An Introduction to Pastel Drawing & Painting

Pastels are a wonderful medium to work with. If you are used to painting in wet mediums like oils and acrylics then you should give pastels a try. They are a very refreshing and enjoyable approach to creating art. This article will introduce you to the various pastel mediums that are available as well as touch on a few pastel panting and drawing techniques that you can incorporate into your next work of art.


Soft pastels are probably the most popular of the various pastel mediums. Artists love the soft texture and the ability to paint on the colors which allows more freedom and usage of various techniques. Soft pastels can cover large areas and are well suited for blending. By varying the pressure, soft pastels can be applied in very light layers or impastos.

Because soft pastels are so delicate they can break easily so proper storage is important. Do not toss your soft pastels in a loose box or drawer. They must be stored in a cushioned box or tray for protection.

With excessive use, your pastels will become dirty by picking up other colors. This will eventually make it difficult to recognize your colors. You should get used to keeping your pastels clean by wiping them with a tissue every now and again.


Pastel crayons are of medium hardness. They are a cross between soft pastels and hard pastels. They give you the ability to work with painting techniques associated with soft pastels, as well as give you the ability to create sharp lines. They are available in a variety of colors and are quite popular for outdoor drawing because of their durability.


Pastel pencils are similar to pastel crayons only they are encased in wood. They are perfect for doing detailed line work and can also be used for blending.


These wonderful pencils are noticeably different in consistency having a sort of waxy feel to them. They can be used as either a wet or dry medium. A wide range of effects can be achieved with these pencils because of the ability to use water. You can cover wide areas of your paper by creating lines and then transforming them into colorful washes.


Oil pastels are also noticeably different in consistency as the pigment is bound using oil rather than gum. From your very first stroke you will instantly notice the rich deep tone that these pastels produce. Oil pastels are fragile and very sensitive to temperature. Try your very best to keep the wrapper on your oil pastels as you work or your hands will get quite dirty. Just like oil paints, you can use turpentine with your oil pastels if desired.



The characteristics of pastels make them differ in some ways when compared to other painting mediums like oils and acrylics. Unlike oil and acrylics which can be mixed on a palette, pastels must be mixed directly on the support (unless you are using the dry wash technique as described below). One such way to mix pastels is by using the blending technique. Blending is when two or more colors are combined by rubbing the colors into one another with your fingers or other blending tools. There are a number of tools available for blending and are discussed below.

Kneaded Eraser

You can purchase a kneaded eraser in any art store. Kneaded erasers are soft and pliable and can be made into any shape. Soften a kneaded eraser into a point and it can be used as an effective blending tool.


A variety of paint brushes can be used to move and blend the pastels on your support. Both soft and hard brushes can be used depending on the pastel medium you are using and the desired result.


The tortillon is a great tool to have available for softening edges. When it gets dirty or worn down, you simply unwind the paper to reveal a fresh point.

Cotton Swab

This is another great little tool to have available. It is also great for softening edges and for getting into those smaller areas of your work.


The dry wash technique is best suited for laying out large areas of color. This technique is great for landscape paintings when you need to block in large areas of sky. For this technique you will first need to scrape or crush a pastel into a powder. Then with a soft brush, cloth or other suitable tool, pick up some of the powder and apply it to your support and work it in. You can achieve a variety of different effects with this technique. You can mix different powdered pastel colors together first on your palette, or you can overlay individual layers of color on your support.


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