When I’m interested in a new art supply product, I sometimes like to buy a small (eg. 10-12 colours) set just to see if I like it enough to invest in a larger set. While these basic sets are often reasonably priced at online retailers, I’ve also had a lot of luck in buying them on eBay, from people who were given them as a gift and didn’t want them or who bought them and found they didn’t really like them. Often these sets are either brand new or have only been very lightly used. One set I acquired this way was my small set of Winsor & Newton Artists’ soft pastels.
These were a bit of an impulse buy in that I didn’t specifically go looking for the Winsor & Newton pastels; I was looking for Rembrandt half sticks and these came up in the search results for some reason. I never did end up finding a cheap set of Rembrandts (I ended up buying them from The Art Shop) but since this little box of pastels was only about $20, I snapped it up. Here’s a colour chart for my little set of 12.
I’m not sure exactly what colours these are as the pastel names aren’t given on the box. I suspect the blues are Cerulean (or at least a hue) and Ultramarine, and white and black are probably Titanium White and Ivory Black, respectively. The brown looks like Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber and the pale earthy yellow looks like Naples Yellow. The pale, watery green looks like a colour I probably won’t use much; I suppose it’s hard to get a good range of pastels with only 12 colours but I would have preferred another brown or even a grey.
The Winsor & Newton Artists’ soft pastels are actually quite similar to the Rembrandt soft pastels in terms of texture and the size of the half sticks. Though they appear to be machine extruded and therefore pretty uniform in length and width, most of them don’t have that annoying hard surface you have to sand off like the Rembrandts did; in fact, I ended up with a fair amount of coloured dust on my hand just from removing the pastels from the box for the first time.
As I would expect from Winsor & Newton – one of the most well-known and highly-regarded art supply manufacturers – these pastels are highly pigmented, with pure, bright colours. Some pastel brands have differences in texture across different colours, depending on what pigments are used, but these pastels seemed pretty uniform in texture across the 12 half sticks I have. Also, even though they are of medium firmness like the Rembrandts, they somehow feel softer and creamier when applied to the paper. I found that this made them a little easier to blend than the Rembrandts.
Here’s a quick sketch I did with the Winsor & Newton pastels on coloured Canson Mi-Teintes paper.
Winsor & Newton Artists’s soft pastels are an excellent medium-textured soft pastel and I’ll definitely keep using them. I’m not sure they’re superior enough to the Rembrandts that it’s worth spending considerably more on a set of them up front, but I’d definitely suggest buying at least a few sticks to try; you might find that slightly creamier texture makes them worthy of becoming your primary choice for a medium-soft pastel. They would probably also be a good pastel to buy to replace individual colours in your Rembrandt (or equivalent) set as you use those up.
UPDATE: AUG 9
When I was on an art forum talking about how much I love these pastels, another artist mentioned they had been discontinued. I looked into it and sure enough, Winsor & Newton are no longer making their soft pastels. Very disappointing as they really are among my favourite soft pastels to use.
UPDATE: AUG 19
I decided I might try looking on eBay to see if I could get any more of these pastels for a good price. Most of them were very expensive and sold in big wooden boxes (which would have been difficult for me to find a place for in my limited storage space) but I did come across one seller offering lots of 12 or 24 pastels in little plastic trays. Since they were shop-soiled (quite dirty and some with chunks missing) I was able to get almost 40 full sticks in a wide range of colours for about $100, and they arrived today! (I spent some time cleaning them up before taking the photo)
I know the 12 half sticks won’t last much longer, so I’m happy to have a box of nice full Winsor & Newton pastel sticks.