How to Use Pastels on Paper – Great tips and techniques

how to use pastel sticks

A medium that has been around for centuries, pastels are easy to use, portable, and can create gorgeous pieces of artwork that truly display your artistic talent. If you already know how to draw with pen, pencils, or charcoal, learning to use pastels may be the next logical step in your growth as an artist. If you have never before used pastels for your artwork, you can learn how to use pastels on paper. Keep reading if you wish to learn more.

Kinds of Pastels Available

You can buy several kinds of pastels at the art supply store. The most common pastels are hard and soft pastels. These drawing sticks consist of a binder and lovely colored pigments. Hard pastels have more binder and less pigment, and they are harder, less dusty, and less crumbly than soft pastels.

Soft pastels have more pigment and less binder than hard pastels. However, they are dustier and crumblier than the hard version. It isn’t unusual for both hard and soft pastels to be used in the same drawing.

Often, the soft pastels are used for laying down large swaths of color, while the hard pastels are used to create dimension and add detail to the drawing. 

Another kind of pastel that is available is the oil pastel. These are a fairly new medium in the art world, invented in the 1920s. These consist of sticks of pigment mixed with wax and oils.

They are buttery soft and can give a lovely texture to drawings, similar to that of oil paintings. 

Things You Need for Drawing With Pastels on Paper

One thing that makes pastels such a great medium is that pastels are fairly inexpensive to get started. There is no need for an easel, numerous tubes of expensive paints, or a dedicated studio.

Pastel drawings can be completed at your kitchen table with just a handful of items that are easily and inexpensively available at the art supply store. 

To get started drawing in pastels, you can buy a multi-pack of student grade pastels that includes most of the basic colors that you will need. You also will need a package of pastel paper.

This paper is thicker than normal drawing paper and has a textured surface that is especially designed for drawing with pastels.

It is also common for those drawing with pastels to use different colored papers, rather than just plain white. The other colors set off your drawing and really can make your artwork stand out. 

You will also need a fixative, an aerosol spray that can seal your drawing for display.

How to Get Started With a Pastel Drawing

When you first begin a pastel drawing, don’t be intimidated. Just like when you get started with any other medium, just begin with the goal of having fun and learning how the medium works. Your very first drawing may not be the best and that is okay. Begin by sketching a basic outline of your drawing with a graphite pencil on your pastel paper. 

If you are using hard or soft pastels, you can fill in the outline of the drawing with the sides of your pastels using wide swooping strokes.

Use your light colored pastels first and build up layers of pastels with darker colors on top of them. You can use your fingers or a blending stump or even a rolled up paper towel to blend the colors and shadows in the drawing.

Use your darker colors last as you slowly create layers and add detail to your drawing.

For an oil pastel drawing, you will work similarly, creating an outline and filling it with color. However, you may want to work in opposite color order, going with the dark colors first and slowly adding the lighter accents to the drawing. 

When you need to build on your drawing, and you’re afraid of messing up what you’ve already done, you can apply what is called a workable fixative to the drawing.

This will seal the lower layers, adding add extra “tooth” to the surface, so you can continue adding more layers to the drawing. 

How Do You Blend Pastels on Paper?

If you’re working in hard pastel or soft pastel, you can use your fingers or a blending stump to blend the colors together and add shading.

Be sure to keep a damp towel nearby so that you can frequently wipe your hands as you work. Keeping your hands clean will keep your colors pure.

If you’re working in oil pastels, you can use your fingers to blend. However, oil pastels don’t blend quite as easily as hard and soft pastels.

You can use a paintbrush dipped in a solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits to blend oil pastels. Blending with a solvent can give your oil pastel drawing the appearance of an oil painting.

Finishing Up Your Pastel Drawing

When you are happy with your pastel drawing, you have one more step to accomplish before you can display your drawing. Pastels on paper have to be “fixed.”

Because pastels are a medium that can be easily smeared or smudged, artists apply a fixative to the drawing before they try to display it. A final fixative will firmly adhere your drawing to the paper and give a nice final finish to the paper. 

Prop the drawing up on a piece of stiff cardboard outdoors. Spraying a fixative outside will help you avoid breathing in the fumes of the spray fixative which can be dangerous.

Spray the paper with the final fixative, gently sweeping the spray back and forth, holding the can of spray about a foot from the drawing. You should only need a light coating of the fixative.

Allow the pastel drawing to dry outdoors for an hour or two, and then you can bring it inside where you can let it dry for at least 24 hours. After that, you can frame your drawing for display purposes. 

Can You Use Pastels on Regular Paper?

You may be tempted to use regular drawing paper for pastels. However, this is a big mistake.  he paper for pastels has a rough textured surface that traps the pigments in the fibers of the paper.

Regular paper isn’t rough enough to trap the pigments and hold onto them. The colors will simply just brush off of the smooth surface of a piece of regular paper.

Additionally, the smoothness of regular paper will not scrub off enough of the pigment from a stick of pastel, so you will not get the bright and brilliant colors which pastels are capable of producing.

How to use Pastels on paper – supporting video

I have found a great video that explains what pastel papers to use as discussed in How to use Pastels on Paper.

Wrap Up

I hope you found the tips and techniques highlighted in How to Use Pastels on Paper useful. Let me know if you have any further questions via the Contact Us or via Instagram and I will look at updating the post for you.

If you would like to see my other pastel related posts have a look at the following:

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