What a brilliant idea to share the experience to help artists who are just at the beginning of their pastel carrier
I am happy to share my knowledge which I gained throughout the time working with pastel. This would be related to materials I am using, nothing to do with technique.
Straight away I would like to apologise for any grammatical mistakes in my post because I am originally from Russia but living in UK now. I am feeling quite comfortable with English Language but I am pretty sure I am far away from perfection
So ..., I use soft and hard pastels as well as pastels pencils and coloured pencils.
Initially I was using an Arboreta heavy weight off white paper. I know it is not a pastel paper but I found that it has got a bit of a grip (exactly what I needed) plus I was able to paint with my pastel on it, I mean that there no paper will be seen through.
This is the style I love, when you can not see the paper and as far as I know its called pastel painting.
The only problem with this was that I couldn't achieve very bright colours
, sometimes you really need it to bring painting to life.
So I tried some other papers and after some time I found my favourite so far.
It is Tim Fisher 400 classic. I love it because it can take few layers on the top of each other, has got brilliant grip, I can use fixative on it (I am using Latour Sennelier - very good fixative, had to go through few before I found the right one). And the colours on Fisher paper are very vibrant and bright so it is possible to achieve very good results.
So, another advice would be to use fixative during the painting but do not use on the top layer. If you feel like you are happy with the painting and decide to spray it with fixative you may will get a bit upset because all the highlights will get darker. That's why I think its good idea not to spray the top layer but use it during the process of creating the artwork.
Well, as for the pastel itself - my favourite will be - Caran d'ache, Stabilo, Sennelier and Schmincke. I am sure there are plenty more great pastels and I am still exploring this amazing world.
Nowadays I buy my art supplies online but if you are a beginner I would definitely recommend you to go to the proper art shop and just try the pastels, feel them, see whether they are soft enough or look for any other quality you are looking for.
Another useful thing which I discovered is a pastel blender. I am not talking about big spaces (I still blend them with my fingers) but they could be really useful for the little details. Just do not buy the cheap one, they are no good. You can try to buy just one for the beginning and see whether you are happy to use it and may be then buy a set. They will last you forever!