Painting With Pastels

Pastel as an art medium for drawing has some advantages. This article serves to introduce the basics of pastel drawing and painting.

How can one paint in pastel when pastel is essentially a medium used for drawing? The answer to this question lies in understanding the richness and versatility of pastel.

Firstly, pastels are essentially sticks of pigment of powdered color held together by a binding medium. This turns it into a stick of color. There are a great range of pastels with dry pastels being the most common type There are also different grades of pastel form very hard to soft. A soft pastel is the best to begin with as it allows the most drawing flexibility.

What do you need to begin?

Firstly, you should have a fairly wide range of colors. Although you can mix colors as you do in painting, yet most brands offer a huge range of different colors and shades and one needs a variety of these colors to begin. A suggestion is to buy the basic colors, red, blue while, black, blue yellow umber, ochre and sienna and add different shade to these as you need them.

Next you need something to draw or paint on. The usual support for pastel is pastel paper manufactured by many well-known suppliers. This is good quality paper with a slight texture. The texture is important as this is what " holds" the pastel powder to the surface. You can use smooth paper for pastel work, but this will not be able to retain the same amount of pastel and your work might look a bit thin. Watercolor paper can also be used for pastel as this usually also have varying degrees of texture. One could even make one's own paper by using cheap cardboard and white glue. Bu rubbing the glue on the cardboard and then pouring fine sand on the surface a very durable surface is created. Turn the cardboard upside down after a few minutes letting the excess sand fall off. Once the glue has dried one is left with a textured surface that can easily retain pastel. However, to begin with purchasing ready-made pastel paper is possibly the best method as this allows you to begin exploring pastels right away.

To stretch or not to stretch

One can begin by placing the paper on a board with a clip. This is the " dry" method. However, if you were to wet the paper then it would curl and not be suitable for framing. The other method is to stretch the paper on a piece of hardboard that is a few inches larger than the paper. First of all, wet the paper by dipping it into a bowl or bath of water. Do not soak the paper, but ensure that it is equally wet throughout its surface. This causes the paper to expand. While wet, take the paper and lay it on the hardboard. Take some packaging tape, wet the sticky part of the tape and attach the sides of the paper to the board. The paper should now be firmly attached to the board along the entire length of its four sides. The paper will dry and shrink so that it pulls taught and will form a flat surface that can be worked on with water mediums.


Pastels are usually worked using the dry technique. In other words, begin by sketching your subject with the black and then work into the subject with the other pastels. To achieve intermediate tones use your finger or a tissue paper to spread and mix the pastels on the paper. You begin painting with pastel when you introduce brush and water. Wet your brush very slightly and apply to the paper. You will see that the wet brush acts just like watercolor and blends and moves the pastel power around. This technique takes some time to get used to and you should not wet your brush too much until you have become accustomed to the way that the pastel and water react together.

Another way of painting with pastel is to use other mediums such as watercolor and acrylic. Make a wash of acrylic or watercolor in a small bowl and using your brush apply this to parts of the pastel. Once again this takes a lot of time and experimentation to get used to and you should expect a few " mistakes" at first. You will soon begin to see how versatile and expressive pastel can be.

Finishing your Work

Pastel is essentially powder and is therefore very vulnerable to the elements. Framing under glass is essential for all pastel works. You should also " fix" your pastel before framing. This means applying a medium that ensures that the layers of pigment do not fall off the paper. There are many sprays and fixatives specifically designed for pastel work. Apply a gentle spray of fixative to you painting before framing. Once it is firmly mounted and framed under glass, you will be astounded by the rich depth that a pastel painting can produce.

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