Soft Pastels: Jack Richeson Soft Pastels Half Stick Sample Set (review)

On the way into the city recently, I stopped off at an art supply shop I hadn’t visited before just so I could look around, and I saw a few boxes of Jack Richeson half pastels. I hadn’t tried these before, so I grabbed one of the sampler sets so I could try all three types of pastel Richeson makes.

richeson-soft-pastels-box

Here’s the colour chart for my Jack Richeson sample set.

richeson-soft-pastels-colour-chart

You get six each of the hand-rolled, medium-soft and semi-hard half sticks in the box, with a pretty good colour selection between the textures (the only colour missing that I would have liked is a darker blue, like an ultramarine). The range of 120 colours is the same across the three pastel lines, with lots of pale tints but relatively few darks from what I can see (based on what my own pastels look like, many of the colours depicted in the chart on Richeson’s website bear little resemblance to the real colours). This is a good reason to make sure you inspect the pastels in person or at least try to look at a proper colour chart before buying any, along with their silly colour naming/numbering system. You would assume the ascending numbers would correspond with either increasingly lighter or darker shades, but the order appears to be random. In addition, some colours just have the wrong names; Blue 063 is actually purple or violet, while Green 074 is clearly yellow. I also find it odd that black and white are named as greys. This obviously doesn’t affect the quality of the pastels themselves, but it does add to the confusion of buying pastels online if you don’t already know the code for the colour you want.

Anyway, since the three types each have their own texture, I’ll review them each in their own section.

Hand-Rolled Pastels
These are chunky, fluffy-soft pastels that seem to glide onto the paper. They have the same airy smooth texture most hand-rolled pastels have. They actually feel a lot like the Unison pastels and this probably isn’t a coincidence, since Unisons are also made by Richeson. I think I like the Unisons a little bit more than the Richeson hand-rolled pastels; both are about the same softness, but the Unisons have a creamy texture, whereas the Richeson are a bit drier. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in how well they lay down colour, though, so it just comes down to personal preference. The Richesons still have a high pigment load and it’s easy to put down layers of bold colour.

Arthouse Direct (the shop where I bought this sampler set) also sells the Richeson hand-rolled pastels individually for $6.75 a stick. This is about half the price they charge for Unison hand-rolled pastels, but even those can be ordered from the UK for about $4, along with a number of other hand-rolled brands between $4 and $5.

Medium-Soft Pastels
The Richeson medium-soft pastels are machine extruded, like most medium-soft pastels (eg. Rembrandt, Winsor & Newton, Art Spectrum). They are also pretty similar in texture to these; a bit softer than Rembrandt, probably closer to the Winsor & Newton pastels. Some of them did have that hard, shiny surface like the Rembrandts, which needs to be sanded off before you can use them, but this is really only a small gripe, and it’s common with machine-extruded pastels anyway. Pigment load is easily comparable with the aforementioned brands, so they’d be a good ‘workhorse’ pastel if you’re looking for a set with a medium texture.

I don’t know about their availability overseas, but these are hard to find in Australia, and even Jackson’s (my preferred UK art supply retailer) doesn’t carry them. The only site I can find in Australia that sells them is Arthouse Direct. Here, the Richeson medium-soft pastels are $4, which is $2.50 cheaper than the Daler-Rowney medium-soft pastels they also carry. The Art Supply Shop in Bayswater sells a number of pastel brands in similar textures for around the $3.50-$4.50 price bracket, so the Richesons are about mid-range. Given the aforementioned difficulty in finding them locally, though, I’d be more inclined to go for Rembrandt or Art Spectrum pastels over these.

Semi-Hard Pastels
The semi-hard pastels are long, thin, rectangular blocks, similar in size and shape to the Faber-Castell Polychromos pastels or the Derwent pastel blocks. Though firm, they feel slightly softer than the Polychromos, and a bit less scratchy (except for the black one). The pigment laydown is also about equal to the Polychromos. I haven’t been able to find a local retailer that sells these individually, so I don’t know how much they would be; those in America would probably have better luck. For us Australians, it’s probably easier to buy Polychromos or Conte Crayons if you want a semi-hard pastel.

Here’s a drawing I did with the pastels in the Richeson half stick sample set, on Ampersand Pastelbord. It’s based on a photo uploaded to WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library by PETERH.

richeson-soft-pastels-landscape

The Jack Richeson Half Stick Sample set is a great way to try out different textures of soft pastels, from the firmer semi-hard range to the buttery-soft hand-rolled line. If you’re in America you can probably fill out your Richeson collection easily from local art supply shops, but if you live in Australia (or elsewhere), you will most likely have to pick another brand of a similar texture to the Richeson pastels you like, as most of them are difficult or impossible to find here. The box of 18 half pastels was only $43 so I’d definitely recommend grabbing one if you find it.

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