Probably the question I get asked the most is: “What pastels would you suggest I start with? And by the way, I have a limited budget.” Choosing your first soft pastels should be easy but with all the choices we have, the decisions become more difficult. This week I answer the question!
So as you can see, I recommend half-stick sets by Unison and Sennelier. I also think that Mount Vision pastels are a super value. Other brands I love but think may be toooooo soft for a beginner are Schmincke, Great American, and Terry Ludwig. Branch out to these once you get your pastelling feet wet!
Once you know the brands to look for, keep an eye out for them in alternative retail venues such as your local thrift shop, eBay, or Craigslist for example.
Don’t be tempted by cheaper student grade pastels – they’ll only lead to frustration – in colour, in application, in vibrancy. Instead, buy a few good soft pastels. Quality pastels are primarily pigment with a bit of binder to keep them together in stick form. Cheap ‘pastels’ have a much greater ratio of binder to pigment which is why when using them, you just can’t get the look and feel that comes with a better brand. Frustration!
Once you have your first soft pastels, use them up! Don’t think of them as precious, or be tentative with them. Set a date – say six months, a year max – when you will have used them up. And tell someone who will hold you accountable. And then by golly, pastel away!!
One thing I’d like to suggest once you have your box of first pastels is to work on small pieces of paper. In the early days of your pastelling adventures, working on large pieces can lead to the idea of “wasting” the pastels (and the paper!) as you try to fill the spaces. And so there’s a tendency to stop painting. Using small pieces (6 x 8 in for example) gets you out of this negative mindset, and means you will produce more work and thus grow faster in your knowledge of pastels. And I suggest using sanded paper as soon as you can!
Please share this post with anyone who is at the beginning of their pastel journey!
What do you think of my choices for first soft pastels? Agree? Disagree? What were your first pastels? Did you like them? Hate them? I’d love to get a conversation going around this topic so please leave a comment!!
Happy to say I had all three of my pastels accepted into the PastelArtistsCanada annual juried show (thank you juror Richard McKinley!). If you’re in Vancouver 22 May to 4 June I hope you’ll take it in.
Until next week when I have a superb portraitist for you!
PS. The pastels I recommended in the video: