View Full Version : New to Pastel and I love them, but concerned...

09-13-2016, 05:48 PM
Hello all!

I am a new artist, and have been learning how to draw and paint with oils over the past few months.

Although the oil painting is nice, I really don't have a space at home that would be good for oils, due to the odors, turps, etc.

I had purchased a set of pastels a while back, and thought "Hey - maybe these will be great for working at home!" But since then, I have read many threads about how pastel can be unsafe because of the dust, etc.

I have a starter set of Rembrandt pastels that I worked with this week and have fallen in love with them! Now, I would love to expand into this new medium but worried about our guestroom not being good for a long term pastel studio.

Is it completely unwise to work with pastels at home? Are the PanPastels a safer alternative?

I am completely excited about the pastel! I feel right at home with it!!! The oil painting is wonderful but Pastel just feels like me :)

09-13-2016, 08:44 PM
Hi and welcome!

I work at home and I would guess that the vast majority of pastel artists work at home and don't have a separate studio. So it is not unwise to work at home. Dust is certainly a nuisance, but it is not unsafe.

The biggest issue with dust - and that would be true of any dust such as woodworking and others types of dusty activity - is that you don't want to breathe in too much. It can be a real respiratory irritant. Many folks (myself included) wear a dust mask while painting with pastels. It's certainly a good idea to have a tray that catches dust falling from your painting set up on your easel or work table. I vacuum my work area often making sure I have a HEPA filter in my vacuum that will handle small particles.

I'm sure others may have some tips on how to control and handle the dust. Pan Pastels are known to create less dust.

Just as an aside regarding oil painting. You do not need to use turps or any other solvent for oil painting - and it is the solvents that are the smelly, toxic element in oil painting. Turps is by far the worst solvent to use health wise and many folks use OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits) instead. Even OMS needs plenty of ventilation, however, so many folks (myself included) paint in oils with no solvents. You can use Water Mixable oils (of which there a now a few brands) or traditional oils without solvents. If you internet search "solvent free oil painting" you should get a lot of info.

Hope this helps,


SAS Designs
09-14-2016, 02:38 PM
I use a dust mask, the kind you get at a hardware store. Don't use it all the time, but it's good if you have allergies, asthma.
Pan Pastels are wonderful, especially on PastelMat, and they do have less dust. You use tools, sponges, which come with the Pastels.
I get all mine at DickBlick - best prices, and great website.
Also, I live in a very small cabin - use a Swifter on the floor after I've played with pastels :)

09-14-2016, 04:01 PM
Thank you so much, Don and Suzy. Thanks to you both I am feeling a bit more relaxed about using them!

I have a drawing board that the surface tips to 90 degrees which allows the dust to drop straight down into the tray on the board. The room has hardwood floors, so I'm thinking that will easily wipe clean of dust at the end of each session if it hits the floor. I also have a built in vacuum system which should hopefully send any pastel dust outside while cleaning. I have been using wet wipes during my process and it really did not seem to be too bad. I think I'll add a hepa filter to the room and use the dust mask as you suggested.

Suzy, I read about the PastelMat. It sounds wonderful! I ordered my pans from Dick Blick too! I really like their site as well. The only paper I have right now is the Canson MT. I understand that the PastelMat helps a lot in that it grips the pastel to the surface which I guess improves dust build up as well. It's expensive but I think I'll go ahead and get some small pieces for experimentation and learning.

So, I have the Rembrandts, but I'm thinking I need some hard pastels too, and maybe some of the more soft types. I heard that Unison is the best, but I see that they use some of the more harmful pigments. But, as you say, if you use common sense precautions it should be OK. Is there a brand you would recommend that is good for a beginner?

Do you all wear gloves or the barrier cream for hands? Do you all have any learning resources that you would recommend?

Thanks for all! I'm getting super excited about using them now!

09-14-2016, 07:42 PM
If you have a built-in vacuum system, then you may not need anything else! Since you have hardwood floors, you will get a very good idea of how much pastel dust is being deposited.

I have never worn gloves or used barrier cream - although I'm sure some folks do. Using pastels can really dry out your hands - and of course, they get pretty dirty - so it may not be a bad idea.

Have fun!


09-15-2016, 02:26 PM
Thank you, Don! I am feeling encouraged thanks to all of you!

I'm continuing to take the oil painting classes in spite of being enamored with the pastels :) . I finally am liking oil painting (it was so strange to me at first), but it still doesn't feel as natural to me as graphite, charcoal or pastel. I do think that the oil painting has helped me to develop as an artist though, and my instructor really pushes for quality and there is so much to learn. I'm going to stick the classes out, but I'm so psyched about the pastel that I haven't been practicing my oil painting! :evil:

I'm excited about being a part of the WetCanvas community!

SAS Designs
09-16-2016, 12:03 PM
Also, you can make a "dust catcher" using Aluminum foil, folded under the bottom of your easel.
BTW: I have allergies, now taking immunization injections, and asthma medication. B4 doing this, I had more trouble with soft pastels, and used only pan pastels.
Wish I cold find a picture of what I mean by that "aluminum shelf under easel" am sure someone will know what I mean & post it for you.

09-16-2016, 02:29 PM
Great ideas! A removeable catcher is certainly a great idea. Sorry to hear about your allergies ... My husband has awful spring allergies; he probably should go for the shots.

What brand of hard pastels do you prefer? I keep reading that Unison is the best soft pastel. I think my pans will arrive on Monday! :crossfingers:

09-17-2016, 06:44 PM
I have a hepa filter near my pastel painting area . I have bad health issues asthma and lung disease not from pastels .( Heavy machine operator welding stone mason work in my work history i blame for my condition) I am careful not to make the dust fly. I work flat 50% easels 50% of the time.

I will tap the painting over a trash can to remove excess or loose dust. But honestly a dust storm out side is far worse on me than painting with pastels or russian knapp weed in fullbloom or mold that be the worst. But the spray can fixatives are just horrible to me If my better half takes it out side sprays it then I cant be around it for hours.