View Full Version : Trouble with blending tools and detail

02-23-2010, 01:08 AM
Hi everyone, this is my first post on WetCanvas, and I'm not sure if I'm posting this is the right place or not, so please bare with me! :)

I recently started painting with pastels and I'm having some trouble in a couple of areas. I can't seem to find the answer to my questions on the internet, or in any book.

First, I can't seem to get any of my blending tools to actually "blend." I have used everything, tortillions, blending tools, pastel brushes, q-tips and colourshapers. All of these tools seem to pick up the pastel instead of blending it.

Secondly, I'm having a lot of trouble with detail and hard lines. For detail, I've tried using the edge or corner of a pastel, but the line it just not as thin as I'd like it to be. As far as a hard edge, I just can't see how to achieve that. Some blending always seems to be required, therefore there is no hard line. Maybe I just need some more practice with this.

Does anyone have any advice in either of these areas? If others have asked these questions in the forums before, I'm sorry! I read through several pages, but couldn't find the advice I was looking for.

Thank you!


02-23-2010, 01:42 AM
Hi Angela - Welcome!!!

First of all - I don't use much other than another pastel or my finger to blend - I also find that blending tools and brushes just pick up the pastel. I am referring to stick pastel and not PanPastel right now. Often times a harder pastel over a softer pastel will blend beautifully and make the color more complex.

For very fine lines I use pastel pencils. You can also use sand paper to take a hard pastel (like a NuPastel) and shape it into a sharp point, but I tend to avoid that - too dusty and seems kind of wasteful to me.

Now, with all that said, if you try PanPastel you will find an entirely different set of "tools" that you will use - sponges of all shapes and sizes as well as tools that have little sponge covers with which you can achieve all manner of marks. Go to the Pan Pastel website and you will find many small tutorial videos there to show you what you can do with them. There is also an extensive thread on WC on the pans - at least 105 pages - and incredibly informative. Many of us here on the pastel site use both pans and sticks in paintings and find the sponges to be very effective tools. The pans are very sheer and so the tools don't tend to pick up the previous layers. Something else you might try is to use some workable fixative to fix your first layers of pastel and then working over them. I like the new SpectraFix - you can find a thread here on WC - it is non-toxic and doesn't change the color of the pastels.

As to getting really hard edges - I guess I just keep working back and forth until I get what I want - and cleaning up the edges can sometimes be time consuming. Not to contradict what I just said, but sometimes you get the hardest, cleanest line with a single stroke of a hard pastel, or using something like a Ludwig that is soft and square and using it lengthwise on the paper for a line or a straight edge. I guess knowing when to quit messing with your painting is something one learns by experience!! I don't tend to paint super-realism and so go for a more painterly effect anyway. There are those who do, however, and their work is on the website as well. Perhaps they will have some more concrete ideas for you.

Hope this helps!!


02-23-2010, 05:53 AM
Hi Angela,

A warm welcome to WetCanvas!

First, some info to you as a newbie here:

Do browse around in the forums, there are all sorts of great things going on, both for your chosen medium and for subjects.

You can access any Forum by using the “Forum Jump” located at the bottom right of the screen, and within forums there is often sub-forums, and very useful “stickied” threads at the top of the first page of every forum and subforum.

A very good tool to use is “search this forum”, in any forum, as there is usually lots of information buried in the mass of posts.

Then, regarding blending and lines:
While som pastel painters do indeed blend, it seems like most let the sticks blend what is already on the paper, when adding a new stroke. I find that fingers are the best blending tool, and that the diverse blending tools mostly lift dust. One way of making a line look sharp is to make the other edges blurrier. And, the combination of paper and pastel plays a huge role in how sharp a stroke will be. Pastels on textured paper will never give a sharp line, it will always be broken.

Now, hopefully someone who manages to do sharp detail will advice you how to get about it.

Enjoy the site and all the wonderful people on it,


02-23-2010, 06:54 AM
Hi Angela,

I have to agree with all the above.

Regarding fine lines, try a hard pastel like conte (available in round, square and pencils). I like adding fine finishing touches with it. If you use conte pencils, you can sharpen them but with sticks you may have to sand them down like Lynn said.

Gerri Mc
02-23-2010, 09:27 AM
Hi Angela - welcome.

I'm a relative newbie with pastels and I found that the paper you use makes a huge difference too. You don't say what you are using. Some of the lighter papers don't lend themselves to any amount of blending as they don't take enough layers. I'm trying to get into the habit of just using the pastels themselves.

Pencils are really handy for lines and details - again some papers take them better than others. There is a good thread in this forum on papers.

Happy painting.:thumbsup:

Deborah Secor
02-23-2010, 11:19 AM
Hi Angela, and welcome. First off, tell us what paper you're using, and what brand(s) of pastels. That makes a huge difference. Textured papers make detailing difficult, where using a fine grit sandpaper can be a breeze. Hard pastels like NuPastels or even somewhat more medium-hard sticks such as Girault make tighter lines, while super softies like Schmincke or Ludwig are a bit more difficult to coax into a tight line.

One thing to keep in mind, no matter what pastels or paper, is that you can sometimes achieve a nice edge by laying down one color and then using the FLAT side of another one to scribe along it. Pastels, unlike pencils, do not necessarily need to be used on the point or tip. For instance, if I want the edge of the mountains to be crisply lined, I put down the dark purple-blue shape of the mountain, and then I use a light blue sky color, laid flat on my paper, to scribe the crisp edges. Light colors cover over dark ones, usually, and softer over harder, so I make sure the sky color is lighter and softer.

The other odd thing is that in pastel, as you build up a creamy layer of color you actually have more ability to make tight details. Yes, you have to keep from finger blending, and yes, all those tools take off pastel when you have too little in place, but once you have enough there you'll suddenly see that you can actually begin to paint with the pastel, NOT draw. Then a colour shaper (of all you mentioned) will move the pigment like paint. You do have to be satisfied with what occurs, keeping your fingers out of it, to keep a sharp edge. (A case of not sacrificing good to "better".) '''with a thicker layer in place, the harder pastels can be used with a pointed tip, too, if desired, or you can use a bit of charcoal to draw, if tiny dark details are needed.

You might take a look at some videos to see how others achieve detail, but probably in the long run it's like anything else. Practice is what teaches best!

I hope some of that is helpful...and have fun!

Paula Ford
02-23-2010, 11:31 AM
Hi Angela! So nice to see you here in WC! Welcome!

02-23-2010, 12:37 PM
Hi Angela,
Welcome to the pastel forum. You might want to check out this tutorial by our resident expert blender Dianna Ponting. http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=405403
It was a lot of help to me with learning blending techniques. One other tool that you might want to try are colour shapers. You can find them here on Dick Blick's website. They are the one tool I use for blending besides my fingers. They are good for small areas, where even your pinkie is too big. http://www.dickblick.com/products/colour-shapers-tools/

02-23-2010, 12:39 PM
Thank you everyone for your thoughts!

Many of you asked what kind of paper and pastels I'm using. Well, I have used Pastelbord, Wallis, Art Spectrum Colourfix paper, UArt, and I've primed a lot of watercolor paper with Colourfix primer. I'm still trying to figure out what surface I like best. I'm realizing that some of the watercolor paper that I primed, isn't a very ideal surface.

I'm also using a range of pastels including Sennelier's, Unison, Terry Ludwig, Mount Visions, Nupastels, PanPastels and some Rembrandt's as well.

I was using my set of pastel pencils for detail and fine lines, but I wasn't getting as fine of a line as I wanted.

I have tried using the soft tools that go with the PanPastels, but have found that they also pick up the pastel instead of laying it down.

I think I need to just practice some more with the different types of paper and pastels to figure out what works best.

Thanks again everyone!