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How to Draw Using Pastels

Updated on June 14, 2018

On a recent trip to the beach I found a scallop shell half buried in the sand. something about the simplicity of the image made me want to draw it, so I took a quick snapshot for reference later.

Scallop shells represent the personal spiritual journey and may be carried by pilgrims. They represent both the earthly struggles - the link of the shell to St James, the Fisherman, and the spiritual ones. We are said to all be on the outer rim of the spiritual shell, with the many ribs pointing towards the one centre, although we focus on our own path.

Scallop shells mark the way of the Camino de Santiago - the Way of St. James, a spiritual pilgrimage walk from France to the 100 year old town of Santiago in Spain.

How To Draw Using Pastels

 The only problem, was how to draw the sand, in particular how to obtain the grainy effect.  After a bit of mulling I decided on using artists' pastels.  I particularly enjoy using pastels, as they have a slightly uncontrollable nature, in that it's difficult to draw sharp, straight lines due to their softness, so sharp edges have to be suggested rather than drawn.

They are also incredibly messy.


Pastelmat Pastel Paper
Unison pastels borwn mix
Pastel fixative
Craft knife
Pastel Indian Red and black
Cartridge Paper
Unison pastels blue mix
White gouache

 Rather than usuing the more straightforward technique of drawing with the pastels, I decided to work by shaving flakes of pastel with a craft knife, on to the paper, thus creating pastel 'dust,' which I hoped would give the texture of grains of sand when the piece was finished.  You can judge for yourself whether or not this has been successful.

Artist's Pastels. Sand and Shell - first two layers

 When using artist's pastels I find it easier to begin with the darkest colours and areas of deep shadow, before adding more colour and the body of the drawing, and then finishing with highlights.

In this picture there were no deep shadows as such, because I was looking directly down at the shell, so I began by covering the white page with pastel shavings, firstly of black, then dark brown, Indian red then grey/brown.

I used a rolling pin from the kitchen (notice to family - I will wash it, I promise) to press the colour into the paper, then continued with a layer of ochre shavings, pressing these in the same way.

From then on I let rip with all the colours I fancied, although I stuck to earthy browns, greys, yellows, oranges, reds and peaches, with the exception of a few sprinkles of duck-egg blue, without which, the picture would have become 'muddy;' the blue acting as a highlight and providing contrast. Sometimes I used the rolling pin to press the colours into the cartridge paper, and sometimes I placed another sheet of cartridge paper over the picture and pressed with my hands.

Every couple of layers of pastel, I used spray fixative to stop them from rubbing off.

Artist's Pastels. Ochre shadows

 Once happy with the sand, I used an ochre pastel to roughly put in some shade lines on the shell itself.  Then, and this is where I cheated a little, I used white artist's Gouache to paint in the body of the shell in bright white, as it's often difficult to achieve bright white with pastels alone.

Artist's Pastels. Artist's Gouache Highlights

 After letting the Gouache dry (which took about the length of time I took to drink a cup of coffee) I began to put some detail on the shell.  I put broad shade lines in using a snady/peach colour, then, using the sharp edge of an Indian Red pastel I used short inverted curved lines to suggest the ridges on the shell's surface.

 I added more ridges in the same way, using a dark brown pastel, then finally suggested some shadow by drawing broad vertical lines with the duck-egg blue.

 At this point the shell looks like it's floating, so I used the shaving technique again, and sprinkled pastels over the edges of the shell to simulate parts of it being buried in the sand.  I used the same blend of colours that I'd used for the body of the sand.

I also shaved some dark pastels lightly over the shell itself to suggest a few stray grains of sand.

Finally, I stippled black pastel around the top of the shell, just to give the whole picture a little more definition.

Once happy with the whole drawing I used the spray fixative again to set the whole picture and stop the pastels from rubbing of

The use of fixative has been hotly debated within the art world. Some pastel artists absolutely refuse to use it, as it alters the colour of pastel pigments. This is true, but I find there are times when using fixative is the best option. As I'd shaved my pastels onto the page in this case, there was a lot of loose pigment, and the finished piece benefitted from a light spraying.


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    • profile image

      Toni Arrington Dean 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for an interesting tutorial. I love the "spackling" technique and will have to try this shell out.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Will try! Thanks so much!

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      9 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks WhiteOak,

      Even though I'm painting professionally now, some days I just turn out rubbish. But, hey, I learn from the mistakes.

    • WhiteOak profile image

      Eva Thomas 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Working with pastels was one of my favorite methods. I have gone through many tree trumps blending the colors. It was great reading the steps you took creating this beautiful piece. Good work!!

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      9 years ago from Dartmoor

      Go for it Avion. Enjoy the process.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is quite interesting - I was marveled by the way you achieved the sand. I'm going to give it a try.

    • Tricia Ward profile image


      9 years ago from Scotland

      Great hub I wish I was good at drawing... I recently started again and thought I don't care - this is for me. Doing it for enjoyment and hopefully as I practice I will get better

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks milkomeda. I've never used Prismacolours, but I'm hearing a lot of good things about them recently, so might give them a try.

    • milkomeda profile image


      11 years ago from America

      awesome Hub, I really enjoyed reading it. Im not used to using pastels, I like to use a simple pencil and eraser and maybe a few reference photos of what I want to draw...have you ever tried using Prismacolors? they're expensive but it's worth it when you see some of the art using them as a medium, I've used them it's actually fairly easy the only problem sometimes is getting the colors to blend, but that might just be me! lol

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks chipper.

    • profile image


      11 years ago


    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks waynet - it was pretty messy to do.

      Thanks prowork

    • prowork profile image


      11 years ago from Marietta , Ohio USA

      That is a great job . You have a wonderful eye for art.

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 

      11 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      That is amazing how you've managed to convey the sand and the shell in pastels like that...must get my pastels out and have a go sometime!

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thank you Nancy-30. Strawberry fox, no I'm not a teacher, just self taught. I was going to go to art school when I was in my teens, but life intervened, and here I am just picking it up again 40 years later.

    • strrawberryfox profile image


      11 years ago

      This is my first read of the hub and I have to say that I realy enjoyed your lesson, are you a teacher by chance !, I am an artist too and enjoy pastel work, you defently have the tallent, the shell picture is superb and I can't wait to have a go at the technique you have described

    • nancy_30 profile image


      11 years ago from Georgia

      I enjoyed reading your hub. The finished drawing was beautiful. I've never been good at things like this. But the way you explained everything makes me want to try.

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Glad you enjoyed it Hello hello. Sadly rolling pin is still sitting in the chaos that passes for my study!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      11 years ago from London, UK

      This was an interesting read and following you experiment through was an experience. I hope you washed the rolling pin. You are a super artist.

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      11 years ago from Dartmoor

      Sage Williams, Pamela99 and Healthy Hanna - Thanks for the positive comments. It was a bit of an experiment really, but I'm pleased it turned out OK.

    • HealthyHanna profile image


      11 years ago from Utah

      Wish I could draw like this. I know those who can. Thanks for the art lesson

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Georgina, Good hub about drawing with pastels. I have never really tried drawing but I always thought I would enjoy it.

    • Sage Williams profile image

      Sage Williams 

      11 years ago

      Georgina - interesting hub, nice instruction for drawing with pastels. I used to draw many years ago, but never really got the hang of using pastels. Great job on this hub.



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