Five years ago when I was starting to get back into art seriously (after having done very little for a good ten years), I was still trying to work out what mediums I was interested in, since I’d only really used acrylics and coloured pencils. I had seen a few beautiful, painterly drawings that had been done in pastel, and I loved the realistic yet almost expressionist appearance of many of the drawings and wanted to try doing something similar myself. After reading up on the different brands, I ended up going with a box of Rembrandt soft pastels. I decided to get half sticks, since it would give me twice as many colours as buying a set of full sticks for the same price. Since playing with these I have tried a few other brands, so I can at least make some comparisons in this review.
As you can see from my photo, the 90-colour set has an excellent range, with plenty of lights, brights and darks in all the important colours. Sometimes pastel sets leave out important colours (eg. they may not have a good dark red-violet) or will only have a few browns, which is annoying as those are commonly used colours. This is probably more of a problem with smaller sets, but even some bigger sets I’ve seen are guilty of this. Happily the Rembrandt soft pastel box had a good enough selection that I never found myself wishing I had a particular colour or tint that wasn’t in there.
The first thing I noticed when I got my Rembrandt pastels out and started to use them was their smooth outer layers. So smooth, in fact, that I actually had trouble laying down colour when I first tried using them on their sides. Being a newcomer to pastels, I was concerned. Was there something wrong with my pastels? Had I wasted my money? I needn’t have worried, as a quick snoop around a few pastel forums informed me that this was normal for Rembrandt pastels and for other soft pastels that are machine extruded rather than being hand-rolled. All I had to do was sand them lightly to release the colour, and after that, they worked like a charm.
Once I started to draw with the pastels, I felt like I had made a good choice in buying Rembrandt as my first soft pastel set. In spite of the ‘soft’ in the name, soft pastels actually come in a range of textures, from hard/firm through to truly soft pastels. Rembrandt soft pastels are somewhere in the middle, meaning they’re a good all-rounder pastel. You can easily do a whole drawing from start to finish with the Rembrandts, or you could use them for the underlayers and then use a softer brand (like Sennelier or Schmincke) to add the final touches. A lot of pastel artists have a set each of hard pastels, medium pastels and soft pastels, using the hard pastels for the sketching/bottom layers, medium pastels for the majority of the colouring and the soft pastels for highlights and details. Pigment concentration in the Rembrandts seems pretty good, with most of the pastels easily producing bold, bright strokes. I had no trouble getting fairly solid layers of colour or doing light ‘glazes’ over one colour with another.
Here is a piece I did as part of a ‘pastel puzzle challenge‘ on the Wet Canvas art forum; each participant was given a small section of an image to draw so that all the different sections could be combined to make up the full image. I should note that I did use my Masters watersoluble soft pastels to do an underpainting so I could block out where all the colours would go, but very little of the underpainting is still visible beneath the Rembrandt layers.
Whether you’re a beginner to soft pastels or a more experienced artist looking for a comprehensive set of pastels to fill out your collection, Rembrandt soft pastels are a good purchase. If you get a 60 or 90 colour set of half sticks, you’ll have a good selection for whatever subjects you choose to paint, and their medium texture means they suit most surfaces.