View Full Version : Reccommendations: Portrait Work

05-05-2010, 12:12 PM
Hello everyone,

I have been working away on a portrait for a while now and I am really REALLY enjoying myself. I currently have a set of PastelMat paper (which I LOVE), Sennelier softies, and Faber-Castell and CarbOthello pencils. What I am wondering is what pastels people recommend for portraits? I have seen on Dakota portrait sets but are they worth it compared to an entire set? I am VERY VERY serious about becoming a pastel artist and would very much like to use the best stuff (at a reasonable price ha)

Oh and I'm also wondering, how do people feel about Sennelier pastels? I bought them on sale...maybe they are not that great? I do like them but I don't have anything to compare them to.

05-05-2010, 01:26 PM
Oh, Kevin, you'll get twice as many opinions (at least) as there will be people who comment on this thread...

I do portraits with a chromatic palette (that is, nearly no earth colours at all), so I think the portrait sets are a waste of money. Funnily enough, I started pastel life with a 60 portrait set... go figure. Anyway, it depends on your style, a portrait set may be just what you need, as it has a lot of 'skin tones', that is, lots of earths, sticks for any kind of human pigmentation, and usually a few 'eye colours' too, which can also be used for cool highlights and such, or shadows, depending on the values. Or, you can just add the missing sticks, from open stock, to your existing collection.

I *like* Sennelier pastels. They are temperamental (Gallic), as they're not so consistent in sturcture and texture as many other brands. Gorgeous colours, highly pigmented, as they use a special mineral instead of the usual fillers. Most of them are really soft, and it is a high class brand. Some say they crumble in one's hands (and even those say "oh, but the colours are gorgeous"), and others say they don't crumble. I think it depends on how hard you grip them, and squeezing one little bit of stick between my fingers, I just managed to pulverize the bit, pressing as hard as I could. So a normal to light hand would be safe, unless something happens to sticks as they travel the oceans. Mine travelled Europe, and survived intact.

Don has some good advice on sticks in his portrait class, click this link (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=532971).

Will be interesting to see all the replies you get!


05-05-2010, 02:00 PM
haha thanks Charlie and yes I TOTALLY agree with the consistency. Most of my colors are brilliant but some seem to be hard or very pigmented. Example, my black does not go on nearly as smooth as most of my other colors and leaves a grainy residue on the paper. I really do like the colors though! I may buy a few starter sets before I dive into a large set (Unison has me curious). The good thing about having a limited number of pastels is you REALLY learn how to mix!

05-05-2010, 02:19 PM
Charlie is right in that there are many answers to "what is recommended." It depends on your style and your preferences - not ours! Some prefer harder sticks and do a lot of subtle blending for portraits. Others love the very soft brands (like Sennelier) to layer the light flesh tones on over darker tones. The paper matters, too. I am finding that pastelmat does not take many layers, so you might need the very soft pastels when working on that paper compared to a paper with more tooth.

Senneliers are definitely a top brand. Some will never use them because many of the colors are crumbly. I have a set of the half-sticks, which seem to be less crumbly than the individual full sticks.

Sets can be good in that it might get you to use a stick that you wouldn't normally consider, but sets also will give you sticks that you will never use. Any of the professional brand portrait sets should work just fine - again, depending on whether you prefer soft, middle or harder sticks to work with. That's one nice thing about all the professional brands - they are all good!

If you already have a fairly large collection of pastels, then you might not need an additional portrait set. My "portrait pastels" are hand picked from open stock. I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to color - if I use more than 6 or 7 pastels for a portrait that would be a lot! On the other hand, I watched a Daniel Greene DVD where he used over 40 pastels, I think, for his portrait! So, again, it is hard to make recommendations!


05-05-2010, 04:41 PM
Hi Kevin,

I am just starting out with portraits, did my first one in monochrome, and recently bought the 72 portrait set of Unison, http://www.unisoncolour.co.uk/colours.aspx?Group=selection sets&Page=portrait 72 uk The coulours are absolutely gorgeous and I hope to have a lot of pleasure from them.

As far as the Senneliers they are my main pastel. I absolutely adore the colours, they are so full of pigment and vibrant. I know a lot of people don't like them because they crumble. They just need a very light touch and then they will be fine, at least in my part of the world. Since I have the Senneliers I hardly touch my Rembrandts.

I think it is a matter of experimenting to see which pastel suits you best.

05-05-2010, 09:13 PM

I do think that what you like is what matters most, but getting opinions from others sometimes helps you to decide what to try out. I have many Unisons, and just love them (medium soft). Girault is another favorite of mine (I have lots of these too) - I like them equally as well as the Unisons, and they have a fine portrait set too (medium soft as well). Because of the negative comments I have heard about Sennelier's breakage and hard consistency with some colors, I have pretty much avoided them. I do have a 40 piece half set which I like for finishing touches though. I recently purchased Mount Visions (considered medium soft, but I find just a little harder than Unsions and Giraults), which I am finding I like quite a bit. I also have a set of Art Spectrum which is another favorite of mine (medium soft, but definitely harder than Unison and Girault). I do have Rembrants and use them at workshops (I don't like to take my softies out for fear of serious breakage!). They do the trick in a pinch, but not my favorite.

I know these are only my opinions, but maybe it will help you narrow your search, and it gives you some brands to look at and think about. This definitely can get confusing, and a bit overwhelming, but rest assured you will find your niche. You ultimately will discover what you like best by trying out samples. Have fun!:)

05-06-2010, 10:47 AM
Agree with all the comments so far.
I've been working only on paper, usually Canson or Strathmore, white.
For that, I have the 90pc set of Nupastels, a 60 pc. Rembrandt Portrait set with additional point 3's (.3)/some lights ( .8 - .10 ), and 10 or so Canson sticks which I'd like to expand.

Some posts to your other thread about hard pastels mention some other economical brands which I'm curious to try.

My 'dream set' would be the 144 pc. Daniel Greene portrait set made by Unison - I've seen it at the Jack Richeson site. Mr. Greene's my favorite portraitist, and the colour chart looks sensible.
Nothing wrong with the 72pc set, though.
:} Ed

05-06-2010, 06:10 PM
The one thing that I'd think of as essential for portraits is to have at least one good red earth, like the Sanguine colors in Conte crayons. Preferably in several values. That can be modified with other earth tones or with bright colors. Charlie (Colorix) is right that it can be created with spectrum colors. But it's a great convenience to have a red earth to begin mixing with.

What I'd normally grab for portraits in any medium is the earth tone trio that always comes up in watercolor sets - Yellow Ochre (or some similar gold color), Burnt Sienna (or Venetian Red or Sanguine or some such red earth tone) and Burnt Umber or another dark brown. In pastels it helps to have them in several values too, with tints and at least one shade.

I had a 30 color Portrait set of Grumbacher that was all earth tones and a few grays, and a 30 color Assorted set of Grumbacher when I did street portraits. The only time I reached for colors I didn't have was in the Assorted box and had more to do with background elements like bushes and trees, or colors of clothing my clients wore. Once I had that earth tones set I didn't need anything more -- it had enough tints and shades that I was able to build any mixture I needed.

For which brand of pastels would be best, that'd depend on your style and surface. Some people like harder ones, others like medium ones, others like soft or super soft ones. Many of the really good professionals here develop a range in three or four different levels of softness so that layering is easy, especially on sanded paper.

It depends a lot on your habits and personal preference. But I'd still find it inconvenient to try to do people without using any Burnt Sienna or its equivalent earth reds.

05-09-2010, 10:44 PM
I use Rembrandt Soft Pastels on sanded pastel paper. I really believe it is a personal preference. I have tried several brands. I really enjoy the texture I achieve from my Rembreandts.