Soft Pastels: SoHo Urban Artist Soft Pastels (review)

One of the many bargain art supply products I bought from Jerry’s Artarama when our dollar was good was this set of SoHo Urban Artist soft pastels. They had smaller sets as well, but given this set of 120 colours (!) was only $40 USD, I decided I might as well get every colour they had. I think the price has gone up a bit now (about $60 USD for the 120 set and $35 USD for the 48 set) but they are still within the range of most student artists or those for whom money is tight.

SUA Soft Pastels Box

Here is my colour chart for the full set.

SoHo Urban Artist Soft Pastels Chart

The labels don’t have colour names or pigments listed, meaning it is impossible to tell exactly what each colour is made of (also makes me wonder why they bothered with labels at all). This also casts some doubt on the box’s claim that these pastels have a “high degree of light fastness”, as we can’t check the pigments to make sure they are actually durable pigments. Given the price range, it’s not surprising that they are only really student grade, but I think if a product claims to be lightfast, it should provide evidence of its claims. (UPDATE Jan 20, 2017: I put up some swatches of the SoHo pastels in my window in June last year and removed them today.  You can view the re-scanned chart on my Lightfastness Tests page, but in short, the blues and greens were mostly fine. However most of the reds, oranges and yellows and some purples showed significant fading, and some swatches actually changed colour where they were exposed to the light.)

Texture-wise, these are a medium-soft pastel similar to the Rembrandts or Art Spectrums, and the half sticks are the same standard size as half sticks in those brands. The pigment load is not quite in the range of artist grade pastels, but it is very close; I didn’t have too much trouble layering light colours over darker ones without the dark underlayer showing through.

One thing that disappointed me about the SoHo Urban Artist soft pastels was the colour range. Yes, even though there are 120 colours in the box, I feel there are some noticeable gaps, especially in very dark colours and very pale tints. There are some pale yellows, one pale blue and one pale pink (which are a little darker in real life than they look in my photos above) but most artists like to have a near-white tint of each colour for the highlights. The lack of really dark tints was also annoying, as even in smaller sets of other brands I’ve got, there’s usually a good green, blue or red that’s close to black; these are useful for adding interest to dark backgrounds or creating rich shadows on objects. Instead there seem to be a lot of ‘repeated’ colours in the greens, blues and yellows, where you will have two or three sticks that are a very similar colour.

Here’s a quick sketch I did with the SoHo soft pastels.

SUA Soft Pastel Cherries

SoHo Urban Artist soft pastels probably aren’t worth buying if you’re already using artist grade pastels, but for a young or new artist looking to get started in soft pastels, these pastels are a great way to get a large range of decent-textured pastels at an excellent price. I would recommend getting either the 48 or the 90 colour sets, because the 120 set just has too many redundant colours.

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