12 Tips for Creating Successful Pastel Drawings

by Wendi OBrien

Supplies Used

Sofft Tools sponge applicator, Pencil Sharpener

Ampersand PastelBoard – Sand

Ecco Makeup Brush

Pan Pastels: 100.5 Titanium White, 222.5 Hansa Yellow, 250.5 Diarylide Yellow, 280.5 Orange, 340.1 Permanent Red Ex. Dark, 340.3 Permanent Red Shade, 340.5 Permanent Red, 380.3 Red Iron Oxide Shade, 740.3 Burnt Sienna Shade, 740.1 Burnt Sienna Ex Dark, 740.5 Burnt Sienna, 780.1 Raw Umber Ex Dark, 800.5 Black

Stabillo Carbothello Pencils: 100 Titanium White, 205 Neutral Yellow, 750 Neutral Black

Tips for Successful Pastel Drawings

Today, I am going to share with you 12 Tips for creating a successful Pastel Drawing. Feel free to watch the above video for a visual representation of the following tips.

Tip 1 – Use Pan Pastels or Blocks for Large, Less Detailed Areas

Use pan pastels or blocks for filling in large areas quickly.  In this piece, I am using pan pastels for the sky.  Since it covers about 2/3 of the surface using pan pastels gave me a full coverage very quickly. 

Alternatively, I could have used blocks in the same manner.  When detail and tight areas are not issues, I find this method seems to be the fastest and works really well.

Tip 2 – Paint in Layers

As with all other media, working in layers with pastels is a great way to create depth, dimension and smooth color gradients and blends.  Since pastels are typically working on a textured or sanded surface, this will also help to fill the tooth of the paper more evenly. 

Don’t be so quick to put in the details until you have enough layers established for a good base of your painting.

Tip 3 – Maintain a Light Touch

There is no need to push hard with pastels. Keep light pressure on the pencil, blocks, brush or sponge and let the paper grab the pastel. 

This will not only save you material, but fatigue in your hand and arm.  It is also possible to damage the tooth of the paper…yes even sanded paper and pastelmat. 

By  keeping a light hand you will just about eliminate this problem.

Tip 4 – Use Kneaded or Gum Eraser to Lift Off Pastel

You can easily damage the tooth of the paper if not careful, so take care when removing pastel. 

Always attempt on a practice surface so you know what to expect once you move to your piece. 

I don’t use erasers too often with pastels. Since they are a very forgiving medium I really have not found much of a need.

Tip 5 – Use Blending Stumps for Blending

There are so many ways to blend pastels….sofft tools, brushes and fingers to name a few, but the often over looked is blending stumps. 

When using blocks this is one of my favorite ways to blend pastels.  Different papers have different effects to be sure to try it before using on your piece to make sure it works as you want it to.

Tip 6 – Avoid Smudging

Since soft pastels are a chalk like substance, it is very easy to move and smudge as you work.  Try to keep your hand off the surface of the piece as much as possible. 

Use a piece of glassine under your hand if you need to set it on your piece.  When moving to a new area, carefully pick it up and move it instead of dragging and/or pushing it to a new area.  This will help keep from smudging your artwork.

Tip 7 – Work Clean

Let’s face it, pastels create a lot of dust.  If this dust is left on the piece and you put pressure in that area those particles will be pushed into the paper. 

To help avoid this work in a vertical position so the dust falls downward and not on your piece.  If this is not an option then tilt your piece vertically every now and again to keep the surface clean. 

I have seen hand held vacs used as well to pick up the dust as well as blowing the surface.  Neither of which are highly recommended. 

Regardless of the method you use, take caution to keep as few particles as possible from becoming airborne.

Tip 8 – Be Intentional

Don’t use an over abundance of colors.  Pastels blend really well so if you can blend your colors and still get the look you want then do so. 

For instance, in this piece near the bottom I based some red and decided it needed some orange.  To brighten it up I used yellow instead of orange knowing that the red would mix in and create the orange color I was looking for. 

By using fewer colors your piece will appear more vibrant and your chance of creating mud decreases.

Tip 9 – Contrast

As with all of your pieces, having contrast is what makes your piece really pop so make sure you have the widest range of value to create a good contrast for depth and dimension and keep your piece from appearing flat.

Tip 10 – Use Sharp Pencils for Details

If your pencils are not sharp you will not be able to get really fine details like you find in fur, feathers and hair. 

Use your pencil at an angle and rotate it every couple of strokes to maintain that sharp point as long as possible.  

Tip 11 – Use Colored Pencils for the Details

Colored pencils lay very nicely over pastels especially on papers such as pastelmat.  They stay sharper longer and in some cases you can get a finer tip.  Don’t be afraid to mix the two mediums to get some phenomenal results.

Tip 12 – Use Toned Paper

By using toned paper, you could leave the background blank and not have a white background staring out at you. 

You are also able to better judge your values.  White paper tends to throw our value judgment off a bit.  Depending upon the number of layers you apply, it can also show through your layers to add even more interest to your piece.

Final Thoughts

Do you have any tips for using pastels?  I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

Until next time…keep on arting!

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