As artists, we always look for new materials and techniques to improve our work.
Soft pastels are one of the most versatile and dynamic mediums we can use. Soft pastels are versatile, efficient, and expressive, with various colors and textures.
In this blog, we will discuss the benefits of using soft pastels in fine art and how they differ from other pastels mediums, mainly chalk.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase by clicking on an affiliate link, Nevue Fine Art Marketing may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Affiliate relationships include, but are not limited to, Bluehost, Tailwind, Skimlinks, SareASale and StudioPress. To learn more visit Affiliate Link Disclosure Policy
What Are Soft Pastels Made Of
Soft pastels are made from a simple combination of three main ingredients:
Pigment: This is what gives the pastel its color. Artists’ quality pastels use pure, finely ground pigments, while student-grade pastels may contain fillers or extenders. Some common pigments used in pastels include earth pigments like ochre and sienna, mineral pigments like cadmium and cobalt, and organic pigments like quinacridone and phthalocyanine.
Binder: This holds the pigment together and gives the pastel its stickiness. Traditional binders include gum arabic and gum tragacanth, but modern pastels may also use synthetic binders. The amount of binder used affects the softness and durability of the pastel. More binder makes a harder pastel that is less likely to crumble, but also less blendable. Less binder makes a softer pastel that is more blendable, but also more likely to crumble.
Filler: This is an optional ingredient that can be used to adjust the texture and density of the pastel. Common fillers include chalk, clay, and kaolin. Fillers can also help to prevent the pastel from smudging or fading.
The exact recipe for soft pastels varies depending on the brand and the desired properties of the pastel. However, all soft pastels share the same basic ingredients and manufacturing process. The ingredients for dry pastels are mixed together into a paste, which is then extruded into sticks and allowed to dry. The dried sticks are then cut to size and packaged.
Soft pastels are a versatile medium that can be used to create a wide range of effects. They are blendable, smudgeable, and can be used dry or wet. They are a popular choice for portraiture, landscape painting, and still life painting.
Soft Pastels vs. Chalk
Many people mistake soft pastels for chalk, but the difference is significant.
Chalk is a hard material with a limited color range, dull finish, and limited applicability in fine art.
On the other hand, soft pastels are made with high-quality pigments and have an extensive range of colors, giving a comprehensive range of shades and hues, from vibrant to intense colour, and bold to subtle and delicate.
Soft pastels have a higher pigment concentration than chalk, which produces a more intense color application. Also, Soft Pastels can be blended with ease, giving a smoother, softer finish compared to chalk. They are not as dusty as chalk, which can get everywhere and create a mess.
What Is The Difference Between Hard And Soft Pastels
Hard and soft pastels differ primarily in their texture and the intensity of their color application.
As their name suggests, hard pastels have a firmer texture and are great for creating sharp, detailed lines and precise artwork. They typically contain more binder and less pigment, resulting in a less vibrant color payoff than soft pastels. However, this property makes them ideal for sketching and adding intricate details.
On the contrary, soft pastel sticks are highly pigmented, offering bold, rich colors with every stroke. They have a buttery, velvety texture, which allows for seamless blending light layers and layering of colors. Due to their high pigment concentration and less binder, soft pastels produce a vibrant color application, but they are more delicate and can be challenging to control for minute details. Artists often prefer soft pastels for creating a painting effect with broad, soft color strokes.
In essence, the choice between hard and soft pastels depends on the artist’s pastel techniques and the visual effect they aim to achieve.
Benefits of Soft Pastels
There are many benefits to using soft pastels for fine art.
Firstly, their applicability is not confined to a particular surface, unlike chalk, used mostly on blackboards. Soft pastels work great on surfaces such as paper, sandpaper, canvas, and many more.
Secondly, they are easy to blend, and you can quickly achieve great effects with this medium, like applying a delicate gradation from light to dark or going for vibrant colors to muted harmonious tones. Also, you can use them for creating a variety of techniques such as sgraffito (scratching into the layers for great varied lines and texture effects), blending with your fingers, the traditional use of a stylus, and applying pastel cocktails, which are mixtures of powder pastels and water.
Moreover, they are not permanent, meaning a little moisture from the atmosphere or even an eraser or a cotton swab can create significant effects on the artwork.
Popular Artist-Grade Pastels
Many brands create high-quality artist-grade pastels, and some of the most popular ones are Sennelier, Schmincke, Unison, and Rembrandt. Each brand has its unique formula, and artists usually choose their favorite brands based on their techniques or the colors they are looking for.
When choosing your brand to work with, experiment with several pastel types before deciding what to use.
This will give you a better sense of what you are most comfortable and happy with working with.
Sennelier Soft Pastels are a renowned choice for artists, known for their exceptional quality and vibrant color selection. These pastels are created with high-quality pigments that offer a rich, smooth color application that genuinely stands out on a canvas. What sets Sennelier apart is its unique formulation of pigments, binders, and kaolin clay, which gives the pastels a creamy, luxurious texture that glides effortlessly across different surfaces.
Sennelier Soft Pastels have an unparalleled depth and luminosity, attributed to using pure pigments without any clay, fillers, or binders to dilute their intensity. The color range of Sennelier Soft Pastels is extensive, offering a wide array of shades that cater to every artist’s needs – from the brightest hues to the most subtle tones.
Another notable feature of Sennelier Soft Pastels is their superb lightfastness, ensuring that your artwork remains vibrant and resistant to fading. Finally, these pastels are highly blendable, allowing artists to create a wide range of effects and transitions, making them a versatile medium for artists of all skill levels.
Schmincke Soft Pastels are yet another artist-grade pastel that commands attention and admiration from artists worldwide. These pastels are recognized for their exquisite quality and buttery softness, allowing artists to apply and blend colors easily. The softness stems from the high proportion of pure pigments and minimal binder content, resulting in highly saturated, brilliant colors.
Schmincke offers an extensive range of hues, with each shade created from a unique formula and processed multiple times to achieve optimal consistency and color purity. This makes Schmincke Soft Pastels highly versatile in achieving various artistic effects and styles.
The lightfastness of Schmincke Pastels is exceptional, meaning your artwork’s vibrancy and intensity will remain unaltered over time. Furthermore, these pastels produce minimal dust, ensuring a clean and enjoyable working environment. The hallmark of Schmincke Soft Pastels is their uniform consistency, ensuring that both their dark and light shades apply with equal smoothness and intensity.
Unison Soft Pastels are highly regarded among artists for their unique texture and broad spectrum of colors. These pastels are hand-rolled and air-dried, which preserves the soft, crumbly texture that many artists find appealing for broader strokes and coverage. As a result, Unison pastels have a distinct feel that sets them apart from other pastel brands. The high pigment concentration gives rise to a vibrant, intense color application that brings your artwork to life.
Unison offers a comprehensive color palette, including various shades and hues suitable for different artistic requirements. Moreover, these pastels exhibit excellent lightfastness, ensuring the longevity of your artwork without any fading or discoloration over time. Unison Soft Pastels are also known for their minimal dust production, creating a cleaner and more pleasant working environment. Their robust and sturdy packaging ensures the pastels are well-protected, making them a practical choice for artists who travel or work in various locations.
Rembrandt Soft Pastels are an artist’s top choice due to their exceptional quality and affordability. These pastels are renowned for their excellent color release, intense purity, and high lightfastness, which makes them a highly durable artistic tool. The softness of Rembrandt Pastels is perfectly balanced, allowing artists to easily lay down broad, bold strokes and execute precise fine details.
Crafted with carefully selected and finely ground pigments, the pastels are subjected to strict laboratory controls, ensuring consistency of color, texture, and working qualities in every stick. With an extensive palette of 203 colors, Rembrandt Pastels has an impressive range of hues and tones, accommodating every artist’s color requirements.
Furthermore, the pastels are encased in a sturdy cardboard box, providing excellent protection and easy access while working, making Rembrandt Pastels a great choice for studio work, plein air painting, and traveling artists.
What Are Pastel Pencils
Pastel Pencils are a type of art medium that combines the color intensity and depth of traditional pastels with the control and detail of a pencil. They are traditional pastels encased in wood, functioning much like colored pencils but delivering the same vibrant, rich pigment you would expect from artist-grade soft pastels.
Pastel pencils are ideal for adding intricate details to pastel drawings, as their fine point allows for more precision than a pastel stick. They are perfect for sketching, underdrawing, or fully realized pastel works where precision is needed. One of the main advantages of pastel pencils is their cleanliness, as you don’t have direct contact with the pigment, which can be a deterrent for some people when using traditional pastels.
Whether you’re an experienced pastel artist or a beginner, pastel pencils can be an excellent addition to your artistic toolbox, offering both versatility and control. Brands like Caran d’Ache, Stabilo, and Faber-Castell produce high-quality pastel pencils that come in a wide range of colors, offering artists excellent options to express their creativity.
What Are Oil Pastels
Oil pastels are a distinct art medium that combines the qualities of both drawing and painting.. Unlike soft pastels made with a powdered pigment and binder, oil pastels consist of pigment combined with a non-drying oil and wax binder, creating a softer, creamier texture. This composition gives them a distinctive, luscious color that doesn’t fade or discolor over time, irrespective of the light exposure.
Oil pastels allow artists to lay down vibrant, waxy colors that can be blended and smeared on the paper, much like oil paints. They are versatile, allowing for various effects and techniques like layering, scraping, and sgraffito. However, unlike oil paints, they don’t require any solvents and are ready to use straight from the stick, making them a popular choice for artists of all ages and skill levels.
Brands such as Sennelier, Holbein, and Sakura produce high-quality oil pastels favored by artists for their rich color payoff, excellent bendability, and strong lightfastness. Whether drawing or filling up large areas with color, oil pastels can add a touch of vibrancy and depth to your artistic creations.
What Type Of Pastels Should You Use For Your Next Pastel Painting
The type of pastel you should use for your next pastel painting depends on your preferred style, subject, and the effect you want to achieve. If you aim for detailed, intricate work with defined lines, pastel pencils might be the right choice. They offer precision and control and are excellent for sketching and underdrawing. For a softer, more diffused look with rich, vibrant tones, consider using soft pastels like the Schmincke, Unison, or Rembrandt brands, each with unique characteristics and advantages. However, oil pastels are a great option if you’re leaning towards bold, impasto effects and love experimenting with textures and blending techniques. Ultimately, the choice is subjective and should be based on what best suits your artistic vision. Experimentation is vital in art, so do not hesitate to try different types or even combine them in a single artwork to add depth and interest to your pastel painting.
What Pastel Papers Are Best For Soft Pastels
Choosing the right paper for soft pastels is crucial as it can significantly impact the final result of your artwork. The paper’s texture or “tooth” helps grab and hold the pastel pigment, which is why many pastel artists prefer papers with a good amount of texture.
Sennelier Pastel Card is a popular choice among professional artists. It has a finely ground, pH-neutral vegetable fiber coating, ensuring it will not yellow over time. The texture is coarse, perfect for multiple layers of pastel without the need for fixative.
Clairefontaine Pastelmat is another excellent option, especially for detailed works. Its surface feels like velvet to the touch but holds multiple layers of pastel. It comes in many beautiful colors that can add depth and mood to your pastel paintings.
Canson Mi-Teintes paper is loved for its versatility and affordability. It has two sides – smooth and textured- giving artists options for different effects. It’s also available in a wide range of colors.
Each paper comes with its own unique qualities, and the best one for you ultimately depends on your personal preference and the style of your artwork. Regardless of the brand you choose, it’s advisable to opt for acid-free and archival-quality paper to ensure the longevity of your pastel artwork.
What Are The Best Blending Tools For Soft And Hard Pastels
The best blending tools for soft and hard pastels largely depend on the artist’s technique and the desired effect. However, some tools and materials have gained popularity for their efficacy.
Fingers: Many artists use their fingers for blending pastels. The warmth of your fingers can help to mix and smooth the pastels on the paper, especially when working with soft pastels.
Tortillons and Stumps: Made from tightly rolled paper, these tools are excellent for blending detailed work or for areas where fingers might be too large. They come in various sizes and can be cleaned by rubbing on a sandpaper pad.
Brushes: Some artists use brushes for blending pastels. Hake brushes, in particular, are popular for their soft bristles and broad heads, perfect for blending larger areas.
No blending tool is superior to the other, and each can yield different results. The best blending tool is the one that works for your specific style and technique. Experimenting with different tools and pastel surfaces is recommended to discover which ones you prefer.
Soft pastels have a unique beauty that other materials don’t have. Their colors are intense, and their texture gives great options for a more expressive and lively technique in fine art. Don’t be afraid to try out these beautiful pastels and experiment with them; they may just be the medium to take your art to the next level. Enjoy your newfound beauty and inspiration with soft pastels!