Rembrandt soft pastels were first introduced in 1924 from the Talens factory in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. They were my first pastels as a teenager and are still one of my favourite pastels as a professional artist. In this article I would like to describe what they are like, how they compare to other soft pastels and how ‘good’ they are. Hopefully this is helpful if you are wondering whether to buy Rembrandts or another brand!
Rembrandt soft pastels are right in between the hard and soft range of pastels. They are a medium soft/hard, I suppose. That means they have the best of both worlds. They are hard enough for fine detail, sharp edges and light marks. But they are also soft enough for bold mark making, splashes of colour and juicy highlights.
Rembrandt soft pastels are great for any technique, whether it is bold and expressionist or highly realistic and refined. I have used these pastels for years for realistic portrait work and still life painting. They are hard enough to be able to create many layers of pastels without filling the tooth of a good quality sanded paper. They will serve you well throughout the painting process; from initial sketch, through layering up the body of the work, until the final finishing touches.
Rembrandt whole pastel sticks have a paper wrapper around them that is easily removed. Half sticks do not have the wrapper. On the wrapper you will find the colour number, name, lightfastness rating and pigments used.
The sticks are regularly shaped and do not break easily. They do not create a lot of pastel dust (unless you press too hard). They are of a consistent texture throughout and I have never found any grittiness in them.
They come in black cardboard boxes or wooden presentation boxes. Inside the boxes each stick is kept safe by some black foam. They are well packaged.
There are 218 colours in the range. This is not a huge range, compared to some of the other good quality soft pastel brands, which often have around 400 colours available. I cannot say I have ever felt like I was missing a particular colour, but I like colour mixing so cannot imagine ever needing all the colours. That said, I might not need, but still want… 😉
Rembrandt pastels are made from pigment and kaolin clay as a binder. This clay helps to keep the pigment together and form a stick. Rembrandt pastels do not contain any heavy metal pigments such as cobalt or cadmium. They list all their pigments on their sticks and website, so it is easy to do your own research.
I find Rembrandt colours particularly good in their subtle grey tones, beiges, greens and pinks. I love painting portraits with Rembrandt pastels because they have so many subtle colours in their range. You will find deeper reds, bolder blues, darker blacks and blues in different brands and usually softer pastels. These are not Rembrandt’s strongest point. That does not mean that Rembrandt’s boldest yellows, reds and blues are weak, by all means they are wonderful. You will be able to create the most colourful and bold images you could ever imagine. It’s just that softer pastels will have stronger colours. But then again, they’d lack the usefulness of a medium-soft pastel that can be layered and mixed easily.
Because Rembrandts are medium-soft they layer very well. I use a hatching technique and layer many colours over each other. This technique allows me to create a huge variety in colour, make subtle colour shifts, depth of colour and deep darks. The softest of pastels won’t allow layering so I find this one of the huge benefits of Rembrandts.
Rembrandt pastels are reasonably priced. Many professional soft pastels are more expensive and Rembrandts are probably the most affordable professional quality soft pastels available. I would recommend them to professionals and those wanting to learn to paint with pastel.
Rembrandt prides itself on not using any heavy metals in their pastels. So you won’t find any cadmium or cobalts in these pastels. Some other lightly toxic pigments are used and listed such as Titanium White. These pigments are generally not considered a threat to human health. Common sense is required when it comes to toxicity and soft pastels. Many other brands do use cadmiums and cobalts, but are still considered safe enough to not require health hazard labels in most countries. The amount of toxicity in a single pastel stick is very low and many toxic materials cannot enter the body easily via powdered pigment. Not enough is know about toxicity and art materials, but when used with common sense, as Rembrandt seems to be doing, you should be ok. Of course if you are particularly sensitive to dust or lightly toxic particles, you might well want to research further.
Rembrandt pastels provides a lightfastness rating on every pastel stick. The lightfastness range they offer goes from 0 to +, ++ and +++, where
º = 0 – 10 years lightfast under museum conditions
+ = 10 – 25 years lightfast under museum conditions
++ = 25 – 100 years lightfast under museum conditions
+++ = at least 100 years lightfast under museum conditions
I am not sure what standard these ratings are based on, but it gives us something at least. I assume these ratings are based on general pigment ratings.
157 colours are rated as +++ (100+ years), the rest is rated at ++ (25-100 years). Make note these ratings are ‘under museum conditions’ which most of us, nor our clients, won’t have at home.
I am hoping to do a home lightfastness test soon and I will update this article when I have any results.
Rembrandt soft pastels come in wide range of sets, as well as individual sticks. The sets are some of the best on the market, with a great selection of colours for beginners, portrait painters or landscape artists.
Rembrandts are one of my favourite soft pastel because they are so versatile. They are not so soft that they fill the tooth of a paper. They are not so hard that my paintings looks tight and without expression. They pastels are hard enough to layer endlessly on a toothy paper and they have a useful and wonderful range of colours. You cannot go wrong with Rembrandts.