Hi Benjamin! First things first: you are right - there are many options but typically you will have:
- Dry pastels (they can be square, round or in pencils). They can be soft, medium or hard.
- Oil pastels - usually offered in round form, but also exist in square. They are typically of the consistency of a Crayola wax crayon.
- Pan pastels (offered in pans or jars, and applied with a tool that looks like a mini make-up sponge).
I would suggest deciding whether you want to start with Dry or Oil pastels. If I had to recommend anything, I would suggest Dry pastels. Cost varies greatly so does quality. Artist grade will always be pricier. Stick to student grade. A set of 24 is not bad, but 36 to 48 will give you a little more flexibility in color selection. Gallery by Mungyo and Faber Castell offer low priced options with decent quality.
Dry pastels in pencil form can be expensive. I have a set of Derwent that was offered to me as a gift. They are excellent but work differently from the stick form. They are great for detail work but difficult to sharpen without breakage. I would wait before investing in those (a set of 36 is $68.00).
Oil pastels are easily picked up for a low price but they are a lot closer to a Crayola wax pencil in feel and behave completely differently.
Pan pastels are often pricier. Until you know whether you will continue doing pastel work, I would wait before investing in Pan pastels.
As a member at Virtual Instructor you can definitely benefit from all the advice on the site. You could submit your question in the Critique section.
However, if you want additional information, read the article on art-is-fun.com/pastels. It will give you a good overview of the pastel world.
Look at Jerry’s Artarama and Dick Blick websites. They are pretty good at pointing out the pros and cons, they offer a good variety of products with good pricing.
One more consideration: some pastel sets are sold with a specific purpose in mind (portrait, landscape, general use) varying the colors based on the desired end result.
I hope I have helped a little. Good luck in your search.
Patricia Pulinckx (a.k.a. Sterlingsiam)