How Pastels Won Me Over

If you’ve been here for a while, you know I started out with colored pencil. I still use colored pencil today, but I began using pastels two years ago and they have progressively become my medium of choice for most projects I work on! So, what is it that made pastels my favorite?

Progress photo of “Bullwinkle” (quarter horse) in Unison Colour soft pastels

Progress photo of “Bullwinkle” (quarter horse) in Unison Colour soft pastels

Pastels are faster! This doesn’t mean pastels are fast exactly — it still takes a long time to produce the type of highly detailed work that I like to create. But because pastels are straight pigment with little binder, it is very easy to build up vibrant color quickly. This makes the process much faster in general.

With pastels, you can usually layer lights over darks. This is something that can come in very handy when drawing animals of all types. Whiskers can be tricky if you can’t put lights over darks. I love the more intuitive feel of being able to create the basic fur and to put shine on top of that rather than saving any lighter spaces — it just feels nicer sometimes and is less stressful when planning a drawing. Keep in mind that the paper you use can affect this ability. I like to use Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper.

Pastel Supplies PanPastel Faber-Castell Pitt Caran d'Ache Pencils Kit Gray Illustration

Pastels come in a variety of forms. This is certainly not something that is necessary, but I absolutely love the fact that I can choose between soft pastels, PanPastel, or pastel pencils. They each excel at different things and I love getting a bit of variety.

Simply put, pastels are just so much fun to work with. I don’t know how to explain this one if you haven’t used them, but I just find pastels to be relaxing and fun to work with, which means I keep coming back to them.

Now, pastels aren’t perfect and there are definitely cons to them. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  1. Pastels cannot be “fixed” perfectly — they will always be prone to smudging. It is important to be very careful when handling and storing pastel artwork and important to use a framer who understands the special guidelines to follow for framing pastel artwork.

  2. Pastels are messy! Your hands will get messy with soft pastels and your desk and/or easel may get dust all over it. PanPastels and pastel pencils are not nearly as bad, but…

  3. Pastel pencils are a pain in the butt to sharpen. After going through several sharpeners and finding pastel pencils would always ruin them, I finally gave in and started using a craft knife/blade and some sandpaper in a Talenti gelato container. I am used to this method now, so it doesn’t feel quite as taxing, but man — if someone developed a sharpener that would actually work long-term with pastel pencils, I would buy that in a second!

What’s your favorite medium and why do you like it?