View Full Version : why do you use soft pastels

04-25-2010, 03:51 AM
I have just been framing some paintings and it is rather stressful :eek: having to be so careful not to bang, rub or smudge the painting.
While I was doing this I couldn't help but think how much easier it would be to use a medium that dries hard and started to question my choice.

Why am I using pastels instead of oil or acrylic?

I couldn't really say, I have tried most mediums although never seriously. I actually stumbled onto pastels while looking through google images for pictures to use in my mosaic work, these paintings that seemed to glow kept on grabbing my attention and they always ended up been pastels :rolleyes:

I feel like I have chosen the most fiddly and worrisome medium and I have to admit after spending half the day framing and then adding care labels onto the back I wish I had discovered some other medium :mad:

Well not really I do love playing with my pastels and getting all dusty and I LOVE the way they glow :heart: but I wonder have I made my life harder than it needs to be??

Do you use other mediums as well as pastels, do you ever get sick of having to be so careful? Why do you use pastels?

04-25-2010, 04:23 AM
I have similar concerns about framing - I like the fact that oils once dried can be easily and safely stored without the cost and expense of framing. However, I do seem to have better luck with pastels sometimes, and appreciate that areas can be easily brushed off and redone. Of course oils are also pretty forgiving as well. It seems that each medium has it's charms and disadvantages. If I had to settle on just one, it probably wouldn't be pastel, just for the issues you stated. But it's nice not to have to choose, at least for now.


04-25-2010, 04:24 AM
Hi Deborah, I've never tried to frame a painting myself I have a framer who does it for me, but I am sure I would mess it up if I tried to do it myself.
I've tried a few different mediums over the years.
I loved oils and the juicy thick paint effects you could get but the fumes of the solvents used to give me headaches and I hated cleaning up all the time. Acrylics have the same cleaning up disadvantages. I like watercolour but it is not forgiving and if you make mistakes its almost impossible to correct them.
I guess I love pastels because they are so easy to work with, errors are so easy to correct and you can come and go whenever you want. They never dry out like paint and there is no messy cleanups and no fumes. Oh, and they are also great for taking if you are traveling. Last but not least the colours are absolutely beautiful and I can't get enough of them!

04-25-2010, 05:47 AM
the only things i've found really easy are Polaroids, fast food, frozen dinners, pop tops, lottery tickets, and dumb comments (like this one).
chin up.
regards, Ed

04-25-2010, 09:07 AM
No cleaning brushes, no messy gooey palette to clean. :-)

But yes, every time I frame, or sell, or send a painting, I wonder why I chose pastels.
Framing -- makes me think of oils one just pops into a frame, and it is finished, no extra work or cost with mats, backings, hinging, and no heavy and expensive and delicate glass that darkens the painting and makes it difficult to see it through reflected light, etc, etc.

Sending via mail -- thinking of oils and acrylics that can be rolled into a tube..., instead of being packaged in so many layers you can drop the parcel from orbit...

And then I think of yellowing oils, brittle cracked paintings, tears in canvases, blooms, and slowly changing colours. Or the plastic look of acrylics, and how they can melt in heat. etc. Fumes to breathe in, paint getting *everywhere*, insects getting stuck in paintings... Having to wait for drying time, caps on tubes stuck and then you get a twisted tube with holes in the side and the cap is still stuck...

And then I think of pastel paintings that 'glitter' subtly in the light, staying fresh and crisp for 500 years or more, with no yellowing or cracking, and glowing colours that will not change, and the ease and immediacy of painting, the variety of strokes. How easily controlled the medium is compared to others. And how pastel dust is easly washed off clothes (hair, face, nose). How there are no wet paintings to cart around, just put it inside a sketching pad, secure, throw in bag, and hop on the plane back home.

Every medium has its pros and cons, I have just think of the cons too when comparing.


04-25-2010, 10:43 AM
I'm using pastels ( when not gardening!) because my watercolours looked like them and I thought it would be fun to try the real thing !

Watercolours also have to be matted and framed so not much difference there...... though I think I've decided to lightly 'FIX' all but the final touches....

Never enjoyed oils or acryilcs after brief tries !

04-25-2010, 11:22 AM
I guess I love pastels because they are so easy to work with, errors are so easy to correct and you can come and go whenever you want. They never dry out like paint and there is no messy cleanups and no fumes.... Last but not least the colours are absolutely beautiful and I can't get enough of them!
I think Julie Z summed up most of the advantages!

Over the past 30 plus years, I have worked in acrylics, watercolor, and oil as well as pastels. I abandoned acrylics many years ago - hard to work with as they dry so quickly. I worked in watercolors almost exclusively from about 1998 through 2003. It took 5 years, in other words, to realize that I was not a very good watercolorist. I've dabbled in oils on and off over that time, and they are definitely my second favorite, but they are a pain to cleanup, even the water mixable oils that I use frequently.

In terms of the actual painting process, any medium where I use a brush is harder and more frustrating. Even though I work in oils, the actual painting process is frustrating in the extreme compared to pastels. Mixing colors is a chore in comparison to picking up a pastel stick. Trying to remix the same color is almost impossible, whereas the pastel stick will stay the same! Painting with a brush means putting a dab or two on the canvas and then having to reload the brush - over and over, trying to keep the brush clean, trying to get the paint to stick on wet paint already on the canvas.

Having a pastel stick in your hand, making as many strokes with it as you want, knowing that the strokes will go where you want, covering what is there, or blending with ease, is why working with pastels can actually be enjoyable!

Those are the reasons, but framing and storing are definitely a chore. Since I have never had to pack and ship a pastel to a customer, I guess I have been spared that anxiety!


Kathryn Wilson
04-25-2010, 11:23 AM
This is a very timely question for me as I've just finished my first serious acrylic painting.

I was getting disgusted with the framing and the cost involved. I also get the feeling from people who come to the studio that, yes, my work is nice, but that they will have to put more money into framing it their way. And the loss of an immediate sale where they can carry it off and put it on their wall, as is.

So, I had a gallery wrap canvas that I decided to play on and just this morning it is done and all I have to do is to put the hanging wire on it. What a relief. BUT, it took me over a week painting 5 hours a day to get to a finish I was happy with. Talk about fiddling with - sheesh

But I mourn the ease of pastels - no quick drying of paint, minimal clean-up and the glorious colors I can achieve WITHOUT MIXING! I'm also encountering another problem with taking a decent photo - the canvas shines back at the camera. ugh, another learning curve

Every medium has it's problems, it's just how you deal with them.

04-25-2010, 11:27 AM
This is an interesting question that kind of assumes everyone has actually tried all these other media and made an informed and intelligent decision to go with one over the other. Which, in my case, isn't true at all. I have never used either acrylics or oils. It never occurred to me to try them. Why not? I have no idea.

I second what Charlie said about "immediacy". I have my best luck and the most fun with processes that are as close to drawing as they can be. I messed with watercolors and do play with gouache (and am just beginning to learn about encaustic), but the intervening brush seems to give me some trouble. Just like Don! I suspect that this is just a dodge, and that with practice, I might get it, but I just am not motivated. Why not? I have no idea.

I took an abstraction painting class this past winter and was the only one in it using pastels (which had the unexpected advantage of no one wanting to share a worktable with me :thumbsup: ) but was tickled to be able to watch these acrylics and oils artists at work. To get a close-up and continual view of folks "working" the media. To see if I developed a hankering to try 'em. And the answer was 'No'. Why not? I have no idea.

The pastels are just so beautiful, so tactile, so right-away. Pick one up, lay down the color, and there you are. No endless fussing with mixing. Nothing but the pigment and your own fingers/brain. I love the instantaneousness of it.

(I also have the luxury of not being forced to sell my work to live, so I don't give a hoot about framing pastels and all the attendant issues there. Particularly the expen$e. But if I had to make my living as an artist, if this was a job instead of a lark, I might think about making pastels for the love of it and making something else to sell.)


04-25-2010, 01:12 PM
Well I started out my artistic endevours in watercolour. I also had a 3 yr old at the time. My jump to pastel came when I discovered a need for a medium I could literally just walk away from (for days even). The real push to change came when first: my lovely daughter (age 3 at the time) decided my paints looked just like hers and tried to "improve" a painting that I had been working on for couple weeks....and second: I got called away from painting one afternoon, and left a $40 brush sitting in my water for 3 days *ARGHHHHH.

It was love at first stroke with pastels, for all the same reasons already posted above...and I still use them for the convience of them (ok storage and framing isn't all that convienent, but hey glassine is fairly cheap, and I don't frame a whole lot). I plein aire as often as I can, even in the dead of our great canadian winters. No other medium (to my knowledge) would work painting outside when it's -25C or colder. In the Summer, rain can be my nemesis, but I've been known to paint while having a tarp draped over my head and gear. Not too mention no bugs and grit sticking to the painting (and I have had my easel blow over a few times...what a wasted time if I had been working in acrylics or something). Oh there is just countless bonuses for using pastels for plein aire.:cool:

Plus now using a brush just feels reallllllly awkward...:wave:

04-25-2010, 02:33 PM

Since I work in watercolor, graphite and colored pencil as well as pastel, and grew up with a mother who painted in oil, I know that each media has its own set of frustrations and problems.

In watercolor if you want to control everything, you are frustrated by blooms, by color running, etc. and you still have to be careful about framing, also in graphite and colored pencil, you have to do the matting, framing stuff. For me, in watercolor, all those "happenings" just make it more fun and I tend to use the nature of watercolor in my paintings there.

Some of the frustration in graphite, CP and soft pastels deal with the "rub-off" issues. However, the new fixative, SpectraFix, this is greatly reduced.

Why do I like soft pastels and am willing to deal with the matting, framing etc. stuff?
I am VERY addicted to the big variety of colors, textures, etc. that you have at your fingertips! Being a bit of a color-nut, I love that aspect.
Also, the immediate, get your hands on it, extension of the hand, involvement greatly appeals to me. Another part is the forgiving nature of soft-pastel, the opaque nature, and the feel of the pastel stick in the hand.

But, the bit about the watercolor's nature is why I love that so much, too!
In watercolor painting, I have a big love of the nature of the pigment, I am a big fan of Daniel Smith's paints with all the natural pigments and granulations etc. Also, I love putting the paint on the paper and then letting the water do its thing with the pigment....sort of a partnership with the brush, the water, and the pigment. I do very little mixing on my palette and tend to mingle colors on the paper.

After doing some experimenting with painting the same subject in both watercolor and in soft pastel, I started realizing some subjects just beg to be painted in soft pastel and would be terrible in watercolor and some beg for the transparency, the movement of pigment of watercolor.

I often get frustrated by spreading myself across several media, and could get more pastel paintings finished in a timely manner if I just worked in pastel. But, I'm glad I work in all four media and can choose.

04-25-2010, 04:39 PM
I started painting in watercolor, and still do some watercolor. My move to pastel came because I do not like to do watercolor plein air - the difficulty of working large (which I like to do) and areas drying too fast made me crazy. Not that I have to control every aspect of the watercolor, that is part of the charm of the medium, but I could not handle things happening because of wind or sun or heat. I also tend to draw carefully on tracing paper and then transfer the clean drawing to the watercolor paper with transfer paper, and that process allows me to paint more freely. However, doing that outside can be a bit of a challenge, so watercolor became a studio medium for me.

So, I decided that I would plein air in pastel. And I love the immediacy of pastel. Color floats my boat, and pastel certainly delivers color!! Then I decided to take a collage class, and I love that too! I haven't had much opportunity to mix all of the mediums together, but that is also in my plan - using watercolor for the base, adding collage and pastel - all in the same piece.

Ever medium has challenges and benefits. One just needs to find the medium that speaks to their soul, then the challenges don't seem as bothersome. Also, variety is the spice of life, so someone said. Exploring different mediums gives me more voices with which to speak - and there are things I have yet to try!!


04-25-2010, 08:23 PM
Well I guess I fit right in here with some who have posted. One day I want to do graphite, the next colored pencil, love the magic that happens with watercolor...and pastels...well there is nothing that has that sparkle as nicely as the pastels.

I also find my self frusted at times by trying to work in so many different media. My husband who is a great support of my art journey will often comment that perhaps I should just take one...work with it for say 4-6 months and that probably wouldn't be a bad idea as I spend way too much time fretting about what media I wish to work in...very counter productive.

On the other hand I feel very blessed as I have all those choices...what's a woman to do....paint, paint, paint


04-25-2010, 08:44 PM
Great question!

I've often asked myself this same thing, and my answers are always the same - THE COLORS AND INTENSITY - the fact that I get quick results, I can control them, they are forgiving, they just sparkle :wink2: , I can leave them and then return to painting without cleaning brushes, etc..... (I could go on and on and on.......:lol: )

I started out with watercolors, which was a disaster. I just don't have the feel for them, and I cannot get them to do what I want (control freak when it comes to my art :lol: !). I was also working with color pencils, which I did get some good results with, but they take FOREVER! (I have no patience either!) I also like graphite pencil, which I occassionally use in portrait workshops. My watercolor teacher suggested I take lessons with a "VERY talented pastelist" he knew. Well, that was the begining of a very long love affair with pastels, and it's still going on 17 years later. I'm still very good friends with my pastel teacher (I consider him my mentor).

I never get bored with pastels, there always seems to be something exciting to try, what with the different brands, the different surfaces to paint on, the question of whether to underpaint or not to underpaint, what to underpaint with, etc. All in all, I find them very exciting, challenging, and just a joy to work with. To heck with the framing issue, I've gotten over it, and anyone who has purchased my paintings gets a short and simple version on how to care for them, and they seem just fine with it. I've even had repeat customers, so I guess that's a good sign!

Something occurred to me just recently which seems to pertain to this question. A friend of mine was watching me paint a still life at a workshop last week, and he asked me why I picked a certain color to use. I said, "why not?", to which he replied "I don't know, I guess I just wouldn't have chosen that color, and I am surprised at how well it works". My reply was, "I've found that it's not so much the color as it is the value which makes such a difference. Value first, then color. I showed him how I've arranged my pallet (according to value, then color), and he really seemed to appreciate the approach. He is an oil painter, and it occurred to me that if he wanted that same color I used, he would have to first come up with the idea (it wouldn't be just sitting there waiting), then mix it, then try it. And if it didn't work well, wasted paint. With pastels, the colors are just sitting there screaming to be used, and if they don't work, so what, just pick up something else and try it. Pastelists just don't have that stress. I find it very liberating, and it just seems to loosen up my thinking.

I could go on and on (I think I already have!), suffice to say - I LOVE PASTELS!

Phil Bates
04-26-2010, 12:17 AM
The aesthetic qualities of pigment in stick form is what I am drawn to. In other words I think they look prettier.


04-26-2010, 12:31 AM
Phil, since you specified stick pastels I was wondering if you would put the pan pastels in the same aesthetic qualities of pigment? They are a bit less dusty etc. Thanks, Pam

Phil Bates
04-26-2010, 12:53 AM
Pam, I actually prefer the sticks. I like the texture I get from scumbling, and the sharp edges/dots the soft sticks create. Very jewel-like and powerful. Wet mediums seem weak in comparison (in my humble opinion).

I do like the Pans for underpainting, though.


04-26-2010, 07:19 AM
Thank you so much everyone for responding to my post, I found it really interesting to read your stories.

I now have the five paintings that are going in the show safe in their frames so I can relax :confused: .....................:D

I have to say I did do a lot of thinking this last couple of days, I thought if I am going to switch to another medium now is the time while I am still learning the basics.
My mother is an artist who has being using oil paints for as long as I can remember therefore I am quite familiar with them. I actually found a whole lot of oil paintings I did about 20 years ago that I completely forgot about :eek: this would be my alternate medium.
Funny just typing this I realized the reason I forgot about them was that they were shoved in the back of a storage cuboard under a whole lot of stuff and there is nothing wrong with them, now if they were pastels :rolleyes:

In the end I literally sat in front of my paintings and tried to imagine them as oil paintings and it just wouldn't work.

So for now I will keep on using pastels and accept the hassles that come with that :thumbsup:

Maybe I'll try oils again later :p

Thanks Deb.

04-26-2010, 09:05 AM
The aesthetic qualities of pigment in stick form is what I am drawn to. In other words I think they look prettier

Very jewel-like and powerful. Wet mediums seem weak in comparison (in my humble opinion).

DOUBLE DITTO! I guess this is the bottom line for me, and something I have always felt to be true! (No offense to other media :heart: , just my humble opinion too, and a personal preference.)

04-26-2010, 09:55 AM
I think the only drawback to pastels is the darn framing. You either have to spend a fortune to have them framed, or you can do what I did and really learn the art of double matting or using spacers. You can get some very nice ready-made frames and make sure that your painting is going to fit one from the get-go. I have discovered pastels about a year and a half ago and I still love my acrylics and oils, but pastels are soooo forgiving and immediate. I liked them so much that I bought a good Logan matt cutter and learned to use it well. I know that it is not possible for everyone, but I often build my own frames to fit some large size pastels. if you get into the presentation of your work it can be almost as fun as doing the image.

It is ALL good. Derek

04-26-2010, 11:24 AM
I have a 9-year-old child with a collection of neurological development problems, so get frequently interrupted. I like acrylics and am taking painting classes in acrylic, but at home, I find that pastel fits the way that I must work. I just can't set aside a block of time and expect to be able to lay out paints and use them well. Pastel just works so much better because I can walk away and come back without worrying about the state of the painting or medium.


04-26-2010, 11:28 AM
I like the immediacy, but in a different vein.

I actually wish I did oils more, but they're such a pain to set up, not to mention clean up. (At least when I used to do watercolors, my Pike's Palette was always set up and waiting for me.)

With pastels, I find a place I like and can open my box to paint immediately. I prefer not wasting time on the start up and placing paints on a palette (not to mention toning canvases ahead of time), so I've wondered if it's just laziness that makes me do pastels plein air more often, but now you've given me a different term: immediacy! Thank you!

As far as framing goes, it is all so horrible that it doesn't matter what the components are. It sucks. But I do all my own and I am very happy with the results.

Phil Bates
04-26-2010, 12:09 PM
I agree with Derek that it is worth figuring out the framing. If you believe that pastel creates the most beautiful art, then that opinion alone should trump the framing hassles.


04-26-2010, 01:20 PM
I choose pastels as the color grabbed me the first time I saw one in person. I had always wanted to learn watercolor, but that changed when I saw pastel. Having learned more about both mediums, I haven’t looked back. It’s an immediate art form, and allows me to make\correct mistakes. With WC, you pretty much have to put everything down right the first time. As to framing. I do primarily landscapes. These look great mattless in a Plein Air frame. As long as I work in standard frame sizes, this makes for very easy framing I can do myself. The only real drawback I’ve run into is Plein Air setups. It seems like all the really cool boxes and toys are designed for Oil.

Deborah Secor
04-26-2010, 06:51 PM
Deborah, let me just add that the framing hassles you're going through right now are somewhat avoidable! I'm using SpectraFix and I have to tell you how much difference it makes in framing and what little effect it has on the look of the painting. I tend to spray throughout my process. It's fully re-workable (on the Wallis paper anyway.)

If you love a medium like we all love pastel, you have to make your peace with the drawbacks. :heart: SpectraFix has given me a lot more peace with the dust factor in storing and framing!


04-26-2010, 07:04 PM
If you believe that pastel creates the most beautiful art, then that opinion alone should trump the framing hassles. Phil Bates

I am really surprised at the amount of people who are saying that they chose pastels because of convenience, rather that the fact this is their first choice.

A lot of people seem to be using pastels for reasons other than the fact that it is the medium they think "makes the most beautiful art" as Phil said.

I understand the reasons pastels are more convenient but for me with a separate studio, no desire to do plein air and my children at school all day it is not something I need consider. I chose pastels purely because of the finished result, from past experience I think I would actually find oil painting easier.

Cheers Deb.

04-26-2010, 07:18 PM
I can get very vibrant colors in watercolor, and sometimes I love those effects. Sometimes I prefer to do something in pastel for ease of use or for the more velvety finish or because I prefer to get dusty!! I don't think one is superior to the other, they each have their own 'look' and can both be very vibrant and beautiful!! How much fun is it to have the CHOICE to do one medium or another? And how neat to be able to create art in different ways. It's all good!


04-26-2010, 07:38 PM
Lyn the answers on this thread have made me realize how many people use more than one medium. I don't know why I just felt to become the best I could I should concentrate on mastering one medium.

I am still happy just using pastels for the moment, but I can now see me playing with oils in the future :D

04-26-2010, 07:46 PM
Deborah I have read a lot about SpectraFix on this forum and often wished I had it as all the fixatives I have bought over here drive me insane :mad: but can't find it in Australia.

I am just getting to the stage that I know I will be interested in painting for a long time, so it is now worth the effort of ordering it from overseas, I will start looking thanks :)

Cheers Deb.

04-26-2010, 08:59 PM
Well, I also do pastels more b/c I am better at them. Kinda trumps all the other reasons!

Deborah Secor
04-27-2010, 01:52 AM
Check the second section on this page for international orders.


04-27-2010, 03:53 AM
Stopped by to work out how to put some paintings on for cnc, but got side tracked reading all the wonderful stuff on here!!! I use pastels because I love, love , love the richness of them, and its so immediate and I just love them to bits. Every time I am gobsmacked by a painting - yep - it's another pastel. The glow of colour gets me in the h'art. That's why I finally pulled out a cheap pack someone gave me many years ago. Now 5 months later I'm a dusty pastel nut. :) as to framing - that was so incredibly nerve racking the first one I had done and so horrendously expensive my husband shot off, took a course and now wants to frame everything I do. I have to secretly rip and dispose of so much work, I'm not sure he won't frame the piece of carpet under my feet!! huni

04-27-2010, 11:56 AM
This is indeed an interesting thread. I started painting a number of years ago in oils. I gave them up about 3 1/2 yrs ago when I discovered pastels and noticed that I was getting headaches from the fumes. (Also, I hated the lengthy cleanup with oils.) About 9 mos. ago I tried out acrylics...just playing. Then this winter I took a class from an artist whose work I love. She only works in acrylics. I discovered the incredible versatility with using the different mediums and additional materials in order to get some incredible effects. So I'm hooked. And they're so easy to frame! I won't give up my wonderful pastels however, for all the reasons already mentioned. It's nice to have more than material to work with. I think it makes me more creative.

04-28-2010, 07:13 AM
very nice thread indeed! I am not a painter, and did not
tried any other medium than Pastels up to know. Just
several weeks of experiments with acrylics and watercolors (without any success!).

Noticing the difficulty of archiving my paintings, I started
to use pastels on canvas covered with pumice-gesso
almost a month ago, with a very extensive use of Fixatives at the end. the last two painting are rolled
inside a tube now! :)

I am not sure if there will be any cracking, etc....
in future, but at the moment I am really happy with
my way of archiving.