Pastels are a fantastic medium for creating rich, layered artwork reminiscent of traditional paints, but without the need for solutions, excess materials and drying time. Pastels are pure pigment bound with gum or oil, and produce intense and vivid colours - they aren’t to be confused with the soft and pale ‘pastel colours’ of interior design! Available in soft, hard and oil options, they are incredibly versatile and come in a vaster range of colours than paints. Here’s our beginner's guide to getting to know your pastels.
Hard pastels are bound with more gum and less pigment, making them firmer and less crumbly than softer pastels. They can be sharpened using a knife, and are ideal for precision work such as detail and underlining. You can often find hard pastels in pencil form, making precise work that much easier. Hard pastels can still be blended however, and using the side of a stick is ideal for broad strokes of colour.
Soft pastels contain more pigment than binder, making them crumbly but very intense. They have a smoother, more buttery texture than hard pastels, and so smudge much more easily. This makes them perfect for filling in colour, blending and layering. Experimenting with your pastel technique is always fun, as different strokes produce different textures on the paper. Be aware that both hard and soft pastels release fine dust particles into the air, so make sure you work somewhere well ventilated.
With oil pastels, the pigment is bound with oil instead of gum, creating a waxier consistency that is inherently different to soft pastels. Layers can be built up over time, creating a paint-like finish that doesn’t require the extensive materials of paint itself - although be careful not to add too many layers. Oil pastels also don’t release fine dust particles like soft pastels, and don’t require fixative at the end of the process. They come in a vast variety of pigments, perhaps more than paint, and can even be thinned with turpentine to create soft washes.