Jan - first go to the library to see if you can find a decent book on working with pastels, rather than trying to work it all out on your own. You will pick up advice and inspiration, if the author is any good. Blowing my own trumpet here ... look out for PASTELS WORKBOOK by Jackie Simmonds!!! Simple to follow, good for beginners to pastels.
then, get some really nice pastel papers, in different colours. It is good to try working on, say, Canson Mi Teinte paper, which has two sides, one slightly more textured than the other. Try both sides to see which you prefer. Buy some grey paper, some warm-coloured buff paper, and something dark too. You get different results with different coloured papers.
Working on watercolour paper is Okay, but if it is NOT surface, with some bumpy texture, the soft pastel won't completely fill the pits and hollows, which some people find annoying. It's great if you work on something like an old watercolour, so that the paper is coloured, but if the paper is white, you get a white spotty effect "behind" your pastel image. Smoother papers are best, in my opinion. Then you create your own textures!
You can blend with fingers, tissues, torchon (that rolled paper stump) - or you can decide not to blend at all, but instead overlay colours. (The book, above, will show you.). Blending with fingers is completely different to blending with tissue or torchon, try it and see what I mean.
Pastel pencils are okay for small studies - but you don't need them for "sharp edges". YOu can create sharp edges and details even with a soft pastel, if you want them, and paint carefully enough. A chalk pastel has two surfaces, a point (sort of) and an side plane. You work with both. I never bother with pastel pencils, and find I don't need them. They don't work well over the top of soft pastel anyway.
A can of fixative is useful. Use it sparingly, between layers, to recreate tooth if you fill the tooth of the paper too much and the pastel starts to skid around. Try not to use it at the "end", because it will slightly darken your lightest colours.
A most useful thing to have is an old hog-hair brush ... for brushing off areas of pastel which haven't worked. A putty rubber will take of the tiny film of pastel left if you want .. but you don't need to do that really.
A sieve, and some semolina, will do the trick for cleaning your pastel. Put dirty pastels into a plastic bag. Add some semolina. Shake. Tip the lot into the seive, over a bowl. You will have wonderfully clean pastels!
Charcoal is useful for sketching in the bones of the picture.
Here is one of my pictures, done exclusively with soft pastels, on a pearly grey Canson paper:
Welcome to the wonderful world of pastels!
do visit my ebay page and auctions
visit my website which has a “troubleshooter” page of helpful pastel tips and hints
Also see my posts in The Artists Marketplace here at WC!