There is no 'hard or soft' rule when it comes to pastels. So why do we misleadingly refer to them all as 'soft' pastels when it's so obvious that some are harder than others?

Softer brands use less binder and therefore contain more pigment. it all dusts down to a matter of preference. While some artists start with a harder brand and finish with extra soft, others may draw with hard, then apply soft and finish by blendng or sharpening areas with a harder brand. 

Very Hard - Nupastel, Cretacolor, Faber Castelli

Hard - Holbein, Gallery, Richeson Hard

Semi-hard - Winsor Newton, Rembrandt, Art Spectrum, Mount Vision, Mungyo

Soft - Daler-Rowney, Sennelier, Girault, Unison, Richeson Soft, Terry Ludwig, Diane Townsend

Extremely soft - Schmincke, Great American, PanPastel


Colours and Value Ranges

Beginners' selection - Pre-set selections on the market rarely fit a beginner's needs. Starting your own kit is cheaper and more convenient as you'll get the colours you want. The following is a very basic starter list of 20 colours. You may add or substititue some colours with those of preference as long as they have the same value. To cut the initial outlay even further, buy half sticks or share with a friend.

Dark Colours: deep ultramarine blue, dark cobalt blue, two very dark greens (a warm and a cool), dark reddish brown, a dark gold ochre, deep yellow

Mid Tones: ultramarine, cobalt blue, warm yellow, lemon yellow, 2 reds (a warm and a cool), a warm yellow green and a grass green

Light Colours: 2 yellows (a warm and a cool), 2 reds (a warm and a cool), ultramarine light

NOTE: For still life and florals this set would need the addition of purples and a larger variety of reds for the florals


Saving Your Pieces

Ever wonder what to do with all those small pieces of pastel? How about making your own pastels? Begin by collecting them as you work in inexpensive boxes with small compartments. Sort small pieces of pastel in the compartments by color and value. When a section fills up, use a coffee grinder (bought specifically for grinding pastels) to grind together each section (make sure you wear a mask — see safety tips). In a small plastic cup, mix the pastel dust with a few drops of rubbing alcohol to make a paste and roll it into a cigar shape (wearing latex gloves — see safety tips). Lay the stick on a paper towel, for a couple days, until the alcohol evaporates. The manufacturer of the pastels has already added the gum to make the pigment stick together. Grinding all the pastel bits together with a mortar and pestle is possible, but requires a lot of elbow grease and strength, whereas the grinder does it in a minute to a fine consistency. This method can also be used to achieve a dark as well (ie. a dark green can be obtained by using a green and mixing it in the coffee grinder with a bit of black). 

Every pastelists's nightmare — looking down to see the last stick of your favourite pastel on the floor in pieces! To overcome this shattering experience, carefully collect every little piece of pastel (including the dust) on a piece of waxed paper. Add a drop of alcohol and roll it into a stick. As above, after a few days, you should be able to use the new stick. 


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