Soft Pastels - My Medium of Choice

My medium of choice is soft pastels and the reason for this is mainly due to my publisher. When I first approached them I had a mix of styles, as I was not sure which style would take off. In there was pen and ink, watercolour and digital images. I did have a very ancient set of pastels that I had inherited from a great uncle who was an art teacher in the 1920s and 30s that I had used as kid and art student. For some reason I had not considered it at art school as having any serious potential. Plus this old set was well past its best so I guess my first introduction to pastels was of a rather geriatric, crumbly set of colours which, as much as I loved them, I was rather afraid to use too much for fear of damaging them.

At the time of initial talks with Little Tiger they showed me an image that they loved because it looked so soft. I told them the best way to achieve that softness is with soft pastels. So I said I would have a go at converting my work into pastels. After spending wads of cash on some new pastels and producing a pile of images, I finally stumbled on ‘the look’ that worked.

Though really thinking about it pastels actually suited my nature far better than any other medium. For those other people out there who are curious to learn more and:

• are a little bit impatient,
• like a halfway house between painting and drawing,
• like to plan the colours they are going to use,
• like consistent colour from one picture to the next,
• want to be able to undo ‘whoopsies’ with ease,
• lay down colour really fast,
• are too impatient to wait for the drying time of paint,
• are irritated by paint that dries lighter or darker,
• can’t be bothered to do hours of mixing paint to get just the right shade,
• like a medium that can be easily drawn into with pencil,
• like a medium that works well in conjunction with watercolour and other mediums,
• like seriously intense, vibrant colour right through to the palest whisper of colour,

...then pastels are for you.



•  Pastels have wishy washy colours and it is hard to achieve depth or contrast. Think again. It is a chalk-like medium but that is where the similarities end. There are purples so deep they almost appear black, there are oranges so bright that you actually need to tone them down. Pink so deliciously yummy and blues so electric you will wonder why you ever bothered with other mediums.

•  You can’t get any kind of detail easily. While it is true pastel does not suit fussy teeny weeny detail it is not impossible to get small details in. It just takes the right tools, a steady hand and considering increasing the size at which you work.

•  No such thing as a crisp line or edge with pastel. Yes, it's hard to get a crisp line or edge, but with the right tricks you can get it looking surprisingly sharp. For example using stencils.

•  It's an old fashioned, boring medium. Not so! There are dozens of techniques to try out and I am sure many more to be discovered. It's a wonderfully diverse medium which stands up well with other, more popular mediums.



When you have finished your pastel painting it is extremely delicate and will need very careful handling. Even after using fixative spray it will still be vulnerable to unwanted smudging. A protective glassine paper layer to prevent anything touching the surface will be needed, or careful mounting and framing. The number of times I have had to slap people's fingers away is countless, or the anger I feel when repro houses have been very rough with an image and I have had to do it again because they smudged it. Guard your painting like a tigress with her cub!


Have a look at my Feature Artist profile to learn more about me and see some of my work!

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