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What Are the Best Tips for Painting with Pastel?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2014
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There are a number of tips that can be useful when painting with pastel.‭ ‬Although they might appear to be a simple drawing medium,‭ ‬pastels do have their own specific techniques that can help to achieve a finished look on a painting.‭ ‬Oil and chalk are the two primary types of pastels.‭ ‬Each one needs to be handled in a slightly different way.

When painting with pastel made from chalk,‭ ‬the first thing to be aware of is the amount of colored dust that will be produced.‭ ‬This dust can be harmful if inhaled in large quantities and can penetrate the skin.‭ One should wear gloves, if possible, when working with pastels.‭ ‬The painting also should be kept at an angle so the dust rolls off the surface and does not get blended into the wrong parts of the picture.

Oil pastels,‭ ‬which are similar to chalk pastels but contain an oil to help prevent dust,‭ ‬require different techniques.‭ Before starting to use oil pastels, one should ensure that the sticks are not cold.‭ ‬The heat from a hand is enough to warm them to a good temperature for use.‭ ‬This will help the pastel spread across the surface in a more‭ ‬even way.

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Working from the lightest colors to the darkest colors is an important technique to practice when painting with pastel.‭ ‬This is how pastels work best.‭ ‬Starting with the darkest colors and progressing to the lightest ones can bring poor results unless the‭ ‬individual‭ ‬areas are clearly defined ahead of time and precisely avoided when working.

Using blending sticks instead of bare fingers when possible is recommended.‭ Painting with pastel involves directly touching the pigment medium.‭ ‬Traditionally,‭ ‬many artists simple use their fingers to blend colors on a surface.‭ ‬This technique does have its place and has been used to great effect,‭ ‬but learning to use a blending stick can‭ ‬provide an alternative that allows sharper textures.‭ ‬A blending stick is a tightly wrapped stick made of paper‭ ‬that can be peeled back to reveal a‭ ‬sharp,‭ ‬clean point‭ ‬whenever‭ ‬one is needed.

It is possible to use spray fixatives when painting with pastel,‭ ‬regardless of whether it is chalk or oil.‭ Spraying a layer with fixative allows the next layer to be painted without blending.‭ ‬This can aid in creating depth‭ ‬within an image.

Another good tip is to avoid creating mud.‭ ‬Mud is a term for an area of a pastel painting where the colors have been over mixed or ‬over blended or were of opposite hues.‭ ‬Mixing cool and warm pastel colors can create a neutral,‭ ‬brown or gray area that is‭ ‬tonally‭ ‬flat.‭ ‬This is what is called mud, and most pastel artists try to avoid it.

One interesting effect that can be achieved while painting with pastel is a pastel wash.‭ ‬A‭ ‬pastel‭ ‬wash‭ ‬can‭ ‬be‭ ‬created by applying the pastel to a sturdy piece of paper and then‭ ‬coating it with water or mineral oil.‭ ‬This will cause a watercolor-like effect‭ ‬that can act as an underpainting.

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