What’s in your pastel collection?

Start talking shop with anyone who works with pastels, and you’ll very quickly get to one of the most popular questions,  What brand of pastels do you use?”

My answer? I work with a HUGE variety of soft and hard pastel brands.

My collection began with a set of Rembrandts that I inherited from my grandmother. In talking with other pastelists, this seems pretty common.  You have a set that starts the collection, and things build from there.

I think quite a few artists use their interest in the medium to fuel a love of collecting as well. There’s the fun of the hunt, looking for a great new color or brand of pastels… I can tell you from experience that nothing’s better than adding some wondrous new colors into your pallet.

Can I use all the brands together?

An important thing to keep in mind is that most all soft and hard pastel brands are compatible, meaning that you can use different brands together as long as they are soft pastels, not oil pastels. They are all inert, and will not react with one another.  The same goes for using vine charcoal and pastel, or charcoal pencils in a pastel painting.  The binders may be slightly different, but there is no reaction that will happen to the surface of your painting.

My current pallet includes:

  • Unison — I love the painterly colors that Unison pastels have.  A great hand-rolled shape and excellent darks!
  • Diane Townsend Soft Pastels I have the Intense Darks set from Diane Townsend.  The values do get super dark.  Check out her range of dark purples and violets.
  • Schmincke — Super soft.  They have a bit of talc blended with each color.  The line is very consistently soft from color to color.  If you like that feeling, you will love Schmincke Pastels.  Most brands can not say that.  I find them wonderful for the finishing layers of a pastel painting.
  • Sennelier — I have a 120-piece wood box landscape set.  One hell of a range of greens!  I also highly recommend the Sennelier 80-piece half stick set for anyone just starting a collection.
  • Terry Ludwig I LOVE the square shape and intense colors form Terry Ludwig.  Nothing makes detail easier than a square shape with a nice point on the corners.
  • Rembrandts — These are a great middle-of-the-road pastel when it comes to hardness.  Not too soft or too hard.  Try Rembrandts on sanded paper for your next pastel painting.  I think it holds the harder pastel a lot better than most uncoated papers.
  • Yarka — Relatively hard pastels.  Yarka has a good range of lights and mid-tone values.  The darks are a bit chalky.  I love the range of grays in the bigger sets.
  • NuPastels — Ask around.  Most everyone starts their pastel paintings with NuPastels.  They have a square shape and are super hard.  Great for drawing and getting some quick color values down on your paper without filling up the tooth of the paper.  Try sharpening a NuPastel to a point with a razor blade.  It’s a great tool!
pastel collection | Jeffrey Smith