View Full Version : newby questions

10-03-2011, 03:31 AM
Hi everyone,

I have a few newby questions. I have a set of 60 Faber Castell Pastel Pencils (which I love!) but I am now looking at buying a set of soft pastels to complement them. I will be using them primarily for portraits, both animal and human. What would be a good brand/set to go for?

I keep reading about Pastelmat paper and I think I'd like to try it, where is the best place to buy it online? I believe it's not available in Australia.

And last question, does anyone have any good book recommendations specifically for painting pastel portraits?

the drover's dog
10-03-2011, 05:28 AM
Hi Cat.

After paying postage to Australia, Pastelmat paper will be prohibitive in cost. I use Colourfix and Colourfix Suede and couldn't be happier. The Suede is finer in tooth than the ordinary Colourfix and you might find it suits finer detail than the ordinary Colourfix or the Supertooth Colourfix. Quite a few artists are using the Suede for watercolours, acrylics and oils in addition to pastels. It was developed for use with Pan Pastel applicators and sponges and pastel and coloured pencils. I reviewed the Suede when it was first released and wrote about it here on WC (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=790561) and I've since used it as a watercolour surface.

The other alternative is to use Canson Mi-teintes which will not give many layers of pastel before you run out of tooth, or you could coat mat board with the liquid Colourfix Primer or even use plain old Gesso on an MDF or mat board surface if you do not want a sanded surface. The Gesso does contain a very fine grit so gives a bit of tooth and of course you can tint it any colour you like with acrylic artist's paints. Do seal with acrylic the back side of your mat board ot MDF surface to stop it buckling. Any acrylic paint will do, even house paint. I use acrylic sealer.

For Soft Pastels I suggest you go with what is best value for money here in Australia and buy some Art Spectrum pastels. After a short while you can augment these with imported brands, but they are good pastels to start with and you will go on using them even after you buy the imports. Their colour range has been developed especially for Australian landscapes and many of these colours are ideal for portraits also.



10-03-2011, 06:04 AM
I'll second Dale's suggestions. Art Spectrum is one of my favorite brands. They're soft and richly pigmented, about middle softness between the harder brands and softer ones. Versatile, you can use just those or work with the pastel pencils in underpainting.

Colourfix Suede is a beautiful surface that's probably easier for you to get than PastelMat. The other Colourfix papers are great with pastels too, you might want to try them or the primers. I like the Colourfix primers and Supertooth primer because I can make good pastel paper out of failed watercolors and practice paper out of cheap watercolor pads.

10-03-2011, 07:52 AM
Thank you very much Dale and Robert for your advice, Art Spectrum pastels sounds like it's a good option and it's readily available for me. I'll have a look into the Colourfix papers too.

10-03-2011, 10:53 AM
And last question, does anyone have any good book recommendations specifically for painting pastel portraits?
The Art of Pastel Portraiture by Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich (1996) looks promising.

Painting Expressive Pastel Portraits by Paul Leveille (1998) looks cheesy but is a popular one.

Capturing Personality in Pastel: How to Create Expression and Convey Character by Dennis Frost (1982) is out of print but you might find it in a library.


Barbara WC
10-03-2011, 12:00 PM
Hi Cat-

Since you work with pastel pencils, and looking at your avatar, I'm thinking that you like a tighter style of working? If so, the firmer pastels would probably be a good match for you. I started portraits with Rembrandts on Canson Mi-tientes. Unisons are also really nice, and have richer colors, but Rembrandts are a good value, especially the 60 or 90 piece half stick sets. Both of these work really well on Canson Mi-tientes, and have a really nice selection of flesh tones, and subtle pinks, blues and greens that are great for portrait work. I prefer Unisons to Rembrandts now, but Rembrants have a fondness in my heart because I started with them and worked with them for two years. Art Spectrums are worth a try too, but I don't feel they have the best range for portraiture, but it depends how you work.

If you feel you want to loosen up, look into some of the softer pastels- like Sennelier and Schminke. My favorites for portraits lately are Terry Ludwig pastels, but I don't know if they are readily available to you in Australia.

Have you done much portrait work before? I personally like Canson Mi-tientes a lot, and use it because in portraits, I don't use many layers since I attend model sessions and only have a model for 20 minutes to just over 2 hours. PastelMat is also lovely for portraits and holds more layers. I also like Sennelier La Carte, but you can't get it wet. I personally don't favor Colourfix for portraits, but know many do, and since it's readily available to you, you should try that one for yourself.

I can recommend one book that is a favorite of mine. It is about painting childeren in pastels, but shows some good techniques and demos that are applicable to any situation- she does some nice demos of layering pastels for clothing for example. She also talks about different surfaces and pastels. This is a beautiful book, even if you don't plan on painting children. You can take a "preview" of the book at Amazon:

Painting Childeren: Secrets to Capturing Childhood Moments, Bev Lee.


Look in your library too for general "how to draw and paint" portrait books- many general books will teach you about proportions and other key elements of portrait painting.

Have fun!

10-03-2011, 01:06 PM
The Art of Pastel Portraiture by Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich (1996) looks promising.

Painting Expressive Pastel Portraits by Paul Leveille (1998) looks cheesy but is a popular one.

Capturing Personality in Pastel: How to Create Expression and Convey Character by Dennis Frost (1982) is out of print but you might find it in a library.


I have The Art of Pastel Portraiture by Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich, and it is a good one. Lots of useful tips and information, and examples of portrait paintings done by different artists, so you can see different styles. There are some paintings with steps shown, thought the steps are not quite enough to paint along with I think, at least for a beginner. But, still a very good, useful book to have in your studio.

Painting Expressive Pastel Portraits by Paul Leveille is suprisingly very good also, I have it. There is plenty of useful information on technique and color, with lots of step by step demonstrations. You could even paint each demo, the steps are clear enough. His painting style is not too tight, yet not too loose either. Good for beginners to follow along I think. Leveille's work is mostly done on Canson, I think most if not all of the demos are done on it.

Each book gives different insights, so having both isn't "overkill". I would recommend them both.

I've never seen the last book, but I found it on Amazon it it looks like it could be good also.

10-03-2011, 02:00 PM
I have both the Frost and Leveille books mentioned earlier and they are both good. Though not specifically for pastels, I would also recommend Helen van Wyk's book on portraits - not sure of the exact name.

While not quite as fancy as these books, we did a portait lesson here in the pastel forum a couple years ago which you might find helpful. It has one advantage over these other books in that it is free!

This is a link to lesson 4 - which includes links to the first 3 lessons right at the beginning.


Hope this helps!


Merethe T
10-03-2011, 02:29 PM
I can second both Bev Lee and Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich, good books both of them, I go back to them every now and then and find them very useful. I also have to recommend one of my all time favorite books - Harley Brown's eternal truths for every artist. It's not a specific portrait book, he covers many subjects - but so useful no matter what subject you paint.

If you like tighter painting and are looking for sticks that matches the FC pencils I'd go for a medium-soft stick like Rembrandt, Art Spectrum and Girault. Giraults are beautiful but pricier than the other two. Faber Castell Polychromos work well with the pencils too, but are harder pastels. I like them and use them all the time, it works well if you like tight, detailed work. The portrait colors aren't all that though, I have a Unison portrait set that go nicely with the poly's. FC pencils won't work that well with the softer pastels, they tend to slide on top rather than blending with the stick.

I haven't tried Pastelmat yet, but will recommend Sennelier La Carte. It gives enough tooth, but the texture is still smooth and work very well with pastel pencils, and the mix of sticks I have mentioned.

10-03-2011, 03:31 PM
The very best information I'm finding is here on WC. I'm not even going to buy any books.

10-03-2011, 09:19 PM
Cat, Canson Mi-Tientes 'Tex' is another paper you could try, it is a grit that's between the AS Colourfix and AS Suede. I don't like it for landscapes as it doesn't hold as many layers as Colourfix but I DO like it for portraits as you can get really good details with pastel pencils. Eckersley's sell it in NSW, so I suppose your Melbourne store will as well. (I can't buy Colourfix in Eckersleys anywhere in NSW or the ACT any more! It's a crime.)

It's quite a lot cheaper than Colourfix, so well worth a try.

Good luck! I love what you're doing so far. Post some more!


10-03-2011, 10:02 PM
Wow, thank you so much everyone for your book recommendations, I'll look into them all and check out my local library too. Don, the portrait lesson here on WC looks fantastic, thanks for pointing me to it.

I only took up art a few months ago so I'm still discovering what my style is, but I think I will probably favour tight detailed work, but I really want to give everything a go. I just love the work everyone is doing here in the Pastel forum.

Jean, thanks for that tip, I'll have a look for the Canson Mi-Tientes paper too. The Melbourne Eckersleys is quite a way away for me, but next time in the city I plan to check it out.

the drover's dog
10-04-2011, 12:18 AM
Cat, Eckersley's are THE most expensive art supplies retailer in Australia. Beware! They do usually keep most brands though.

I've been very happy with the service and the flat rate postage of $7 from The Art Shop (http://www.theartshop.com.au/index.htm) in Ferntree Gully, Vic. That postage can be a big saver considering our extortionate postal rates. If something is not listed in their very boring online catalogue, just email them and you will find they usually have it or will get it for you. Their prices are the best around too. No affiliation with them, just a satisfied customer. They also stock glassine to protect your finished art works and not many places have it here. They mail it to me in packets of twenty sheets when I order Colourfix. They also have the portrait sets of Art Spectrum pastels which might interest you.


10-04-2011, 03:16 AM
Dale, ok thanks for that advice. I have bought from The Art Shop once before and was very impressed with them too, a shop employee actually hand delivered my order on a Sunday.