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-   -   "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=392571)

Deborah Secor 01-06-2007 12:10 AM

"How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Maybe you remember the first day you picked up a pastel and tried to use it. Were you thinking: “I'd like to try my hand at pastels, but I know absolutely nothing about them. How should I start? Maybe you wandered in here and started searching for answers. So many people come into the Pastel Forum and just want to know what to do. It’s a bit daunting to begin something new, especially when you’re new to Wet Canvas, too, so I thought I’d start a thread here asking questions and see if we can compile good answers for our beloved newbies…

It would be so welcoming for people to open up the Library page and find a How to Get Started in Soft Pastels thread (and maybe we need another one on How to get Started in Oil Pastels, too!)

So gang, here it is. You’re helping a brand new person begin in soft pastels. You need to give them enough information for them to make good, helpful and economical decisions. Help them out with a little advice!
1. What pastels should they buy first and why? Sets? Open stock? Brands? Colors?

2. What paper(s) should they try and why? Why not just use copy paper if they're going to throw it away anyway? What brands should they try and where to get them?

3. What other supplies will they need and what will they use them for? Do they need this to get started or not?

4. How do they go about setting up to use pastels the very first time? Walk them through the process of getting ready to start.

5. What about storing that pastel once they have something they want to keep?
I bet there are a ton of things we could outline for our newbies, and this thread could become an important and helpful tool for a lot of people. And if you're one of the newbies, add your questions and needs right here, right now, so we can try to answer them!

(Ahem...not to be rude, but let’s face it—wouldn’t it be nice to have one juicy thread we could link newbies to when they come in here? :wink2: The last thread posted in the Library called 'What to Start With' has 9 posts and is from back in 2001! Let’s update that a bit…)

The people here are so warm and welcoming and helpful. Thanks for any advice you have--and remember we all were newbies once! :heart:


Doodlebug1967 01-06-2007 01:44 AM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Deborah, what a wonderful idea!!! I've been gettin' dusty for a year now but still consider myself very much a newbie. So what could I possibly suggest? I dunno, but I will certainly try to share what I have learned so far. They are only my opinions, but I do hope they help someone along the way.

Well, I started with Bristol board because I had some on hand....interesting effect and was actually what got me hooked but don't know that I'll use it again. Maybe. Then went to Canson pastel paper because that was what was in the hobby store and I wanted to try something made for pastel. I personally don't care for it, but many on here do. Graduated to Artspectrum Colourfix...which I love...and have a good sampler of many other papers to try out now and can't wait to see how they feel when I put the pastel to it. You'll know the paper for you the first time you use it.

Pastels. I would suggest a small sampling or small set of each or a few brands and see what you like best. Everyone's touch is different and we all prefer different pastels. How vague is that? hahaha. I'd say avoid the cheapies if possible unless that's all you can afford at the moment, and they are worth playing with just to see if you like pastels in general..IMHO. I had a old cheapie set that had been unopened for 10+ years when I made my first attempt and it did well for me to learn with. I quickly had to get some rembrandts, senneliers and carb othello pastel pencils. Got a sampler of other brands to try and can't wait. Also can't wait to be able to afford to get sets of the ones I find I like best.

OH...one of the BEST things I did was sign up for a local beginner pastel class. The instructor we had provided the paper and the pastels so we could try different kinds and see what they were like. His personality and technique were wonderful in the learning process, but it was his generosity in letting us use his HUGE stash of pastels and papers that was the biggest boon for me. Bless his heart, he even brought in small frames he'd find on sale so we could frame our work each night to bring home. We never worked larger than 5 x 7 in class but it allowed us to try things we might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

The eraser I have found to be the most useful for me can be bought at any art supply store like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I can't remember the name of it, but it holds a small white eraser in a transparent color plastic ergonomic handle and is battery operated. Slide the button and it will take off a fine edge where you need it, or a small detail. Don't turn it on and you can use it in any manner you wish. Very innexpensive. Very helpful. They make refills for this that are super reasonable in price.

Use what you want to blend. Your fingers. Q-tips. A chamois. A rag. Experiement and find something you like.

Can't comment much on setting up the pastels. I'm anal and tend to put them back in the box set they came in...that is until recently. I put all the good ones in a wood box I got for Christmas to store them in. I still keep them together by brand. Easier for me to remember which are soft and which are not, especially once the wrapper label starts to tear down. I know I need to organize by hue, but I can't do that yet. I just use a scrap piece of paper in the color of the one I'm using taped to the side of my easel to see how it looks before applying to the work.

But the most important thing you need is desire. Just play, play, play. And come to this site and read, read, read. View every piece of work submitted that your tired eyes will allow and read what is said and study the work. Especially a WIP. Once you lay a few strokes down on a piece of paper the passion will burst from your heart, then your fingertips and you'll experiement like a mad person. As it's been said here many time...addiction sets in quickly! You'll hate some of pieces youdo. Love others. Feel indifferent about some of them and get frustrated once in a while. That's natural and I think have all experienced that at one point or another. But you'll also often feel elated...a natural high...and have a hard time leaving your easel. Either way, you're still going to love the process and how fun it is to get dirty.

Last suggestion, but not the least...pick out a few old t-shirts or sweatshirts and designate those to work in. Pastel doesn't alway wash out real well so work in OLD clothes. After a few times those shirts get kind of charming on their own with the pigment stains all over the front. Ok, ok, I admit it...I use the front of my t-shirt to wife off my hands instead of a hand towel until I have to go wash my hands. It makes me feel like a kid and is more fun in the process to me! I guess I kind of feel like I've accomplished something when the front of my shirt has almost as much pastel as the paper...ha!

Hope my rambling 2-cent worth is helpful to someone. And a reminder...I'm still new so I'm sure the veterans and pros will have a lot more helpful suggesions for those who want to get started.

Welcome aboard and have fun!


David Patterson 01-06-2007 02:33 AM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Here's a simple answer to a question newbies usually ask...How does one keep the pastel dust from falling on the floor, or building up in the easel tray? I use a 4" wide piece of aluminum foil along the bottom of the easel, forming a trough right under the board. The weight of the board keeps it in place. When the dust builds up in it, I just remove it and shake the dust off over the garbage can...then I re-use it. It keeps you from stepping on the dust, and tracking it onto your carpet.:eek: If you have an easil that is adjustable, make sure you tilt it slightly towards you. That keeps the dust from trailing down your surface and mixing with your other colors - and it still catches the foil.

That's my 2 cents...hope it helps someone.:)

P.S. - I still consider myself a "newbie" to pastels (2 years). Great thread Deborah!:wave:

breuschle 01-06-2007 08:33 AM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Thank you so much for starting this! I'm too new at it to have any advice to offer, but I'll be watching for all the wonderful info I know will be showing up. Thank you Ronda and David for your input.
I just got a new set of Sennelier-80 half sticks- for Christmas. I'm amazed at the difference between them and the Rembrandts I started with. The Senneliers are like velvet, and the colors are so intense. I also got some Wallis to play with. So far I've only used the little sample sheet. As new as I am at this, I can see that it pays to use the good stuff. So I guess I do have some advice to offer...use the good stuff!
Thanks again,

Katherine T 01-06-2007 11:29 AM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Great idea Deborah!

getting started: take a long look at some good pastel drawings and paintings

Once you see what can be done with pastels you really get inspired to try and achieve something similar.
Get a good sense of what can be achieved in soft pastels:
  • Take yourself off to an art gallery and go and look at some really good pastels.
  • Look at the websites of good pastel artists - past and present - for the same reason.
getting started: get a good book

Get one or two good books on the subject (maybe we need a separate thread for this and then have a link to that in this thread?) I've included the pastel books I rate in my squidoo lens which provides resource information for pastel artists - both newbies and the more advanced. See http://www.squidoo.com/pastels/

Getting started: get a good basic set of medium soft pastels and then build from there

Pastels which are too soft or too hard probably give the wrong impression of soft pastels and might turn people off rather than on to working with soft pastels. I'd always recommedn satrting with a set of pastels which are categorised as being 'medium' soft pastels (as opposed to 'very soft' and 'not very soft' ;))

I started with a set of Rembrandts - which I continue to use under softer pastels. They weren't as expensive as some pastels, provided a good range of colours and were relatively easy to get hold of in the UK. i'd recommend them to newbies.
After that, :
  • Try a few softer pastels from open stock in different ranges until you find one you like.
  • Get some harder pastels - maybe conte sticks or nupastels after you've decided you want to pursue pastels. They're good for getting harder edges and laying down initial marks.

getting started - try a range of supports

It's my belief that different people respond to different types of surfaces. My pastel work only took off when I tried an abrasive pastel surface for the first time. I wasn't getting on with paper and absolutely loved the way the abrasive surface gripped the pastel. Others will feel completely differently.

The main thing is to try different surfaces and see which feels right for you.

getting started - try a workshop

A pastel workshop is a great way of picking up tips earlier rather than later - otherwise characterised as how to avoid learning the hard way! ;)
  • Pastel societies often run workshops as well and should only be using reputable tutors in pastels.
  • I'd always advise having a really good look at a pastel tutor's own work before you sign over any money. There are a lot of good tutors out there and there are quite a few mediocre ones as well. Having a look at the work tells you something about their own skill levels and whether they have anything to teach you.
  • Artists who primarily work in another medium may not offer a lot of expert help in pastels - hence why you need to look at the work.

Deborah Secor 01-06-2007 01:35 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
:thumbsup: I knew you all would come through with some great advice--thanks! More---more! :D


Punky2 01-06-2007 02:09 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies

Thank you for starting this thread! With only 5 pastel paintings under my belt, I am definitely a newbie. Thank you to the others who have already posted great tips and to any additonal posters! :clap:

The questions I haven't been able to find answers to are:
1. Should I mount my paper to the final mounting board before I start my painting? I have been attaching my paper to a drawing board with clips, but I want to know if I should do the actual mounting to a mounting board or foamcore before I start. (I'm referring to hinge mounting or something like it, not dry mounting).

2. Do I have to use foamcore or Gatorboard to mount my painting or can I use mounting board or matboard?

3. Does the hardness or softness of a pastel really matter if I can manage to not fill the tooth of the paper too quickly? In other words, do I have to to start with harder pastels and end with softer pastels?

4. How can you tell if a work of art is good or not? (not just whether or not you like it).

Even though I'm a newbie and for the most part, don't know exactly what I'm doing, in the interest of giving back for all of the wonderful knowledge I've gained from this forum, here are a few of my own tips:

1. Don't start with Canson paper. The first pastel I ever tried was on the rough side of Canson and I thought how awful I must be at this, until I found out that it wasn't me so much, as it was the paper (it was partly me though).

2. Get the paper sampler pack from Dakota Pastels. I still haven't tried them all yet, but this is how I was able to try Wallis without spending too much money.

3. Learn how to make art first, or at least at the same time as trying to learn the medium. This is where I struggle the most. I question my composition, how to choose and use color, my value patterns, whether or not I'm communicating what I want, all more than how to use the medium, or at least in conjunction with it.

Like I said, I'm a newbie, so take my tips with that in mind.


Deborah Secor 01-06-2007 02:53 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies

Should I mount my paper to the final mounting board before I start my painting? I have been attaching my paper to a drawing board with clips, but I want to know if I should do the actual mounting to a mounting board or foamcore before I start. (I'm referring to hinge mounting or something like it, not dry mounting).

Good question, Terri! I know that a lot of my beginning students come with this kind of basic how-to question, too. So, let me tell you what I explain to them. You do not have to fix or mount your paper before finishing the painting. It's a simple process to do that afterwards, and the means to hinge it to the mat depend a lot on the kind and weight of paper you use.

The way I suggest doing it is to take whatever paper you use (I prefer Wallis sandpaper) and tape it down to a good, solid piece of plywood or masonite that's at least 3 or 4" larger all the way around so you have some elbow room. Use a good brand of 1" wide masking tape, not architect's tape or freezer tape or the stuff you can buy in 25-roll packs at the home store, which doesn't have enough stick. You'll find that there are different grades of tack, and I personally prefer slightly more sticky tack since the dust of the pastels is a problem.

When you're painting on a good heavyweight paper (not something flimsy like Canson Mi-tientes), tape your paper with about a 1/4" bite, so that you cover the whole outside edge of your paper. This will leave about 3/4" to stick to your board. Now your paper is securely fastened to a nice, sturdy board and ready to work on or transport anywhere. (If you like a cushioned surface you can put several sheets of softer paper beneath your sheet and tape the whole package in place, but be sure the sheets are all the exact same size as your paper.)

Once you're finished with the work, carefully remove the tape, understanding that when you mat the painting you'll cover up about another 1/4" with the mat, masking over the rough edges of the painting. I always cut my paper 1" larger than I plan to mat it, so if I cut a 9x12" paper, I know that when I mat it the image showing will be 8x11". If I cut it 12x18" the finished image is 11x17", etc. I suggest you don't leave your paper taped to the board for too long, since the glue from the tape will harden over time and be very hard to remove. If you decide to think about your painting for a while, remove it from the board.

Sometimes people want to paint on a board such as foam core or Gator board, not dry-mounting paper to this surface but taping it in place. It's a very expensive way to do it, in the long run, because when you remove the tape it leaves a roughened scar that will eventually wear away, until you have to replace the board. You can't really use any piece of paper that's larger than the scar either, because it will leave a ridgeline that shows when you apply pastel, unless you cover it with lots of softer paper--another expense. So, for me, the simplest, cheapest way to do this is to have a good hard board that I can reuse. Some of mine are over 20 years old now and going strong!

Yes, you can use clips to adhere your paper, too, but that isn't as reliable in many ways. The paper can shift, and you don't have an edge that's defined well, just places where you worked around the clip, so it seems more confusing. I love the crisp, clean edge left by tape.

So, the easiest way is to tape a piece of paper to a hardboard, put it up on your easel so that it's upright and the pastel dust will fall away (good ideas David proposed there), set your pastels to one side and get painting. When you're finished you can mount your paper to the back of a mat, if you decide to frame it, using linen tape hinges. You'll back that with a piece of foam core that's the same size as the outside edge of the matboard. Your 11x17" image, on a 12x18" piece of paper, could be matted with a 3 1/2" mat all the way around, resulting in an outside dimension of 18x24", which are the dimensions of your back board and frame. (We might want to refer folks to a good framing thread. If anyone knows of one, post it here!)

I hope that helps answer some of your questions!


*Marina* 01-06-2007 03:27 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
I found this a very useful thread about framing.

Deborah Secor 01-06-2007 03:51 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Yes--that's a great thread on framing, Marina. It answers a lot of questions--ones we don't even think to ask until we get there! Thanks...

Oh, and I'm pleased to see somebody stickied this thread. :D Thanks.

I also rated it for ease in finding again.


SusanE 01-06-2007 04:05 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Hello everyone; I am new to the board. Thank you so much for the information. It has been years since I painted, quite incredulous to me, but it's the truth.

I am trying to also determine the best easel for me. At the moment I will begin with a studio easel, preferably one with wheels, but with an ability to make it stationary as well. I know Albert Handell used a French easel------I had a portable aluminum one, but that was to allow for traveling. I imagine a lot has to do with personal preference. I am open to suggestions!

As for pastels, my huge set of Rembrants disappeared along with other things during my recent move.. I have ordered a set of senneliers for portraiture and plan to add to that, of course. 'Back in the Day' (ha) Albert did some underpainting, but not with watercolor; it's been so long that I will have to find notes and his book to recall the exact process (is this what it's like to lose one's mind? Help, I'm too young!). I know I used to stain sanded paper. I recall Albert noting that I would be one of his students who freely used mixed media, and I suppose l did, however it was due to him. I will be looking for the textured boards or paper that I can mount myself. It will be easy for me to jump ahead of my current skills.......and expect my level to be the same. I am not going to put that pressure on myself (so I say).

I am stacking topics somewhat, but I want to compliment each of you; this is a wonderful community. I am so impressed with the sharing, the excitement........and I am quite pleased I found all of you!

Perhaps I will one day learn how to not make my name so huge on these posts (what in the heck happened?- ha!)

Kathryn Day 01-06-2007 05:30 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
A couple of things that have helped me.

1. use a vinyl tablecloth wrong side up, under your easel to catch any pastel dust. It sticks to the cloth and then is easily taken up to wash. Buy two, they're cheap, then you can wash one while using the other. I paint with an easel at a table so mine goes on the table. If you are standing, I think it would work too.

2. Testing colors to use on a painting. Make a small stroke where you want the color to be, you can alway erase it or wipe it off, but this way you can determine it's true value related to the colors surrounding it.

3. Also, when starting I noticed that when I would want to start a mark at a certain place, I would place it over or under where I wanted it. Just go ahead and make the mark where it lands, then you can adjust from there and just erase the errant mark. Maybe I am the only one that does this. lol

I started with the sampler pack of paper and a few samplers of pastels, sure gives you an idea what you like or don't like.

michellej 01-06-2007 07:03 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Hi Deborah
I've been reading through all the resposes and i have to say there is a lot of information here. This is a great thread.:clap:
I even got some info for me; since I was just tacking down the edges onto a board.
I hope that i will have information to share here if any one needs it, cause I have learnt a lot from reading here.

Dot Hoffman 01-07-2007 11:22 AM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Wow, what a ton of info!!

I have just a couple of small thoughts to offer. Many people, including me, don't like all that pastel dust on their fingers. I use latex (or vinyl if allergic) medical gloves -- 100 in a box and very inexpensive -- that I get at Walgreen's on my right hand, or I use finger cots which you can buy at Daniel Smith and possibly at Dick Blick to protect your fingers. If using the finger cots, roll them all the way up your finger so they don't cut off your circulation. Someone also suggested a product called something like Gloves In A Bottle, but I haven't tried that, although I plan to the next time I place an order. Baby wipes are excellent for removing pastel dust from your hands or from the gloves/cots.

My studio is carpeted (not my choice, it was there where we moved in) and I found that pastel dust spills can be removed using Spot Shot according to the directions on the can. You can find it at most big box stores and at Sam's Club. Excellent for any kind of stains in carpets, including cats' hairballs (yuck!)

Great thread! Thanks for starting it Deborah.

SusanE 01-07-2007 03:25 PM

Re: "How to Get Started in Soft Pastels" for our newbies
Great information, thank you! :thumbsup:

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