View Full Version : Investing in soft pastels

03-07-2010, 05:48 AM
Now that I am more into soft pastels, I would like to buy some non-student grade pastels to draw my night scenes, cities, monsters, and portraits and naked figures.

I've been reading up on many threads in the Materials section and would like the latest advice, please.

I'm in general heavy handed since I haven't learnt how to just dab colors on with light touch. I use all kinds of paper from Canson Mi-Tientes to various bumpy surfaced Tiziano, Strathmore, Charcoal paper, to Colorfix paper. I just started exploring velour paper and might get some pastelmat to try out too.

At the moment, I have the Drawing set of pan pastels and the Painting set of pan pastels 10 each. I see pan pastels as only the first layer like watercolor and not for detailed work. I have Cretacolor Hard Pastel Carre sticks. The rest are all student quality stuff.

I like to draw with dark toned backgrounds. Cities are preferably night scenes. Would the following sets be the right choice for me?

I'm thinking of Mount Vision's set of 50 for portraits here.


And Terry's Ludwig's intense dark set of 60 here.

Do I have enough colors to do an occasional landscape and monster or should I get a basic set of Blick's Pastel of 90 too in case I need to put the naked person in a forest:lol: ? Or is there a better and economical basic set out there that I should consider to fill in the holes between the two sets?


My budget for the moment is around $500 more or less. I still need to buy a set of good quality pastel pencils to go along with these since there might be some eyelashes, telephone wires, light bulbs, small people that I have to add into the paintings.

Any suggestions would be welcome.

03-07-2010, 10:31 AM
Sandra, while you could improvise with just the portrait set and the deep darks set, I think you'll like the Blicks. I tried one, they're soft and nice, almost like Sennelier. They also don't cost that much! You'd have a general assortment, a lot of wonderful portrait colors and enough deep darks to make deep dark forests and incredible nocturnes as well as your strong dark backgrounds with figures. You've come up with a good plan there. You're also still on budget with those three sets and have $100 left for the pastel pencils, which would let you get full range in any of the good artist brands.

While it can come out interesting to substitute and create something using a palette that isn't suited to it, it's a lot easier to have more colors and be able to grab what's a lot closer to the exact color you want. Of course people with 5,000 sticks still can't find that exact color you want, but a good balanced range will help you when you're doing those blue monsters in the forest or the bathers at the seaside.

Try a set of Cretacolor pastel pencils. I like the Derwent ones I just got, a lot, but they're the new formula and I'm not sure if Blick's actually gotten the new formula yet. I'd have to email them and ask them or place the order by phone to be sure they understood. Come to think of it, I might do that.

I am so excited for you! Can't wait to see what you create when you have very soft pastels in hand. They're great on velour.

03-07-2010, 10:41 AM
I think your choices are good ones. If it were me, and I am not a portrait artist, but if it were me i would also get that blick set to round out the colors. Eventually you will want more colors and more variety, but i think this is a really nice start for professional grade pastels. I have both the Terry Ludwig dark sets and find them indispensable. But, they are soft to very soft. The mount visions are not as soft but go on nice. I haven't tried to Blick's but intend to get them for my medium soft brand. From what I have heard, they are softer than Rembrandts and also go on very nicely. You also might want to get one of the Art Spectrums super soft light 6 packs. They have a warm set and a cool set. This way you have some very soft very light ones for the last highlights. And you won't break the bank with such a small set. I have the Terry Ludwigs True lights set and use them all the time. At some point you may want to invest in a gray set like the Mount Vision Thunderstorm grays.

That is my two cents:)


03-07-2010, 03:44 PM
Hi Sandra,

Heavy handed, still, eh? While the TLs are wonderful, they are very soft, and perfect for dancing like a butterfly over the paper! In other words, they'd train you to be light-handed very quickly.

I have a bit of a handicap advicing here, as I don't know the American brands so well.

I'd recommend a medium soft, possibly on the slightly harder side, brand. Work well with a heavy hand, but also allow you to grow lighter.

My workhorse is Rembrandts, and I find the ArtSpectrums to be rather similar but stronger in chroma and slightly grittier, while the Rembs are like packed powder. Rembrandts go on all the papers you mention, including velour, and they *stay* on the velour, while supersofties just fall off. (Some people don't have that problem, though, but I have.) Giraults would work well, too, Don (Dak723) uses them. Maybe someone can say if the Mount Visions are of this medium hardness? Looks to me that the Workshop set would be the more versatile one for you, though, as the portrait set have many muted earthy colours, and are weak on the greens (for your bare colourful monster in the woods).

I'd not choose anything softer than Unisons, for a workhorse brand. Being heavy-handed myself. (I've learned to be lighter, but it took some while.)

So, with a 'workhorse' brand, you're set to paint most things on most papers. Eventually, you'll discover the need for a softer brand, and for example Terry Ludwig would be perfect, as they go on top of anything, as do the Schminckes.

You know, Sandra, the best thing to do is to try different brands, so a sampler set from for example Dakota would tell you what kind of softness/hardness will work for your hand. Then you wouldn't invest in the wrong kind of sticks. Or if you're lucky enough to have a well stocked store near you, try them there.

Sara's advice re: the AS supersoft light 6 pack would be great bang for the buck, they'd be perfect for highlights, and you really don't need more than a few of those near white tints (colourwise, I mean, as it is hard to see the difference between a warm blue and a blue blue when they are almost white). And a few really dark darks, too.

Hope this was of at least some help.


03-07-2010, 03:54 PM
Actually, Sandra, the Art Spectrum six-packs are designed to not overlap and create a complete 72 color set bought separately. If you got six packs of Darkest Darks and Lightest Lights to supplement a 50 Workshop set of MV and a full range of Blicks, you'd have a low-budget start on all that. One advantage to the Workshop sets in Mount Vision is that they're designed to be cumulative and not overlapping.

Or if you really want to go with the Terry Ludwigs too for super softest, maybe the Maggie Price Values set -- that has everything, super lights and super darks and mid values and pure tones. That's the one I'll be getting before I start getting into large quantities of darks. The hues tend to look pretty similar at the extremes of the ranges, like Charlie said. Also the Maggie Price set has that deep eggplant purple all the Ludwig lovers are insane about.

03-07-2010, 05:04 PM
This is always a tough question to answer because pastels vary a lot in terms of softness, and also in feel (some are grittier, some waxier). It is quite possible to spend a lot of money on a set and then almost never use it.

Both Dakota.com and Fineartstore.com have sampler sets that might be worth looking into - although spending $42 (the Dakota set) on 17 different pastels that are all near the same color might not be everybody's idea of money well spent!

If you have an art store nearby, it might be a good idea to buy 1 or 2 pastels of a few different brands so that you can actually use them before making a big investment. Different brands will work differently on different papers, too.

Generally speaking, I think one needs both medium hard and softer pastels to get the job done, but I would recommend that the bulk of the work - and therefore the majority of the pastels be middle softness to start out.

Rembrandts are a bit on the harder side, but soft enough to make a good workhorse. I find them to be a bit waxier which makes them work well on the non-sanded papers like Canson or Strathmore. On the other hand, they may be a bit too hard to get the effect you want on velour.

Giraults are thinner, a bit softer then Rembrandts, but grittier. These are my favorite for portrait work. For years, my hand picked portrait set had about 12 pastels, so I don't know if you need 50 for portraits! Maybe 24 or so would be enough. For landscapes, on the other hand, the more the merrier! I have over 60 greens (in various brands), for example. Giraults seem to work well on every surface I've tried, including velour.

Mount Visions are also a medium softness - also slightly on the gritty side, in my opinion, but work well on all surfaces, too. They are about twice the diameter of Giraults, so I find that I use them mainly for landscapes and not for portraits and figures. Again, it depends on how you work - and how large. Both Giraults and Mount Visions are hard enough to get a fairly fine line if you have a sharp edge on the pastel. Some of the really soft brands - Schminke, Ludwig, Sennelier - are too soft for really fine work, at least for me!

If you can pick up a few sticks of those really soft brands, I would. You might find that you prefer them. Many do. They go on easy and cover everything. For that reason, they work well for final highlights.

For really fine lines, I would recommend trying a few Polychromos. They are harder, so you can get fine lines, but since they are still soft pastels, they can be used on their sides to fill in larger areas. Personally, I have never liked pastel pencils and prefer just using a harder pastel.

I hope this helps! It is all rather vague and very much a matter of personal preference!


03-07-2010, 08:29 PM
Thank you, Charlie, Sara, Robert, Don, for all the valuable tips.

I went to Dick Blick and bought one of each pastel sticks from every brand there is and I would be able to test the full range soon. (And it's still cheaper than Dakota's sampler.) I'll be busy experimenting soon. Thank you so much for all your tips. And Don, I'm getting the Girault set of 25 skin tones set at once. Coming from you for portraits, I won't go wrong with it.

03-07-2010, 08:50 PM
Sandra, that completely makes sense to me. Unlike a sampler from Dakota, you're getting Blick prices (and I think they have regular in-store coupons even though the store prices are higher) and you're choosing the colors of your samples for what you find useful.

I got the Greens Sampler and do like it a lot. I didn't have a Blick store nearby, but if I did I might've picked all those out as samples anyway since I can never get enough greens -- none of them are the same as each other, not in value or hue, so I got a really nice collection of important greens even if one or two might eventually be duplicated when I get sets. I know I'll use them up.

Good choice on the 25 portrait Giraults. Don's right, it doesn't take 50 portrait colors usually even with the variety of skin tones there are.

WC Lee
03-08-2010, 02:37 AM
If you are heavy handed, I would suggest something in the medium soft range. Mount Visions are a good bang for the buck, it is hard enough for details yet soft enough but not too soft that it fills in the texture on the first layer. I personally would recommend getting the Mount Vision Biolchini workshop set with the three additional supplement sets (Basic, Landscape, and Portrait). This will give you 125 different colors to paint practically any subject for around $300.00 plus S&H.

Also, a few tinted colors in the soft range (Schminke, Ludwig, Sennelier, Great American and my preference in that order) for highlights. All of this should still leave enough for the set of Giraults, I think.

If there is enough, I would get a set of Art Spectrums too :) These are my work horse brand though I have painted complete paintings using one brand before from start to finish .. even with Sennelier half sticks which is pretty thick like MVs. Though Dick Blicks Artist pastels may be a good alternative and priced lower too, I got a sample and to me, the consistency is similar to the Art Spectrums.

My, it is sooooo easy spending other people's money :D

Though of course, what you decide on buying depends on your painting style and preference. And as others have suggested and also what you have done already, sample a stick or two of each brand to see which one you think would suit your needs. What I or anyone else prefers may not be the best choice for your painting style.

03-09-2010, 12:12 AM
Thank you, WC, for your recommendations. It's good to have good suggestions from all of you because then, I could prioritize in my purchases. I'm surprised that Blick's pastels is as consistent as Art Spectrums. Definitely worth looking at now too.

03-10-2010, 11:27 PM
Mount Vision meets and exceeds my requirements for quality, price, variety of colors and consistancy.

03-13-2010, 05:11 PM
Sandra, my current favorite is Girault, which is a versatile medium soft pastel. The faintly gritty consistency is uniform throughout the spectrum, and they lay on very dense and smooth. Not cheap, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.

I haven't used them on a non-sanded surface, but imagine they'd perform well on Canson too.

03-13-2010, 08:53 PM
I don't want to confuse things here but Blick has two different hardness of pastels. The round sticks are a bit softer than the square sticks which are similar to prismacolor nupastel. I thought that I may be heavy handed and really didn't know what I was getting into when I started pastels so I bought a set of the square pastels and the price was very reasonable. They seem to work well with my application on sanded paper. Not sure how well they would work on a different surface. I also use rembrandt, sennelier and the round blick pastels. I've heard it is not a bad idea to have different hardess or brands to work with.

03-18-2010, 05:00 AM
Thank you, chuas and mollerman for your input. I do like the Girault pastels a lot. Mollerman, I only saw the round pastels sticks of Blick's brand so far. I've tried it out tonight.

In fact, my package from Blick arrived with a huge assortment that I ordered and I couldn't believe I left out Mount Vision pastels. :eek: Have to buy some next time.

I should be sleeping by now but I couldn't wait to try out all my pastels - soft and hard.

I got the Burnt Sierra color of Schminck and smudged it all over the face and it is so soft!!! The colors are loaded with pigment. Now I could really tell the difference between a student quality stick and an artist quality stick.

Then I overlaid it with Great American Sierra color. Because it is quite soft, it just blotches all over the colourfix paper and for a moment, I didn't know how to blend it. I used finger and all the color dulled so I stopped.

I tried the Unison's Red which is like shocking pink red. Wow, the packaging that it came in is incredible. A little box of its own with soft foam around and on top. I worry that it would break but it didn't but it's also very soft. Not as soft as my next one. A Lime green Jack Richieson piece that promptly broke. No big deal, I could stil use it for his mustache area.

The colors on the face by now is really awkward as you could tell and so I tried the Blick white and vermillion. It's okay. I used the Art Spectrum yellow ochre and immediately noticed it is a bit more uniform. For big spread of colors, I'm sure Blick would be the cheaper way to go but for smaller areas that need consistency, I kept going back to Art Spectrum. I compared the white of Rembrant to that of Blick and though they are equally white, Rembrant felt creamier and I feel more in control. It almost feel like oil pastel.

Still, the face was blotchy in colors and I have to take out the Girault skin tone set of 25 that I got last week. No doubt, for portraits, Girault fits the purpose. It is easy to control and if I'm really careful, I could do the eyes too. But the eyelines, I had to use Cretacolor black pastel pencil which pales even compared to the deep blue of Girault. That blue is now my favorite piece from the Girault set.

Pastel pencil really is too hard for a soft pastel piece. Perhaps I don't need to invest in a huge set. Just buy a few enough for eyes, lips and a couple of purples and greens.

Then after I've unified the face, I attempted to do the eyebrows, hair and clothing.

Sennelier is really soft but when I thought that one was too soft, here comes the Terry Ludwig deep violet that I got and I was afraid it would crumble between my fingers. For a moment I thought Blick gave me the wrong color for the Ludwig. I was sure I didn't order black but it was deep violet. OMG, the color is so pretty. It's just perfect for hair in bold strokes, and this guy's vest that I used it on. The Sennelier deep green really pales compared to Ludwig.

So here is the experiment. Still very wobbly on eyes but I gave it a graphic design to add interest. And I don't know how to clean the coloufix paper totally with all my smudges. Do you guys keep throwing out a kneaded eraser after every painting? Mine is totally coated with dust now.

Oh, and I have to say I like coloufix paper more than Sennelier La Carte or even pastelmat because it's relatively easier to erase.

I'm going to frame this too because it's my first manganized piece with soft pastels. My bedroom is becoming like a gallery now.


Good thing that I'm not very much into landscapes yet. I'll try to get Mount Vision one day and do more comparisons but I think for now, I like Art Spectrum, Rembrandt and for the soft ones, Schminck and I'll get a bunch of Ludwig dark colors. I'll buy more Girault too because they are sturdy and thin enough for my details.

Thanks again for everyone for your suggestions.

03-18-2010, 08:22 AM
Sandra, this is great! I love the skin tone. He's manganized but not too much, he still reads as a true portrait in pastels. Beautiful view from 3/4 view, that's very dramatic and you got good light on him.

Congratulations on finding your favorite pastels! I love the Unisons too, just waiting till I can get a larger set rather than just getting the 36 starter. I'd rather get the 72 starter but I'm going to have to wait for it. You will probably like the Mount Visions too.

I've considered getting more of those, some darks and lights as well as the chromatic set. What I'd love is to see him put together a set with ten chromatic darks, ten chromatic tints and five extra light tints also chromatic, so that I can go round the spectrum in different values and have a Colourist set of fifty.

Your textures on this portrait are great too. Nothing's overblended or muted. Blending is okay in its place, sometimes it can really help for underlayers and for muting something or pushing it into the background. But the play of color and shadow on his face is so lively in this one because you did all your blending with the sticks!

I love the Art Spectrums too. If I get a full set of anything it'll probably be Art Spectrum first, they are so great. A bit out of reach but so cool.

03-18-2010, 10:58 AM
Thank you, Robert, for your kind remarks.

You know, I think I would really get the cool tones and the whites of the Art Spectrum definitely. That brand really feels very sturdy. Unisons is soft but very controllable too. There is so much to buy. LOL. That's why I'm glad I'm not into landscape yet or I'd really break the bank.

Okay, I have another basic question. Because the Unison, Schminke are so soft, I could put so much color in one swipe. Am I doing things the other way round when I laid down the huge swabs of Schminke and Unison first and then push it around with Art Spectrum and Girault? Technically, am I supposed to put down the medium hard first and then the softies on the very top? But those two soft brand are so big and thick the strokes get overly big.

Last night, I laid it down with softies first because it has so much color in one stroke.

After playing around with these top quality sticks, I doubt if I am going to pick up pan pastels again. Pan Pastels does not have the density and intensity of these sticks.

03-18-2010, 11:58 AM
If it works for you, it works for you. Pushing it around with harder sticks has one effect. Putting the harder ones on first and then going over them with softer works better for me.

You might try doing your first blocking-in layers with Pan Pastels before going to the other pastels though. Anything else can go over them easily and you've already got them, plus it's easy to mix them to any hue you want for the general area or any undertone that'd help change the tone of the paper. I treat them as different things.

Or sell your set on the swap shop to pay for more pastel sticks, your call. I like using both Pans and sticks for their completely different effects.

03-18-2010, 12:00 PM
Good job, Sandra. I like the colours in the hair. It is good that you are experimenting with all these brands. You will use that TL all the time for dark shadowed areas. It's too bad you didn't get a Mount Vision. They are my favorites, but that's just my opinion (and Paula Ford's).

I think most people put the harder pastels on the paper first. When you put the softer pastels over top, you get a nice layering effect, with the bottom layer showing through the top layer. If you use the softest pastels first, you are filling the tooth of the paper and may have a problem adding more layers.

You are doing the right thing, by trying out all these brands. Pastels are so personal. One persons favorite can be another's least favorite. Keep at it and have fun.


03-18-2010, 12:01 PM
Hi just - just one more thought.... touch the paper with the side of your pastel as soft as you can... just keep applying in very light layers.... it will be easier to keep the tooth free.

Nice thread... it's fun to see you put them to use so quickly!


03-18-2010, 12:48 PM
Sandra, you do what works for you, and you're not the only one going from soft to hard. I sometimes use Unisons for the first layer, as they cover so beautifully. Easily rubbed out and in on colourfix, and on sanded papers you only need a wee bit of pigment and then you can brush it out with alcohol or water and get very good coverage too.

Lovely manganized portrait.


03-18-2010, 01:58 PM
Sandra, Haven't seen you on the WDE lately. Drop by with your new toys.

I usually put down my foundation with NuPastels, of which I've never touched about 15 of the 96 colors. They do have lots of greens, browns and blacks/greys for the dark and fearsome forests you want. I break off the ends to put into a smaller box for quick studies. (Keep the larger crayon with the number in case you want to replace a favorite color.) The Schminke are used only at the finish when all the tooth is just about gone and I need a light for highlight. My portraits for people and animals are from Sennelier (100 box portrait), Rembrandt, 30 portraits and Girault 25 portraits. Also have Senns 80 half pastels for landscape and Rembrandt 90 landscape, which I'd entirely forgotten. Do not like the Art Spectrum of which I have two boxes of 30 each (one dark, one bright) for they are too scratchy for me. Will give them another try one day, perhaps today. Have 122 Unisons in sets of darks, lights, portraits, etc. most of which are useful, but I like to keep them in their original cozy boxes, so use them less. Lesson: You can have too many pastels. I don't care for the Faber Castel pastel pencils and hard pastels. The pastel doesn't flow as it does from Nupastels and the softies.

Have lots of colored pencils and use Giaconda 48 and Stabilo 60 pastel pencils, usually. Found the colors are overlapping. Misplaced my Dewents wooden box of 100 or so. But they are different shades of each color so not too useful. Don't use the 48 Conte pastel pencils much.

You could get by with about 25 pastel pencils or perhaps even 12 in my
opinion and you can always use a bit of plain colored pencil in a pinch. I use pastels frequently, but hang out in All Media Art Events and don't cross post. I like Canson Mi Tients for pastels and don't usually have a problem with overloading the paper, but I do start with hard pastels and work my way up to the softest. Strathmore has interesting colors in their Art Paper and their Bristol Vellum is supposed to be good for pastels and pencils. They also have a Pastel assortment in their 400 Series. Just dug out my Art Spectrum (I think) sanded paper in many lovely colors and never used. Lastly, Michael's often has a sale on their papers, and they have had Canson in five neutral colors 12x12" pad, 25 sheets for about $4-5. It is achival and is called: Papercraft in their scrapbook section away from other art papers. Dick Blick seems to have the same colors at good prices and their customer service is the best.

So don't overdo it as I have done. You will end up with 100's of pastels you hardly use and paper to paper the house with and enough pastels to give to your daughter and daughter's in law and pass along to the grandkids, and still be interested in the latest "sale."

Good luck and happy pastel painting.


03-19-2010, 02:52 AM
Thank you, Doug, Barb, Charlie, Paula for your comments. Definitely will try all combination of techniques.

Paula, I am working full time again so I have very little time to draw and paint now. What little time I have, I try to paint portraits and imaginary stuff. Thanks for the long list of things not to do when buying pastels. LOL. I definitely would try to be more frugal. I'm sure your daughter and dauthers in law would be very happy to own some of your supplies.

Robert, the Maggie Price set of 60 from Terry Ludwig looks very tempting for a softie set.

03-19-2010, 07:33 AM
Sandra...Like I said in the sketch thread I love your portrait! I think it looks fabulous!

As far as pastels go I agree with Paula...you can own too many. I have the Pitt pencils, the Derwent pencils and Conte pencils and then for the others I have Great American, Sennilier, Terry Ludwig (I do have the Maggie Price Value set and the landscape set...I like the Value set but I do not like the landscape set), Girault, Mount Vision, Rembrandt, Winsor Newton, Unison and NuPastel...all in sets. The Rembrandt and Unison are my favorites. Sometimes I will use Rembrandt under Unisons but for the most part I use Unisons all of the time. Like I said they are my all time favorites. The reason I like them so well is though they are soft they do not look like they "gum" up like the softer pastels do. They seem to go on very uniform without a huge amount of dust. The Mount Visions are huge but just my personal opinion seem to go on scratchy with a lot of dust. Sometimes I use the Winsor Newton to go over the Unisons because of a color I want and surprisingly one time I was doing pumpkins or something for a WDE and I had overloaded the paper with way too much pastel and could get no highlights in at all. I tried all of the aforementioned brands trying to get that highlight and nothing would work and as a last resort I grabbed a Winsor Newton and was able to add the highlights I wanted. I was shocked that out of all of the "best" brands it was the cheaper brand that did what I wanted. Personally though for me if I had only bought the Unison and no other brand I would have owned enough pastels. The Lorikeet I did in the sketch forum I used the Maggie Price Value set and nothing else. The reason why I used that is because they are in a very nice compact box and I knew they had all of the colors I wanted. My Unisons were even within easier reach but for some reason I was drawn to use them and I really loved them on the PastelMat. Which goes on to say paper selection is a whole new ballgame. I am beginning to think I prefer the smoother surfaces rather than the "heavily" sanded papers. So guess you are then stuck with another dilemma pastel and paper selection and what pastels work best on what papers. I have the Pan Pastels also...high on a closet shelf so I have to use a chair or a stool to reach them.

I at first thought I needed pencils for the fine lines and was intimidated at the thought of using this huge stick to make lines but that also is something you aquire the more you use pastels. In the lorikeet...the lines around the beek and the eyes and all I used the TL sticks. You learn to find an edge that makes the line you want or need.

I am by no means a pro and actually consider myself still learning pastels but I love them.

03-19-2010, 09:59 AM
Hi Sandra,

Glad you are trying out things! And yes, there is no "rule" when it comes to applying pastels. I often find myself using a hard pastel after the softies to blend and better define things.


03-20-2010, 03:46 PM
Thank you, Linn, Don, for your comments.

Linn, definitely I see the need to test these pastels on smooth surface too. I'll be back with my experiments.

I was trying to draw two pears from my fridge and was doing it in oil pastel on white paper. But it eventually became a mixed media project and I thought you might all be interested in the experiment in case you like mixed media.

I had only 5 sticks of artist quality oil pastel and was planning to use them Holbein olive green, Sennelier peach, white, brown and one Caran D'Ache Indigo blue and then I realize it wouldn't work because I need yellow and red too. So I used a student set of Gallery oil pastel which is very hard and put underpainting of yellow and red and purple. I saw how lonely the two purplish indigo blue shadow was so I added black. The fastest way to add black background is pan pastel.

Oi, it still looks so flimsy.


The question was to rub it or not. I went ahead and rubbed it all down. When I needed more red, because I added some Sennelier brown oil pastel on it, the Gallery oil pastel refused to go on because it's so hard. OMG...what do I do?

I then used pan pastel to augment and it worked. Then for the specks of green and brown, I kept searching for my Cretacolor hard pastel carre sticks and couldn't find it and in the meantime, got the Loew Cornel hard pastel sticks, Faber Castel Polychromos pastel stick, Prismacolor pencils. All useless. It's too loaded with greasy Sennelier.

When I found the Cretacolor hard pastel carre sticks, it's still as useless. So finally I took my Jackie Riechison soft pastel lime green, some Great Amercian yellow ochre, Blick white and pink soft pastel, some Schminke burnt sienna soft pastels to doll it up. Every time I have too much color, I patted it down with my pinky and it subdued the color just right. Sennelier oil pastel still goes on when I need to but the Caran D'Ache Neopastel indigo blue is getting too hard for the painting.

At this point, I definitely need some Sennelier oil pastel which are great for highlights. And I need super soft pastels for highlights.

I'm very surprised that soft pastels went on oil pastels without problem and vice versa. In general, could the two be mixed? Do any of you mix the two? Is there any long term problems for both of them in one painting?

I retract my statement that I won't touch pan pastels again. They are useful for large swabs of color.;) I'm not even going to buy any more pastel pencils for now. The edge of soft pastels sounds good enough for now.


03-20-2010, 05:02 PM
Wow Sandra! You sure acheived beautiful colors! Those little indentions in the pear on the left look so realistic! Beautiful job on this!!!

03-21-2010, 05:07 AM
This one is based on Ruben's work. I only had the black and white copy and I colorized it with my new soft pastels not knowing what it really looked like in real life. Testing out all the artist quality soft pastels on smooth paper.

Canson Mi-Tientes Pastel toned gray paper 9x12 inch
Great American, Terry Ludwig, Schminke, Rembrandt, Art Spectrum, Girault, Blick, Unison, Sennelier soft pastels
Faber Castell Polychromos hard pastel blue stick

Terry Ludwig, Great American and Schminke, Unison are too soft to be gripped by this Canson paper and by the time I finished scanning it, it loses half of the pigment. :lol:

Rembrandt really reminds me too much of oil pastel and the more I use it, the more I don't like it. I want to feel different texture when I do soft pastel. Using Rembrandt, it feels like as though I'm painting with oil pastel. At that point, I might as well just use oil pastel at a cheaper price.

Great American keeps disintegrating in my hand. Forget it. Schmincke is really a load of colors plonked down every time I lightly touch the sheet. Not ideal for this paper.

Girault, Blick, Art Spectrum works very well with this paper. Sennelier is fine too but prone to be dusty.

I'll try Strathmore Pastel Paper next.


Thank you, Linn, for your comment. It was a hair pulling exercise this morning trying to use the limited colors I have from the good sets.

03-21-2010, 09:32 AM
I commented on this in the sketch thread and had to come over here to comment on your observations. I enjoy reading them. Charlie (with Unisons) had done a nice rose on Canson and I have done a couple (not many) I did do an artichoke on Canson type paper (with Terry Ludwig) that I was real happy with (one that I may frame someday). Pete uses Canson or Canson type paper all of the time (with various pastels) for his lovely landscapes. Maybe it is the touch I am not sure. Your observations always have great interest. Thanks for keeping this thread going.

03-21-2010, 10:16 AM
Blick has a square pastel stick which is harder, page 305 of the 09-10 master catalog. I just tried it out on the art spectrum colorfix and didn't care for the results. It seemed to lay on the surface and had a tendancy to turn to mud if I layered or blended however using UArt sanded paper the results were quite different. I tried an old set of Rembrandt soft pastels on the colorfix and had much better results.

03-21-2010, 12:16 PM
Thank you, Linn, for your comment. PeteK really amazes me as to how much he could make Canson work for him. Perhaps today, I'll try one more piece but using his sand down method.

Could you post your artichoke piece here, or the link of it please? I'd like to see how it turned out with Terry Ludwig on it since I'm really interested in that brand too. Among the softies and super soft, I think this one has some solid built to it physically and doesn't just dump a whole lot of pigment without my intention. Do you know which Canson paper you used and did you use fixative or sand it before hand or put medium on it?

Marcus, thank you for telling me about the square pastel stick. I couldn't find it on the online catalog but now, reading what you wrote, I wouldn't even worry about looking for it. I have to try a few more pieces of Blick round soft pastels before I decide to buy the set or not as the basic set. And Mount Vision too because I do see the need for some bigger medium hard sized pieces to do the first layer.

03-21-2010, 12:49 PM
Wow...after looking at my artichoke again I am thinking of going back to basics! Here's the link:


It wasn't Canson but as smooth or smoother...actually smoother.

This one is definitely Canson Smooth side...the geese...the other one I hate and don't know what I did it on.


I am truly thinking I need to go back to Canson.

03-21-2010, 02:50 PM
Thank you, Linn, for the links. The artichoke is very good and so is the geese one. So Terry Ludwig does work on smooth paper.

I did two more experiments with these new pastels.

The following two are black paper coated with Golden Acrylic Pastel Ground.

This one again is based on Ruben's black and white copy. I made a mess of it. I soon lost interest.

Strathmore Black Artagain 9x12 inch paper
My assortment of new soft pastels


I smudged it with more pastel and it ended worse. There's not much I want to talk about it except that the white on the deep violet of Terry Ludwig gave me really smooth colors. I brushed it with the sponge from the pan pastel set saving my fingerprints and it worked. Compared to Art Spectrum in the yellow and white, Terry Ludwig is smoother and has less residue grain when you swipe it with the sponge. Art Spectrum still has dust everywhere and you have to be very careful with it.


Then I had an idea. For those who don't know me yet, I like to copy master's work and sometimes parody them. I've done the following Hokusai piece before but with Inktense pencils when I first bought them. You could see the whole process here (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=548096).

65 lbs Black Cardstock 8.5 x 11 inch from supermarket which didn't even curl after I put the Acrylic pastel ground on.
My new assortment of soft pastel


By now, I understand that a gritty surface is definitely better than a smoother surface because it holds the pastel better. For Canson, if you want the texture and toned paper to show through, it's ideal for only a couple of layers of softies at most.

Anyway, back to this piece. This is the first time I lay huge slabs of the Schmincke Burnt Sienna on the top for sky. I could have done the same with the pan pastel but it is oh so convenient to use a stick and smudge it with the pan pastel tool. So much faster because for pans, you have to pick up at every stroke. This one is a few strokes right across and it's there.

While I hated the Rembrandt's feel of oil pastelish, here, it actually helps me. The more I use Blick white vs Rembrandt white, the more I notice the difference. Rembrandt does not flake. Blick has a tendency to drop tons of small dust particles along the way and if you go back on it, it mixes with the underlying purple. I had to erase down to the bottom so many times because of that property. It also cakes up a lot faster with unnecessary layers. Some of the crest of the waves in white got polluted that way with Blick but with Rembrandt, it doesn't happen as much.

When it came to the waterdrops, I was looking for smaller pieces of tools and everything failed: Primo's white charcoal pencil, Loew Cornell white pastel, Cretacolor hard pastel stick and pencil, white China marker, Stabilo white all surface pencil. So I went back to Rembrandt and Blick white and had to accept the huge droplets. Rembrandt stayed in shape as you put it down. Blick insisted on dropping more grains on to the side of the drop and I have to keep blowing it off. Blick feels a bit like the General's White Charcoal Pencil where everyone uses for last minute highlight in the eye. Unless you lick it, it could deposit more than you want. But I'm not going to lick soft pastel and it's so huge.

I tested a few dots with Art Spectrum yellow ochre where the rowers are at the back of the boat and it crumbled terribly. Worse than Blick for such a minute dot. Girault was too hard to lay it down. I was thinking if I had Terry Ludwig or Schmincke in white, it would have done the job with just with a touch.

The blue is Faber Castell Polychromos hard pastel. It performs better than Cretacolor Hard Pastel Carre because the latter is much coarser. Faber Castel might be the set I might invest in for small details.

Then the black outlines. Forget about pastel pencils at this point. Cretacolor doesn't work stick or pastel pencil form. Carbon pencil refused to budge. I took General's Charcoal pencil 6B to outline lightly. I could have used the Primo's brand with thicker lines but I didn't want to overwhelm the piece with details.

By now, I am even more tossed between getting Art Spectrum, Blick or Rembrandt. Art Spectrum is pretty soft and lay a lot of pigment and particles. I don't think I really like Blick that much. Perhaps I should just use Girault because I do so much detail work. On to the next experiment with other paper and styles and I want to make extensive use of the Unison piece next time to get a feel of it. But now I know I could prepare my own ground and soft pastels work well on them.

Definitely like Terry Ludwig and Schmincke. But I prefer the former because it has good edges, solid and doesn't dump too much pigment unnecessarily in one go.

03-21-2010, 04:50 PM
Terry Ludwig pastels are much softer than the dark eggplant. It does seem in many pastels the darker you go they take on a different texture. Probably to truly test a pastel you should have a light and a very dark of each color.

I do so enjoy your experiments and writings.

03-21-2010, 06:07 PM
Sandra, these are so great. Thank you for describing your experiments in so much detail. You're one of the great multimedia researchers and I love your copies of the masters. Commented in detail in the all-media sketch thread.

03-21-2010, 06:30 PM
Thank you, Linn, Robert, for your comments. I do enjoy studying how each medium work and on what support so I would know next time what to reach for. Thank you for always reading. It could be overwhelming for readers when I do nothing but paint and draw on weekends now and I post a lot on these two days.

This one is also based on Hokusai's work.

Warning: Explicit!!

Warning: Explicit!!

I tested the Unison soft pastel in bigger scale and it's pretty good. Not too much of dust falling off even in parts that I didn't smudge with the sponge tool from pans. Sennelier dark green kept falling off. Great American ochre was pretty good too. Earlier, I said Great American disintegrated in my hand. It's not. It was Jack Richieson's lime green that disintegrated under my fingers.

Strathmore Pastel Paper 11x14 inch
Assortment of artist quality soft pastel
Primo 3B charcoal pencil
General's 4B charcoal pencil

Warning: Explicit!!


Well it's too late now if you scroll all the way down.


I'll try to do something more normal in the next one. What about an orange spider man? :lol:

03-21-2010, 07:18 PM
Love it...great job!

Your writings inspired me to try my different pastels instead of sticking to only one brand.

03-21-2010, 08:20 PM
Linn, looking forward to see all your test pieces when you use different brands.

This ought to be the last one for today.;)

Some hero of some type but I based it on a black and white pose of Ruben's work of Hercules but I suited him up in Unison orange to test how well it works and instead of a beast on his back, I gave her a naked girl. He must be in some midget land. Used my manikins to guage posture of girl draping over the hero. After months and months of practice of the human figure, I hope that finally, these people are of good proportions and contours.

Gray Paper 1105x18 inch
Golden Acrylic Pastel Ground
My assortment of new soft pastels
Loew-Cornell soft pastel sticks for variety of colors
Pan Pastels for background

I couldn't stick to only my few sticks of quality colors because I needed more variety of colors. If I had a red Unison, I would have given it orangey buildings and some orangey sunset clouds but I don't and the whole purpose of such a large piece is to see how well my Unison orange pastel work on large work.

Unison is very opaque and covers everything that comes in between. But it deposit a lot of pigment compared to my last piece on Strathmore pastel paper. I think it's because this prepared ground is rougher and therefore traps more particles but at the same time, it's not perfect like sanded paper and therefore they fall out.

I also used pan pastel freely for the sky because I don't have that blue or purple either for now and pans are good backgrounder tools.

My conclusion to this test is that for practice and test pieces, I should go ahead and use pastel ground and prepare my own sheets. But when it comes to the real portraits or pieces that I plan to put a lot of time in and frame, I have to use sanded paper to save the headache.

My first superhero. :lol:


03-22-2010, 02:30 AM
Lilliput - 2010! I love it. This rocks. I really hope you do develop this orange-costumed hero and write the comic. I think it'd be a blast.

03-27-2010, 09:09 PM
Thank you, Robert, for your compliments. I'll get to the nemesis soon.

I continue to test my new soft pastels with the different paper.

I sanded down the smooth side of Canson Mi-Tientes paper and used only the Terry Ludwig soft pastel. It's not that easy to control Terry Ludwig on this paper. It's way too soft and not enough grip on the surface.

Based on Mihaily von Zichy's work.


This one is based on the work of Fragonard. I used a first layer with hard pastel in some places and then added the soft pastel on top. Blick white continues to annoy me because it keeps depositing grains everywhere. Rembrandt is a bit too hard when I need to do highlight. Art Spectrum is acceptable. Cretacolor Hard Carre Pastel sticks is too hard even for fine details. The best is Girault. It is soft enough to do dark details in thin lines and to glide over to do highlights. Schmincke and Terry Ludwig are great for broad sweeps of colors. Schmincke deposits loads of pigment and Terry Ludwig is harder and therefore leaves uneven pigment here and there. It's not a disadvantage if that is the effect you want, which I did because I didn't want it to obliterate the colors underneath. Schmincke does just that. It obliterates everything underneath and you have to use another pastel to move it around to blend the colors. Faber Castell Polychromos blue hard pastel does a very decent job - nice and creamy and it can still go on soft pastel without mixing too much with the underlying layers. Great American served its purpose quite well too without caking up and it's nice and sturdy and yet acts like Schmincke in dumping lots of pigment. Unison is the same way. Jack Richieson lime green today was just perfect today to leave a soft layer of dust here and there for the blanket. So now, it's a choice between Great American or Terry Ludwig or Unison in terms of super soft. For medium hard pastel, I'll stay with Girault all the way. I might get the Faber Castell hard pastel set for normal day to day drawing rather than relying on pastel pencils.

Pastelmat salmon colored 9x12
All my assorted new pastels
Cretacolor hard pastel carre sticks for first layer

It is very hard to put so much in such a small piece of paper with all those thick pastels. One of these days, I would have to move to larger sheets when I do multiple figures. I still want to do the dramatic Reuben pieces.


03-28-2010, 05:11 AM
Here's testing out the free sample from Dakota Art again. Another piece of 3.5 x 4 inch but Uart. This time, the black Cretacolor pastel pencil served its purpose.

Uart 400 grit tan colored sample 3.5x 4 inch
Cretacolor black pastel pencil
Carbothello white pastel pencil
Pan pastel black and gray

These sanded paper are very rough to the soft tools from pan pastel. I think after one full sized sheet, you could throw away the sponge tool.

I usually scan my very dark pieces with a piece of black felt and since the square was not straight to start with, I've included a mat rim for it.

This 400 grit is very similar to the 400 grit sandpaper I buy from the hardware store. The only difference it that is has a stiffer backing here and so it's easier to frame. I like Uart. It's as good as pastelmat with nothing falling off at the end of it.

Pastelmat works out to about $3 a piece of 9x12. La Carte is almost $2.49 each. UArt is only $1.80. At the moment, Dakota art has a sale on Colourfix cool color pack of 8 at at $9.90 per 8 piece, and of course I stocked up. That's $1.30 each only.


I've got 3 more samples to go. Uart grit 500, 600, 800. Will post when I finish with them. The next few ones, I'll try and use the thicker pastel sticks and draw something less elaborate. Perhaps a focused part. :D :evil: Be ready to close your eyes if you are not into male anatomy.

03-28-2010, 11:36 AM
I'm so glad you stocked up on those cool color packs! I've been tempted, if I wasn't broke I would too. Colourfix isn't so bad on the Sofft tools, the sponges hold up almost indefinitely on it. But the Wallis ate socks before I was done with a 9 x 12" on it, I would guess coarse Uart would be pretty close to that.

Still worth it depending on the painting but that's the level at which it starts turning into "overhead."

I love your latest muscleman. Pans and pastel pencils combined so well on it. I think of PastelMat as something more for Pans or hard pastels or pastel pencils than for the super soft ones, or for something that isn't going to get as many layers. Wallis is more for when I want to keep going layering no matter what.

Richeson's sanded paper is nice, I'm enjoying that with the Spotlight painting I'm doing on it and it hasn't run out of tooth yet. Not Wallis but not as hard on the pastels as Wallis either, a bit sharper grit than Colourfix and feels more like "gentler Wallis" or actual sandpaper.

03-28-2010, 01:44 PM
Robert, thanks for the tip. I should use more pan pastel for pastelmats then. Yes, stocking up is so expensive. Soft pastel is such an expensive hobby. Perhaps I could ask Dakota to send me a sample sheet of Richieson sanded paper too.

The next two pieces were more difficult than I thought but in the end, it turned out well.

UArt paper grit 500 3.5 x 4 inch
Assorted quality pastels - NO Girault nor Cretacolor

For the dark background, I used Terry Ludwig's very deep violet and because it just sits there, I have to use this earth color semi-hard pastel that I forgot which brand that I ordered along with this batch and turned out that it's Richieson. I had to use this semi hard pastel stick to smudge it around to even it out and get the color right. I couldn't use Schmincke Terracotta because it just sits on top and cover everything. So now, I know hard at times have to go on soft to get the effect.

From the variety of my soft pastels, I didn't have any straight skin tone and I wondered why I had to do it the hard way. I could very well just take my Girault set out and do this but I needed to see how these thick pastels work on it. They do perform well almost like Colorfix paper and holds the grains and dust well. Terry Ludwig's edges cannot do line work. Forget about Sennelier. It's just a mess of dust. Sennelier really bothers me.

I didn't have golden soft pastel and these curly pubic hair is all golden. I have this half disintegrated piece of Jack Richeson and so I lightly touch it and it worked. Terry Ludwig couldn't do the same because it's harder. Unison just deposits too much pigment. Blick and Rembrant are too hard to do little squiggles like this. I thought that since Blick likes to leave trail of dust around, it would do the job. Now it refuses too. It's too hard.

Art Spectrum couldn't do much either so I broke it to give it raw edges. But I didn't manage to break it longitudinally like how Richieson self destructed in the same way. :evil: Shoot. Do I break some more of that Art Spectrum yellow to try and get that longitude edge? Hard decision. I didn't. It left a bit more dust like squiggles but nowhere close to to intensity of Richieson. It is just too hard relatively.

These experiments are really killing me. Every stick has their own good properties. Before you know it, I might have to buy everything. :lol:


UArt grit 600 4.5 x 4.5 inch
Assorted quality soft pastels - NO Girault nor Cretacolor

If I thought the above was difficult, this was even more difficult. Even though the sample size is a generous one inch bigger here and there, the fact that it does not have enough grit, everything caked up instantly.

First off, lime green Richieson. I have never seen it cake up so much. The same with Schmincke Terracotta, Ludwig violet. Everything. Blick has a good time caking up the white side. Rembrant white, I had to put more pressure to put color on. It's really like oil pastel. Soft pastels is supposed to be effortless. :D

The colors were really difficult to mix and because each pastel cake up so much including Art Spectrum (I gave up on Sennelier already), I couldn't mix it. Finally, I have to use the pan pastel soft tools to smooth the colors out and it deadens the color of course. The lines are aided by the sponge tool from Softt Tools.

I forgot to use Great American soft pastel today. Perhaps I'll try it on my last piece of 800 grit in a bit.

My next piece will be mainly Girault and pastel pencils. It's no point trying anything softer with 800 grit. One time I used Prismacolor pencil on the 800 grit sandpaper and it worked very well. It's that kind of fineness we're talking about.

I think for softer pastels to work, 400 UArt is the way to go.

Now, I'm thinking of instead of buying Art Spectrum tints, I should invest in the self destructible Jack Richieson light colors to do highlight. Buy the set of deep darks of Terry Ludwig which is only good for background colors, and buy a few brighter Girault portrait colors to complement my present set of skin colors. Next order, I'll get a few Mount Vision and a few more Great American samples and test them and decide on a workhorse set to lay down first layers.


03-28-2010, 03:23 PM
Okay, this will be the last of the penises that I will draw for a while.

UArt 800 3.5 x 4 inch
Girault soft pastel skin tones set of 25
Carbothello pastel pencil - white, blue
Conte pastel pencil - red, blue

As expected, 800 is too fine, even for Girault. It clumps up a bit so I have to go in with some finger blending. I didn't have red and so use Conte pastel pencil red. The reason I used Conte and not Carbothello is because Conte is more spreadable without leaving an obvious mark. Conte pastel pencils are too thick in general and for the fine lines, I went back to Carbothello pastel pencils.

Great American works well with this paper without caking up. Richieson lime green is just skimmed lightly across the top to unify the leg colors.

Without pastel pencils and fine lines, I wouldn't be able to complete this drawing. 800 grit is better for harder pencils.


04-01-2010, 02:35 AM
Blick is sending me a stick of Mount Vision and a Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencil this week and I get to try those two out soon.

But today, I chanced by an architecture/art store and they had some broken Dale Rowney under the shelf, a result of a recent earthquake. For what is usually $3.07 a stick, I bargained it down to $0.50 a piece for the broken ones (broken half only but still a full piece) and he even sold me the good condition ones for $1.00 a piece. I bought five good pieces and 10 broken pieces and here they are.


I love the highlight colors and the deep colors. Some people suspect that Blick Soft Pastel is made by Dale Rowney. I'm not sure.

I feel that Blick is slightly creamier and more opaque. Dale Rowney has a less dense texture. So when you need to do the slightest line of highlight, Dale will be what you want. Blick's color is more persistent. If you want it to be more subdued, you better use something other than Blick because no matter how light handed I tried to be, its color and lines are thicker.

Here's my primitive set up. I'm in the market for an easel and couldn't decide on a table easle or a stand up easel for the moment. Another few weeks of hesitation and calculation may yield an answer. But for now, a collapsible-whether-you-want-it-or-not-set-up. :lol:


This is a first piece of General's pastel chalk pencil (set of 12) portrait I did a year ago on Strathmore Black Artagain paper 9x12 inch.

It's time to renew the colors. Soft pastel does go on this paper without too much problem. Thanks to the Terry Ludwig Deep Violet color, it saved a lot of thinking as to how to do shadowing. Really like that color and that brand.

For skin tone, I had to bring out a couple sticks of Girault. Girault works beautifully on smoother paper like this. I'm amazed. The rest are just soft touches of color and they all stick.


04-03-2010, 06:13 AM
I received a Mount Vision red soft pastel sample from Blick and a blue and green Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencil too.

Here's the first experiment.

Mount Vision red soft
Faber Castell Pitt Pastel pencil red, green


Strathmore Black Artagain 9x12 inch
Mount Vision red soft pastel
Dale Rowney soft pastel blue, peach
Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencil red, green


Mount Vision is quite soft and yet not too flaky. It is almost like Girault only in bigger sticks.

The Faber Castell Pitt Pastel pencils are creamier than Carbothello Pastel pencils. But you know, by now, I'm so OD'd with all these trial pieces that they don't make too much of a difference anymore. As long as they lay rich colors and are not depositing unnecessary dust along the way or need too much hand pressure to use, I don't really have much preference any more.:smug:

Thanks for reading along all these few pages. That concludes my trials finally.

04-03-2010, 08:40 AM
Sandra...nice apple but I like the figure the best! You got a great deal on those Dalor Rowney pastels!

05-14-2010, 10:41 PM
You haven't lived until you've tried Pastel Girault, French pastels. They are wonderful and they have a 25 and 50 portrait pastel sets, I believe.


05-17-2010, 02:02 PM
Here here! I LOVE Giraults! They are small, but the color goes on very dense and smooth. They're somewhat similar to Mt. Vision. I have 80% Girault, 10% Mt. Vision and 10% "other."

05-20-2010, 11:25 PM
Here here! I LOVE Giraults! They are small, but the color goes on very dense and smooth. They're somewhat similar to Mt. Vision. I have 80% Girault, 10% Mt. Vision and 10% "other."

I would say they are of a small diameter, but as long or longer than many. And I think stating they "go on very dense and smooth" is a great way to look at the somewhat different way they go onto the paper. They are truly great, especially on the Wallis paper I use.