Sunday, September 13, 2015

Affordable Artists Pastels Part II: The Softies

Today, in Part II of my two-part pastel review series, I will discuss Rembrandt Soft Pastels and Mungyo Standard, Gallery, and Handmade Soft Pastels.

image of a box of Rembrandt pastels
My well loved set of Rembrandt 15 half-sticks.
The original white is gone, so I keep another brand of
white in the box .

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Like the brand's namesake, Rembrandt pastels are very well-known and popular among artists for many reasons. I bought a set of fifteen half-sticks on sale several years ago mainly to use for custom doll faces. They looked brand new for a few years until I hit one of my pastel moods, and now I use them more often for paintings than doll makeup.

Compared to my other regular brands, Rembrandts are expensive. The same set of fifteen halflings that I bought costs around $26 on average. Larger sets of half-sticks and full stick sets start at $44 if you buy them from Amazon, Blick, and Jerry's. Those of you within driving distance of a major arts and crafts retailer may be able to get better pricing, of course. Full sticks are available in open stock, and both Jerry's and Blick sell them for $3.12 each right now. Jerry's has no minimum order, but Dick Blick has a minimum requirement of six.

What I love about Rembrandt Soft Pastels:

  • Rich, brilliant pigments
  • Just Hard enough to make bold marks, but buttery soft when laying down color
  • Blend almost as smoothly as paint
  • Very little dust

What keeps me from buying more:

  • Price- it's a shame, really, that I got the little set on sale, because it just makes me want more!
  • Half-sticks are awkward to use- little fat cylinders about 1" long by 1/2" wide

Honestly, the Rembrandt pastels are rather nice, and I think they are worth the money for serious pastel artists. I do not use pastels exclusively, so the cost would be a major splurge for me. I think the full size sticks would be more versatile as they are longer and thinner than the halflings. I have very long, thin fingers, so I have a hard time with most half-sticks, regardless of brand. 

Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels

image of Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels
Mungyo softies come in nice foam padded boxes,
just like more expensive brands!

I was so excited when I discovered Mungyo pastels. They are really cheap for artist grade pastels, and they have plenty of great reviews on the webs. I was confused about which lines to buy at first, so I ordered some open stock from Jerry's as well as a small set of half-sticks from a Korean vendor on Etsy. Now I know that the artist grade softies are from the Gallery line, and the student grade pastels are labelled simply as "Mungyo Soft Pastels", or " Mungyo standard soft pastels" on some sites. 

To give this brand a try, I bought twelve gray and portrait shades from the Gallery soft square pastel line and five white and pale shades from the Gallery Handmade soft pastel line. 

Okay, let me clarify something here. Mungyo has two types of Gallery Soft pastels (I know, complicated): round "extra soft" and Gallery soft squares. I bought the square sticks because they were $.69 (hur hur) each, and NO minimum- wow! The round extra soft sticks are only $1.09, and that is not bad at all, in my humble (and raggedy) opinion. Since my order also contained some of the super soft handmade pastels, I decided to forgo ordering any of the extra soft round sticks at the time.

The Gallery soft pastel squares are rectangular sticks like their semi-hard siblings, but the softies are twice as thick. They are a perfect size for larger works, yet I didn't have a hard time using them on smaller paper (9" x 12").
They are not as soft as Rembrandt, but they are pretty close. The pigment load is great, and they blend nicely too. I encountered more dust with the Mungyos compared to Rembrandt, but it was not an overwhelming amount. The singletons came in very nice foam-padded boxes (see the pic above). I love that because it makes it much easier to pack all of my pastels securely in my wood carry-all box.

Mungyo Gallery Handmade Pastels

image of three Mungyo Gallery Handmade pastels in box
Oooh, classy! I bought pale peach, blue-white, and green-white,
and two shades of reg. white; they arrived in two of
these elegant boxes. 

Mungyo offers a handmade soft pastel line that, according to other artists, rivals the other hand-rolled lines like Unison and Great American, which can cost a small fortune. I cannot compare the Mungyo pastels to these other brands because I cannot afford high-end handmade brands.

I bought five of the palest shades in the handmade line because I use the softest pastels on my top layers, and the last touches are usually the brightest highlights. I bought White I (pure white), White II (a touch warmer off-white), smalt blue white, lime green white, and pale peach. On my monitor, the colors look a bit darker in my photo above than they do in real life. These sticks are roughly 1 1/2" long and 3/4" thick (I am "eyeballing" this measurement, Korea uses the metric system). The size is nice, but not ideal for tight details, more for painterly strokes.

As you know, not all highlights are really white, so these tinted whites are very useful for more realistic top highlights. The super soft pastels glide right over the other layers. If you tried this with a harder pastel, it would look dull. I plan to buy more of this line, but I also want to try the extra soft sticks, which should be a step between the soft squares and the handmade pastels.

image of a set of Mungyo Standard Soft Pastels
Mungyo Standard Soft Pastels, 32 half sticks

Mungyo Standard Soft Pastels

I bought my 32 piece set of Mungyo half sticks from an awesome Etsy vendor Gwi Yong Lee, whose shop is called Gyshop. He also sells on Amazon under the same name. I paid five dollars for this set plus another five and change for shipping, so I got a nice sampler here for ten bucks- not bad at all. Despite being sent from Daegu, SK, not one stick was broken when I got the package.

These are student grade pastels, and the half sticks are pretty small, but they are great quality for a scholastic art medium. I would place them on the same level as Prismacolor Scholar products, and I love me some Prisma Scholar.

The colors are beautiful, and they blend easily. The only criticism is that they are dustier than Gallery pastels, and you have to keep layering after tapping off the dust in order to get the most out of them. These tiny sticks are handy for shading smaller areas, however. I had ordered my set from Gyshop before I realized I could get them from Jerry's Artarama.  Jerry's sells sets of half-sticks and full sticks, but these are not available in open stock.

I do not regret buying the set of Mungyo standard pastels, but if you want an inexpensive set to experiment with pastel painting, you might as well invest in one of the Gallery lines instead. They are still rather cheap, they stay put on the paper, and you will have a better first experience with the medium if you use an affordable artist grade brand.

Loew Cornell Soft Pastels:

Amazon image of Loew Cornell 72 piece soft pastel set
Product pic from Amazon. Still too
lazy to dig them out from under my bed

I have mentioned before that I have a set of Loew Cornell pastels, another student grade brand. In my last post, I gave a half-ass critique because I didn't want to dig them out from under my bed. There is really no comparison between the Mungyo standard pastels and the LC soft pastels. I bought a 72 piece wooden box set a few years ago from Jerry's, but they don't have these any more. Amazon sells the same set for just under $31 (Prime price).

The LC sticks look so bright and pretty in the box, but don't be fooled! The color is weak on paper, and most of what you see blows right off when you remove all of the dust. I could not get past the excessive dust of the LCs, which really took a lot of fun out of painting with them. Many of the 72 colors are the same or so close you would never be able to tell the difference.

I have a hundred or so LC paint brushes and other art tools, so I am not downing the entire brand. The products are low-end, but easy to find and affordable; however, if you have $30 to spend on a set of pastels, consider a set of 48 Mungyo Gallery soft squares or a 30 piece set of extra soft full sticks. The same amount of money will pay for the set and shipping, and you will have some change left over.

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