View Full Version : Soft Pastel questions - basic stuff

10-11-2006, 01:05 PM
Hi Folks,

I haven't done much with pastels in the past, but have wanted to begin experimenting lately. I just picked up a great new book "Raw Colour with Pastels (2006)" and am itching to try out some new ideas.

Questions for the group:

1. Can some recommended brand of student-grade pastels (read:economical, or cheap!) be given. I'll be using a lot of heavy, pure pigment coverage, so don't want to invest in artist-grade stuff just yet.

2. I'll be using rather large supports (20"x30"), like illustration board. Is there a suggested method for large area coverage, like large solid areas of background, etc.? Do you just start covering the support with broad strokes, do you assist with a soft brush, can you use alcohol or another material to help spread the coverage?

I'll be using soft pastels, not oil pastels.

Many thanks for any help and suggestions you can give me!


Kathryn Wilson
10-11-2006, 01:45 PM
Yikes, you've set yourself a difficult task. Using illustration board will be very difficult at best - pastels need a tooth to adhere to the paper and illustration board is very slick. You might look into using a pumice mixture that you can mix up yourself and then applying it to the board.

Rembrandts are probably the least expensive pastels that I can recommend - they do at least a satisfactory job with the least amount of money spent. Maybe someone else can recommend a brand that I haven't used.

I have used Art Spectrum's jumbo pastels - but they tend to be more expensive than Rembrandts because of size.

Turpenoid or denatured alcohol can be used, but they are used with pastels as an underpainting. Used alone, not sure they could be considered pastels as you have "melted" the pastel with a chemical.

Deborah Secor
10-11-2006, 02:18 PM
Cheap pastels such as Alphacolors are student grade. You can go to your local hobby store and find those, or the like. I just saw that all pastel sets are on sale at one-half off this week at our local Hobby Lobby.

Kat's right, the slick illustration board will simply allow you to waste even the cheap stuff, since the dry pigment won't adhere worth beans. I have no idea what experiments you want to try, but unless you have some place for the pastel crystals to snuggle down into it just rubs off.

Large areas of coverage are fairly easy with soft pastels. Lay the stick flat, swish it over the area and then use the flat of your hand to rub it in place. You can layer colors and blend. If you use a brush you ofen brush more off than you move around, and if you use alcohol you change the pastel pigment to paint (paint is, after all, simply the exact same pigments as pastels with a slightly different binder system.) When the alcohol dries you don't have dusty, layerable pastels in the same way, you have a paint-like layer of fixed color over which you can then pastel, assuming you have a toothy surface.

If you tell us where you want to head, we might be able to give you better advice!


10-11-2006, 02:55 PM
Thanks for your good comments, Kat and Deborah!

I should have explained myself a bit better before, sorry. Yes I will be adding a textured surface to the ill. board ground for the pastel to have a toothy surface to adhere to. I be using acrylic gesso and some pumice to grit up the surface.

As far as the style or method I'm doing, it's kind of like solid blocks of color (what the author terms as pure pigment color) and will be more a colorist style rather than a tonalist style. I'll be able to do a better job of explaining once I get involved more with the book.

Thanks again!


10-11-2006, 03:51 PM
Hi dk! :wave: I agree with the others about how using student grade materials probably isn't such a great idea. Especially if you are interested in building up solid blocks of color, you would be likely to find the lower pigment load of the student grades not acceptable.

You might consider trying one of the half stick sets offered by Rembrandt as a way of getting started. Rembrant colors tend to be bright and pure, of medium hardness, and of a pretty consistent make-up (some brands differ in texture, depending on the pigment). Art Spectrum is another medium hard soft pastel that you might consider.

You also might find that some hard soft pastels (the term, "hard soft pastels" appears to be an oxymoron, I realize, but it does make sense - the "hard" is a relative term) might be helpful (and economical) in laying in large blocks of color that you can use with your alcohol washes, to be overpainted with a softer pastel later.

I personally find the Dakota Pastels online catalog to offer a wealth of information about the characteristics of the different pastel brands: http://www.dakotapastels.com/index_softpastels.shtml

One other thing to consider is the type of pumice you use, as they vary in terms of the amount of texture produced. I'm experimenting just now with Utrect's Acrylic Pumice Gesso. I like it, but would like to find something with a little less texture, as I think it has a bit too much texture for small paintings. For larger works, it may be just right, but so far I've only worked small on it. On the other hand, Art Spectrum's Colorfix Primer (it can be purchased in several different colors) doesn't have quite enough texture for my preferences. Everyone is different in what they prefer, however. Golden also makes several products that can be used to prepare grounds for pastel.

I looked up the book on Amazon, and although there isn't a tremendous amount of info on it provided, it does look interesting. Enjoy!

10-11-2006, 08:09 PM

You said that you're going to use «....pure pigment coverage...»
I would say that with student grade pastels, pure pigment isn't for sure what you'll get.
I guess that Rembrandts (a set is much cheaper than individual) will be a good intermediate choice in terms of price/quality.
I hope you like working with pastels and we'll be happy to help you.

Kind regards,


10-11-2006, 09:11 PM
If you now the color scheme and you are painting large, get Mount Visions. I think Karl sells them for $2 per stick sometimes. Also, I use gesso and add very fine pumice at times, but it will wear down your pastel faster than Art Spectrum paper will. Use Mount Vision, they are BIG beefy sticks and if you get them from Karl on his website, sometimes they are on sale.

10-13-2006, 03:31 PM
Hi and thanks for all the responses.

I've done some work over the past few days, but I'm really having trouble getting the hang of even the basics.

I'm attaching a picture as an example of what I'm trying to do. Mr. Leach explains in his book that he works dark to light rather than light to dark. He feels that this gives a better feel of mood and light to his paintings. He usually prepares his paper or board with a dark color under painting of acrylic gesso mixed with pumice.

I'm having trouble layering on the color with the pastels. I feel like I'm damaging the paper by applying too much pressure.

Any ideas on how you would approach this? I guess I need advice on applying layers of color. Do I rub firmly, gently, both? Do I use fixative between layers to avoid the darker color rubbing off on the ligher sticks?

Help!! and thanks.


10-13-2006, 04:46 PM
If pro grades are out of you reach, I recomend Faber's Gold series....they are considered University grade, economical and they have a higher pigment content than the normal student grade.....and very reasonably priced.