Do we need another book on pastel painting? You tell me!

I think there are not that many books on pastel painting out there and many are pretty old. As I have been building my online course on pastel painting recently, it made me gather and focus all the material, knowledge, and experience (bad and good) I have. It is great to be able to share this with my students and help them along on their own creative journey. In our private community we can be open and honest and make some real progress.

Sophie Ploeg Rembrandt Pastels
Terry ludwig pasetl

But not everyone will want to join an in-depth course and some might just be after a useful reference book. A book that provides all the basic information you need to know if you want to get started with soft pastel. A book that gets you set up in the right way, so you can go off and explore your creative visions in your own way.

So I want to write a book on pastel painting. And I could do with your help!

What is the book about?

I want to get people clued up on pastel painting fundamentals. So when you finish the book, you know what to do: you know your materials, you know how to get started, you just need to start practicing.

The Book Outline

I have started to set up the outline of my new book. But I would love to hear from you! What do you want to find inside a book on pastel painting? What, from this list, would you not be interested in?

Not sure to include or not?

I don't want this book to be about me or my art, so it will not be illustrated with just my own paintings. Because I don't want it to be all about me, I am not sure I should add painting demonstrations in the book.

I am also not sure whether fundamental painting principles such as composition, values, colour belong in this book. These principles are not specific to pastel or related to pastel. Do they deserve a book of their own? Or shall I include it?

Before I start writing, I'd love your thoughts!

Proposed Content

This is what I have so far:

  1. What is Pastel: how is it made and what is it made of.
  2. Studio Set up: easels, toxicity, organising, storage, framing
  3. Materials: types, brands, papers, tools
  4. Techniques: Fine detail, colour mixing, layering, mixed media, under-paintings
  5. Painting Demonstrations (?): work in progress images of a portrait or still life.
  6. Painting Concepts (?): edges, values, colour, composition.
  7. History of Pastel: A short history of pastel and its greatest heroes.
  8. Inspiration: Some inspirational images from contemporary artists (if I can find some that are willing to lend me their images for the book)

Who am I?

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, you might wonder why you should be interested in my book about pastel painting in the first place. Who am I to write about pastel? So let me introduce myself a little (feel free to browse the rest of this website as well, including the 'About' page). I have been working with pastel since I was a teenager and my grandmother left me an old cigar box of Rembrandt pastels. I have been hooked on pastel ever since! Although I have not always been a full time artist, I have spend the past 30 years painting and studying art. In the last 15 years or so I have focussed more and more on painting in pastel and oils. My pastel work has been featured in The Pastel Journal and has been exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Pastel Society. I have widely exhibited my art within the UK and the US (Royal Society of Portrait Painters, BP Portrait Award etc) and written articles on painting for A&I Magazine. I have taught painting workshops from my studio in the past few years and am now moving to online tuition. Recently I created The Pastel Place, an online course for people who want to learn everything about pastel painting and I am now diving into a book on pastel painting.

If you want to learn more about soft pastel, what would you like to find inside this book?

About the author 


Sophie is an artist, art historian, tutor, and writer. She writes on art history, oil and pastel painting, exhibitions and more. She loves painting portraits, drapery and lace. She teaches online art classes in her online art school. The 17th century is probably her favourite era, although the ancient Romans are currently fighting for the lead spot.

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  1. As an inspiration, I would suggest Bill Greevey's book. I love this book and received a great deal of inspiration from it. I just wish he had written another book, but he is now gone from this earth because of COVID. Bon Chance.

  2. Hi Sophie, I’m fairly new to pastels but not new to `painting and drawing’ but I often find pastel books get into basics too much, ie beginners info. I’d love a book that shows/ includes info for or even just specifically for, more serious pastelist!
    Such as:-
    – Professional ways to preserve and frame
    – More up to date info on the newer materials/mediums available in the UK and how they fair.
    – `How to’ instructions on more interesting techniques like intricate details, mixing colours, how to do `hair’, how to do `skin tones’ etc
    – Fixative use? To fix or not to fix on different papers etc.
    – Different contemporary artists and how they approach their work.

    Basically, a book on how to do more than just the usual line drawing and hatching would be amazing as I’d love to progress and learn new techniques I might be missing out on!

    Thank you. Good luck with your book!

    1. Hi Donna, you hit on a very important thing. I too find books so often focus on the basics and then…nothing. There is very little out there for the painters ‘in between’. So you raise a great point which I will try and include for sure. I have tried to include some more advanced things in my online pastel course as well, exactly for those reasons. Thanks again for this excellent suggestions.

  3. Sophie, all are excellent suggestions. I would most agree that 4 and 5 would be most valuable. One key to include is not just what you do but why, explain the rationale for your choice of technique, color, composition particularly as it relates to the overall work. We as visual people learn visually, please include demonstrations as they are most valuable. Thank you and good luck.

  4. Hi Sophie

    I really think you should include numbers 5 and 6. I would love to see a demonstration of how you achieve your such beautiful lace using soft pastels.

    I find it difficult to find shadow colours with soft pastels so hope that too could be included in book.

    Thank you for all your helpful information.

    1. Thanks Anne, I appreciate the feedback. Love the ‘shadow colours’ idea! Still unsure about section 5 and 6…. Thanks again, Sophie.

  5. Although I’ve tried pastels before, I’ve recently come back to them in combination with printmaking. I was given a variety of sets (discarded by a friend who didn’t get on with them), so have been trying out the different makes and experimenting, seeing the kind of marks each brand makes, and it has been a very valuable few hours. So I think this type of information would be very valuable to beginners. Also some info on colours – I notice that the small sets are basically just primary full colours, few tints or shades. I have some Pan Pastels and they are sold in sets for eg Landscape, portrait which is quite useful. One thing I am sure of, one can never have enough colours! Also, how to organise them so that one can see them, to speed up working. Hunting for that elusive colour you’re sure you have somewhere…..Thanks for this blog, I’m enjoying it.

    1. Thank you so much Jan. Sorry I am a bit slow with the reply, but this is very useful to read. Thanks and have fun with the pastels!

  6. Hi Sophie…I am new to your blog and very pleased to be apart of continuing art education….I am a classical draftsman…mastered watercolor moving on to oils which I love…actually I love it all…as a young woman I started with pastels with an instructor who spent time in Paris as a young man…however I moved on and placed my interest in pastels in the back of the closet!
    Of late… I have a rekindled my interest in the beauty of the medium….
    I would appreciate being apart of your knowledge and exploration of Pastels….
    For the love of Art ….

  7. Hi Sophie. I think most of what I would look for has been covered by others. One thing is demonstrations. The photos you work from would be better full page so you could follow your demonstration and use the photos to do it our own way to developers our own ‘style’. Why you use hard or soft, a particular hue or mark and the different papers is what I would look for. ‘Easy ‘ examples showing techniques combining and building them into more complex paintings using soft or hard pastels and few or many layers as well as to blend or not.
    I know how pastels are made but your skill in using them is what I want to understand and use. You could make smaller books specifically covering a particular subject so buyers could compile a library of techniques and information as their knowledge and experience grows. Good luck with the project and looking forward to reading the results. John

    1. Hi John, thanks so much for your comment! I really appreciate your honest words; yes there are books out there that cover a good lot, that is true. But I think many are pretty old and don’t mention newer brands of pastel or papers. Of course pastel techniques don’t change much, but there are books out there that recommend practices that I don’t always agree with. So perhaps I’ve got something to add to the bibliography after all. We’ll see. 😉
      I love your practical suggestions – I am writing them down! And I quite like the idea of smaller books with perhaps extensive demos: large pics, a good explanation of why I do what I do. Yes, I will definitely keep that in mind. That would also work well as a video I suppose.
      Thanks so much!

  8. Well, I am an absolute layman and only a hobby painter, so maybe my explanations are not quite as relevant and not very helpful, but I try anyway.
    I admit I would omit chapter 6. In similar books to other techniques, it was always the chapter that I skip. I don’t think it answers the questions you ask yourself when buying such a book. Painting concepts basically apply to all painting media. People who are specifically and concretely interested in pastel painting either already have this knowledge or can look it up “anywhere else”. From my point of view they only overload such a book. What would be important for me would be definitions and limitations of concepts (Why are oil pastels not regarded as pastels and why do they often have a bad reputation or are not taken seriously? Why do many pastel artists look down on pastel crayons as “not real pastel”?). Above all, however, I would like to see the connection between paper, pastel selection and technique (from very few and very thin layers to very many layers) presented in great detail. It is often described which pastels are “softer” or “dustier” or “harder” or “creamier”, but there is no concrete direct comparison in connection with different application techniques (e.g. using the same motif). In the meantime, I buy a pastel in the same colour from each brand an try out which fits my technique, because there is often very little to do with the descriptions, also with reviews. It would be nice if the reader of such a book could see a series of pictures of a small motive (I think of your wonderful bowl or something similar) on different papers with different chalk marks. So it would be possible on the one hand to evaluate and judge reviews better in the future, on the other hand to decide faster which material would be more suitable for you on the basis of the effect (“this is the result I want”).
    (Translated by Deepl)

    1. Thank you so much Martine! You being a hobby painter is perfect – as that is who the book would be for: beginners who want to learn about pastel.
      Yes, I am not sure about chapter 6, it seems a little like something that should be in another book, doesn’t it.
      I love what you are suggestion here: showing how the hardness of the pastel has an effect in the application and technique used. That is brilliant, thanks! Of course a lot depends on your own style, ‘hand writing’ and technique. Many of my paintings end up looking the same, no matter what type of pastel I use, because I use the same technique. But these are all very useful things to explain in the book! thank you for these suggesions – super helpful (as you always are). x

  9. When writing about technique I find it extraordinarily useful if the author discusses why they do what they are demonstrating. When would I want to do this, or why were these particular colors chosen?

  10. Hi Sophie. I am new to your blog and enjoy it very much. I have been seduced by the rainbow colours in pastel for years but I am not very skilled at using the medium. Looking at a new box of pastels is being a kid in a candy shop. I am interested in how to build up layers of pastel to create nuances in skin tones, for example, and in colour mixing. Using pastel with other mediums such as oil paint is also a topic of interest. Who are the mixed media artists (contemporary and historical) that we can learn from.
    Best wishes to you on this exciting project.

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment! Who can resist the kid-in-the-candy-store effect when we see pastels!? 😉 I love your suggestions, thank you. You might also want to check out my Art School for pastel courses.

  11. Hi Sophie

    Personally I would like to know a little about types of pastels and what they are good for e.g. detail work. I wouldn’t want to know about creating form, edges etc. because there are already lots of books on those topics. Demonstrations would be important for me to see how the painting can be developed. Storing pastel paintings would also me a ‘must’.

    Looking forward to seeing your book in print.

    Best wishes

    PS I don’t have a website but if you’re interested in seeing my work I’m on Instagram. janiceharris44

  12. I often look at a finished painting, for example a pastel by Chardin with all its exquisite detail and harmony of colour, and wonder “How did he achieve that?”. So for me demonstrations of how a painting was built up would be important. (But that’s why I’m doing your course!)

    1. 🙂 Thank you Paul! I hope you are enjoying the course! Thanks for the tip – I am going to see how I can best incorporate that in the book.

  13. Hi Sophie,
    I am relatively new to pastel and am self taught.
    If I was to buy a book the key for me would to have a section for absolute beginners and then extras to entice intermediate pastels artists and of course aspirational ideas to move to advanced.
    As a beginner I struggled with
    – different type of pastels (pastels or pastel pencils) – which to use and for what
    – colours and how to blend colours to have a wider spectrum of colours than just using 1 pencil
    – equipment… especially how to get a good sharpener for my pastel pencils and best rubber to us etc
    – use of blending sticks
    – how to store my paintings to stop them smudging
    Hope this is of help

    1. Hi Janet, thanks so much for adding your comment! I really appreciate it. I love what you are suggesting: a bit for absolutely beginners: definitely! And then onwards…
      I’ve written it all down. Great stuff.

  14. Painting Demonstrations (?): work in progress images of a portrait or still life.
    I guess it depends on how big a book it is but each major genre could be demonstrated with different light effects like cool colours – portrait,
    warm colours landscape
    high contrast still life,
    low contrast seascape or city
    Sounds very exciting!

    1. Thanks Robert!
      I am not super sure about demonstrations as it would become a little bit about me and my work. But I can see how it could be helpful to see how different effects can be created, etc. Thanks for the suggestion – noted it down. 🙂

  15. I would also add – how to protect your work. Esp for pastels. And longevity.
    I think showing step by step development is always important when learning a new medium.
    Also what to do when you make a mistake – how to fix it.

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