Soft Pastels: Sennelier Soft Pastels (review)

At the same time I ordered my Unison soft pastels, I also grabbed some Sennelier half-sticks, since they were one of the brands I’d seen most artists talking about in the soft pastel forums.

Sennelier Soft Pastels

Here’s the chart for my Sennelier 20 Assorted half-stick set (my box also came with a small sheet of Sennelier Pastel Card but I haven’t used it yet).

Sennelier soft pastels chart

Unlike the Unison box, this set happily came with a good range of colours, from blues, greens and earths for landscapes to brighter yellows and violets for flowers or whatever. It also had a few colours that I didn’t have in my existing sets – such as the lovely dark red and that orangey peach colour – so it was nice to add some new colours to my pastel arsenal. Depending on where you buy them, Sennelier pastels are in the low to medium price range for medium-soft pastels (usually between $3.50 and $5 per stick). They are also carried by many art supply retailers so if you need to replace a colour quickly it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your hands on one. The range includes a mind-boggling 525 colours.

Though the Sennelier soft pastels were – on average – much softer than the Rembrandt pastels I usually work with, there was still a significant difference in texture across colours in my little 20 half stick set. Most were smooth and buttery but some (mainly the darker colours) were very hard and scratchy. In particular, the Magenta Violet, Ivory Black and Prussian Blue were guilty of this, with the latter being almost unusable (it was like trying to draw with a chunk of gravel).

Some soft pastel brands add more or less filler to different pigments to make the texture consistent across the range, but it seems that Sennelier doesn’t do this, opting to allow each pigment to retain its unique texture. I can see why some artists might find this preferable, but given that it made some of the colours unpleasant to use, I would have preferred a bit more consistency. They also seemed a lot more prone to crumbling than other soft pastels I have; when I tried lifting the orange one out of the box by its end, the whole tip of the pastel broke off and shattered into little pieces. That being said, they are a highly pigmented pastel, so provided you’re using one of the softer colours, you will get a dense layer of colour with only a pastel stroke or two. They also allow you to build up quite a few layers without filling the tooth of your surface, and they’d be a good pastel to use over the top of harder ones like Faber-Castell Polychromos or the Derwent pastels.

Here’s a little autumn landscape I did with the Sennelier soft pastels (note: I used a couple of pale Art Spectrum blues because I didn’t have pale blues in my Sennelier set).

While I’d be reluctant to buy another set of Sennelier soft pastels because of the chance I’d get a number of hard and scratchy ones I couldn’t really use, most of the pastels are nice and soft and lay down thick, dense colour. If you run out of a colour in your usual pastel brand or just want to try a new colour, it would be worth picking up a few sticks of Sennelier soft pastels to see if they suit you.

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