View Full Version : Advice on medium soft brand(s)

05-15-2008, 03:39 PM
I'd very much appreciate some advice on what to choose.

As I'm (very temporarily) "rich", I'd like to get another pastel brand. Been searching the forum, but can't find a comparison between the two brands I'm thinking of -- Unison and ArtSpectrum. (Or some other recommendation.) Those two I can get from the UK at a better price than from the US.

I have Rembrandt and Schmincke, one a harder good "workhorse" and the other a supersoft creamy for finishing. I'd like something inbetween that has very rich colours, especially dark darks without black added.

Unison seems fairly unique, and it looks like the colours would be saturated. But, are they too soft? are they for final touches mostly, as the Schmincke's are?

Art Spectrum seems to be about as hard as Rembrandt, but with more glowing colours. But, they seem to be using black for making the darks. And usually black 'kills' the colour, and look totally out of place in my paintings (unless it is a bottom layer). Almost black ultramarine is wonderful, but a real black...

Or some other brand totally? (Preferrably one who won't make me destitute.)

The internet is wonderful, but you can't touch/feel/try a pastel here, so any advice you can give me is most welcome.


05-15-2008, 03:59 PM
I am very partial to the Unisons. I, too, use Rembrandts under most paintings, then the Unisons and top it with the Schminckes. I feel the Unisons are right in between the two, although a bit closer to Rembrandts. Mount Visions, again in MY opinion, are also in between. I just got the Ludwig Intense Dark II set for Mother's Day and haven't yet been able to try them (talk about frustrating!), so I cannot comment on them. Isn't it a thrill to buy new pastels?! Good luck.


WC Lee
05-15-2008, 04:22 PM
If you want really rich darks, I would suggest taking a look at Terry Ludwig.

Anyhow, I would consider Unison to be between Rembrandt and Schmincke in terms of softness. And I would consider AS slightly harder than Unison. The AS darks aren't as black as you may think.

I made little color swatches of some of AS darkest darks with Sennes Black side by side for comparison in this order: AS Ultramarine Dark, AS Phthalo Blue Dark, AS Ivory Black, and Sennes BLACK. Sennes Black is really really really Black :D


05-15-2008, 04:42 PM
I have never used either Unison or Schminke. For something medium soft I would recommend Girault. They have become my "workhorse" pastel.


05-15-2008, 05:10 PM
I managed to bag some Unison's on Ebay... they are lovely. Not as soft as Schminke... but more so than rembrandts. I have used them with suede mat board and they work very well here for large areas as well as highlights. If I could afford more of them, I would get them. THey are wonderful.


Donna T
05-15-2008, 05:29 PM
I wish I could afford each and every color of Unison. They are my favorite and I use them for just about everything - under layers to final touches. I don't have any Schminkes but I'm guessing the Great Americans I have are similar, too buttery and tooth clogging for me unless they go on as a final highlight. I won't buy any more Art Spectrums. I tried some of their darks and each color I ordered is very hard with bits of impossibly hard pastel that scratch the paper. I think someone else here mentioned this problem with them recently. The Ludwig darks are intensely dark but I find that they don't stick to the paper as well as the Unisons.


05-15-2008, 06:28 PM
Oh, thank you so much, all of you! Hoping for some more comments, too.

I found Girault's homepage, and just look at these goodies:
Scroll down a bit, and just drool over the set to the left... Oh my!

05-15-2008, 10:50 PM
I too use Rembrandt and Schminke, I also have a reasonable collection of Art Spectrums too. I also have a few Windsor and Newton which I really like the texture of, they are not at all hard and are most certainly not as soft as the Schminke they go onto papers like Art Spectrum and Canson like butter and don't seem to be too dusty either. I also really really liek Terry Ludwigs but the only way I can ever get them is by having to buy them in from the USA which tends to expensive when it comes to the postage, which is a huge shame especially with our $ being so close now. Make the most of your "Rich" period and enjoy whatever you get.

Take Care and Keep Dusty
Love Carolynn :):):heart::heart:

Donna A
05-16-2008, 12:52 AM
Hi, Charlie! Art Spectrums and Unisons are two of my favorites---And actually, AS my first, Terry Ludwigs my second, and then Unisons and Mt. Visions come in next. I like Guiralts, but they are definitely harder than Art Spectrums, but, like the AS, far more strongly pigmented than the Rembrandts. (I have not touched my absolutely full set of Remb's for many years since I've had these other colors. I've had my full set of Giraults, Senns and Schm's since around '82/'83. The Remb's much earlier.

The Unisons are probably a bit softer than the Art Spectrums, but I use the As's for about 85% of my work---with 26 brands (now counting the Pan Pastels) and about 4700 different sticks.

The W/N's are soft and great when you like to work lower intensity. I was told, when they first came out, by one of the major artist supply stores in New York City, that---hmmm---hmmm---hmmm---"the W/N's aren't exactly what the pastel artist is looking for." LOL! I still remember that response to my question about how they were. I did eventually buy a full set a couple of years later with a sale at one of the IAPS conventions. I don't use them much at all---but---they ARE really nice for lower intensity, which is sometimes challenging since several other yummy brands are so very heavily pigmented and strongly, richly intense.

The Art Spectrums glide over and under most everything. I prefer the Unisons over, only. But they are wonderful, too!!! The Great Americans seem far softer to me than the Schm's. Usually toooo soft for my tastes, but they are quite lovely!!!! I love the names Bob has given us!!! and some of the innovative colors he had 'designed!' Must say that for some of the colors in Unison, too! And then I like some of the greens and a few others colors in particular in the Art Spectrums which are unique to many other brands. And Terry has really focused on some very innovative colors---and his darks are marvelous! His square shapes---along with the newer GA's are really "handy" and have a good feel.

Charlie ---this is a hard and delicious decision for you to make! I wish you so well! You will be so happy with either brand---Art Spectrum or Unison! Unison has many more colors. Art Spectrum has a more 'compact' number of colors, in some cases avoiding duplicates of nearly the same color in very light ranges. But Unison does have a much larger number.

And EVERY brand (that I've seen ---26) has something special in the color area. Well---maybe most every brand.

I do think the two brands you've zeroed in on are among your very best choices. Do let us know what you decide! And have soooo much fun with them! Again---very best wishes! Donna ;-}

05-16-2008, 01:37 AM
Yup - Unison and Art Spectrum - two of my favorites too. However, I have to admit I have almost every color Unison has made - at one time I had every color, but then they were given to me by John Hersey himself (the maker in Scotland) before they were ever imported into the U.S. and even before IAPS exsisted so I was spoiled very early in the game. They are still my most often used pastel, but I'm finding I'm picking up some of those special AS colors that Donna has referred to, and don't want to be without them either. Since Terry Ludwig's are difficult for you to come by, I won't even tease you with my favorites there. I do think the Unison Darks (both boxes) pretty much compare to Ludwigs darks with a few exceptions. Girault does have some nice colors, but I don't think they are as intense as the Unison or AS. I have some of their grayed colors that I really like though.

Charlie I don't think you'd be unhappy with either Unison or AS. Maybe some of each?


05-16-2008, 08:32 AM
I have AS but no Unison. I find that some of the AS darks are very hard and do not work well on unsanded paper like Canson. They're OK but not great on sanded paper.

Big price difference between full set of AS and Unison, at least here in the US.


05-16-2008, 11:45 AM
Charlie, I just had the opportunity to order what I want ( within a buget) for my birthday, and I ordered a full set of Art Spectrum from Dakota. Too bad they didn;t say that they're out of stock and now I have to wait until next week for them to receive it and then to ship it. I will let you know how I like them, as soon as I get them!

As for Unisons, I have most of their colors, from buying big sets and little sets and singles and so forth. I must have over 300 of them. They are my absolute favourites, and that by comparison with Sminchke, Rembrant, Nupastes, Yarka, Mungyos.( this is what else I own). Sminckhes are definitely much softer than Unison, Unison is definitelly firmer ( as in less butter feel) but they release color just as easy as Smincke do, and go over or under anything! They are also very uniform in hardness, the darks and lights and in-between are all equally soft! They are also big fat sticks! They feel like whipped cream, it's just rich dry color in a stick! by comparison, Rembrant to me feels like densely packed clay sticks!

So hopefully in a week or two I'll have a full set of Art Spectrum as well, and I will let you know how they compare. If you go Unison, I can't imagine you having any regrets at all!

05-16-2008, 02:39 PM
Oh, so many thorough responses! Thank you so much.

Donna A, your enthusiasm over the AS made me consider them seriously in the first place. And I'm very happy with their Colourfix paper, which I don't think is actually sanded, but it is 'pitted', has craters of various sizes.

I don't like the W&N, which is a pity, as I can get them here. They are weaker in colour (my main concern) than the Rembrandts, and slightly softer, and I find their 'stickability' to paper to be less than Rembrandt. Love W&N for oils, though, so I have much respect for the brand.

WC, thanks for the swatches. The Sennes is black-black! (I take 'Sennes' to be 'Sennerlier'.) I thought the AS Ivory Black was a really dark burnt umber or something, it is positively brown next to the black-black.

T Ludwig darks: I've looked at them a zillion times, and will probably get some!

Christine, may you get time asap to do something beautiful with the Ludwig darks. You seem to use the brands I have, and exactly as I would want to. That's why I want a medium soft set too. So I 'listen' closely to what you say.

Don, I'm looking into the Giraults. Hadn't thought about them until you mentioned them.

Pat, so many seem to be really pleased with the Unisons. Thank you!

Donna T, Good to know you use the Unisons *under* too. From what I understand, the Schmincke and the GA are very similar in softness (and clogginess). I find I have to think of butterflies when applying the Schminckes, light and flutterly movements, no pressure. But when an area is overworked for the Rembrandts, several layers of Schmincke will go on top of them, with a firmer handling.

Carolynn, as you're Down Under, I'm a bit surprised you stick to the European brands. But as I use those, I can understand you like them. :-) And as I'm considering an Aussie brand... One just has to love this Global World we live in!

Peggy, That is excellent advice, to get both! I was thinking of sets, but as I don't use the earth colours much, it'd be wasted. So why not try them both, eh? The coloured colours. And I probably won't be able to resist T Ludwig's dark sets either. So many have spoken so well about them.

Luana, thanks. Do you have a light hand? I'm heavy handed, so the harder Rembrandts work for me. But some blues (phthalo) and reds are very hard, and difficult to get on Canson. The Unisons are way less costly for me if I order from the UK, but the AS have a much nicer pricetag.

Adiro, your enthusiasm is contagious! Great to hear your experience, seems like the Unisons are exactly what I am looking for in mid-softness. Rembrandts do feel like the chalk crayons used for writing on blackboard in school -- compared to Schminckes. Hard, cold, dense, while Schminckes are warm, fluffy, and light.

I hope I didn't miss anybody.

I'll try them both! They both get a lot of praise from you all.

Thank you so much for the help,