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.
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.