View Full Version : Advise for a Newbie (pre-dusted)?

01-26-2010, 01:08 AM
Greetings Dusters. :wave: I would say "fellow dusters", but alas, I'm not one of you. At least, not yet. My main medium is oil painting, and while I haven't posted new works for a while, when I did, it was primarily in the landscape forum. However, I have been fascinated with soft pastels. I haven't used them, but I've browsed through this Soft Pastel forum. A lot. Every single page. From the beginning. I have seen some amazing work in here - things I didn't think were POSSIBLE with pastels! While I can't name every single artist whose work I've admired, I can say I'm consistently impressed with the styles of Paula Ford, Deborah Secor, Dianna Ponting, Susan Jenkins, Tom Christopher, Charlie, and Pete K, among others. Now I hope you'll indulge what may be an oft-asked request (though after going through every page of this forum, I don't think it is). I would like to try my hand at soft pastels. The problem: I don't want to spend too much money on pastels in case I decide I definitely prefer oil painting, but I also don't want to get discouraged too easily because I bought poor quality pastels to start with. In my Utrecht catalog, I see Senneliers and Unisons that are more than I want to spend. Rembrandts, Faber Castells, and Prismacolors are affordable enough for me to try out. Are any of these any good? What would you all recommend? Also, I see a wide variety of papers used. I know some are fairly expensive for someone wanting to try things out, but I also want to get something with some quality. What would you recommend for paper for a beginner? Finally, do you know of any good books for teaching basic soft pastel techniques without wasting a lot of space on things like landscape composition? Any advise you could provide would be greatly appreciated. And keep up the good work!! You've got a very satisfied audience! :thumbsup: :D

Paula Ford
01-26-2010, 01:28 AM
Hello Ben! Welcome to the world of Pastels!!

Thank you so very much for the compliment!! You are so kind!

Let me start out by pointing you to the Pastel Talk Forum http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=147
That is where we just talk about pastels in general.

The Pastel Studio is where we show and get help with our paintings.

This thread started by Deborah Secor is absolutely the best http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=392571

My favorite pastels are Mount Visions and my favorite supports are Ampersand Pastelbord and Uart 400 or 500 grit. I know that you want to save money, but am afraid if you buy something because it's cheap, that is what you'll get...cheap. When someone buys inferior pastels, they can't see how quality pastels perform and think that the cheap ones and the good ones are going to perform the same. They will not! Not to say that Rembrandts or the others that you mentioned are inferior, but I would suggest if you buy some of those, you should also buy a couple of higher quality and softer texture to supplement with.

I hope that helps a bit to get you started.

01-26-2010, 01:57 AM
Well Hi Ben, i also thank you for that fine compliment putting little old me in with the big guys. Thank you.
Paula has a good point on what pastels to use. Paper is another thing so many brands and somany different people like different one's Pauls likes Uart i like smooth side of Canson Mi-teintes. big difference already in paper chorices. get something thats good and i know you will be hooked and you will have a hard time going back to oils. i know i have! Now Ben If you don't see this thread here it's most likely going to get moved to Pastel Talk. dont fret any. by the time i finished my post it was already moved. have fun.:clap:

01-26-2010, 06:49 AM
Hi Ben, thank you!

I come from oils, originally, so I tend to go for an 'oil look'. And maybe you'd be more comfortable with that too, so maybe you'll like this advice:

Skip the cheaper pastel papers like Ingres and Canson Mi-Teintes. Get some ordinary harware store cheap sandpapers, with very fine grit, 400 and finer (and grit numbers are not consistent, I know. Think texture like fine side of a nail file made of sandpaper.) With that, you can test pastels easily and cheaply, as the less expensive brands work just fine on sandpaper. Then, if you find you like the effect and the medium, there are artist's quality sandpapers in large sheets to use.

And, the beauty with hardware store sandpapers is that the quality of pastel doesn't matter much. No need to use the expesive and pigment rich handmade pastels. The harder machine made (and often less pigmented) ones work beautifully. Even the hard square soft pastels go on beautifully. Most of us actually start paintings with these kinds of pastels, and then shift to the softer ones towards the end of a painting (they're often so soft they clog the tooth if used earlier, but it also depends on the brand), so that investment in cheaper pastels would still be of good use if you get bitten by the pastel bug.

Then, shifting to better quality will not include much re-learning at all. I start with Rembrandts, my local and cheapest quality brand, and ArtSpectrums (both are on the harder side), and then continue with Unisons (the most 'oil paint' like pastel I've tried, very pigment rich), and Senneliers. But I'm in Europe.

Very good 'bang for the buck' are the Richeson's pastels, including their semi hard square ones. You can get bargains at Ebay, or even the WC Swap Shop in Artist's Marketplace forum.

And, for starters, you'd probably only need a few sticks. For example a set of 60 half-sticks of Rembrands cost as much as a set of 30 full sticks, and would give a much wider range, including some better darks. DickBlick (http://www.dickblick.com/products/rembrandt-soft-pastel-sets/) has them (and they're perfect on sandpaper). But, you'd be able to get good use of a set of 15, too, at least enough to see if you like the dusty side of painting, as you'd be used to manipulating colour with a limited palette.

Maggie Price's book "Painting with Pastels" is *the* book I recommend. (She named it *painting*, not 'drawing' -- and that is what she does, she *paints*.)

And very generally: Think of the pastel stick (break them, if you get long sticks) as the tip of a brush. For a wide 'brush', lay the stick on its side. You can scumble and glaze, and hatch, to 'mix' colours. Personally, I regard pastels as painting with a painting knife and mixing on the 'canvas'.

I *could* gush on... :-)


WC Lee
01-26-2010, 06:53 AM
Hello Ben, welcome to the dusty side.

If you want to try pastels without spending too much money, perhaps investing in a set of half sticks and a few sheets of different types of papers, both sanded and non-sanded. Sennelier 40 half stick set is around $45.00 at Blicks.

My favorite brands of pastels are Art Spectrum and Mount Vision. I got some on the softer range too but hardly use them at all except for final touches and highlights, sometimes not even that.

There are also a variety of paper that isn't designated as pastel paper which can be used with pastels, for example, watercolor paper. I personally will use almost any type of paper for pastel sketching, even newsprint (waiting for that slap on the back of my head). But for something more serious, I prefer to use sanded surfaces such as Wallis, UArt, or Colourfix.

01-26-2010, 09:33 AM
Being somewhat of a novice I hesitate to jump in with advice, but you should also be aware that some of the more expensive papers are also reusable, in that any painting that doesn't work can be washed off allowing the paper to be used again for hopefully a more successful masterpiece. Thus making the surface more cost effective than it would seem at first glance. Wallis, Uart and Colorfix all fall into this category.

Kathryn Wilson
01-26-2010, 10:40 AM
Why not try out the sample paper and pastel sets from Dakota - and they are out in your area. This would give you a good sampling of what's out there, then you can decide what would fit your budget with the pastels and paper you try out.


01-26-2010, 10:42 AM
Hi, Ben! Few thoughts:
-- Paper - If you don't want to spring for good sanded paper, I suggest that you invest in a jar of Colourfix primer (http://www.artspectrum.com.au/colourfix.html), in Clear. You can "prep" any good heavy watercolor paper or museum board or mat board with this primer and - presto! - a fairly useful pastel surface. (I had nothing but heartaches using Canson's Mi-Teintes so called "pastel paper" when I was beginning to experiment with pastels. Just my own experience. I agree with Charlie! My advice to all newbies is to avoid it.)
-- Books - My personal list of recommended pastel How-To and inspirational books is here (http://jan777.blogspot.com/2008/11/pastels-book-list.html). (I welcome any and all comments on my list.)
-- Pastel Brands - My right-now faves are Great American and Ludwigs and Townsends. If you're undecided, you could order a sampler pack from Dakota in one color (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/softpastels-dakota-samplers.aspx) and play around with that. Or order a "themed" sampler pack from Fine Arts (http://www.fineartstore.com/Catalog/tabid/365/List/1/CategoryID/9442/Level/a/Default.aspx?SortField=UnitCost%2cUnitCost). See which brand fits your hand.

Two recent threads with a lot of discussion on brands are:
= Most Usable Set (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=602730)
= Sets or open stock? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=603279)

Your instinct about not wanting to get discouraged too easily because you bought poor quality pastels is right-on. But it also applies just as strongly to the support.

I look forward to seeing your work! Hope this helps!


01-26-2010, 11:51 AM
hi Ben,

Dick Blick is now making their own artist quality pastels. i haven't tried them yet, but think they are made by the Daler rowney company and have heard some good things about Daler Rowneys. They are soft, but not too soft, and some say they layer well. these pastels are really inexpensive and come in sets and you can buy them open stock. Just a thought. I am thinking they may be my next pastel purchase.


Deborah Secor
01-26-2010, 01:39 PM
Glad to see you joining in here, Ben!

Here here--order the samplers of paper and pastels so you can see what works and how. You may fall in love with the expensive stuff, but you also get a chance to see what works on the less-expensive end of things.

Your experience with landscapes will make learning this medium more streamlined. Maggie's book is a great primer.


01-26-2010, 11:55 PM
Paula, Pete, Charlie, W.C., Carol, Kathryn, Jan, Sara, and Deborah: Wow, a day brings a lot of great info! Thanks so much! Each one of you gave me some good to great advice that I'll make use of! And I definitely trust your advice. I look forward to getting dusty. When that day comes, I'll share my efforts (maybe). :) Thanks again!