PM
Hi Jessica,

I have this issue of International Artist with pastel paintings that are quite similar in terms of brightness to those shown by you.
However I don't know where I'm put that issue - I found those that I didn't need, as usual.
But I'm posting a link so that you can see some of the works.


And on this one, you have his contacts. And by clicking on the top circles you'll have access to more of his works :


Kind regards,


09-23-2006, 01:49 PM
Let me see if I have this right: You've never tried pastels, but you like this artist's work, which is in pastel, so you want to do art in her style?
If that's correct I would suggest you get some cheap ones at first, and some paper with tooth (you can get fairly cheap charcoal or pastel pads ) and see if you actually like using them. Some people don't!
I started with a package of Alphacolors (3 bucks then, maybe 10 bucks now) and a charcoal pad. I had fun with them, and eventually got some Nupastels, not terribly expensive either, then moved to higher quality. Now I mostly use artist-quality oil pastels because I'm allergic to dust.
Some of my Alphacolor work is still around after decades, and is still in good shape.

09-23-2006, 07:48 PM

I looked at some of the images, and their texture makes it look like they are actually on canvas or something that has a canvas-like texture. You might check out some of Doug Dawson's images and books, because he seems to paint night and dusk scenes, and portrays lights well in them. That may give you some ideas about how to use the colors together to portray a light emitting source.

Color usually seem to pop for me when the color combinations are right, and there is some dark neutral color or sometimes contrasting color combinations. You might try to use some of the Harry Potter images and try to reproduce them as studies - that might help you find your own method to do what you want. If it were up to me, I would try little thumbnails of sections to see if I could isolate what was really going on in them, and maybe that will help. Good luck in your findings! :)