View Full Version : Pastel Pencils- What do you think?

12-27-2006, 04:55 PM
I've been looking at Pastel Pencils. I feel like I'm looking for something that is more blendable than regular Colored Pencils, better for large areas of color, like the sky or water in a landscape, but not as dusty as regular pastel. I'm looked at the Dick Blick website and see there are several manufacturers, but I'm waiting to get to an art supply store downtown that is more likely to have open stock, and samples out to try.

1.Please let me know what your experiences have been with Pastel Pencils
2.What type of paper do you prefer. I imagine you would want a less smooth paper.
3. Do you need fixative? - I personally don't use hairspray- it makes me cough and sneeze. Is just a mat and glass sufficient?

thanks for any advice you may have.

12-27-2006, 05:56 PM
Hi Elaine,

I love pastel pencils and sometimes use them in my pieces (I love shmooshing colour around with them :)). I used to be a die-hard fan of conte pencils but have since switched over to CarbOthello pencils because I find them a bit smoother and they fit better in sharpeners.

As far as paper goes I've used them on everything from Colourfix to plain ole' Strathmore drawing paper. They blend extremely well with cp on the rougher papers but can also blend on the smoother papers, it's a personal preference thing I think.

Fixative? Hmmm, I dunno. I always use fixative on my pieces now because I want to protect them. Again, maybe that's a personal preference thing...

I know quite a few people here use pastel pencils in their work, hopefully someone else will chime in.


12-27-2006, 06:25 PM
Well, all my pastel pencils are Conte. I've really just started using colored pencils, but I've been using pastel pencils for a long time and I have to say that I like them better (the pastels). I love to combine them with a rich, soft charcoal pencil or conte sticks over an underpainting of acrylic, or dust from soft pastels smooshed into the paper.

I use smoother paper for the pastel pencils than most people would for soft pastels, but rougher than I'd use with colored pencils. I use all kinds of paper, but if I were starting with a colored ground (as opposed to underpainting), I almost always go with Canson Mi-teintes (smooth side). For underpainted or pastel-dust-smooshed pieces I use cold-press Bristol board.

I don't use fixative. I try very hard to work only one, or at most two layers over a toned ground or underpainting so I don't generally have to deal with any build-up that would require fixative to continue working. As for framing, if framed correctly they shouldn't need to be fixed. (Fixative won't keep the pastel in place if the surface receives more than the briefest touch anyway. It's better just to be careful with them.)

Have fun experimenting!

12-28-2006, 12:24 AM
Elaine, I too am a fan of pastel pencils. However, I don't like using them for large areas of color. For things like background color, sky, things such as that I like to use pastels in powder form. What I do is use either my hard or soft pastels and ground them into the amount of powder I need. Then I use a cotton ball to rub the pastel into the paper. Then I can go over that with the pastel pencils or colored pencils and use a stencil brush to blend the colors together.

BTW, getting pastels to blend together is much harder than colored pencils. Pastels are not very blendable, which is why there are so many different hues in pastels. Don't get me wrong, you certainly CAN blend them, but I think it's much easier to blend colored pencil together.

I have used conte, Caran d'ache, Derwent, Creatacolor, and faber-castell pastel pencils. I like Creatacolor best so far. I'm about to purchase the complete set of Creatacolor pastel pencils. At the moment, I have only bought open stock pencils. I love conte, but they are very expensive, and the colors I need I can find in Creatacolor.

I have used Stonehenge paper, Brenda mattson pastel paper, and matboard with the pencils. I have not used a fixative yet with the pastel pencils, but I planned on giving it a try with a new fixative I just purchased.

It's not much info, but I hope some of it helps a little. BTW, you can use Prismas art stix for covering large areas. That's what they're for, so you don't wear down your pencils.

12-28-2006, 12:43 AM
I'm working on my 1st attempt with pastel pencils right now. This thread is good, because other than a few things here, I haven't found much info on how to use them. I was inspired to try by paapu's beautiful combo drawings with the pastel pencils and colored pencils.

I'm using a sample of Strathmore pastel paper, which seems a little coarse for my liking. The pencils are a 48 set of Gioconda off of Ebay. They seemed like a good brand, but I don't think they have open stock. I'm waiting on a 12-set of Derwent that the seller lied about sending - nice:mad:

After reading what Nancy wrote, I'm wondering if it's not just the paper when it comes to blending. It also seems like the lighter colors blend together and fill the paper more easily than the darker colors. I feel like I'm getting there, but it's messy and even gentle pressure to blend lifts a lot of color.

So, I have no idea what I'm doing, it isn't easy, but I'm determined and I'm enjoying trying something new:D I really do see the potential, and think you should try them:)

Questions if Nancy comes back - why do you like Creatacolor best? Can you describe the textures on the various pencils you've tried?


12-28-2006, 01:56 AM
Thanks, everyone for your input. I will consider it all. I think I will try a few different pencils from open stock and try them out with different papers.
Erica wrote "After reading what Nancy wrote, I'm wondering if it's not just the paper when it comes to blending. It also seems like the lighter colors blend together and fill the paper more easily than the darker colors. I feel like I'm getting there, but it's messy and even gentle pressure to blend lifts a lot of color."
Different qualities and characteristics of paper makes all the difference. You always have to be willing to try different papers, but when you find one you really like, it can be frustrating to change!

12-28-2006, 05:56 AM
Hi Elaine,

I'm just getting back into pastel after several years away, and I'm really enjoying again the freedom, flexibility, and fast results the medium offers. I use Grumbacher soft pastels and Nupastels for large areas and the pastel pencils for details. My supply of Contes and Prismacolors was somewhat limited, but for Christmas my hubby gave me a 90-piece set of Derwent pastel pencils, so I am one happy lady, ready to go on most anything! BTW, they seem to blend beautifully and work well with my colored pencils on both Strathmore bristol and Stonehenge. I'm also getting ready to try them both separately and combined with cp's on Colourfix.

For either cp or pastel pieces, I use fixative only between layers to renew the layers for additional color. I learned on a couple of past pastel pieces that fixative can negatively affect the colors. As Alecto has said, if the piece is framed properly, there shouldn't be a problem.

12-28-2006, 01:04 PM
Reading what everyone has said, it's interesting to me how people perceive the difficulties of blending either colored pencils or pastel pencils. I personally find colored pencils almost impossible to blend mechanically (meaning with some pressure applied after the marks are laid down) but great for blending in transparent layers through the application of the pencil itself; which, of course, has to do with the transparency of colored pencils. (My only experience with colored pencils is with Prismacolor and Faber-Castell; seems like I've seen people write that Polychromos and others are more opaque, so they may be an exception, I don't know.)

On the other hand, my experience with pastel pencils is that they don't blend while layering so much as cover each other, but they blend well mechanically, meaning by smooshing together with your finger or some other blending tool. BTW, I find that pastel pencils over top of a slightly waxier medium -- like Conte sticks -- will blend the stick marks in much the same way that a burnishing tool does for colored pencils, but with the added bonus of being able to deposit enough color at the same time to tone the stick color. It's a really pretty and subtle effect, and works especially well with almost-monochrome drawing (think masters' drawing where the main color was sienna or burnt ochre, with one or two other colors warming -- or cooling -- the piece).

What that boils down to is that with colored pencils (as you know) you can create new colors by blending through layers, but it's more difficult to blend to adjacent marks to make smooth transitions. However, with pastel pencils it's difficult to create new colors by blending through layers but easy to blend to adjacent colors to make smooth transitions. I guess what I'm saying is that whichever one works better for you depends on what kind of blending you intend to do. Nancy is absolutely correct -- a minimal palette in colored pencils will still afford you the opportunity to layer and blend your own rainbow of colors; a minimal palette in pastel pencils will give you basically the colors of the pastel pencils.

I have to add that my success with blending pastel pencils is based on using relatively smooth papers. As we all know, with less tooth, you have less resistance to smudging and smearing. The trade-off, of course, is that you can't build layer after layer of color because the paper just won't hold it. It works for me, but there's much less improvisation than some people might like -- you really have to plan ahead and know exactly what you're putting where. Pastel pencils really are relatively hard and will be reluctant to blend on toothy papers. [Edit: This might be more of a problem with the Conte pastel pencils -- I believe the're just about the hardest you can find. Softer pastel pencils might not have this problem; Cindy seems to have a completely different experience with the Derwent pastel pencils.] Also, what Nancy said about toning the paper with pastel dust (acrylic or watercolor underpaintings work too) for large areas is an important point: If you try to scribble in a sky with pastel pencils and then blend them together smoothly, you'll have a sky made of fuzzy scribbles. Pastel pencil marks blend well when adjacent to each other, but the medium isn't soft enough to break down while smudging to fill large areas.

Good luck with your experimentation!

[Edit: I made this so long and involved, not because I think anyone here needs to know this -- I assume you all have as much or more experience than myself -- but when I was a newbie to pastel pencils I would've like all the info that's showing up in this thread, so I figured the more data, the better. BTW, I gave this thread 5 stars because I think it contains a lot of good, basic information (I'm going to have to try the Cretacolor and Derwents now!). Thanks for starting this Elaine!]

12-28-2006, 01:42 PM
I have only used pastel in combination with CP, and they were Nupastel sticks. However, I made it into powder using coarse sandpaper, and applied it with a foam chip (the kind used for packing) I tried many ways, and that was the best for me.

I didn't use fixative on the pastel, and had problems using Design Bruynzeel pencils on. The pigment just wouldn't "take". It was OK with the Prismas. Probably a question of what and how much wax in the pencils, even though the Bruynzeels are quite soft. You can see the BG in the orchid posted here by going through my Profile.

About blending, it is a question of patience... Colours can be blended to perfection applying colour in light layers. Barbara Newton and Cecile Baird have samples of blending in their books that are a joy to look at! If the strokes show, it means they are too far apart. That always can be changed by filling in between with yet more strokes until the colour is evenly distributed. Also the circular stroke is excellent for blending!

Some people blend Prismas with a Q-tip or a tissue, but I never managed to do that. What I can do is blend using a lighter shade or the colourless pencil after I have enough layers, short of heavy burnishing. And blend with light layers in areas that don't require a heavier application.

FC Polychromos smudge, so blending with them is easier, and I found that Derwent Studio also smudge.

I have tried many papers, and have a love/hate relationship with Mi-Teintes. I am favouring more HP watercolour paper and good illustration boards, such as Crescent, Bristol and Rising Museum Board. The tooth is medium, great for CP.

I always use fixative once I have decided the work is finished, as I only frame if I have a piece to enter in an exhibition. Other than that I store them flat between sheets of archival quality paper.

12-28-2006, 02:36 PM
I love my pastel pencils, Creatacolor is my favorite, also use Faber Castel, and Othello. Use them on canson and Colorfix. Have used pastel pencils and sticks many times under my color pencil work, but always spray before adding cp's. When matting I use a spacer under the mat board so the mat doesn't touch the pastel. Hope this helps!

12-29-2006, 12:16 AM
This thread has been very helpful to me, so I wanted to give it 5 stars, too. I think it offers some great info about pastel pencils, and about combining them with cp's.

I'm looking forward to my next effort being on Stonehenge. I've been sampling a few papers, and really liked the feel of Stonehenge when I did my dog drawing.

It's fun to experiment:) I just have to be careful about getting carried away and not finishing things because I'm curious about trying something else:o


12-29-2006, 06:31 PM
I could have done with this post a day before it was posted.

I wanted pastels for exactly the same purpose as you and I had a fresh xmas voucher to spend at my local art store. I went down there planning to buy pastel pencils but walked out with derwent pastel sticks.

I am lucky that the man that runs the store is also the art teacher in the store. He has so much advice to give and wants you to go home happy. If he has the products in use in the classroom you can go in there and experiment with the products so you can work out the effect you want and buy what you actually want, rather than buy what you think will do the job then get home and realise it wont work.

I found the following in my experients (bearing in mind that I wanted a soft wash of colour to then work over with pencil as need be)

Pastel pencils - good for smaller areas, in larger areas takes a long time to be able to smooth stroke marks. I also found it difficult to blend colour. If you want to apply colour pencil over the top it can get lost in the stroke marks. On the plus side they are convinient to carry around and the mess factor is minimal
- Soft pastels - I got put off these very quickly, my hands were dusty straight away, there use was beautiful but the mess factor was too high for me.
Derwent pastel sticks - I found that these were great to work with. Not messy on the hands. You could apply the stick directly to the paper and get the same effect as the pastel pencils. The teacher then showed me another technique with then to get the effects I wanted of washes and background colour.
Use a knife to gently scrape at the stick (this can be done directly over the paper or as he did it into a plastic pallette). Then using a brush you pick up the dust and 'paint' it onto the paper. Different brushed had different effects. Then to blend colours you would scrap dust into the pallette of the different colours you wanted and mixed them prior to applying to paper. Once applied to paper the blend was beautiful. Colour pencil could easily be applied over the top to deepen colour or provide detail. There is a slight mess factor (especially if you sneeze - pastel dust on the face is not a good look) but only slight, and for the effect it is worth it.
I was sold on this method. I know have a set of 24 sticks and various brushes to work with.

As I walked out the store he also pointed out that they are water soluble so by sweeping over with water you get another effect all together. I have to experiment with that at home.

Of course what I say is not necessarily right, it is just the view point of an hour of experimenting in my local art shop and I am just an amateur.

Good luck with your decision.

12-29-2006, 11:20 PM
Adding to all the great exchange about using pastel, I suggest you look at Bruce's work (aka "Gaka") This is an article he wrote for WC!: