“Art is beauty, the perpetual invention of detail, the choice of words, the exquisite care of execution.” - Théophile Gautier
More and more people are getting into art so why not learn how to paint?
With oils, watercolours, acrylics, etc., there are plenty of ways to paint. In this article, we’re going to show you how you can paint with pastel paints.
Before you go out and buy an expensive set of Schmincke pastels and a whole heap of art supplies, you should read this article on getting started with pastels and tips for pastel artists.
What Do You Need to Paint with Pastels?
Pastel painting isn’t the most commonly used technique. When we think of painting, we often think of oils, acrylics, or watercolours.
However, pastels are considered to be their own type of paint. However, you'll also hear it called pastel drawing since you don't necessarily need to use brushes.
Pastels are sticks of pigments that can be bound in different ways. They can be thought of as painting technique as you can use them to add colour to a piece. However, since there are so many different types of pastels, you should learn what they are.
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There are two main types of dry pastels.
Firstly, there are soft pastels. These are like chalks and use very little binder. These have a powdered texture and very dense colours. Artists like them because of the bright colours you can get from them for adding accents.
You can also find hard dry pastels in art supply shops. Unlike the soft pastels, hard pastels have more binders, making them quite tough. They’re generally used for details and are often square shaped. The edges are usually used to make fine strokes.
Oil and Wax Pastels
Just like the dry pastels, we have another two types of pastels.
An oil pastel is often cylindrical like soft pastels. They’re a mix of pigment and oil and will probably remind you of the crayons you used as a child.
These are often used directly applied to paint to highlight certain colours with a wet brush. A brush can also be soaked in white spirit or turpentine and used.
Wax pastels are similar to oil pastels except the oil is replaced with wax, obviously. Unlike the previous type, they’re not made for being mixed with water. These pastels are often used with watercolours as they can be used to cover areas that you don’t want the watercolours to run into.
Before you buy your pastels, make sure to try them out in the shop or in an art class. Different pastels have very different qualities and uses.
Once you’ve worked out which ones you should be using, try to get a full set with a range of different colours.
Pastels won’t mix like poster paints or acrylics. You need a good range of colours to add nuance.
Don’t forget to buy special paper for using your pastels as well as an art pad to protect your work when it’s finished. Pastels will stain anything they touch. You should make sure you place some scrap paper between each piece so that they don’t stain one another.
They can be used for creating artwork with the same kind of vibrant colours and tones that an acrylic painter could use without needing to buy a canvas, easel, or a load of expensive drawing and painting materials.
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Techniques for Using Pastels
There’s no single technique for using pastels but rather several ones. It completely depends on what you want to do. While pastel art may make you think of soft colours, there are so many types of different pastel techniques and types of pastels.
The most important thing to know is that you can’t mix pastels on a palette. The colours from pastels can be put directly onto the paper. The best thing is to do is have a range of colours in your set.
There are different ways to use pastels on paper:
- Use the side of the pastel to apply a flat colour onto the paper. This will cover a large area of the page and can be used as a background.
- Use the edge or the point of the pastel (if you’ve sharpened it) to make precise strokes.
- Use the end of the pastel for adding solid colour.
Once you’ve added the colour, there are several ways to use it.
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The blending technique is when you gently spread the powder or dust from the pastel with your finger, hands, or a special pastel. This technique is used to create a solid colour simply by rubbing. However, don’t overdo this technique or you’ll end up with quite a mess.
Working on Point
A lot of artists prefer to build up colours without blending them. This can help you create more detailed and realistic pieces.
As we explained earlier, pastels can also be mixed with water. The powder from dry pastels can be added to water and used with a paintbrush.
This can also work with oil pastels. Add the pastel directly to a wet brush.
Learn also how you can paint with watercolours while using pastels for emphasis!
Start Using Pastels
As with most painting techniques, the first step when using pastels is to start with the background.
It’s very easy to go outside of the lines when using pastels. The powder spreads out and you’ll need to go back over it. By starting with the background, it’s easier to redo your lines.
Once you’ve created the background, you need to add colour to the other parts, going from the darkest colours to the darkest. Doing it the other way round can be quite difficult.
Don’t Overuse Blending
Once your colours have been put down, you can blend the colours as we described earlier. However, don’t use this technique on every part of your piece. Overusing this technique will make you look like a beginner and result in a lot of smudging.
You can use this technique on parts of the background, like a sky, for example. Make sure you add some details, though. If you want to draw with pastels, you should also think about layering by applying colours over the top of one another.
If you're used to watercolours, you need to be careful since if you want to draw with pastels, you should work from dark to light with pastels, not the other way round!
Copying Famous Works or Pictures
Before you start doing your own pieces, you should try studying the greats like Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Braque, Dali, Van Gogh, Manet, Courbet, etc., by copying their works.
This is great for improving both your eye and hand. You’ll get used to recreating what you can see. It’s also a good opportunity for getting used to how pastels work.
You can also use photos or images found on the web as source material.
To improve your technique, you should regularly practise using pastels. Practise makes perfect, even for artists. By practising you’ll learn how to effectively use the blending technique and how pastels react to the paper.
Try out different surfaces, too. Beginners should experiment with different textures and add layers of colour to their pieces. You can learn a lot by quickly sketching a composition onto pastel paper.
You can also get private art tutorials or teach yourself thanks to online video tutorials.
You may also want to learn oil painting techniques!
Get Lessons on How to Use Pastels
Everyone learns differently. With private classes, weekly workshops, art schools, a method that might be right for one may not be right for another.
You need to learn which method works for you, your personality, and your schedule. It’s pointless forcing yourself to paint if you don’t want to. Art is both a passion and a pastime, even though some people do make it their job.
If you want to take art classes or learn how to use pastels, you could visit art schools, art associations, workshops, or private painting tutors.
You could find a course focusing on using pastels, an intensive workshop or course on drawing and artistic painting techniques (pencil, pastel, Indian ink, gouache, charcoal, sanguine, acrylics, watercolours, mixed media, etc.).
These classes are also useful for learning more about creating a still life, life drawings, landscape painting, or working on a rough sketch or a portrait, for example.
You can also learn from the other students in your class, share tips and advice, and become a better artist as a result.
You’ll soon be an expert on brushes, coloured pencils, watercolours, pastel pencils, acrylic and oil paint, and painting with all kinds of art materials. Just don't forget that applying fixative to your finished pieces will protect them!
Now discover more painting techniques you might try...