pastels in my studio, Jeffrey Smith

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 Rembrandt pastels 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 found in Unison pastels. They have a great shape from being hand-rolled and so of the best dark-value pastels out there!
  • Diane Townsend Soft Pastels — I purchased the Intense Darks set from Diane Townsend.  The values do get super dark. I’m especially fond of her range of dark purples and violets.
  • Schmincke — Super soft and creamy.  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. I find them wonderful for the finishing layers of a pastel painting.
  • Sennelier — I have a 120-piece wood box landscape set.  The set features one heck of a range of greens — perfect for summertime here in Minnesota.  I also highly recommend the Sennelier 80-piece half-stick set for anyone just starting a collection. You get some great, intense colors at a really good price.
  • Terry Ludwig — I LOVE the square shape and intense colors from Terry Ludwig.  Nothing makes detail marks 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 Soft Pastels — These pastels are on the harder end of the soft pastel range.  Yarka has an excellent assortment of colors in the light to mid-tone value range. Having said that, I have found the dark-value colors a bit “chalky” looking. I have their large set, and I love the range of grays.
  • NuPastels — Ask your pastel-painter friends — a lot of folks start their pastel paintings with NuPastels.  They have a square shape and are super hard. Because they are so hard, try sharpening a NuPastel to a point with a razor blade. They are great for drawing and getting some quick color/values down on your paper without filling up the tooth of the paper.    It’s a great tool!
A travel box full of colorful pastels | Jeffrey Smith

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  1. I remember picking out a set of pastels for you at that art shop in London a million years ago, that was fun!

    1. And I still love them!! Those are the Unison pastels that make up a large part of my collection! That does seem like kind of a million years ago…

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