Soft Pastels: Art Spectrum Soft Pastels (review)

On one of my trips to the art supply shop near my Dad’s work, I picked up a box of Art Spectrum soft pastels. Though I had a box of 90 Rembrandt half stick soft pastels, the Art Spectrum set had some unique colours that looked interesting.

There are – I believe – 120 colours in the Art Spectrum soft pastel range, with a wide variety of sets available. I just got the set of 40 half sticks, but there’s still a well-rounded range of colours. The set seems particularly well-suited for landscapes (look at those lovely olive greens and red-violets and earths), but floral drawings or animal portraits would also be possible with these colours. Art Spectrum’s soft pastel line also includes colours that match up exactly with their Colourfix papers and primers; I’ve talked about those more in my review of the Colourfix Clear Pastel Primer. Medium-sized sets of pastels often lack a good selection of really pale tints or really dark shades, so I was happy to see that wasn’t the case with my Art Spectrum 40 half stick box.

Like the Rembrandt soft pastels, these are machine extruded, but they don’t have that hard, smooth surface that you have to sand off like the Rembrandt ones did. Art Spectrum’s soft pastels are also a little softer than the Rembrandt; they are actually a really close match in texture for the now-discontinued Winsor & Newton soft pastels. I only really discovered the Winsor & Newton pastels a year or so ago and I liked them so much I was rather irritated that it would soon be difficult – if not impossible – to buy more. Luckily for me and other artists who liked those pastels, the Art Spectrum soft pastels are an excellent replacement. They’re firm enough that they don’t fall to bits when you press them into the paper, but still feel nice and soft when you lay down the colour, and they allow a decent amount of layering and blending (I found it easier to layer and blend these than the Rembrandts). Art Spectrum also has a range of Extra Soft pastels, but I haven’t tried these, so I’m not sure how much softer they are than their regular pastels. I’d guess they’d be something like the Unisons.

I haven’t had a chance to test these for lightfastness yet. Unfortunately the pigment information doesn’t seem to be listed on the full sticks, so you’d have to look them up online before buying any if you want to avoid potentially fugitive colours. Given the large range of colours in most soft pastel brands, it’s inevitable that it will include some colours with poor or average permanence.

Whether the Art Spectrum pastels are good value for money will largely depend on where you live. As they’re an Australian company, the pastels are significantly cheaper than other similar soft pastels when purchased individually from local shops. However, when I looked them up on US and UK art supply websites, they seemed to be in the middle to high price range, probably thanks to the cost of importing them.

Below is a jellyfish I drew with the Art Spectrum soft pastels, based on a photo uploaded to WetCanvas’s Reference Image Library by DavidMunroeArt (click here for a demonstration on how to draw this jellyfish).

Art Spectrum is a good all-rounder soft pastel with a medium texture, and they’re an excellent substitute for Winsor & Newton soft pastels if you like those but can’t find them anymore. Unfortunately they may be a bit pricey if you live outside Australia, but for Aussies like me, they’re a fine quality soft pastel at an affordable price, and I’d definitely recommend picking up a few sticks to add to your collection and give them a try.

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