Four Things About Pastels You’ll Want To Know

Author: Emma Ralph

Do you love painting with pastels? If so, you’re in good company. Many, many artists have fallen in love with their vibrant colors and the ease with which they can be used. There’s really no other way to achieve such a colorful, painterly result without resorting to a wet medium. Here are four pieces of advice that will help turn your pastel dreams into reality.

1. Don’t wear your favorite clothes

Soft pastels shed dust, and while it doesn’t seem like a lot of dust while you’re painting, look down at the end of a session and you’re likely to find that you’re covered in it. Yes, you could carefully launder your nice clothes after every session, but it’s much easier to pick an old shirt and just wear it whenever you paint. Your friends and family will soon be impressed by how colorful and ‘painterly’ it looks!

Don’t think that if you use oil pastels it’s ok to wear your Sunday best. While oil pastels aren’t as messy as soft pastels – they don’t shed pastel dust – their oil, waxy binder means that they’re even harder to remove from clothing.

2. Keep your fingers clean

Inevitably your hands will get dirty while you’re working with pastels. That’s not so much of a problem while you’re holding the same stick, but it can cause problems when you switch to a yellow and your hands are covered in red.

One way to clean your hands between putting down one stick and picking up another is to keep a damp cloth hanging from your easel that you can wipe your hands on; another is to hold a large ball of Blu-Tack in your other hand – pressing your fingers into it will clean them nicely.

3. Learn to blend

Blending is pretty much the core technique in pastels. Laying down pastel pigment on your surface is really only the first stage; mixing colors together, softening, muting, blurring, smoothing, shading, and burnishing are all done with a blending-type technique. As such it’s essential that you experiment early and often with blending so that you learn how to do it and what you can achieve with it.

While pastel artists use all kinds of things to blend with, including fingers (naked or wrapped in a plaster), palms, sponges, kneaded erasers and cotton swabs, the best tool for the job is a commercially produced paper stump. They’re inexpensive and can be sharpened with a pencil sharpener when the ends get dull and discolored.

4. Build your skill by doing a lot of small paintings of simple things

When you’re a beginner, it can sometimes be daunting to start a new pastel painting. You might not know where to start, if it doesn’t work out you might waste paper, and so on. The way around all of this is to paint often, but keep it simple and small. This allows you to build your skills and practice in small steps rather than too-big ones. There's really not that much you need to know about pastels in order to pick up a pastel and begin.

About the Author:

Emma Ralph is a pastel artist enthusiast. She enjoys helping others discover the timeless beauty of this medium. Her latest book "Pastel Painting Secrets" teaches budding pastelists everything they need to know about the use and versatility of pastels. Visit her website for her free 10 day mini course: