Art pastels – A basic guide to pastel painting

A basic guide to art pastels with art pastels

Scouring art supplies online is an inspirational exercise, and a set of art pastels – with its gorgeous colour offering – is likely to motivate you to get out your art paper and start experimenting. Fun factor aside, many artists love using pastels as they are a predictable medium; what you see is what you get. They don’t dry lighter or darker and neither do they come in matt or glass options. (So the decision-making process is simplified).

You will want to invest in a beautiful set of bejewelled art pastels, but first, you will need to decide whether you want to work with soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels or pastel pencils. 

We break down the basics so you can get started:

#1 Soft pastels

Before you even put pastel to paper, the candy store appeal of soft pastels is so pleasing to the eye. (They really do look good enough to eat!). Their soft, smudgy appeal is broad and that is why they should make their way into anyone’s art stash.  

Art supplies - soft pastels

Here are just a few reasons why soft pastels – which contain more pure powdered pigment and less binder – are  such a desirable medium for artists of all levels:

  • A quality set of soft pastels is an affordable art supply. 
  • The affordability advantage extends even further as no other art materials  (besides art paper) are required.
  • No prep is required – you just start drawing.
  • There is no drying time required before adding layers or blending the vibrant and opaque colours. 
  • No cleaning of art materials is required except for a little coloured dust. 
  • Depending on your touch and the angle the pastel is held, the techniques and finished effects of soft art pastels are broad – you can experiment with expressive and bold results or subtle and refined finishes. 

Soft pastels tip: To prevent your hand from smudging your artwork or dust piling up on your paper – ‘best practice’ is to work vertically instead of flat. 

#2 Hard pastels 

Hard pastels – made from less pigment and more binder – may not blend as well as soft pastels but they give you crisp lines (similar to charcoal) and bold markings. Even though their colours are not as intense,  they are more stable and will not break or crumble as easily as soft pastels. They can also be sharpened with a craft knife or sharpener, but you cannot get as sharp a point as with a pastel pencil. 

Many artists work hard to soft; selecting hard pastel sticks for darker shadow regions and outlines and moving on to layering the brighter soft pastels as the ‘pastel painting’ progresses. 

Art pastels and pastel pencils

#3 Pastel Pencils 

Like coloured pencil crayons, pastel pencils have a sharp point which makes them ideal for precision and detailed lines but with soft pastel nibs. Artist quality pastel pencils tend to be a bit more pricey but they are with investing in for finer details and highlights on a pastel artwork. With a pastel pencil, you have more control but are also able to layer and blend like soft pastels and achieve a painterly finish. 

Art supplies online - pastel pencils

#4 Oil Pastels 

Made from pure pigment, a wax binder and non-drying oil, oil pastels are the best option for much brighter and more intense hues. Because they are considered a wet medium, you are also able to mix oil pastel colours. They have a creamy feel and can be applied to most surfaces – absorbent, non-absorbent, matte, glossy, smooth, textured, painted or unpainted. OIl pastels should not be left in the sun for long periods of time and should preferably be stored away from direct heat. 

Oil pastels tip:  It is advisable to spray fix an oil pastel painting with a clear fixative or frame it behind glass. 

With any art pastels, you really do learn by doing – so buy a set from an online art supply store and just start creating. It’s that simple. 


Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.