January always gives me the feeling as if I have been given a fresh new start! That is what the new year means to me! In light of this, I have set one of my Art Goals in 2018 to writing more articles about what I am learning on my journey as an artist and then sharing these with you. I hope what I find will be of value to some of you as you weave your way on your own art adventure. Which brings me to one of my biggest challenges for 2018!  My goal is to expand my creative wings and explore different types of styles, techniques, and mediums. I have begun to stretch myself a bit lately to see just what great possibilities there are in this large concept called art. There are so many things to cover but first I would like to share what I have found most helpful in my investigation of pastel mediums.


Pastels are an enigma to me because, although fascinated with the beauty one can get using them, I had no idea how to use them and why artist love them so much. So I decided to find out. What I found was intriging and fascinating…to find that there are many benefits to painting/drawing with pastels and also plenty of minuses (another article for another day) and it all can be quite confusing so, with that said, here are my MY FIVE interesting tips I learned about using and trying pastels.

TIP #1: What are the different types of pastels?

Wow, I had no idea how many didfferent types of pastels there are and what and how to use them to get the look you desire. There are soft pastels, hard pastels, pastel pencils, oil pastels and what they call pan pastels and more! It is truly overwhelming but this is what I learned so far.

Soft pastels look like chalk and are soft and creamy. There are many brands but the top two I keep hearing about from pastel artist are from (Sennelier and Rembrandt).

Sennelier Soft Pastels

Sennelier Soft Pastels

Now, I am sure there are more brands and you can find great information on them from the website on the different options. I decided to purchase the Sennelier brand as they are the top of the line in soft pastels. And why not start with the best!?

Hard Pastels are another version of chalk pastels. They differ from soft pastels only in their density and hardness; hard pastels are just slightly harder than soft pastels. But because of their firmer texture, hard pastels are generally used for different purposes than soft pastels. While soft pastels are best for filling broad areas of color, hard pastels are preferable for drawing and sketching, and for detailed or highly rendered techniques. Hard pastels can be used alone or with soft pastels. I purchased Nupastels as they were recommended as a comparable brand without breaking the bank.

Nupastels are Hard Pastels

Nupastels are Hard Pastels by Prismacolor

Pastel Pencils are also a nice investment when wanting to get fine detail in your pastel piece. There are again several different types with Conte‘ and Othello being of the top brands. I purchased Faber-Castell and find they are comparable to most. But then again, it will be a matter of preference, and your art budget, that will drive you to purchase a certain brand name.

Pastel Pencils by Farber Castell

Pastel Pencils by Farber Castell

Oil Pastels is another favorite and major form of pastels which exist today. Oil pastels are a relatively new invention in the pastel world since World War II and are now appearing in an increasing diversity of forms. Most of the oil pastel brands in use today are made from the same high-quality pigments as their soft pastel cousins, and they occasionally exceed soft pastels with certain unusual colors such as fluorescent and metallic pigments. Again, Sennelier remains unchallenged as the leading producer of quality oil pastels.

Tip #3: What are the top supports for pastels?

More than any other painting medium, pastel truly mirrors the surface of the support onto which it is painted. The pastel pigment attaches itself to the upper surface of the support, clinging to its top ridges and accentuating its texture. Notice I did my homework here! This means that the paper, board, or canvas support that holds the  pastels is a integral part of the final look of the finished painting. The choice of what kind of surface to work on is a creative decision for the pastelist who is interested in the beautiful interplay of pastels and paper. Almost any paper can be used with pastels. Experimentation and experience will help you decide what paper is best for you and the type of work you do. I will have to say I am still experimenting and will let you know when I find my bliss with pastel supports. But the two that I have found to be the most popular from conversing with other pastelists, are Canson Mi-Teintes which you can find in most art stores and readily available….

Pastel support paper

Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel paper

and Sanded Pastel Paper, which comes in two grades, or grits. Check these out to see which you prefer.

Sanded pastel paper is a great support.

Sanded pastel paper is a great support.

Tip #4: How do you preserve your pastel painting?

There is really nothing worse than finishing a portion of your pastel painting and having your hand smear some of your work! Did you hear me scream on more than one occasion? Well, it was not pretty! Fortunately, There is a way to prevent this from happening.

Pastel Fixative is a very weak solution of varnish that is sprayed onto the surface of a pastel painting in order to reinforce the adhesion of the pastel particles to their support. There are two basic types of fixative: workable fixative and final fixative. Most come in an aerosol spray can.

Workable Fixative is the weakest form of spray fixative available. It is meant to be used in passages where the pastel build-up is getting too thick, and fresh color can then be applied on top of it. It has a matte finish but a word of caution…there are different brands and some of them truly darken your painting. So in doing a bit of more research, I found that Sennelier brand called Fixatif Fixative Latour is safe from darkening you work. This workable fixative does not darken and you can continue to work on top very easily. Then there is a Final fixatve which is meant to be applied after the pastel is finshed to help hold the particles in place permanently…both are strong enough to prevent smearing.

Fixatif Fixative

Fixatif Fixative Latour by Sennelier is a Workable Fixative

Acrylic Spray is slightly stronger than either workable or final fixative and will really hold a layer of pastel in its place. I will have to investigate brands for this final coat. Unlike workable fixative, acrylic spray leaves a glossy shine if heavily sprayed. Acrylic spray is the most secure way to fix pastel to relatively smooth or hard supports.

Tip #5: Are there any specific pastel tools to use?

Much of the appeal of pastels lies in their simplicity because they require very little equipment. Even so, there are some pastel tools that most pastelists find handy now and then. These include palette knives, razor blades, erasers, tortillons and several others. 

Certain pastel tools make for some interesting effects.

Certain pastel tools make for some interesting effects.

Believe it or not, I found that my fingers are the best tool. To say this is a clean, easy medium, would be like playing in the mud and not getting dirty. Be sure to watch the dust and to have a damp towel handy to clean your hands often.

Fingers make the BEST pastel tool!

Fingers make the BEST pastel tool!

In summary, this article is in no way getting into the nitty gritty of using pastels. This is just the top of the iceberg when using this special medium. A great resource for learning more about this medium would be The Pastel Book; Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist by Bill Creevy.

Again, thank you for reading my blog for artist. I hope that some of you found this information enlightening on this subject and maybe learned a thing or two. Please feel free to leave me a comment at the bottom of this page. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject of Pastels.



  • Linda McCormack

    Great article. You are indeed brave my friend in trying your hand at new mediums. You always inspire me. I was given pastels for a Christmas gift several years ago…. so long ago I can’t remember when. Lol. The box hasn’t been opened! I really should follow your lead and give it a try. Thanks!

    • FayBecca

      Thank you Linda! I don’t know if I am brave or just that I love learning! I am on this art journey not because I want to just create but to actually find my artistic self. Trying new mediums is like being a mad scientist! You never know what will spark your creativity! Take out your pastels and open them! Have fun seeing what you can do! You will laugh at yourself for not trying them sooner! Happy arting my friend!