A Pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil and watercolor paints. The binder is of a neutral color. The color effect of pastels is closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process.
The following set are considered soft pastels. I will attempt to order the pastels from softest towards hardest.
Schmincke is an extremely soft, velvety and intensely pigmented pastel. Only the purest pigments are used and in the highest possible concentration while the binding compound is kept to a minimum. The pastels are amazingly consistent in softness throughout the entire color range from the very darkest to the lightest colors. Schmincke has a great range of colors, especially blue tones.
Schmincke pastels are ideal for laying highlights on top of dark areas.
Sennelier has the largest selection of soft pastels with 525 colors made from pure pigments and a natural binder that produces a pastel with a smooth and velvety quality.
Naturally occurring minerals from regions in France are added to the pure pigments to produce exceptional luminosity and to create the wonderful ranges from very dark to almost white tints.
Artists will notice some variation in softness of the pastel sticks due to the chemical composition of the pure pigments. The extensive color range provides the broadest selection of dark hues (their most popular colors are the darkest blues and black greens) and tones. The bright reds and yellows are especially intense.
Great American ART Works creates a pigment dense pastel stick that is rectangular shaped. The flat sides of each stick is particularly useful when laying in large areas during the blocking-in phase. The sticks also appear to be larger than what other brands offer.
I personally love working with these pastels. They are soft with a great range of intense colors.
Unison has the most unique and dynamic range of colors of all the pastel lines. The color range was designed as a total spectrum, with each color developed independently. Unison does not use a system of pure colors mixed with black and white to form tints as in other pastel lines. The Color Range sets of 18 are a great way to strengthen weak areas in your palette and build up to buying the whole line without duplicating colors.
Unison pastels create a dry textured surface unlike certain lines where the pastels appear to be more buttery, e.g Schmincke.
Mount Vision Pastels
This is one of my favorite pastels because of the size and how similar Mount Vision feels to Unison pastels(although it does not have the same range of colors). Mount Vision pastels are larger than typical pastel sticks and therefore a great value.
The pastels are hand made by Karl Kelly using the finest traditional and synthetic pigments combined with a base of chalk, talc and clay producing a quality pastel stick. Mount Vision has 350 different colors to choose from.
Rembrandt Soft Pastels
Rembrandt creates a very popular pastel line since the pastels are well balanced, not too hard or too soft. The sticks are also priced in the mid range and not as expensive as some other brands are.
Rembrandt has a line of just over 200 colors with 44 pure colors. This is a great choice for under painting, with the softer brands layering well over these pastels.
This is a great pastel to choose if you are starting with pastel painting and not sure about what you should buy.
Art Spectrum Pastels
Art Spectrum is a medium soft pastel from Australia. The Art Spectrum line has unique colors to the Australian palette, including many rich dark tones. The pastels are all highly lightfast and pure, brilliant and intense. The nature of the individual pigments causes slight variations in the softness of the colors in mass tone.
Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper
There are two kinds of pastel surfaces to work on: Pastel paper and pastel board. Pastel paper can either be smooth or with a sanded texture(think sandpaper).
Canson paper is smooth. The paper has some texture on the one side. For best results, turn the paper around and use the smooth side without the texture. Although Canson paper won’t allow you to layer multiple layers of pastel…it enables you to do detail work. It is a great surface to work on for beginners who are new to pastel painting.
Unlike other surfaces, paper is not an ideal surface to create a wet under paint since the paper will buckle.
Ampersand Pastel Board
Ampersand makes a pastel board that is one of my favorite surfaces to work on. I create most of my pastel paintings on this board. The board has a very even and fine sanded texture that allows you to create multiple layers. I also like the available sizes.
The board is thick and it is not possible to easily cut the board.
Art Spectrum Colourfix Painting Board is available in a rich assortment of lightfast, acid-free colors. This is yet another heavy weight paper with a sanded texture. Great for layering pastel.
Like most sanded surfaces…Art Spectrum might eat away at your pastel sticks. The colored backgrounds is great for different under layer tones.
The train track pastel painting in my tutorial section was done on Art Spectrum board.
Wallis Pastel Paper
Wallis creates a heavy weight paper with a heavy sanded texture. Wallis paper is very popular among artists and a chosen paper for many. Wallis paper tends to curl on the ends. It is also very difficult to come by.
I have yet to experiment with this paper to see if it is in any way better what I am currently using.
Pastel artists usually applying the pastel pigment to a surface without blending the pastel. However, blending can be done with your finger or by using one of the harder pastel sticks.
Another options is to use a color shaper to move the pigment around. It can also be used to blend the pastel. The technique take some time to get use to.