View Full Version : buying my first pastel set, help!

01-13-2010, 08:37 AM
I have only been playing with pastels since Christmas day but I am in love with them, so it is already time to upgrade from my little Jasart box.

Today I spent hour upon hour researching different brands first on this site and then on the web finding out which pastels I liked the sound of and which I could actually afford as well as buy locally.

A few I like the sound of are either out of my price range or not locally available so here are my choices (at local prices):

Art Spectrum 120 box set for $339.96

Winsor & Newton 120 box set for $299.00

Rembrant 90 box set for $304.00

I have bought a couple of colours in Art Spectrum and Winsor & Newton and liked them both about the same, I'm pretty sure I am going to like the softer pastels as I go but from all my research it would seem the most sensible option would be for my first set to be one of the above so as to start with a good base medium/soft set and then add softer pastels as I can afford them?

The pictures I am most attracted to painting at the moment are anything to do with water... waves, beaches, ponds, and the life and light that surrounds these places....children playing at the waters edge, sunlight shining through the water and glancing off surfaces, fish, lilly pads, dragonfly's.

So any guidance? if this was your choice which set would you start with?
I am leaning towards the Art Spectrum they sound more vibrant? but for water and light is that what I need?

I also found a 100 box set of Sennelier for $359.95 and I love the sound of these but from what I have read I really need a good medium set before I go for something so soft?

All opinions and comments are appreciated.

Cheers Deborah.

01-13-2010, 09:04 AM
I use both Art Spectrum and Winsor & Newton. The AS sticks have a little bit of grit in them which makes them a bit easier to use on an unsanded paper (Canson MT, eg) than the WNs. That grit seems to embed itself in the paper and helps keep the surface rough for more layers. The WN sticks are smoother and don't layer as well on unsanded papers. On sanded papers, however, they're both good.

I really like the AS Flinders Red Violet and Flinders Blue Violet colors and find them very useful for many different subjects. I can't work without WN French Ultramarine Tint 1 and Ultramarine Violet Tint 1. AS Blue Grey is also very useful. One of the AS dark blues (Pthalo?) is hard as a rock and unusable on unsanded surface. You might be better off selecting colors.

As a rank amateur, I find Sennelier very difficult to work with.

Hope this helps,

01-13-2010, 09:31 AM
Deborah, it depends a little bit on where on the globe you are. (Odd reply, I know. :-) The less a pastel stick has travelled, the cheaper it is, so fairly local brands are usually a better "bang for the buck". The other reason has to do with the colours and the light where you live. If you're in England or New Zealand, you'd have different colours from, say Florida. Are your beaches white, golden, or flint grey? That kind of thing is good to consider.

If you're in Europe, I'd recommend Unisons, as they are sort of medium soft. They stick beautifully to any kind of paper (even the lousy ones), and their blues are perfect for skies and water. They are also softer than the brands you mention, but not supersoft, so they don't clog up tooth of the abrasive papers (a lighter touch is needed). They're a handmade exclusive brand, though.

I think your reasoning is sound, to get a medium hard/soft brand to use for learning and then for a work-horse brand. AS are grittier than Rembrandts, but they do not have any annoying hard particles that scratch the paper, as the Rembs do (my workhorse, as it is the local brand). Colourwise, they're fairly equal. W&N is slightly weaker in colour, and slightly softer. (In my opinion.)

If you're in the US, try a sampler pack of both pastels and papers from Dakota. They put in all sorts of sticks and papers, so you can find your favourites easily.

Senneliers have the most beautiful bright colours, but I'd say one needs some experience before wrestling with the varying hardness/softness of them.

Generally, I recommend a basic set, and then adding single sticks and colours to it. It takes years to figure out the exact palette you use.


01-13-2010, 10:49 AM
Of the 3 you mentioned I have only used Rembrandts so can't really compare. I like the Rembs though as a medium soft pastel.
What I can't get over is the prices you are quoting! I don't know where you are so don't know whether the prices are in US$, Can$ or Aus/NZ$ but wow they seem expensive!
There is a potential breakage problem with pastels having to travel a long way but, apart from that, it may be worth checking some "foreign" suppliers.
For example, greatart.co.uk sell the 90 wooden box set of Rembs for 128.73 (225 box set 321.84) and the 72 box set of W&N for 97.72. Even with currency conversion and shipping I would think that would be less than your prices.

01-13-2010, 11:32 AM
Might I suggest shopping on Ebay- search Soft Pastels. That's where I got most of mine, then started buying open stock locally, then ventured to the online places for open stock. I'm here in the US.

Paula Ford
01-13-2010, 11:45 AM
I always suggest Mount Visions. They are the perfect pastels. Not too hard; not too soft. They can be used throughout the whole painting from beginning to end.

I'm in the process of choosing the colors for what will be called the "Paula Ford - Essentials for the Romantic Landscape" set. Stay tuned...

Deborah Secor
01-13-2010, 12:34 PM
I usually suggest to my students that they start with a 96-color set of Nu-Pastels or another hard stick such as these, and also buy a small set of softies like Schmincke. BUT I wonder if you wouldn't be just as happy with Girault pastels. They have a quality of line you might enjoy, being slightly harder (though NOT hard pastels), and as you build them up on the paper they develop this wonderfully creamy consistency that blends beautifully.

I think a lot of people choose a medium-hard pastel at the outset because they aren't sure what appeals to them and it seems so logical, but in fact I think you might be happier with some hard and some soft, to find out how different pastels work on different paper.

As you see, there are a multitude of opinions! I'm sure whatever you decide will work, as all the brands mentioned above are good and will work.


PS Paula--that's cool!!

01-13-2010, 02:03 PM
Paula--that is so cool! i love Mount Visions!

when I first started I bought a 30 stick sea/water one from AS, a 39 North american landscape from Great american, a 12 gray set from blockx, a 15 darks from mount vision. i had researched the differences( mainly on the s=different sellers websites as I wasn't on wetcanvas then). I wanted to try various brands and these were the ones that sounded good to me. At first i didn't care for the mount visions much or the Art spectrums as they were harder. But I also knew nothing about applying pastels either. I loved and still love the Great americans as the soft ones though. The blockx ones were quite soft as well, and I still have most of these just smaller buts of them as i use them up. If I were to go for a medium soft one I would say mount Vision or Art Spectrum again it depends on where you live. Dick blick now has their own brand of soft pastels that i believe are made by Daler rowney. they are at a great price, but I have no idea what they are like. I am tempted to get them to fill in the gaps so to speak. I only have a small set of semi-hard pastels 12 nupastels and 36 gallery by mungyo. The nupastels have oms lightfastness issues though. But, Jack Richeson has three different kinds of artist pastels, soft hand rolled ones that =are big and fat and medium hard ones and semi-hard ones that are a bit softer than nupastel (or so the company says) i plan to buy the semi hard ones soon. I do have a small set of the medium hard one and they are similar to rembrandts and art spectrums so those might be an option as well although at this time they lack good darks. But the prices are very good and the quality seems good and they are lightfast according to the company that sells them. If it were me, i would buy some medium hard ones and a small set of soft ones like Great Americans, or Schminke. Again a lot of it depends on where you live.
Sorry for the rambling. the way I did it worked for me but i was soon wanting more and to try other brands. Dakota Pastels and fine Art store both have pastel samplers. The Dakota ones come in one color(you choose which color) the fine art store ones have a variety of different colors and you just get what they send you for that. It is a good way to see how different brands work and what kind of softness you like. Everyone is different in what they like.


01-13-2010, 04:31 PM
Thank you for your replies,

Sorry I didn't check and thought that my country of residents was showing, now you can see I live in Australia:) where pastels are very expensive:(

I did check Aussie ebay with no luck and I don't want to buy a brand I can only get from overseas and have to wait forever for every time I need replacements.

I love the sound of Unison but at a local price of $440 for a 72 piece set or $6each I will have to start selling my work before I can justify them!! Schminkle
are worse at $688.50 for 100 piece set. Other brands mentioned I can not find in Australia.

Hopefully I will eventually find a cheaper source locally but for now I have looked on the net at about 20 art supplies shops in Sydney(my city) and in Australia on line with not much luck.

I'm going shopping to get them today and have pretty much decided on Art Spectrum, I'll let you know what happens, I'm sooo excited I got no sleep last night!!!

Thanks again Deborah.

Deborah Secor
01-13-2010, 04:52 PM
In that case, the AS sound like a good local choice to me! :) You won't be disappointed at all. Have fun!

(the other) Deborah

Mary Y
01-13-2010, 05:46 PM
Have you checked the web sites for "thesmartartclub" or "theartshop.com.au
both are in the East. Also' Mt Vision pastels Australia & New Zealand.'
Enjoy whatever you decide.

01-13-2010, 06:11 PM
The AS is a very good choice, and work great on the AS Colourfix paper too. Jacquaranda and Flinder's violets are sticks I don't want to be without. AS now has a great set of near whites, too. Pilbara earth is lovely, one of the few earths I use.


01-13-2010, 10:33 PM
Art Spectrums were what I would have recommended for you from those you mentioned, especially since you mentioned you actually are in Australia. They have the least distance to travel and some of the colours are specifically formulated for Australian landscapes. I love the Art Spectrum pastels and the Art Spectrum Colourfix papers and primers.

Rembrandts are about equivalent in hardness to the Art Spectrums.

If you want some hard pastels to use with medium-soft ones, the ones I'd recommend would be color Conte, Cretacolor Pastels Carre or Richeson Semi-Hard Pastels. NuPastel has some lightfastness issues. Polychromos are great but horribly expensive. I don't know what's available Down Under but mentioned those brands so you'd know what to watch for in the hard sticks.

Color Conte you wouldn't need as large a set as some of the others because they mix so well, I love them for sketching, underpainting and sometimes all by themselves. Despite using them a lot, they seem to last a long time and are worth the money.

It might help to find out what colors you use most for the last layer details, the things where you'd need to put something super soft over the rest when the paper's tooth is filled, then choose open stock Sennelier or Schminke or whatever super soft brand is easiest to get down there. Senneliers don't seem that much cheaper in sets than in open stock unlike some products.

Mount Visions are wonderful, very soft and huge sticks that turned out to be very cost effective. If you can get them down there, those are a great choice for softies to add to the medium soft ones.

But I could also use Art Spectrum on all the layers with those techniques, the advantage of a medium texture brand is its versatility.

01-14-2010, 03:47 AM
Thanks everyone your comments have made this choice so much easier and I am very happy and proud to say that I bought my Art Spectrum pastels today!

I did more checking on prices etc. this morning and the price variation was appalling I ended up buying a 120 wooden box set of Art Spectrum for $339.95 by far the cheapest I could find in store, one place in the city quoted me $571 for the same set!!! the average price was around $440.

Mary I checked the on line sites thanks, smartartclub was $40 cheaper but I wanted them today LOL and theartshop was about $70 more expensive.

I have to say I am really surprised at the price differences and I'm so glad I had a good look around.

Thanks again for everyones help and reassurances with my choice:)

Cheers Deborah.

01-14-2010, 04:00 AM
There's a 90 set of Rembrant Landscape pastels on eBay.com.au at the moment, only an hour & a half to go, but they're $265, no bids, postage $13.80. Item number: 170430119269. It'll save you a few dollars but you'll have to be quick!