View Full Version : Hard pastels on soft OK for detail work?

11-17-2011, 12:20 AM
Hello--I know the general rule of thumb is to use hard pastels for bottom layers, then soft pastels on top layers. However, I was wondering what people do for detail work--if they just sharpen soft pastels, or if they use pastel pencils or the edges of hard pastels.

Wondering what the reason is for not putting hard pastels on top of soft, and also if people have general tips for doing detail work. Thanks!

11-17-2011, 12:39 AM
The reason is the hard pastel tends to take off more than it leaves. I usually use Rembrandts for detail work, they are in the medium range so not quite hard but will hold an edge and I can get them to go over Mount Visions which is the softest pastel that I use. I can even get some details in with the Mount Visions if I have an edge, but they aren't exactly crisp details.


11-17-2011, 12:46 AM
Hard pastels are great for blending, so I often use them over soft. They could be great for details, too.

11-17-2011, 03:10 AM
A hard pastel will often SCORE A LINE into an area of soft pastel.

If you look at the images on my website, or those in the subject line below, you will see plenty of detail, or perhaps I will add one here:http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/17-Nov-2011/1805-Blue_Awning.jpg

As you can see, there are plenty of small detailed marks in this image, yet the entire thing would have been done with soft pastels. I might, on the odd occasion, create a LINE with a pastel pencil, like a dark line between two boxes in this image...but that is a shadow detail, and if it did score into the pastel it would not matter at all. You just have to be aware that this is what a hard pastel can do, used over soft.

So when using a soft pastel, you simply find a spot at one end which has a sharp chisel edge, and carefully use that for detail. If that spot wears away too quickly, just make a stroke or two with the tip of the pastel on a spare sheet of paper, and you will quickly get a chisel edge back again.

11-17-2011, 06:11 AM
Depends how detailed you are after really.
I know people do both, Lesley Harrison uses hard pastels like the Nupastel over the top for detail whereas others use pencils for all the detailed areas and others as Jackie says use soft all the way through and sharpen the edges.

Also depends what paper you use as to what effects you will get.

I tend to work towards a realism style and often will use pencils for most of the detailed work though not always-sometimes I use softies or semi hards like the FCs.

I have a set of Nupastels and haven't used them yet, they are oily and they smell which doesn't appeal to me :lol:

But I have used both FCs and also Manet hard pastels over the top of softies.

I asked an accomplished wildlife artist why she only used sticks on her animals and she said that she wanted them to look great close up not just from a distance and I think there is an element of truth there especially if we are talking about real fine detail such as eyes.

But I suggest you experiment and see what effects you get and which ones you like as everybody differs in how they work and what they want to achieve.

11-17-2011, 08:32 AM
the surface does make a difference .
for me , near white hard pastel over very dark areas on paper
doesn't take unless i lift off some pastel with a kneaded/putty eraser
shaped to an edge or point .
if you're sure where that high-key point/edge will be ,
you can lay it in first and work up to it ,
but that's not for everyone's method/patience :D

from what i've read here , paintings with Lots of detail/fine line
are done with pencils , mostly ,
but that also depends on the size of the surface .

- then again , my softest pastel is a Rembrandt :rolleyes:

Ed :}

11-17-2011, 09:43 AM
If you read the pastel journal, you may have seen many articles where master pastelists say they are not into the hard and fast rule of soft over hard. They pick up what is handy for the job. If you want detail why not use pastel pencils? They are terrific. Many photo realist pastel painters use them.

11-17-2011, 09:53 AM
There is no rule regarding how you apply pastels. You can apply them in any way you want provided they work the way you want. The main reason, as far as I know, that hard pastels are often used first, is that they can be applied much more thinly - thus filling up far less tooth of the paper. And as others have mentioned, a really hard pastel or pencil might just plow through soft pastel under-layers, rather than deposit new pastel on top. In some cases, this may be what you want! And as has been mentioned, the type of paper will influence the procedures used.

In other words, do whatever works!


11-17-2011, 10:15 AM
I agree Don: another thought is whether you "fix" an area. If you do it right you can go over that area with a hard pastel or pastel pencil more easily. I realize that there is a war going on between the fix/no fix folks, but I agree with Don; whatever works. If you really read periodicals and books with articles by the top pastel painters you may be shocked by the little art school rules these masters seem to break to get the results they want.


11-17-2011, 11:58 AM
Try it out. The best test for whether something is going to work for you is to try it on a small example and gain experience. It depends on how much soft pastel is layered under it, how hard your hard pastel is, a host of things.

In general soft over hard works and it's something I suggest to beginners because there are some annoying effects that happen using hard over soft. There are also some great effects, it's possible to blend colors with the sticks using hard or medium sticks. Also it depends on how toothy your paper is, some things work better on sanded paper than unsanded.

What no amount of suggestions can tell you is exactly how things work in your own hands. Your perception of more pressure or less pressure is relative to your own techniques.

It might help to do a series of small tests and keep it as a reference, just marking small swatches with different abstract patterns in layers. Write down what you did under them so that when you need it in a painting, you know what worked. That includes brands of soft and hard pastels because they behave differently.

11-18-2011, 12:21 AM
Thanks for everyone's responses. I am amazed at what Jackie could do with soft pastels only, and feel somewhat reassured yet forewarned about using pencils or hard pastels on the soft layers. I like Robert's advice to just experiment, which I plan to do too! :)

11-18-2011, 09:43 AM
I work with everything from pastel pencils to the real softies. When I use the pastel pencils I very often use the side of the pencil, not always the tip. So, it's still like using a stick, but with a bit more control. I also have a very light touch, which is helpful. If I want to use a pastel pencil over a softie, I definitely use the side of the pencil, not the tip, as it would plough through the softie and just move it around. I generally just use my pastel pencils in portraits (though not all portraits), for any other subject I use the sticks. I would never use a pastel pencil in a landscape, I try to keep it loose. Even with still life I really don't need them, the sticks give a nice painterly look. There's always an edge I can find. Like Jackie says, if there isn't an edge, just make one.

I have to say, however, that I do love pastel pencils as you can create an entire portrait using them and keep control if you need to. I find them especially helpful when doing commissions, where I need the most control. When painting a portrait for myself, I just do what I want, and sometimes that's using the pencils completely, and sometimes not.

The thing is, I think you just have to know the product you are working with and what it can and cannot do, and that takes time and experience. The more you play, the more you will understand what it is these sticks can do for you. That is key, what it is they can do for you. Everybody's technique and style is different, and it seems to evolve with experience and time. What works for one artist doesn't necessarily work for another.

Oh, and Derek's right, master pastelists just do what works, there are no rules, just what works for you.

Play, Play, Play! The more you play, the more that will be revealed to you!

11-18-2011, 10:58 AM

do you have a favorite brand of pastel pencil?.....are them soft and creamy or harder for more detailed work?

thank you in advance for all your info.....'blue....:wave:

11-18-2011, 12:32 PM

do you have a favorite brand of pastel pencil?.....are them soft and creamy or harder for more detailed work?

thank you in advance for all your info.....'blue....:wave:

Good question 'blue, not sure of the answer though. When I use them, it is primarily in portraits, so my picks for "favorites and why" apply to portraits. I have favorites for different reasons, they all have different qualities. I love the softness of Giocondas, and their colors are great, especially their steel gray, indispensable to me. They are high on my list. But, the old formula Derwents, with all the tints and ranges (the 90pc set) is a necessity for my skin tones in portraits. I've got a back-up of the 90pc set that I haven't even used yet, and every time I see that someone out there in the world has some left over old formula Derwents I buy them. Then there are the CarbOthellos, a wonderful set of pastel pencils. They have a Paynes gray that is indispensable to me. The feel of the pencil is great, as are the colors. Don't let me leave out Conte, which has a flesh tone that is indispensable, and the vibrancy and intensity of their colors is beautiful. I also like the feel of these when they go on, so smooth.

There is one frustrating thing about pastel pencils, and that is sharpening. The Contes and Derwents have a wide profile, so you need a special pencil sharpener for them. I have a manual one that can accept wider pencils, and it works pretty good. Sometimes I use a razor blade to sharpen, if the pencil is prone to breakage (some are, I don't know why). I also have a small hand held tiny sharper made of brass that I like, and I use it on the Giocondas and CarbOthellos. I can replace the blade, which I like. The sharper the blade, the less chance of breakage. I don't really sharpen them all that much, I let them get down pretty low before I sharpen. There doesn't need to be a sharp point on all of them, unless I'm doing something really detailed. I do use the side of the pencils quite often, which also keeps the point sharp because of that technique (and the sandpaper helps too...)

So you see, I cannot pick a favorite because each brand has something unique about it. I haven't tried any other brands so I couldn't comment on how I feel about them, but of all the ones I mentioned, each has it's own special characteristic that makes me want to use it. I probably wouldn't be happy doing a painting with one brand missing - I'm sure I'd miss that indispensable color!