Pastels for colour and immediacy
Pastels are a vastly underrated medium and I wish they were given
more credit. They have much to offer in terms of richness of colour and
immediacy, and work well with other media.
They are also more permanent than other media, such as watercolour
which fades. Pastels can be messy but this does not make them any less
exciting to work with. There is a marvellous variety of pastels
available. They include soft, hard and 'scenic' pastels.
A painting done with
They all have their own qualities, so do try them out. Map out the
shapes with hard chalk first and then gradually use the softer pastels
which have more vibrant colours. It is also cheaper working this way,
since soft pastels are expensive. Pastels can be applied to a variety of
papers, including cardboard, fine-textured sandpaper and toned papers
which can glow though and enhance the pastel colours. Soft pastels can
be broken up with the fingers and ground or smudged onto the surface of
a paper to create the effect of a damp piece of paper as a wash. Pastels
work well too, over water colour or etching. The only snag with them is
that they have to be fixed to stop the pigment coming off the paper. You
could use hair spray for this purpose. If you use sandpaper, you do not
have to fix the pastel, but merely shake off the excess.
One of the most attractive aspects of soft pastel is that it is both
a drawing and a painting medium. By making broad sweeping strokes with
the side of the pastel stick you can represent an animal's fur, while
the texture of a rough haired animal could be described by a series of
short lines of varying thickness. Pastel sticks are well worth
considering for animal subjects, particularly those where you want
details rather than broad effects.
These are simply this sticks of pastel encased in wood, slightly
harder than normal pastels, and more controllable. They are often used
in combination with soft pastel to add areas of detail.
Pastel seems the ideal medium for rendering skin and hair and is
extensively used for portraiture because it is a drawing and painting
medium. It allows you to achieve a wide variety of effects from soft
blends and subtle gradations of tone suitable for young skins with
flowing strokes with the side of the stick perfect for representing
The only real difficulty with pastel is that you cannot make a
detailed under drawing which is usually necessary for portraiture and
Although many successful portraits and still life drawings are done
in pastel, it is not the easiest medium to handle and beginners are well
advised to practise before embarking on a human subject.
Pastel has been a favourite drawing medium for rendering the soft
folds and sharp highlights of different materials. Pastel artists who
use colour thickly building up in layers usually apply fixatives between
stages to allow the new colours to adhere to the old ones. Remember that
a heavy build-up of blended colour will give the smoothest effect.
You can use the different surface qualities of pastel to suggest
contrasts of textures, for example, blending the colours for glass and
metal objects. The effects of blending depend to some extent on the
implement you use. Try a soft brush, a piece of rag, your fingers and
see which is most effective.