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How to use soft pastels - Tips and techniques

Updated on August 7, 2013

Soft pastels - Why are these artists favourite?

Out of all types of pastels it is these chalk like powdery soft pastels that i just love to color with. And not just me it is certainly many artists favorite coloring medium simply because no other color medium gives so easy color blending with the use of just your fingers and secondly you don't have to wait for long for thee colors to dry as it happens with the wet mediums and thirdly because is becomes very easy to fix errors while using soft pastels as which is a must need for the artist and they make the work even more easier, fourth is that it allows artists to create beautiful textures and effects. In this particular lens i have explained some of the techniques that can be done using soft pastels like, masking, blending, dry brush technique, shading feathering etc and what precautions one must take before using these. I hope you will find it fun, interesting and worthy.

What are soft pastels? What we should know about soft pastels as a beginner?

There are many different types of pastels available like oil pastel, pan pastels, pastel pencils and soft pastels. Soft pastels the name itself explains that soft pastels are soft in nature which means that unlike other types of pastels these are powdery in nature and looks like a stick of chalk. Its powdery nature is because of here the color pigment is more and binder percentage is less as compared to other types of pastels due to which these are dusty when working. But that doesn't really matters fro the artists, important is that these can create beautiful paintings in a very short span of time.

If you are a beginner than you must know understand few things about soft pastels before use like,

1. They are chalk like sticks mostly cuboid shape.

2. They must be handles with care as the stick will break if it falls down.

3. These are dusty so keep a cloth to cover your mouth if required.

4. Surface should have slight tooth or grain for the colors to fix, it should not be very smooth.

5. Keep them safely inside the sponge case in which it comes so that they will not get dirty.

6. These are mainly used for its advantage of soft and very easy blending with the use of fingers.

7. A fixative is sprayed so prevent the painting from smudging or getting destroyed.

8. Fixative must be used very carefully in open area and from a certain distance because of its bad and unhealthy smell.

9. Another option through which you can avoid using fixative is to keep your work inside a plastic sheet or get it framed as soon as the work is complete.

10. It is good to use a different colored background sheet like brown, grey or beige and not white because this will save your colors and painting stands out pretty well in colored sheets. White requires more amount of color to hide its grain completely.

Technique 1 - Blending

Any range of blending is possible with soft pastels, here colors are applied onto the working area and blended with the use of fingers, or tortillon to blend finer areas , you can also use a paper tissue for broader areas. Soft pastels are very easy to blend, this is the best part for an artist. Colors gives a smooth blend and effect while blending the layers with fingers. Colors must fill the grains of paper while blending.

Technique 2 - Gradation

In gradation we usually see slow change in color, like for coloring sun we use red, orange and yellow. Grading of colors from light to dark can be done by overlapping of colors and rub them gently with the finger. So gradation of all tones is achieved in soft pastels.

Technique 4 - Dry brush

In dry brush technique we powder the soft pastel as much required, stick a round piece of sponge or cotton on the pencil end with a tape, impregnate this with the powder and apply to the surface. Good for covering large areas and shading.

Technique 3 - Masking

Sometimes we are not able to attain clean edges with soft pastels specially as a beginner so masking here helps. You can cut any shape you like on paper and place it firmly over the sheet using tapes and color it. After coloring pick up the masking sheet carefully and you will get a nicely edged shape. It is even more easier to get straight lines as here you just have to place the paper from its edge and color the area and pick up the paper carefully.

Tools required for painting in soft pastels,

There are few tools and things required for painting in soft pastels, you will see images of these products below,

1. Pastel sheet, colored will be a better choice,

2. Set of assorted colors at least a set of 16-24 colors in the beginning,

3. Kneaded eraser to fix errors,

4. Tortillon for blending,

5. A piece of cloth,

6. Fixative, optional,

7. Cotton wrapped around a pencil end for dry brush technique,


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