Pastel is one of the most permanent of mediums. It does not change colour after application like other mediums do (watercolours lighten, acrylics darken) .  

Pastels  (called Soft Pastels, or Dry Pastels) are made from the same pigment used in other fine art mediums (oil, acrylic, watercolours, coloured pencils, etc) This ground pigment is mixed with a binder (usually gum tragacanth (expensive)  or methyl cellulose; 2/3 Calcium Carbonate and 1/3 Talc to  for form sticks.  Some are rolled by hand and some my machine. Pastels come in varying degrees of hardness based on the amount of filler; softest are pure pigment. 

Historically pastels date back to the 16th century.  Some historical masters include Davinci, Monet and Degas. Todays masters include Richard McKinley, Sally Strand, Daniel Greene,  Liz Haywood-Sullivan.  Canadian masters include Kathy Hildebrandt,  Andrew McDermott, Horace Champagne, Glenn Bernabe, Dianna Ponting and Michael Chesley Johnson (to name a few)



Papers are available in a variety of colors in various sizes and textures in pads, rolls or sold separately in larger sizes (20 x 27, 32 x 40)

Uncoated papers

  • Canson Mi-teintes (smooth or rough side) – 
  • Rives BFK- printmaking paper
  • watercolour paper
  • gatorfoam board
  • canvas

Coated (Sanded) papers

Dry media only:

  • Velour-  a fixative is recommended, but not necessary if you ensure that you press the pastel into the paper.  Here is a link to an artist who has mastered this Emma Colbert Art
  • La Carte

Accepts wet media– (for underpainting)

  • Uart:  comes in different grades of grit,
  • Art Spectrum – suede 
  • Pastelmat – use with water only…caution alcohol or mineral spirits will break down coating)
  • Multimedia Art Board
  • Many of the above papers are available mounted on board also. 
  • Artist-made supports: Gessoed board, card or paper.  Golden acrylic ground for pastels, clear gesso.   Can also purchase ‘pumice’ to add to gesso.

Pastels (those that I have used)

  • Hard:  Nupastel,  Faber-castell polychromos.  Hard pastels are usually square
  • Medium: Rembrandt , Art Spectrum, Holbein,
  • Soft:  Schmincke , Great American,   Sennelier, Unison, Diane Townsend soft, Diane Townsend Terrages, (Diane Townsend  Daler-Rowney, Girault, Mount Vision, Roche 
  • Pan pastels: pigment with less fillers in small round cosmetic looking jars, applied with soft sponge tools.
  • Pastel pencils: sketching and detail work. Take care to sharpen. My experience is the best way to sharpen is with a razor blade.   Faber-Castell, Carbothello, Conte, Derwent.

Masking Tools

  • Frisket film, painters/drafting tape, liquid frisket (remove with tweezers instead of rubbing), stencils


  • kneadable eraser, (Blu Tack is the best; in my opinion. Be cautious as some will leave a residue on the paper) 
  • stiff bristle brush,  
  • dampened chamois

Blending Tools

  • styrofoam peanuts, q-tips, rags, stumps,  chamois, dense foam, hard pastel, side of credit card.
  • Soft colour shapers. 
  • Fantastix blender (used dry)
  • Pastel brushes – soft hair for blending, stiff bristles for lifting.
  • finger (very reliable and always close at hand!)
  • use a wet round brush to paint areas of pastel.  good for fine detail

Finger cots, and gloves can be used to protect your hands.  There are also barrier creams to apply beforehand, which make cleaning up your hands much easier. The only one that I’ve found effective is   Invisible glove, but it is difficult to find.  


Use between layers to allow you to build more layers. Avoid using as a final layer as fixative may darken or dull colours.

Lascaux– acrylic resin- (not to be used between layers, but works well as a final fixative)

Sennelier Latour (alcohol and synthetic resin)

Dale Rowney  Prefix -( methoxy-2-propanol, butane, isobutane, propane,ethanol) (least amount of  odor) 

Krylon Gallery Fine Art – acetone, eylene, propane, butane, p-chlorobenzotrifluoride, ethylbenzene fixitif  – workable and final.Taken concentrated fixative (colorless resins in ethanol)

 Spectra fix (casein-based) is a very popular, non-aerosol fixative that is casein-based and non-toxic.  Even if using a fixative, all pastels must be framed under glass.  

Some have successfully sprayed multiple layers of fixative and then spray varnish.



Strokes: side of pastel. Break piece of pastel about 1/2 to 3/4” long.  Use the side of the pastel to apply strokes.  Vary pressure to give different effects

Line strokes:  Basically drawing with the end of the pastel.  Use when you want fine lines and sharper detail.


Pointillism  Cover area with spots, made with the end of the stick. Use various colours side by side. Random. 

Hatching, cross hatching, feathering 

Speckles made with grating pastel using a sanded paper – push into paper by pressing with finger, or credit card.


 fixed charcoal, pastel, watercolour or acrylic.  Watercolour acrylic or oil wash underpainting. (Must have the proper support for underpainting.

Pastels as an underpainting: dissolved with water, rubbing alcohol or turpentine on paper.   Popular to use complementary colours for the underpainting.

The tinted mi-teintes paper works on its own as an underpainting.

 Many an unsuccessful watercolour painting has been turned into a pastel.  

Using your iPad as your reference photo

  • I use Art studio to view  my reference. Zooming in & out & using colour picker is invaluable.
  • Looking at your reference or painting in grayscale-take photo.
  • Go to settings → Accessibility: Zoom flier → greyscale.
  • press button 3 times to turn on & off.


Important to plan painting.  Looks for the very basic shape and value changes.  Another tool besides drawing this out is to you photo editing software like photoshop to reduce # of shapes in your reference photo.  

Have a print of your reference in black and white also.  Or use iPad to put a greyscale filter on it. 


  • Greens in distance-bluer-paler
  • Warm- sunlit areas: yellow, orange, warm reds or pink.
    Cool areas-blues, purples, magentas & cool reds.

Elements of a Good Landscape Painting

  • Light source
  • straight horizon line (VERY IMPORTANT) & not through middle of page
  • Perspective- foreground middle ground, background.
  • Gradation of sky
  • Grayer, lighter in distance
  • Different textures-sky, land, water
  • Balance of values a shapes
    (Value masses most important- notice your painting from across a room)
  • Both hard and soft edges
  • Focal point– can have more than one Flow is important. Create intention of how you want eye to go
  • Usually enter a landscape from the bottom.



  • Avoid inhaling. Pigments may contain toxic substances. There are electronic air purifiers that can be used.
  • DO NOT BLOW on your pastel paintings as you will be breathing in the dust you stir up.  Loosely tap the back of the painting.
  • If extremely sensitive to dust; wear a mask.
  • when not framed, store drawings flat with glassine paper in between.  Glassine is a very thin translucent smooth paper that is air and water resistant, and ph balanced.
  • squint, squint, squint.  
  • turn painting upside down, sideways and look at it through a mirror to get a different perspective.
  • as fingers have oils avoid blending with fingers. Use a finger cot

Best Online Shopping (from Canada):


Kings Framing & Art Gallery

Jackson’s Art (UK)


Great Blogs

Deborah Secor

Karen Margulus


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