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Pastel Painting: Materials, Tips and Techniques

Pastel painting combines the possibilities of painting and drawing. Use block-like pastel crayons in round or square or pastel pencils.

There are several types of pastel crayons: oil pastels and soft pastels. In this article, I only treat soft pastels. Oil pastes are mixed with wax or oil, making them creamier and moister. You work differently with it and have to pay attention to completely different things, so here’s the demarcation.

What do you need for pastel painting?

For pastel painting, one needs pastels in stick or block form. Which form you take depends, among other things, on how large-format you want to work. Up to DIN A 5 and to try the pencils are sufficient in my experience. For larger formats, the primer or other large areas become cumbersome with the pens. Most block chalks are also softer than pastel pens and are therefore better suited for even application on large areas.

There are also harder and softer chalks from different manufacturers. Which ones are suitable for your work depends on how and what you want to paint. You should try a bit to find the variety that best suits your needs and motives. In general, one can say: The softer chalks mix better and one another, with the harder one can draw better. The softer chalks are, therefore, more suitable for surfaces and primers, the harder varieties and the pastel pencils instead for details. What you wanted to know: Soft chalks contain less binder and are easier to crumble when you use it to paint over the paper. It’s dusting more and you have to be more careful.

For painting, pastel painting requires a unique, relatively strong pastel paper with structure. Do not take the same paper as you use for watercolors or acrylics. Due to the dry consistency of the pastels, they will not adhere to smooth paper and break off. The paper is available as single sheets and in blocks of paint. Particularly beautiful effects are achieved when using colored paper. If you want to try out which color suits you the most, you can buy blocks that contain leaves in different colors.

For blurring or scribing the colors, it is best to use work equipment. Here it is a question of trying out what you get along well and what lubricates the least. The pigments are loosely on the paper and the work glances soiled when they are distributed to where they do not want to go. From etching, especially with a regular eraser, I would, therefore, advise against. Some use kneader or brush; I prefer so-called Estompen. They are made of pressed paper or cardboard and sharpened on both sides. There are Estompen in different sizes. This makes it possible to work more purposefully and cleanly than with your fingers. Cotton swabs work well too.

On the subject of fixatives, there are different opinions. Since the pigments are only loose on the paper, they smudge easily or are rubbed off by merely placing them in a paint block or a folder. Even if you put new layers over it or go over it with the fingers or the Estompen, pigments fall off. The fixative fixes or “sticks” the paint on the painting surface. You can use it both for interlayers and final fixation. Also, hair spray is suitable if you do not go too close to the picture when spraying. Many do not use fixatives because the spray can darken and distort the colors. It’s just an extra layer in the image. As an alternative to the fixative, you can protect the finished pastel with foil or glass.

My advice: I do not use the fixative for intermediate phases, but only at the very end. As a result, it is only one layer, the darkening effect is not active and the colors continue to shine. One should not spray, however, of closer than 30 centimeters, because otherwise, the picture can become stained, or the paper can become too damp. As a result, the colors run. Whether hair spray or fixative – you should use it only outside or in well-ventilated areas. Inhaling is very harmful to your health.

Basic equipment pastel painting

  • Staedtler soft pastel chalks

My first little set was from Jaxell and I was and am super satisfied. At Amazon, there is the Jaxell set, but only with 60 colors. That’s why I link you at this moment, Staedtler. I do not have any experience myself, but have already worked with other Staedtler materials and can recommend the brand. And for starters, 12 colors are just perfect, especially if you buy softpaste pens. My personal experience is that the selection of pens should be higher than that of the block colors because one works with the rather primed and rough. 

  • Pastel pencils

I bought the small basic set and then bought more pens in many colors, also from other brands. Of course, you can also buy a more extensive collection. This can be cheaper under certain circumstances. Just think about it, if you like certain motives. I just wanted to find out which motives are the most fun for me. But I also know people who have dozens of shades of brown, beige and gray because they like to paint dogs or cats. If you want to paint portraits, you also need a completely different palette. I’ve discovered that I like colorful subjects the most: butterflies, birds, flowers. Therefore, for me, a larger versatile set would have been cheaper in any case, but afterward, one is always smarter. But there are also “theme sets,” i.e. skin colors, Beige and Ombre tones, but I’d instead advise against that. Since you are usually satisfied with your selection.

  • Ingresblock colors 

The price is steep, but it’s worth it. This is a real handmade paper, which not only feels great, looks beautiful, but also has an optically rough surface on an excellent color abrasion. By the way: The white paper is similarly expensive, but I found the rums and the effects on the multicolor great and, therefore, highly recommend it. At this point, I would like to point out again: Take the final pastel paper. They’re all relatively expensive, but if it’s not rough enough or the pigments do not stick, you’re annoyed. Everywhere else you can save, but here by no means.

  • Fixative for charcoal, crayon and pastel drawings

I have another one, but that should not matter with the fixative. I have not tried this one, but Guardi does not have it on Amazon and I think the differences will not be that big. But you should fix. Otherwise, everything will smear on you.

Basic knowledge of technology: step by step

  1. First, it is primed with the base color. You do not have to prime, but I’ve found that later mixing in the colors on the sheet and transitions is easier if you already have a soft base.
  2. Then follow the different color gradations.
  3. Finally, structures, light and shadow.
  4. In the end, the details follow, which stand out from the colored surface and are not incorporated, such as hair. They are painted with hard chalks or pencils.

Depending on the surface and style is blurred in between.

What do you do with the pigment dust? Three tips

Anyone who starts with pastel painting will soon realize that it is very dusty. The chalks are dry and dissolve when scraped over the paper.

  • Working well

Make sure you work very clean. If you mistakenly wipe the color pigment dust with your palms while drawing other spots, the image will quickly look dirty or smudged. Therefore, one should be careful not to put off the hand or to put a special cloth underneath.

  • Protects the environment and wears work clothes

The colorful dust spreads everywhere and also puts on surrounding carpets, sofas, or clothes. There he can discolor the surfaces. That’s why everything in the environment protects what matters to you and what you can not only wipe out.

  • So you get the dust off the paper

Pastel crayons are usually painted on a horizontal or slightly beveled work surface and not on an easel. This leaves the peeling dust for the most part in the picture. So that he does not distribute himself in regions of the factory where he should not go, you should regularly remove him from the paper. But do not just wipe it away. So you just smeared the whole picture. You can blow it away, for example, but many of them are different because that can also spread the image. Besides, there is a risk that you inhale the pigment dust. An alternative is to keep the image vertical and gently tap it with a pen to allow the dust to fall off. You should, of course, put something underneath to catch the dust, preferably a damp cloth or kitchen paper.

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