Pastels are one of the easiest mediums to choose as a beginner to the art world. There is no preparation required, almost no clean up, you don’t need any other equipment or materials, and there is no waiting time needed before you can add to or move your artwork. Whether you like to work neatly or expressively, upright or flat, soft pastels are a great medium for artists of all levels.
Whether you’re new to pastels or just looking for some more advanced pastel techniques, we have got you covered. Our list of soft pastel techniques can be applied by any artist to any surface. Read away to get started with these quick and simple chalk pastel techniques!
Working with soft pastels is slightly different to working with paints. Mixing colours is necessary to acquire the exact shades we want, as it’s not possible to include all the colours in the world in one set of colours. While you can create new shades and combine paint colours in a palette, this is not possible with soft pastels. To mix colours, you will have to combine two different pastels on the page or canvas. There are a few ways you can do this.
First of all, you can blend one colour into another with your finger. The texture of pastels lends itself to soft edges and blended colours. Alternatively, you can soften a colour with your finger and layer another colour on top. Lastly, it is also perfectly possible to layer two un-blended colours on top of one another before touching the page with your fingers or blending material.
Working with the flat side
With pencil-shaped pastels, it can feel natural to use the end as you would a coloured pencil. This will create bold lines of one thickness. However, you should not rule out the side of the pastel. On paper with more open grain, this can create excellent texture in your art. This can also allow you to cover wide areas with just a few strokes. You can choose to blend this for a smoother colour or leave it for a more rough look.
Many people choose to break their pastels to help in their chalk pastel techniques. This creates more interesting shapes rather than just two edges. Be prepared for a bit of mess when working with broken pieces.
Scumbling is one of the more advanced pastel techniques, however it is simple enough for even beginners to try, with the right equipment. When you ‘scumble’ with soft pastels, you are yet again layering your colours. But when scumbling you ‘fix’ your first layer of pastel, which can be done using hairspray or a professional art fixative on your art. You can then layer soft pastel lines or shades over the top. The layer that is fixed provides a surface with a different texture for the new layers to stick to, creating a fascinating touch to your art.
The softness of pastels is excellent for creating softness in your art and lends itself to blending colour. However, the nature of soft pastels can make it difficult if you want to create a strong line. For a more refined line or edge, you can use another sheet of paper to cover the area you wish to shield. This can be an area of white or another pastel colour you want to keep clear. Then use your pastels as you wish across the 2nd piece of paper, making sure it stays fixed in the desired position. When you remove your shield, you will see that the pastels have spared this area but continued to the rest of your artwork, creating a hard line or edge as desired.
Mixed Media Artwork
Soft pastel techniques are not limited to one medium. Soft pastels make excellent additions to mixed media artwork. Try a watercolour wash, or combine your soft pastels with hard pastels for more detail or definition. Even collage can create more interesting textures for chalk pastel techniques to pick up or highlight. While mixed media is excellent for pastels, you should note that they do not work well with oil paints, so you should instead choose watercolour or gouache paints. To make your soft pastel colour changes even smoother, you can add water to extend your pastel colours.