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My Top 4 Pastel Pencil Brands for Amazing Drawings

artist pastel pencils
So many pencils, but which one is for you?

The first thing to clear up, is what are you using? You might be confused about what ‘pastel’ and ‘pastel pencil’ actually means right now. So, let’s get that sorted. 

Pastels, Oils Pastels, Soft Pastels, Pastel Pencils….Fruit Pastels?

Firstly, you are not using ‘oil pastels’, these are not pastel pencils and they are more like crayons. Any coloured pastel is made of a pigment, (colour), plus a filler, (like chalk which makes the product cheaper), plus a binder. In the case of oil pastels, the binder is, unsurprisingly, oil.

The oil makes these pastels very different from our chalky pencils. The oil is tacky, thick and usually provides strong colours, too.

A ‘soft pastel’ or ‘hard pastel’, on the other hand, is a little closer to the pencils we use. Gum Arabic is used as the binder for the hard and soft pastels, it is also used in watercolour paint. The binder is where oil pastel and chalk pastels differ and gives each their defining character.

It is likely that the hard or soft pastels are the first things you think of. You may remember creating something questionable with them in school art lessons. They come in sticks and can be incredibly messy, too!

I sometimes use soft pastels for very large underpaintings to cover a big space quickly, however, you have to watch out for the dust settling into your paper. The difference between the hard and soft is simply that a hard pastel has more gum arabic in it. This means the pastels stays together better whereas the soft crumbles and blends more easily.

soft pastel chalks
Using the soft pastel chalks for large areas Photo Credit: Neil Cannon Photography

Pastel Pencils and Coloured Pencils

We, on the other hand, are using a pastel pencil to draw with. A pastel pencil is very similar to the hard pastels but they have even more binder in them. This means they are able to hold their shape as a ‘lead’.

A coloured pencil is not the same, just so that you are aware. A coloured pencil is like an oil pastel; it is a pigment, with a filler and an oil-based binder. This means, that unlike the soft and chalky pastel pencils, these pencils won’t blend together as easily. Hence, some of the techniques we use won’t suit the generic coloured pencil and I’d advise you to get pastel pencils if you can. 

Pastel Pencils and the endless sharpening

Pastel Pencil Brands I Like

As with anything, you have a fair few different options to choose from when it comes to pastel pencils. You can go dizzy just looking at the options on offer. So, here I will show you what I like to use best to try and help you decide. You will see that I use a few different brands for the online classes. By no means do you need to go and buy every pencil, just be aware that your drawing might look a bit different. 

pastel pencil drawings of a galloping horse
Recent pastel pencil drawing done using my favourite brands

Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencil

My most favourite brand has to be Faber Castell. Although they aren’t the perfect fit for every drawing, I do find them the easiest to work with generally.

Firstly, they are an artist-grade pencil, which simply means they have a decent amount of pigment, (colour), in them. Do you sometimes find yourself pressing hard with a pencil in an effort to get more colour on the page? The likelihood is that you’re using a cheaper pencil or a student grade pencil which won’t have as much colour. The Faber Castell tend to have good pigmentation and show up nicely which is key for a successful colour drawing.

Secondly, they have a nice density to them. I don’t find the pencils to be too brittle, (which with a chalk-based pastel is always a slight problem), and they sharpen up fairly well in general. The wood around the pencil also tends to whittle away easily when you’re sharpening them!

pastel pencil art workshop
Most of my pastel pencil workshops are done with Faber Castell

Creatcolor Pastel Pencils

Another good brand is the Cretacolor pastel pencil. These used to be a little tricky to get hold of but my pencil supplier has just begun stocking them – hooray! The Cretacolor are in my selection as I find the palette of colours to be beautiful and extremely useful for the odd ‘difficult’ painting. You’ll see me use a few of their colours time and time again.

The pencils themselves are a little more brittle than the Faber Castell, so you do want to be careful with them. Also, the wood can be a little harder to sharpen which leads to more breaking. However, the colour of them is lovely and they can hold a sharp point which is perfect for any type of detail. The detail in the fur or in the eyes can be especially fine, so these are great. 

The photo below is from an online Bee lesson, which you can find on my website. I used a fair few Cretacolor pencils in it! The Cretacolor pencils do have a vast selection of greys and I particularly like their Yellow Grey.

pastel pencil bee drawing
For the flower, I used mostly Cretacolor greys

Derwent Pastel Pencils

I always have mixed feeling about the Derwent, it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship for me. On the one hand, they have some great colours to choose from… On the other, I find the quality of the pastel a little lower than the other two already mentioned. 

Generally, I find the Derwent to be a little on the chalky side both in how soft the pencil is and in the amount of colour. The pencils do blunt very quickly and so are not the best for fine details, however, they are good for underpaintings. This is partly because they have a few niche natural colours that I can’t find else where. Their ability to blend then also helps create a smooth underpainting without it being too thick. 

I don’t use the Derwent pastels all that often, I don’t find them cheaper than the other brands and so prefer to invest in the other pencils overall. I find most people have a tin of these as their first set and if that’s you then great! It’s better to have pastel pencils than no pencils at all. Just don’t be upset if you struggle with the finer details as it won’t be quite so straight forwards with this brand.

pastel pencil drawing of a horse
As equine studies tend to be smooth, I do use more Derwent in them. In particular, a pink and purple were used under the cheek.

Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils

I can’t really do a full and honest review of these pencils as I have only used a few of them. However, those which I have used I have really liked. Like the Derwent, these are a softer pencil, but easier to work with than the aforementioned. 

They seem to have a good amount of pigment in them, but as I say, I have only used a few of their colours so far. One pencil which is worth a mention is their light blue. I tend to find the light blue pencils very brittle on the whole, it must be to do with the pigment. This blue is easy to sharpen however and very vivid which is exactly what I need!  

Your Pastel Pencil Budget 

Alright, so it’s all very well me telling you what’s good and what’s not. You might be at home as happy as larry having just found your Mum’s old pastel pencil tin. No doubt, it’s full of unbranded and long-forgotten materials. Well, that’s great too, get yourself onto my pencil sharpening tutorial and give drawing a go! 

I am not all about having the ‘right’ brand and the perfect set up; I think it is much more important to jump in and get going! Just remember that it might be a little trickier with your pencils or come out differently – that’s ok! The most important thing is to enjoy these classes and enjoy creating. 

Money Saving Tip – Get yourself a pencil extender so that you can use every last inch of your pastel pencils!

pet portrait process being drawn from a photo
A money saving tip is to get a pencil extender, like the one I’m using here.

My Beginner’s Pastel Pencil Set & Free Guide

If you do want to invest in some new pastel pencils but don’t want to commit to an entire set, then I have a beginners list for you. You can find all of these pencils with my own supplier: Paper Story, (they also tend to give the best prices). 

Get my free pencil guide booklet here. It has every pencil brand and number written down for you to make ordering easy.

The Full Monty

On the other hand, if you’re reading this after having done some of the classes and want to know what I have, then I would recommend getting the full set of Faber Castell Pitt pastel pencils, which is a tin of 60. Plus, get the extra few I suggest in the guide above from the other brands Cretacolor and Stabilo. 

You can find all of the pencils mentioned in the guide book here, at Paper Story. They are my trusted pencil supplier in Norfolk.

Still Have a Few Questions

If you have a couple more questions about what to get, or if your current pencil would work, then post your query in the community. I’m around every Friday to give feedback on people’s drawings and answer questions. You can find us on Facebook: Emily Rose Fine Art Drawing Group.

You don’t need to be a member of my ar school or have bought a class to join and get feedback. Come and get some inspiration and share your work! 

Join the community here – Facebook: Emily Rose Fine Art Drawing Class

learn to draw with pastel pencils
A student working in pastel pencils at a workshop
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