Get To Know Your Supplies: Pastels

Pastels come in many different types, hardness, and quality.  We will look at a few options today.

  1.  There are soft pastels and hard pastels.  Soft pastels are creamy, soft and delightful to use.  They are often applied with a sponge type tool.  Soft pastels are easy to smudge, and are great for filling in areas of color quickly.  They are a lot of fun to play with.
  2. Hard pastels are found in sticks or pencil form.  You may remember using “chalks” in elementary school.  These were hard pastels.  They are great for detailed lines, shading and filling in large areas with color.
  3. Both hard and soft pastels activate with water, can be smudged with a finger or sponge tool, and give a softer look than acrylic paints.  Once the pastels are activated with water and the binder evaporates they are permanent on your page.
  4. It is also very easy to seal your pages, if you don’t want to activate the pastels with water.  Use the cheapest hair spray you can get your hands on.  The reason you want the cheap stuff is because it doesn’t contain any additives which will react with your pastels.
  5. It is important to note that there will be color shift with a sealant, no matter what kind you use.  That is something that cannot be avoided.  If you prefer not to have color shift, don’t seal your pastel art.  Either store it in glassine bags or frame it.  Use a mat or two to separate the picture from the glass.  This also allows dust to fall past your image, rather than on it.
  6. Pastels are wonderful as base-coats in your art.
  7. You can mix pastels with gesso for some fun color options.
  8. If you don’t have pastel paper, give watercolor paper a coat or two of clear gesso.  This will give the paper some “tooth” for your pastels to hang on to.
  9. Pastels are wonderful for use in a vintage, grungy, or steampunk-type art journal page.  Simply add color to an area-say around an image or shape, between or around letters, on the outside edges of the page for a shadow, then wet the pastel and smear it around a bit.  This will give you a very muted, subtle color which can add depth to your page, make images pop by adding darker color around them.
  10. You can create beautiful colors by scribbling the pastels on the page and smearing them all over with a baby wipe.  Often the binder will dissolve and evaporate, leaving a permanent color that will not wipe off.
  11. If your pastels get dirty, simply fill a plastic bowl (with snap on cover)  3/4ths full with cornmeal.  Add your pastel and shake around inside the sealed bowl.  Make sure you don’t hit the sides of the bowl with the pastels, as some are easy to break.  Shake for a minute or so and you will be truly amazed by the sparkling clean pastels you remove from the cornmeal.
  12. Pastels are one of the oldest mediums found in fine art.  They are light fast, and easy to work with.  Many famous Old Master artists used pastels in their art practice.
  13. Do not blow the dust of pastels around with your mouth or a blow dryer.  The fine particles of dust can enter your lungs.  If you must blow off the dust do it outdoors wearing a mask.  Otherwise just tip your painting on it’s side over the waste basket and tap the backside lightly.  The dust will drop into the basket and you won’t breathe it in.  (I’m going to be honest with you here.  I take absolutely no extra precautions when using my pastels.  Obviously I try not to fill the place with pastel dust, but I find I have no problem with the material at all.  I’m just pointing out you should use common sense when handling any and all art materials.)
      1. You can use them to fill in a watercolor background.  Once you add the color, use a wet brush and wet the color.  Beautiful.
      2. Another option is to scribble the color onto your palette or mat and add water to that. Use as watercolor paint.
      3. Or use the puddle of color with a stamp.
      4. Use for tonal study under paintings.
      5. One of my favorite pastels is Charvin Water Soluble Pastel Painting Sticks.  While I wouldn’t say these are my go-to water-soluble media, they are close.  They are an incredible value.  I have the 48 stick set which I’ve been using for at least a year.  I’ve used very little of the product.  A couple of the sticks broke in half, but that doesn’t bother me at all.  They work just as well broken.
      6. The cost of these sticks makes it a worth-while purchase.  If you are thinking about jumping into pastels, this is a good place to start.
      7. Another great option for beginners is the Mungyo Semi-Hard pastel sets.   This was my first set of pastels and I’ve enjoyed them too.
        1. No-I take that back…I began my pastel work with my cheap-o eye shadows from the Dollar Tree.  I wanted to see if I’d like pastels so that’s what I started with.  I would urge you to do the same.  Buy a set of eye shadows-remember to keep the case when it’s empty to fill with watercolors for a travel palette- and use them.  I bought make up sponges as well and those are what I used for my first several paintings.  Worked well and cost three bucks.  (I bought two palettes of eye shadows for more color choices)

There are many pastel options out there and many ways to use this wonderful medium.  I hope you’ll join me in breaking out a very old, but reliable, art supply.

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