Packing a Punch with Pastels

Putting the colour into pastels

Pastels are made of powdered pigment which is then ground into water, all held together by a gum binder. This formula is then compacted into small sticks and applied to a variety of surfaces. The rougher the surface, the more your pastel likes it! As pastels are very powdery, a rough surface is best for ‘holding’ the pigment whereas a smooth surface has virtually no hold at all. The most used pastel is the soft variety as they have more pigment and colour than hard pastels, which have a higher proportion of binder to pigment.

Choosing pastels

Want maximum colour from your pastels? Then don’t settle for anything too cheap! Less expensive pastels are great if you’re just starting out or experimenting with the medium, but the lack of pigment means a lack of colour. As colour is the great feature of pastels, particularly soft pastels, then what’s the point of using them if you’re not getting the most colour out of them? When you buy a set of pastels, ask for light, mids and dark colours in equal proportions so you can work in a wide range of styles and themes. Eventually, you’ll settle on the style that suits you best and that’s when you can limit the number of colours you use.

Pastels for fast results

If you’ve worked with oil paint before, you’ll know that it can be a long process waiting for the paint to dry so you can move onto the next stage. No such problem with pastels. They’re the fast medium if you like, much quicker than paint when it comes to application. This is perfect if light is a concern, or if commercial considerations with quick turnaround are a priority.

Pastels: Tips and advice

Pastels, while full of lovely colour, are powdery and dusty in reality. If excess dust accumulates while you work, never blow it away…it will probably end up in your nose and mouth! Just take your work outside and tap the dust away, being soft and gentle as you do it. As pastels require a different surface to other mediums, never adopt a ‘one size fits all mentality’ when choosing the surface. Look for surfaces made especially for pastels or tell your art retailer that the surface you require is for pastels so they can find a surface with the best ‘hold’. Storage for your pastels can be as simple as keeping them in rice, or as advanced as a special storage unit. Check manufacturer’s instructions or seek advice from your art supplier.

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