My Portrait Selection Pastel Set

written by Sophie | Beginners, Pastel

I have come up with a portrait selection of Rembrandt pastels that I think is a great basic set for portraiture. For those that don’t know which pastels to start with, which colours to buy and how to get going in portraiture, I hope this set will get them going on the road of pastel portraiture.

Portrait Sets

Most pastel (and paint) brands will have a portraiture set in their collection. But I often find the colours not quite right and missing vital ones that I use a lot. There are often way too many pinks and not enough blues and greens. Painting portraiture surely is not just about pink skin tones! There is hair, clothing and of course shadows, highlights and much more. So I thought it might be useful if I come up with my own choice of pastel colours.

One of my favourite pastel brands is Talens Rembrandt. The pastels are fairly hard within the soft pastel category and therefore are very suitable for fine detail. Rembrandt offers a huge array of colours. Most sets come in variations of 15 (sets of 15, 30, 60 and 90 for example) so I limited my choice to just 15 colours.

The Colours

The colours I chose are from my own collection (hence the slightly used look in the photo!) and the ones I use the most. The brightest colour is a very light cool pink, followed by a very light yellow. Then there are some light skin tones that will prove very useful as generic skin colours. There is a warm yellow, a bright red, burnt sienna and a bright blue and a black.  More muted colours such as the light greenish raw umber and the very pale burnt umber help create subtle temperature changes. For shading I chose a darker Raw Umber, a Prussian Blue and Olive Green. A useful all-rounder is he Light Oxide Red, which is a dull brown.

Pastel portrait sketch
Portrait sketch, 30x23cm/12×9″


To prove it (hey I’ve got to prove it don’t I)  I painted this portrait using only these 15 pastels. The reference image was a free stock photo (as I don’t have models running around unfortunately, unless you count the dog) and it was painted on Daler Rowney Murano grey paper.

The Portrait Set Contains:

Permanent Red 372.10
Burnt Sienna  411.10
Light Oxide Red 339.7
Caput Mortum Red 343.8
Yellow Ochre 227.5
Raw Umber 408.9
Burnt Umber 409.8
Permanent Red 372.5

Burnt Sienna 411.5
Raw Umber 408.5
Olive Green 620.5
Ultramarine Deep 506.7
Prussian Blue 508.7
Light Oxide Red 339.3
Black 700.5


Do note this is not an official set that Rembrandt stocks. It is my choice of colours that I feel would make a good portraiture set.

So for all those who say you need hundreds or thousands of pastels, and to those who can never find the right colour: you can do it with a limited palette.

PS: Most portrait sets focus on painting white people only. I have often wondered why there is not a portraiture set for painting people of a different race….

Will you let me know what you think?

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    1. Thanks for the question! I’m afraid not. I have no links with Talens Rembrandt and this ‘set’ is not acutally an official set. It’s just my choice of colours. You can buy the colours individually and make up the set from any art store that sells Rembrandt pastels. Happy painting!

  1. I love your tutorials and am very impressed with your work. Working with pastels looks like a lot of fun as I generally work with graphite and charcoal. I want to invest in Rembrandt soft pastels and requested your colour chart but there are two pastel colour reference numbers for Light Red Oxide 339.7 and 339.3 as well as two different reference numbers for Raw Umber 408.5 and 408.9 Can you please clarify what two are misssing? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi, great to hear you’re going to buy some Rembrandts! They are wonderful pastels. The colour numbers are correct: they are shades of the same base colour and so have the same name but a different code. Hope that helps!

  2. Hello, my name is Paula Diatsintos. I’ve been drawing ( pencil, pen, charcoal, oils, pastels), off and on since I was 8. I’m now 60+. When I started using pastels 7 years ago I discovered WALLIS paper and loved it. I stopped drawing for a while and now the WALLIS paper is no where to be found. I have purchased many sanded paper and cannot find any that compare to the Wallis paper. Have you ever used Wallis paper and can you recommend a replacment? Or do you know where I can find any? I live in United States.

    1. Hi Paula, Wallis pastel paper was hugely popular for a very long time, and only available in the US. I think it was taken off the market because of supplier problems but Kitty Wallis is still around online here and there. Do a search. I have never tried Wallis paper but I hear that Tim Fisher paper and UART paper are good alternatives. Good luck!

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