5 Steps to Get Started with Soft Pastels

Acrylics, oils and watercolor aren’t your only options for painting. Painting with pastels offers a unique way to create artwork that has the same advantages as conventional paints.

Read on to learn the basics of using pastels, plus get a step-by-step tutorial for creating a pastel composition.

Pastel Basics

So what really are pastels? Pastels are an artistic medium that come in stick form and contain pure powdered pigment as well as a binder.

There are two types: soft pastels and oil pastels. I’m using soft pastels because they’re easier to clean and you can blend them easily with your finger tips. Beware, however: They do produce dust! Oil pastels, while they can be harder to clean (requiring solvents), do not leave behind powdered pigment.

Step 1: Create a Rough Sketch of Your Subject

I’m drawing a picture that I took one day while in the Cleveland Botanical Garden. My supplies include a wide variety of colors, which will work great for this vibrant nature scene.

To begin, select the colors you’re going to use and create a rough outline of prominent shapes. For me, it was a green background with three purple circles.

Step 2: Fill In the Basic Color Palette

Once you’ve gotten the basic compositional shapes, create a base of color. You’ll layer on top of these pigments, so don’t worry about being exact — we just want a general idea of where our fields of color lay.

Step 3: Begin Layering Colors

Here’s where the work really begins. Now that you’ve got a basic idea of color, begin to refine your drawing layer by layer. Start simple, still working on the larger shapes and building color. The more you work into your drawing, the more complex your hues will be.

Don’t be afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty!

The great thing about soft pastels is that your fingers are your brushes. You can blend colors with the touch of your finger. Try using the edge of your pinkie for the smaller areas while using your index for larger fields of pigment. Wash your hands frequently to avoid contaminating your work.

Step 4: Add The Fine Details

Use the sharp edge of your pastel to create fine, precise details. This will give your drawing some visual clarity and the feeling that it’s finished. Select several areas to focus on. For me, this meant the tips of my purple plants and several leaves in the background.

Depending on the color, you can easily layer a light-colored pastel on top of a darker color. In addition, you can blend white to help lighten a color or add a highlight — use it sparingly, though. It will diffuse the intensity of your drawing.

Step 5: Remove The Dust

Things are going to get a little messy with this step. Remember all of the powdered pigment from when you were drawing? It’s now time to remove that — without ruining your drawing.

Do not brush off the excess pigment or else you could ruin your art. Instead, carefully remove the hold the paper up and gently tap it on a hard surface. All of the extra powder will fall off and you can clean it from there.

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