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View Full Version : who makes the softest pastels


barriespapa
10-19-2011, 01:18 PM
I know we we have hashed this over before but that was when I knew absolutely nothing. Now that i just know nothing:D I would like to hear what are the opinions of artists in terms of where the pastels fit in terms of softness ie ludwigs are softer than mount visions I know this to be true as they are the only 2 that I have other than my mungyos which are also harder than ludwigs by quite a bit but just as soft as mount unisons where does ludwigs fit in with smincke or unisons and senneliers Giraults.etc? I am ready to buy again.:D this time I am thinking in terms of portrait packages and or landscape packages. Can one order say a set of ultra marine blue in say 5 different values,from any of the manufacturers. Etc.?
David

Hazartist
10-19-2011, 02:05 PM
I had the pleasure of using some Great American pastels lately and they are so soft and creamy! They are handmade in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Barbara WC
10-19-2011, 02:34 PM
I find that people vary in their opinions about the order of softness. Dakota has a list, and I somewhat disagree with it too :)

Schminke to me is the softest of the soft, and I only have a few sticks for finishing touches. They are nice though in that each color comes in a range of hues- from very dark to very light.

Sennelier is super soft too, but there are a few hard, brittle colors in their range. Not a problem on sanded paper, and I used to not care for Sennelier but have grown fond of them because the colors are so brilliant and they have an incredible range of colors, and a nice spacing around the color wheel. Sennelier also have a nice range of hues for each color- I think 5 or 6 per hue.

From there, Great American next, then Ludwigs, Unison, Girualts, Mungyo handmade, Rembrandts, Art Spectrum.

Ludwigs have become my workhorse pastel because they are "just right" :D My only issue with them, is I don't feel the Ludwigs have as nice spacing of colors around the color wheel, from darks to lights, like the Sennelier, Unisons or Schminke.

Those are the only brands I have experience with.

You'll get lots of different opinions, and part of it has to do with brands people feel most familiar with I think.

allydoodle
10-19-2011, 02:38 PM
Hi David,

This has been discussed before, though I think often it's a matter of opinion rather than fact. You might want to take a look here (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index-softpastels.aspx)at Dakota's list of pastels, they're rated from hard to soft. There are a few things I disagree with regarding the ratings. The first is the rating of Unisons as softer than Ludwigs. I have both brands, and I feel the Ludwigs are definitely softer. I would also have to say Art Spectrum is softer than Rembrant. I would have to agree that Schmincke is probably the softest, when I use them they feel like 'butter'. I only use them at the end, and not very often at that.

If you are looking for a good portrait set, Girault makes an excellent one, as does Mount Vision, and if you want a softer pastel, Ludwigs are always nice. I know you are just starting out, so I would recommend the Giraults first, you can do an entire painting with them, and they are easy to handle (especially for portraits). They are a bit pricey, but worth the money IMHO. The reason I recommend them over the Mount Vision is because of their size. They are significantly smaller, so they are easier to handle in portraits. If you are comfortable with a chunkier pastel, then try the Mount Vision, they're a great value, and excellent quality. If you want a round, soft and chunky pastel, Unison has a beautiful portrait set (I have it the 36pc set, it's great).

If you are specifically looking for an ultramarine blue set, I believe Ludwig does have that available.

As far as a landscape set, you can't go wrong with Mount Vision, Great American, and Ludwigs. I have landscape sets in all of these brands, and they're great. I guess you need to look at the colors to see what appeals to you. And yes, Great Americans are very soft, just a bit less soft than Schmincke, but not by much. I love them, especially in lanscapes. Also, Sennelier makes nice half stick sets for landscapes. I prefer their half stick sets to the full stick sets, I hate the paper wrappings, and the smaller sticks always seem to break. The half sticks have no wrappers, and don't tend to crumble for some reason. The 80pc or 120pc half stick plein aire sets are nice (I have the 80pc set).

You may want to consider a sampler set from Dakota, to see how you like the feel of the different brands. It's hard to make a decision, especially just starting out, without trying them first. I found when I was starting out the super softies were too much for me to handle, I stayed away from them for a long time. They take a bit of getting used to, there is a learning curve with them. The Giraults and Mount Visions are a nice happy medium soft, and are easier to handle.

Hope this helps. Do take a look at the Dakota ratings, at least it's somewhere to start. Happy shopping!

Colorix
10-19-2011, 04:01 PM
I can compare Ludwigs, Unisons, Schmincke, Sennelier. I'd say Schmincke is the softest airy almost floating fluffballs of whipped cream that go on top of nearly anything, and if pressing hard they give nice thick impasto strokes. (And they clog tooth real quick.) TL are very soft but slightly more 'grainy', and might be a better option, budgetwise, for you. Some Senns are very soft, but generally, I feel them to be a hair 'harder', but it is just a hair. Unisons are definitely harder, but that is also relative, they're in no way 'hard', just hard-er.

One 'index' is how much dust sticks to the fingers after holding a stick. Schmincke and TL sticks most, in that order.

robertsloan2
10-19-2011, 04:56 PM
Ludwig has a set of ten Ultramarine values if you were specifically looking for values in Ultramarine. They have some interesting sets. Schminke has a 75 stick half stick set that looks nice for finishing pastels.

Kathryn Wilson
10-19-2011, 05:25 PM
Can one order say a set of ultra marine blue in say 5 different values,from any of the manufacturers. Etc.?


You can order colors of MV's in values of 5 and sometimes even more depending on color.

Rockport123
10-19-2011, 06:19 PM
You might be able to order each stick separately, this way you can "build" your own set. I LOVE the Great American "gray" set. I use them along with all the other brands and they're terrific!!

barriespapa
10-19-2011, 06:32 PM
wow what great help.everyon Hazartist,Barbara, Chris,charlie, Robert,Kathryn and rockport. you know getting on in years is not all fun and painting this is the second time I answered this lol. You have all added all I needed to know So once again I thank you and remember to press the post quick reply buttoDavid

sketchZ1ol
10-19-2011, 06:33 PM
hello
good advice coming in :)

for a portrait set , i'm looking for a palette that is about skin tones in light and shadow
which have a large value range .

the Daniel Greene portrait sets presented by Unison
have his selection of colours
and are based on his oil palette which is methodic and versitile .
that and one of his video instructionals should keep you occupied for the better part of a year :evil:
> if you don't know his work , look it up .
- and have a pillow on the floor to catch your jaw :lol:

the Girault selection also looks to be sensible .

i agree with Don/Dak that some time spent learning about aspects/fundamentals of features and mapping out proportions is a most sensible investment of time and self-teaching .

- i'm like a broken record suggesting that some time spent with medium and soft vine charcoal , a q-tip , a kneaded eraser , a 2B charcoal pencil , and some decent drawing paper can open up worlds of info ( and satisfaction ) about values (dark to light) , creating a Shape on a 2D surface , and then going into it at the last with the pencil to crisp up some details .

- All of that info will apply to pastel sticks and the issue of colour .

you can do something similar right now with one dark stick of your pastel and the above mentioned accessories for a monochrome painting .

try it !
won't hurt :)

Ed :}

Barbara WC
10-19-2011, 08:02 PM
- i'm like a broken record suggesting that some time spent with medium and soft vine charcoal , a q-tip , a kneaded eraser , a 2B charcoal pencil , and some decent drawing paper can open up worlds of info ( and satisfaction ) about values (dark to light) , creating a Shape on a 2D surface , and then going into it at the last with the pencil to crisp up some details .

Ed :}

I agree Ed, working with soft charcoal to learn portraiture is very valuable. I spent my first 1 1/2 years in figure sessions working in charcoal only.

And David, you don't need a portrait specific set to paint portraits. You might check out some of the half stick sets- I really like the Unison range of colors for portraits- the 120 half stick set would let you paint just about anything you want. I started painting pastel portraits with a 90 piece half set of Rembrandts. Then moved onto the Ludwig Maggie Price Values set- it is a great set too for just about any subject, several natural colors in that set that are good for portraits- and nice violets and blues, that I like to include in shadow areas.

Getting a general set isn't a bad way to go- I didn't realize that one day I would be adding violets and blues in my skin shadows...

bluefish
10-19-2011, 08:25 PM
Roche!

allydoodle
10-19-2011, 08:43 PM
Roche!

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Lynndidj
10-19-2011, 11:02 PM
I have the 75 half stick set of Schminke - it is the first set of those I ever tried - and they are very lovely and soft. It is also a very nice range of colors and is a good value if you want to try some real softies. I would agree that they are softer than Ludwig, but not by very much. I agree with Charlie - the test is how much stays on your fingers :-) I also have a McKinley set of Great Americans, and for the most part I like them, but sometimes I feel like they are almost greasy ... that isn't quite the right word, but ... I don't know - I need to spend more time with them before I will invest more money in GA's. They are certainly in the soft catagory, however.

Lynn

japonaise
10-19-2011, 11:13 PM
I think that a qualifier should be added to the question "who makes the softest pastels".

It should be something like, "who makes the softest pastels that one can afford to buy while still paying the mortgage and buying food.

The softest reasonably priced pastels are GAs and Schminckes. At $17.95 - $22.00 ea for a Roche from the Fine Art Store, I would only buy one and then frame it inside a shadow box as an object d'art.

Blue, can you sweet talk Isabelle into a mystery box or chippy sale so us peasants can buy a couple of sticks?

Barbara WC
10-19-2011, 11:30 PM
I think that a qualifier should be added to the question "who makes the softest pastels".

It should be something like, "who makes the softest pastels that one can afford to buy while still paying the mortgage and buying food.

The softest reasonably priced pastels are GAs and Schminckes. At $17.95 - $22.00 ea for a Roche from the Fine Art Store, I would only buy one and then frame it inside a shadow box as an object d'art.

I read a review of the Roche sticks before, apparently they are a little scratchy and firm because of the pumice. Phew, that saves me an expensive purchase! :D

Not sure many of us softie fans would actually even like Roche sticks...

adventureartist
10-20-2011, 12:36 AM
I must confess, I USE my Roche sticks, and even break em...:eek: ....but they are not soft like GA or TL's.....more like Diane Townsend's soft forms in texture. GA's are so soft and creamy they do fill the paper quick, best for the last layers, TL are soft too but not as creamy feeling.

japonaise
10-20-2011, 01:09 AM
Lynn was looking for the right word to describe GAs: thick butter. They are not like TLs which are lighter and "play" better with others. GAs are sort of the polar opposite of Giraults. One can use Giraults at anytime during painting and GAs have to be the finis complete. A good value in the GAs is the half stick landscape set that is specially priced at either Jerry's or Blick's - cannot remember which store.

Thanks for the heads up on the Roches. Townsends are not my favorite, but I have some that I use from time to time. My October art $$$ are going to buy some of the new grades of UArt paper and Polychromos pastels. Was told that the Polychormos are much more light fast than NuPastel.

allydoodle
10-20-2011, 01:10 AM
I love my Great Americans. I have a landscape set, the set of grays, and the Son of Monty set. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked them, some people said they were 'greasy'. I don't find them greasy, just creamy and soft. I use them in backgrounds on portraits (the grays are wonderful), as well as in landscapes. I like the softness for landscapes, although I do find a light touch works really well with these. I think if you have a really firm touch with pastels, the softies may not be a good fit for you. The more I use the Great Americans, the more I like them. They defiinitely are a favorite of mine, they play very nicely with Ludwigs :D and Mount Visions. And, they have a lot of colors you just don't see in other sets, a really nice perk.

the drover's dog
10-20-2011, 08:31 AM
This is always such a subjective discussion when the topic arises. Here's my considered opinion:

I only have a set of thirty Ludwigs so far and about 150 Schminckes bought open stock in dribs and drabs (ouch!). Also have about 25 Great Americans. In my humble opinion, the Schminckes are the softest, then the Ludwigs (both really gorgeous brands of pastels), then the GAs. I agree that the GAs have a peculiar "greasy" feel to them. They have such nice collections though. It's frustrating, because I don't really like using GAs yet still drool over the various collections. They crumble away in my pastel box too. All the numerous shattered bits came from GAs. I'm constantly reconstituting and re-rolling them.

IMHO nicest all round pastels to use from start to finish of a work? - Mount Visions which are also the best value for money if you live in the US. I'm not too keen on Senneliers because of their inconsistancy and tendency to crumble, but many love them and I have a dozen or so of these but I don't dare take the wrappers off them or they will expire into crumbs. You don't get much pastel for your money with Senns either. Like Senneliers, Unisons by the time they get to Australia are too expensive for their tiny size. I have a few, and they are too gritty for my tastes.

Roche and Girault are about the only well known brands I haven't tried. Love Lukas, which are skinny like Senneliers but nice and creamy. Not good value for money because of their small size unless you can find them on sale (which I did), but they don't seem to be available in the US.

I have most of the medium soft artist's quality brands including some that are no longer made. I use them all and would have a hard time finding which are the Winsor & Newtons and Daler Rowneys now, but the DRs are softer than Rembrandts, W & N or Art Spectrums. Quite nice pastels really, but they had a horrible colour range. Rembrandts are easy to pick as they are plump like the Art Spectrums. They are harder than the Art Spectrums.

Dale

Colorix
10-20-2011, 09:44 AM
... I USE my Roche sticks, and even break em...:eek:

Gasp!!!

Could you say if the Roché sticks are worth the cost? Even in Europe, the price is high. Are they similar to Girault?

"The purpose of pastel painting is not to preserve pastel sticks" (Charlie)
"Do you want a pretty box or beautiful paintings?" (??)

adventureartist
10-20-2011, 04:15 PM
Giraults are made from smaller/finer particles and are harder. As to cost you really have to judge for yourself once trying them...they are not magical, just a very old, revered brand started in the year 1720 and when one considers the history I find them fascinating. Isabelle works very hard and I like the idea of her keeping the company going, so I support that when I can, as I do other artists. I use the pastels only toward the end of paintings if the colors I have are what I need, they are brilliantly toned and the constitution is much like Diane Townsend's soft forms. Like others here I bought mine at the convention and have been adding to my sticks each year I go since I save on shipping. If I was freaking filthy rich I would have the whole 576 set, but I have not won lottery yet!

Colorix
10-20-2011, 06:25 PM
Thanks, Dru. Interesting that Giraults are harder. If I travel to Paris one day...

DAK723
10-20-2011, 10:08 PM
The Roches just have a different feel than any other brand of pastel that I have used. They definitely are not soft and creamy. No where near the softness of Schminke, Ludwig, Sennelier or GA. They are gritty - somewhat similar to Giraults in that regard. I think there advertising says that they have extremely small amounts of binder and are mostly pigment. I guess that would account for their very high price! I would not say they are 3 or 4 (or 5) times better than the other brands - so not really worth the price, in my opinion.

But I have had good results when I use them, so who knows....

Don

robertsloan2
10-21-2011, 01:25 AM
I'm so tempted to try the Roches someday. If I was in the same economic situation I was in regards rent here as in Arkansas (I was eating Kitten's cooking and not buying my food on what's left from rent), I would've tried one of the 15 color sets.

I like the firm sets as well as the soft buttery ones, so I'd probably enjoy Roche. I liked the Townsend ones I got in the greens sampler from Dakota. Besides, it would be a benefit when talking to buyers on the street face to face to just casually pick up a stick and say "This one color cost me $15 for the stick" and not mention that all the others cost maybe a fifth of that or less. I like to let the buyers know I'm using the best there is on their paintings.

But then my street painting is half painting, half performance art and I was doing pretty well waving a Grumbacher or Sennelier at them and saying "These sticks cost about five dollars each - you can check at that art store right across the way and down the street."

Then again, I could always get just one in a frequently used accent color for that particular presentation and a pack of Giraults to go with it. I've noticed that some colors get used over broad areas and others last forever because while I use them often, I rarely use them in large areas. Getting that one sample stick in Ultramarine Tint would be extravagant. Getting it in a lemony yellow might not be.

What would be more practical would be finally getting the Sennelier Paris set of 120 or the Schminke 75 half sticks for finishing pastels and keeping the set handy in its box. Or the Terry Ludwig Maggie Price Values. Something like that. They're actually all on my wish list, so there is a reason I need to finally do the screening and get out for some sales.

barriespapa
10-21-2011, 10:44 AM
Thanks to you a (I have a sticky key ets see how ong it wi be before you can te which key it is.) Ed, Barbara, B ue. Chris, ynn, Japonaise. Drusi a,
Da e, Char ie,Don, and Robert. Thanks to you everyone for adding to my education on paste s
David

saramathewson
10-21-2011, 12:14 PM
I would say that Scmincke and Great american are tied at the top with Ludwigs in 2nd place. Or they would be third if you put Schmincke 1st and Great american 2nd. I just got some new Great americans and they are so creamy I love them! i also have a 75 half stick set of Schminckes and I haven't used it yet as i haven't needed too so i'm saving it for when I need it. i have many full sticks of schmincke bought at stores from open stock. Senneliers actually might be third and Ludwigs fourth. but Senneliers do have soe hard ones due to the different pigments. Both Schmincke and Great American are creamy across the whole line of pastels. great American are cheaper though and made in america which i like. My favorite American made ones are of course Great American, Ludwig and then Mount vision. But that is because I love the super soft ones and use them from the beginning to the end of the paintings, not just for highlights.

Sara

saramathewson
10-21-2011, 12:27 PM
i would love to add that mount Visions are probably the best value first of all and they are workhorse pastels as they are used throughout the painting and go down very smoothly. they just are not soft like the other ones. but that said i think they are very close to Unison in texture and results. As far as Great Americans being "greasy", I wouldn't call them that, but I would say they are very creamy and that they don't produce much dust. they do have crumbles like in oil pastel so I can see why people would call them greasy I just don't find them to be and I would rather have a few crumbles that can be taken care of then a lot of dust.

And giraults are firm sticks but lay down pretty creamy. It's weird, you wouldn't think they would be so nice when you hold them but when you lay them to the paper-wow! If I had more money I would buy the full set of giraults because of this. i already have many Mount visions that if i got the full set there would be so many that are the same. and the same with Ludwigs. although if someone were to give me a full set of either I would gladly accept them:) i would love a full set of GA's. I have always loved them and now with buying some more I realize how much I have missed them as my first set which was a 39 North american landscape set just has a few left here and there in my palette. the pastels that I just don't like much at all are Rembrandts although I know many people use them for most of their painting. I bought about 55 open stock of them for charlies class back in 2008 and then never finished the class and now they are with my friend Sue who has a heavy hand and likes them. Her favorites are Giraults.

Sara

saramathewson
10-21-2011, 12:36 PM
@ Jann,

the polychromos are more lightfast than nupastel and I find them to be creamy for a semi hard pastel! I really like mine. i broke them in half initially because I thought I was going to share them with my friend Sue, but then she got a full set for xmas from her daughter(with my help) so I now have half of mine in a small handmade pastel box that only fits hard pastels and giraults. i bought it in the swap shop from a woman who used to make these and pochade boxes. It is so small compared to the Dakota ones or my guerilla palette box. it's great because it is much smaller than the tin the full set comes in.

Just wanted to say they are a great buy. i have the full set and I wanted it for several years and finally bought it. It is great for the first layer and they also do well with an alcohol wash or OMS wash or just plain water.

So they are really a good choice and IMHO the best of the semi hard pastels and I have tried them all and have a few of th other brands too.

Sara

barriespapa
10-21-2011, 05:27 PM
Thank you kindly sara for all the info I have decided on mount visions and Ludwigs or G americans. not yet sure if will buy open stock or packages. may buy some of each brand.do you have a great american portrait package? I think I will get a portrait package from them. Oh so many decisions to make haha
David

saramathewson
10-21-2011, 06:36 PM
David, I don't have a portrait package of GA's. so far I don't do portraits although maybe in the future...
I have the 60 half stick set for outdoors that comes in a cigar box. Great range with light to dark values in all the main colors. I just got the Southwest 39 Canyon set and the 39 grays and the 18 pearlescent ones(i've been wanting those for a long time! I love the grays, I got them by accident from blick, I had ordered the canyon set so I called and kept the grays and ordered another canyon set (since I never got it) Dick Blick was very good about handling this. were very good about it. And now I have more GA's than I initially was going to get. I bought the 39 North American set when I first started wanting to learn about pastels. Way back in 2006! And i tried them but didn't actually start painting with pastels until 2008. that's what happens when you start with Canson Mi-Tientes paper as a newbie. I like that paper now, it's just difficult to learn on at least it was for me.

One nice thing about GA's is that they come in five or 6 tints of a color. So, it would be easy to pick out your own from open stock. I buy both ways but bought the sets this time.

Sara

barriespapa
10-21-2011, 08:36 PM
Sara Fantastic info I buy most of my supplies from blicks. I find them very good so far. I think I will see what I can come up with in choosing some colors and ordering them in five values or 6 if they have them. tks again Sara.
David

Barbara WC
10-21-2011, 08:40 PM
Thank you kindly sara for all the info I have decided on mount visions and Ludwigs or G americans. not yet sure if will buy open stock or packages. may buy some of each brand.do you have a great american portrait package? I think I will get a portrait package from them. Oh so many decisions to make haha
David

David-

Mt. Visions are a great deal and you can't go wrong- I would use them myself, but I seem to have an allergic reaction to them. Had to sell off my MV sets a couple of years ago. They have a nice balanced portrait set.

You mentioned "Ludwigs or G americans". One thing that is of note, is that the Ludwig portrait sets have more neutral skin tone colors, and muted tones, whereas the GA's have fewer neutral skin tone colors and brighter colors in the sets- more violets, blues and bright reds. Depends on how you want to paint- if you want brighter more expressionist portraits, the GA portrait sets are probably better, if you want something more natural looking and realistic, the Ludwig portrait sets are probably beter.

I was looking at both, and decided against both. I ended up buying the Ludwig Maggie Price set and a several more Ludwigs open stock to complete my own personalized portrait set. I now have about 120 Ludwigs, and that is more than enough to get me through any subject- it's heavy towards skin tones and blues and violets, but enough greens should I feel like doing a landscape :D

It's so exciting to shop, have fun, and let us know what you end up with!:wave:

barriespapa
10-21-2011, 09:06 PM
Thanks Barbara, I am getting more good advice here that I can possibly use I just have to make the final decision . I know that you are one of the few that have replied to the thread that specialize in portraits so I must give your comments serious consideration. I have a box of mount vision chippies and I love them they are good value and I find them firm in the hand but they are not hard on the paper smooth texture throughout the color range that i have.Not like my mungyos which can be hard in some and soft in others sometimes scratchy But the ludwigs I have love them all for the creamy way they go on I can load pastel say mungyos on till pastel mat will take no more and them put 3 or 4 coats of ludwig on after that is the difference for me now as you know I am on my first Portrait wip And ido not want to put heavy coats on the paper. can i ask you how many coats you would put on a regular portrait just the face. Geez I am getting carried away here. Thanks for your input barbara I will be giving it every consideration David

chuas2
10-21-2011, 09:51 PM
David,
I LOVE my set of Girault Blues! This is a 25 stick set with everything from pale powder blue to dark violet blue. Yummy!
Chuas

Barbara WC
10-21-2011, 10:24 PM
David-

I haven't been in the Studio lately, but just saw your portrait- looking great! I'm going to send you a PM.

JPQ
10-21-2011, 10:57 PM
David, I don't have a portrait package of GA's. so far I don't do portraits although maybe in the future...
I have the 60 half stick set for outdoors that comes in a cigar box. Great range with light to dark values in all the main colors. I just got the Southwest 39 Canyon set and the 39 grays and the 18 pearlescent ones(i've been wanting those for a long time! I love the grays, I got them by accident from blick, I had ordered the canyon set so I called and kept the grays and ordered another canyon set (since I never got it) Dick Blick was very good about handling this. were very good about it. And now I have more GA's than I initially was going to get. I bought the 39 North American set when I first started wanting to learn about pastels. Way back in 2006! And i tried them but didn't actually start painting with pastels until 2008. that's what happens when you start with Canson Mi-Tientes paper as a newbie. I like that paper now, it's just difficult to learn on at least it was for me.

One nice thing about GA's is that they come in five or 6 tints of a color. So, it would be easy to pick out your own from open stock. I buy both ways but bought the sets this time.

Sara

i looke picture of 39 North American set looks good starting set.

barriespapa
11-05-2011, 09:56 PM
Hi David,

This has been discussed before, though I think often it's a matter of opinion rather than fact. You might want to take a look here (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index-softpastels.aspx)at Dakota's list of pastels, they're rated from hard to soft. There are a few things I disagree with regarding the ratings. The first is the rating of Unisons as softer than Ludwigs. I have both brands, and I feel the Ludwigs are definitely softer. I would also have to say Art Spectrum is softer than Rembrant. I would have to agree that Schmincke is probably the softest, when I use them they feel like 'butter'. I only use them at the end, and not very often at that.

If you are looking for a good portrait set, Girault makes an excellent one, as does Mount Vision, and if you want a softer pastel, Ludwigs are always nice. I know you are just starting out, so I would recommend the Giraults first, you can do an entire painting with them, and they are easy to handle (especially for portraits). They are a bit pricey, but worth the money IMHO. The reason I recommend them over the Mount Vision is because of their size. They are significantly smaller, so they are easier to handle in portraits. If you are comfortable with a chunkier pastel, then try the Mount Vision, they're a great value, and excellent quality. If you want a round, soft and chunky pastel, Unison has a beautiful portrait set (I have it the 36pc set, it's great).

If you are specifically looking for an ultramarine blue set, I believe Ludwig does have that available.

As far as a landscape set, you can't go wrong with Mount Vision, Great American, and Ludwigs. I have landscape sets in all of these brands, and they're great. I guess you need to look at the colors to see what appeals to you. And yes, Great Americans are very soft, just a bit less soft than Schmincke, but not by much. I love them, especially in lanscapes. Also, Sennelier makes nice half stick sets for landscapes. I prefer their half stick sets to the full stick sets, I hate the paper wrappings, and the smaller sticks always seem to break. The half sticks have no wrappers, and don't tend to crumble for some reason. The 80pc or 120pc half stick plein aire sets are nice (I have the 80pc set).

You may want to consider a sampler set from Dakota, to see how you like the feel of the different brands. It's hard to make a decision, especially just starting out, without trying them first. I found when I was starting out the super softies were too much for me to handle, I stayed away from them for a long time. They take a bit of getting used to, there is a learning curve with them. The Giraults and Mount Visions are a nice happy medium soft, and are easier to handle.

Hope this helps. Do take a look at the Dakota ratings, at least it's somewhere to start. Happy shopping!
Hi Chris with the sale on sennelier half sticks on sale at blicks i think I will buy both a landscape and a portrait set maybe 2 portrait sets the price seems so good. Thanks for your input Chris David