Pastels are a popular medium for artists of all skill levels, from beginners to professionals. Many beginning artists wonder if pastels are easy to work with or if they require more advanced skills. Here we’ll explore the basics of pastels and whether they can be considered easy for beginners.
What are pastels?
Pastels are sticks of pure dry pigment mixed with just enough binder to hold them together. They come in a wide range of vibrant colors and are used for drawing and painting. Pastels are an ancient art medium, used as far back as the Renaissance era. But they rose to popularity in the 18th century and remain beloved today.
There are several types of pastels:
Soft pastels – The most common type, with a soft, crumbly texture. They produce a lot of pigment and are blendable.
Hard pastels – Have a firmer texture and produce less pigment. They’re good for finer details.
Oil pastels – Made with an oil binder so they are creamier. Produce bold, intense color.
Pan pastels – Finely ground pigments in a pan form. Applied with a special applicator.
No matter the type, pastels offer rich, luminous color. Most pastel artists use a combination of soft, hard, and oil pastels.
Are pastels messy to work with?
Pastels do have a reputation for being messy. When you draw with them, dust and crumbs of pigment naturally fall off the sticks. This can make your workspace very dusty. Some precautions can cut down on the mess:
– Work on a pastel paper pad instead of a loose sheet. The pad catches dust.
– Prop the bottom edge of your paper up slightly so dust falls below it.
– Use a chamois cloth to wipe up excess dust as you work.
– Only gently tap off excess pastel instead of blowing it off.
– Apply a fixative when finished to seal in the pigment.
Oil pastels are less powdery and messy than soft pastels. And you can wipe and blend them easily. So they may be the best choice for new artists wanting to avoid a big mess.
Overall, pastels do require some extra cleanup work compared to mediums like acrylic paint. But a little planning cuts down on the dust factor.
Do pastels require special paper?
Pastel paper has a texture with “tooth” that allows the pigment to adhere. Working on the right paper makes a huge difference in your results. Some good paper options:
Sanded pastel paper – The most popular choice. It has a lightly abrasive texture from pumice, calcium carbonate, or marble dust bonded in the paper. Grades range from extra fine to coarse.
Toned pastel paper – Comes in shades like brown, gray, blue, and more. The color shows through finished work for interesting effects.
Pastel card – Thicker paper support. Holds many layers of pastel.
Pastel boards – Paper mounted to a firm cardboard backing. Prevents buckling.
Watercolor paper can also work in a pinch. Avoid charcoal and drawing papers – they lack the right tooth for pastels. While you can buy individual sheets, a pastel pad is great for keeping dust contained.
Do you need special tools for pastel techniques?
Pastels themselves have all the color you need built-in. But using a few basic tools opens up different effects:
– Blending tools – Stumps, tortillons, cotton swabs, tissues, and specialty blending tools help softly mix colors.
– Sponges and foam – Create textured effects by dabbing pastel with sponges.
– Pastel pencils – Thin wooden shafts with a pastel core to outline details.
– Erasers – Kneaded and plastic erasers lift and clean up pastel.
– Fixative sprays – Seal and protect finished pieces.
You don’t need every tool to start. Beginners can focus on the pastels themselves and add other tools as desired. Avoid oil-based tools like paint brushes, as the oil breaks down pure pastel pigment.
Is pastel technique challenging to learn?
Pastels have some technical considerations but are more forgiving than paints or ink. Core pastel techniques like these are accessible even for beginners:
– Strokes – Apply pastel in light strokes in one direction. Stroking layers color.
– Blending – Soften edges by gently rubbing with a tool or fingertip.
– Layering – Deepen color by layering more pastel over an area.
– Sgraffito – Scratch into a layer of pastel to reveal color underneath.
– Scumbling – Build up texture by stroking lightly over an area.
– Washes – Dilute pastel in water and apply wet. Dries with a smooth watercolor look.
These essential techniques allow you to blend, shade, and mix colors. With practice, they become intuitive. Pastels are direct and responsive to work with. If you make a mistake, you can simply wipe it away.
Do pastels allow creative freedom?
One major benefit of pastels for beginners is the unparalleled creative freedom they provide. Pastels have a few advantages:
– Huge color range – Pastels offer a rainbow of pure, vibrant hues at your fingertips. Mixing expands the palette even further.
– Color intensity – Densely pigmented pastel goes on richly and covers quickly. You can layer and blend to your desired intensity.
– Versatility – Pastels can sketch sharp lines, render subtle tonal work, or apply thick, textured color.
– Spontaneity – The responsive, direct application of pastels makes them ideal for creative, expressive styles.
You have control over your marks and color choices. Pastels can be blended and softened or left with bold strokes. This versatility makes pastels fun and spontaneous to experiment with.
Are pastels a flexible and portable medium?
Another benefit for beginners is that pastels are highly portable:
– Compact – Individual sticks are small and lightweight. Sets in a box take up minimal storage space.
– Transportable – Easy to tote your materials in a backpack or art bag. No liquids to spill.
– No prep – Don’t need a palette, water, or ventilation. Just grab your pastels and paper to work anywhere.
– Not messy – Aside from some dusting, pastels are contained and leave no wet traces behind. Easy to pack up.
– Outdoors – Plein air painting is very achievable with pastel’s portability.
You can sketch out in the field or take a box of pastels anywhere inspiration strikes. Their versatility and transportability make them a flexible medium.
Do pastels allow a range of styles and subjects?
From realism to abstraction, pastels handle a wide scope of artistic styles. You can use them for:
– Landscapes – Capture colorful sunset skies, rolling hills, and atmospheric perspectives.
– Portraits – Render skin tones, glints in eyes, and expressive faces.
– Still life – Depict the textures of fruit, glass, flowers, and fabrics.
– Abstract – Explore vibrant compositions of pure color and shape.
Pastels also excel at quick sketches, studies, and color experiments. Their fast-working nature encourages you to try different subjects and perspectives with ease.
In experienced hands, pastels create magnificent fine art. But beginners can enjoy the range of expression pastels offer right from the start.
Should you start with a pastel set or open stock?
When purchasing your first pastels, you have two main options:
Pastel sets – Contain a selection of colors curated by the manufacturer. A basic set might have 24 – 50 colors. Larger sets have 80+ colors. Often a budget-friendly way to get essential hues.
Open stock – Buying single pastels lets you hand select colors. More flexibility but pricier than sets. Start with primaries plus desired extra shades.
Many artists recommend starting with a small, quality set from a reputable brand like Rembrandt or Sennelier. Add open stock colors over time. Blick Art Materials offers many affordable starter sets perfect for beginners.
Sets focused on landscapes or portraits make it easy to get colors for your interests. Split primary sets provide both warm and cool versions of blues, reds, yellows, and more – very useful. Mixing your own colors from a basic palette helps you learn color theory too.
Should a pastel surface be primed first?
Quality pastel paper has enough tooth to grab the pastel well without priming. But some artists do prime with an acrylic gesso or neutralcolor. Benefits include:
– Unifies paper texture.
– Creates a subtle tooth if paper is too smooth.
– Provides a colored base layer.
– Seals porous paper so colors are more vibrant.
– Allows erasing and layering.
Priming is an optional step for most paper types. It gives you a smoother surface and bright base layer to build up colors. If skipping a primer, just make sure your paper has an appropriate texture.
How should you care for finished pastel art?
Preserving your artwork just requires some simple care:
– Allow to rest 48 hours so pigment bonds to paper.
– Gently remove loose dust with a soft brush. Don’t blow or wipe off.
– Apply fixative spray if desired to guard against smudging. Let dry fully between light coats.
– Frame under glass or plexiglass to contain dust and protect surface. Seal edges with tape.
– Store flat in a portfolio case or sleeve to prevent cracking of pigment.
Take care not to bump, touch, or stack finished pastel pieces. With a little forethought, you can keep them pristine. Displaying behind glass or an acrylic glaze lets the colors shine while containing the dust.
While no medium is effortless to master, pastels offer an approachable starting point for beginners. The basics come naturally with experimentation. Pastels’ forgiving nature, wide range of expression, and portability factor into their appeal. Manageable with minimal supplies, pastels allow you to dive right into color. With a few fundamentals and some practice, even novices can paint beautiful works in this timeless medium. Discover firsthand how pastels can unlock creativity through their vibrant hues and versatile effects.