How to Use Pastels Like a Pro

Pastels can be an artist’s fickle friend. Used correctly, they yield beautiful results, with both vivid colour and soft, muted tones to create a rich and warm picture. However, they can be tricky to use and if used incorrectly, your pastel drawing will end up more ‘muddy’ than Monet, which can be highly frustrating. Here is our guide to getting the most out of your pastels.

1.  Choose your pastels and paper wisely!
Although you can buy pastels individually, most artists start off with a set of 12 or so, which is a good place to start. You can always add to your collection as you develop your pastel skills!

Pastels are pigment mixed with a binder. This is traditionally chalk, but you may find you are suited to other kinds of pastels. When choosing paper, pastel works best with heavy-grained paper which has ‘tooth’ that will hold the pigment. You’ll also need a kneaded rubber eraser and some spare paper to blend the pastel colours. When using the rubber, roll it in your hands to make it as pliable as possible and press it into the pigment to remove the pastels- never rub!

2. Making the initial sketch
Pastels work well with landscapes, still-lifes and especially (as Degas reminds us) with portraits and figure drawings, given their soft tonal modulation which makes them perfect for colouring skin tone. When you’ve chosen your subject matter, plan your drawing and make a light sketch with a fine pencil. You may prefer to use a pastel to do the initial sketch, in which case press lightly and use a fairly neutral colour, such as a warm ochre.

3. Work from dark to light
Starting with the darkest colour, add the very darkest parts of your painting. Don’t ‘outline’ with the dark colour, but instead look for shadows and the negative spaces between objects. Gradually work up from the darkest colour to the lightest, blending and layering as you go.

4. Clean as you go along
The dust you make as you work will smudge if you try to sweep it away, so try knocking the drawing upside down to clear it. Clean both your hands and the pastels themselves often with a baby wipe or wet wipe to stop the colours muddying.

5. Fix it up!
When you’ve finished your pastel drawing, spray it with a fixative to ensure it stays looking beautiful! Hair spray works almost as well and is much cheaper. Leave your drawing flat to dry, and keep it protected with a clean sheet of paper while storing it, or if it’s in a sketchbook just leave the facing page blank.

Good luck! We’d love to see how you get on – e-mail us with your pastel drawings and we’ll put our favourites on our social media sites!

Author: Clara Tait

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