Review: Terry Ludwig and Sennelier Soft Pastels

written by Sophie | Pastel

I recently bought two new sets of pastels: a small set of Terry Ludwig pastels and a set of Sennelier. This is my unscientific review of them.

I have used Sennelier soft pastels before, but that was many years ago and I don't have the pastels anymore (I think). Whether I used them up or whether they are actually hiding in my collection and masquerading as another brand, I have no idea.  I remembered a little what they were like (very soft) but not much else.

I have read so much love for Terry Ludwig pastels from fellow pastel painters that I was very keen to try them. But for many years they were not available in Europe. Now that Jackson's stock them as well and now that I've got my pastel hat back on, I finally took the plunge and bought a set. 

Now a good review would look at these two separately. Yes, I know and I apologise. But I was just keen to use both of these new sets and so decided to do a small and quick study with both sets. I just could not wait to try them out!

A Study of a Bowl

So I painted a small Chinese bowl, with just these 52 pastels: the Starter set of 12 from Terry Ludwig (called Best Loved Basics) and the 40 half-stick portrait set from Sennelier. 

The picture I painted was done on Colourfix Original, 27x23cm/11x9", rich beige.

The first thing I noticed after I finished was the pile of dust on my easel edge. For such a small picture and such a toothy paper I was not expecting that much dust. As I used both pastel brands at the same time I won't be able to tell which is the culprit. But I have heard some pastelists say that Ludwigs can be very dusty, so I am putting my money on that one. 

Sophie Ploeg Blog Soft pastel sennelier Terry Ludwig
Sophie Ploeg Blog Pastel Ludwig Sennelier

Sennelier Portrait Set (left) and Terry Ludwig (right)

Sophie Ploeg Soft Pastel Terry Ludwig

Terry Ludwig

The stick feel very soft and velvety and are long rectangular sticks. I thought they were incredibly nice to work with and very buttery. They are hard enough to create small detail and buttery enough to create very yummy expressive marks. The sharp edges are very useful for sharp lines. I quite appreciated the lack of paper wraps, it saves me having to rip it off and get nasty surprises of hidden breakages. 

Ludwigs are harder than Schmincke, softer than Unison. They feel very buttery and soft, like Schmincke. They allow for small detail as well as more expressive marks. They layer fairly well, considering how soft they are.

I've only got a 'basics' set but I thought the colours in there were very lovely, not your standard primary colours, but nice subtle earth tones that suit me very well.  Their other sets also show an array in subtle beautiful colours although there seems to be a slight bias for landscape. As I paint portraits and still life, I am not sure what my next set would be if I were to choose one. I really don’t need that much green!

The Ludwigs came in a lovely sturdy black box. Although the lid does not stay on very well (Jackson's had put an elastic  band around it) the box is sturdy enough to keep your pastels in. Foam inserts protect the sticks even further. Although the box is good, there is not much branding on it, no image, but there are health and safety warnings on it, which look slightly alarming to a European who is not used to seeing all these warnings on any European brand boxes.

I am very impressed with my new Ludwigs. They live up to what was said about it by so many. They are lush, velvety and soft, yet not so soft that they fill up the tooth in one go and hard enough to create detail and fine lines. The colours are great for my muted palette choices. They are potentially a little bit dusty, but I might well want more!


Sophie Ploeg Blog Sennelier soft pastel

The sennelier portrait set of 40 half sticks are also soft, velvety and lush. They are a little similar to Terry Ludwigs. They are probably a little softer and more buttery (and a bit closer to Schmincke's) and less 'dry' than Ludwigs or Unisons. They lay down a slightly fatter mark than the Ludwigs, so they will fill the tooth of your paper a little bit sooner. They are gorgeous pastels, and I enjoyed using them. Their buttery nature makes them feel a little closer to working with paint. 

I used a box of half sticks so these pastels had no label wrapping on them. They have a charming irregular finish that oozes handmade quality. The shape of the sticks leaves them very little sharp edges and the mark they make is not a sharp line. 

They don't layer as well as slightly harder pastels because the soft and buttery marks fill the tooth very quickly. I like layering so for me that is a downside.

The colours in the portrait set are very nice. I love the fact that there is not the usual and predictable range of portrait pinks (as if we are all pink) but a good selection of greys, blues, and browns. There are a couple of lovely greens but I would have preferred to see more green and less bright deep reds. I am not quite sure what a cadmium type red does in a portrait set unless you are an expressionist. Overall though, the colours are beautiful, subtle and well chosen. 

Senneliers are softer than Ludwigs, softer than Unison and nearly as soft as Schmincke pastels.

I was surprised by the variety, even within one small box, of softness between the sticks. The dark blues are gritty and hard and almost unusable. The whites are creamy and supersoft.  I have heard others say that Sennelier has an odd inconsistency in the pastels and I will just assume this is down to the pigments. I assume they decided to let the pigments have their own characteristics, but it sure makes for a strange and inconsistent experience.

Considering Sennelier is a top brand, producing top quality pastels, I was slightly disappointed by the box. The outer box is nice enough, but very hard to open. The inner box is a basic cardbox open box. There is no lid. And it is hard to slide the box back into the outer box and close it without having to fiddle to open it up again. The pastels sit in foam inserts to keep them safe.

I love the colours of the Sennelier set. There are some really beautiful grey tones, browns and greens - just up my street. The pastels are buttery and soft and lovely to work with. I was disappointed by the inconsistent texture of the pastels and the un-protective box. 

Which one do I love the most?

I got myself 40 half sticks of Sennelier and I am happy with this as my collection of super softs was a bit meagre. This is a welcome addition. But I am even more delighted with my introduction to Terry Ludwig pastels. They live up to their reputation. They are indeed a bit dusty, but they are very pleasant to work with; not too soft so still great for detail, easy to hold and don’t crumble too easily. They are consistent in their texture and come in beautiful colours. 

Further Reading:

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Published: March 5, 2019

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  1. so I got my Terry Ludwig set of 60 intense darks and they are smooth as butter except for two of them: R200 and V130. The latter so scratchy it is unusable and the other quite scratchy. a little disappointed since I always see nothing but praise for them.

  2. I have only used a few of their soft pastels and I liked them but don’t have enough real long term experience to say much of anything. They are too expensive for me, as are many items of fine quality. Maybe one day — I’d love to have the Karen Margulis Floral Landscape set along with the Essential Greys to start with. And maybe some of the Turquoise, cool greens, warm greens, best of the blues and oh my gosh the violets and even the sunrise sunset. Maybe the Darks I/II. Oh heck, how about all of them.

    Maybe they could do a drawing once a year where they sell chances for a drawing on the whole “kit and caboodle” set. I’d spend $20 for a chance to win that big set or even $10 for one of the smaller sets ($340), and $5 for the small ($180) set. It would be worth more but the old budget is stretched as it is. Even better, throw a kicker for extra $5 to customize your own set! A free drawing would be nice but that’s too much for a small company to ask. Maybe everyone could contact them via email, or other social media and ask them very pretty like. Of course, they have to make sure it’s legal ….it is a drawing or lottery.

    Note, I hope you didn’t throw that dust away. The Terry Ludwig website has directions for easy fix of your broken pastel sticks and I can’t see why the loose dust would be any different especially to use for washes. Follow these simple steps: See their FAQs.
    1. Remove the labels and any other paper from the pastel.
    2. Place the broken pieces in a small dish.
    3. Add 1-2 teaspoons of distilled water (use distilled water only, tap water contains chlorine, which will bleach the pigment in the pastel, and well water contains minerals which will also interfere with the pigment).
    4. Mix the pastel and water into a thick paste.
    5. Form the paste in desired shape.
    6. If the paste is too wet to form, blot it with a paper towel until a manageable consistency is achieved.
    7. Allow pastel to dry 2-3 days before using

    In terms of warnings, their FAQs also address which are toxic like Chromium 3/6 etc. Cadmium is the most dangerous metal, but Terry’s DO NOT USE ANY cadmium in their pastels but others might. They TL’s seem to be as safe as any of the brands. Any pastel creates dust and dust is not good whether toxic or not. But the deal is to work safely — protect yourself — it’s too late after the fact. Anything that gets in your lungs is foreign matter and the lungs have to try and do something or it will cause damage, either immediately, or in the future.

    I did want to copy from their site the safety info under FAQs: it’s important for their brand and any brand.

    “ Recommendations for managing and even preventing dust are the following:
    1. Protect yourself from dust by wearing disposable gloves, such as latex or vinyl medical gloves. Also, wearing a dust mask is particularly important for anyone with asthma or other lung ailments. Both gloves and masks are available at your local pharmacy or drugstore.
    2. Work on an easel that is slightly beveled forward. This will allow dust to fall directly downward.
    3. Do not BLOW on pastel a painting, which is a tremendous temptation and will send dust into the air and into your lungs. Instead, blot at excess dust to remove.
    4. At the base or your painting, layer masking tape, sticky side up, to catch dust as it falls downwards.

    We make every effort to make sure your pastels order arrives with a minimum of dust transfer in our packaging materials; however, we have no control over the way our product is handled in shipping.”

    Be blessed and if you have lots of these to play with, you are blessed.

  3. Hi Sophie.. I am researching pastel paintings to make some final decisions on some of my paintings.

    Are you familiar with a proven technique of vanishing pastel paintings as a method of preservation and to eliminate glass mounting. If so, will you share what products achieve the best results in preserving the integrity of color and the painting itself.

    Thank you so much…

    Thank you…Tonie Garrett, Artist.

    1. Hi Toni, I have heard of people doing this, but it is simply not possible to remove the need for framing behind glass. Pastel is, like charcaol, a dry medium that will remain sensitive to smudges. Simple as that. And framing behind glass is the only way to keep it safe while on display. Of course if you are just after preservation (and not display) you can protect your pastel painting with glassine paper and archival mount board, etc and keep it in flat folders or drawers. Varnishing pastel paintings is simply not possible as far as I know. Any liquid varnish would change the pastel so much that it would stop being a pastel painting, and it would damage/change your pastel painting dramatically.

  4. Hi Sophie, sinds een half jaar werk ik ook (nu nog hobbymatig) met softpastel en ik ben zeer enthousiast over dit product. Als basis gebruik ik nu zoveel mogelijk Panpastel, omdat dit een fijne basis is om in lagen overheen te werken. Ik heb net een doos met Sennelier 120 x halve sticks besteld en stuitte op je blog omdat ik ook meer info wilde over Terry Ludwig (en waar het te koop is hier in Nederland). Ik vroeg mij af of je een bepaald soort papier zou aanbevelen voor het gebruik van Sennelier? Terry Ludwig laat ik nog even ‘liggen’ (lees: valt op dit moment niet binnen mijn budget). Ik zag dat het bij Jacksons Art te koop is. Wat een prachtige kleurencollectie hebben ze bij Terry Ludwig! Net een snoepwinkel en ik heb maar snel die pagina weg geklikt om niet alsnog in de verleiding te komen. ;D groetjes van Hellen

    1. Hi Helen, sorry voor het late antwoord! Ik heb ook lang gewacht met het proberen van Ludwig, ze zijn nu eenmaal niet goedkoop! Maar het zijn prachtige pastels, en ik vind ze beter dan Sennelier. Maar Sennelier is natuurlijk een fantastisch merk, zeer geliefd bij veel pastel schilders. Voor papier hangt het er een beetje vanaf of je in lagen werkt (gebruik een ‘sanded paper’) of wat lichter werkt (gebruik een tekenpapier met wat ‘tooth’). Ik ben zelf dol op Art Spectrum Colourfix. Kijk ook eens naar mijn blog artikel over pastel papier:
      Veel plezier!

  5. I also have a set of the Sennelier in half sticks and while I like them a lot, I too find that their textures can vary by stick which is frustrating at times. A tip: be careful if you buy any full sticks-they often will break/crumble when unwrapping them. I don’t know why, but they’re different from the half sticks.

    I just finished a small bird painting on Canson pastel paper and the dust was awful! I always wear a mask, but think I’ll save that paper for some pastel pencils. With the price of pastels, it’s painful to see so much pigment lost.

    1. Yes some pastels can be very dusty! Perhaps try to lighten your touch a little? I don’t know how you work so that tip might well be useless, LOL. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I have never tried Sennelier but I like my Schmincke better than my Terry Ludwigs. They seem more buttery and more vibrant. I like the sharp corners on the new Terry Ludwigs but it doesn’t take long to wear them off.

    1. Hi Rhonda! Oh yes, Schmincke is definitely softer and more buttery than Ludwig. I suppose Schmincke might well be the softest of the lot. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Nice review. What you will find as you acquire more Ludwigs is that the darker the color the more brittle the stick. Even not dark, some Ludwigs I cannot pick up without them flaking apart. Sennelier are workable, but I too prefer a heavy tooth and glazing and layering with Giraults and the like, and Senneliers don’t seem to support that too well. I also usually use aluminum foil to curl out from under my mount to catch dust. When you are done, just wrap the foil up and toss it out or save the dust if you are into that.

    1. Thank you for commenting Barry. What you say about Ludwigs is good to know- and a bit a shame as they seem fabulous pastels.
      Another one for foil dust catchers! Great tip.

  8. Hey Sophie,
    Nice Review. You may want to consider a foam core or Gater board to tape your pastel paper to and then, form an aluminum foil “dust catcher” around the foam core bottom. I’ve been using this method for a year and it works! I just change out the foam core when it gets awful and change the aluminum tray at the same time. I can send a photo of my set up if you like.

    1. Hi Susan, sounds like an excellent plan! Thanks for the tip. My easel ledge functions as a dust catcher, as you can see. I just vacuum clean up the dust now and then. Easy-peasy.

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