To blend or not to blend? To fix or not to fix? Do I need to buy those expensive pastels? Where do I start? Are these chalks from the newsagent's any good? How do I move on from my silly looking attempts? I've got more pastel on me than on my paper! I've watched all the Youtube videos on pastel painting and I am still just dabbling about!

If this sounds familiar then keep reading.

So Many Questions and Myths About Pastel

I wanted to create a place to tackle all of these pastel questions and more. A single place where we could practice and learn as much as possible, but also a place where we could 'get real' and bust some myths.

There are so many myths around about soft pastel and it took me quite a long time to figure them all out (some might still be lurking). Many books recommend purchasing hundreds of pastel sticks (enough to put anyone on a budget off) as, they say, you cannot mix colours. Others tell you pastels are not lightfast and therefore not 'serious' art materials. Some talk endlessly about blending as if sugary-sweet plastic looking girls and kittens is all we ever want to paint. Many keep pastel well and truly in the realm of amateurs, hobbyists, women, and cutesy pretty pictures. Some think it is only good for pet portraits. And yet we all know the amazing works by Degas and perhaps Redon or Cassatt. They didn't fade, they weren't cutesy, they probably didn't have hundreds of pastel sticks.

So Few Answers

I believe there are very few good books about pastel painting and that many of them are a bit stuck in the world of amateur 'pretty pictures' that expect quick results with little effort. As pastel is often not considered a 'proper' art material, this will probably not change any time soon.

Pastel is a Fantastic Medium

But pastel is so fantastic as a medium, and there have been so many amazing pastel artists throughout art history to take inspiration from. I love pastel because it is so versatile: you can work expressive, impressionist, hyper realistic or abstract. Pastel is direct and requires little preparation. It does not need to dry and you don’t need a complex array of materials. The quality of modern pastels is improving all the time, which is very exciting, as more becomes known about the archival qualities and safety of pigments. Professional soft pastels are a world away from the chalks we used at school.

So where do you start?

sennelier pastel

Creating a Pastel Hub For All

In order to create a place for 'everything pastel’, where pastel lovers can come and learn, explore, practice and share, I had to cover all the bases: materials, techniques, art history, and put it all into lessons, videos, and a community of course.

I wanted to cover pastel types and their uses, pastel brands and their differences, pastel papers and their pros and cons. Then of course there are the many ways one can paint with pastels. I imagine a creative artist can invent a new technique tomorrow, but I tried to cover a good range of mark making techniques in a series of lessons. The more techniques you try and get familiar with, the more you can choose the most suitable technique for painting what ever you want to paint and how you want to paint it.

So in The Pastel Place, as I called this place, we do all these things. We take a proper deep dive into pastel and explore all of it. You will learn which types, brands, papers and techniques you prefer for your personal style and subject matter. Then we go deeper and explore fundamental painting pricinciples such as colour, value, and edges. We figure out how to paint realistic detail in soft pastel, and how to work with a limited palette. We study old masters such as Liotard and Degas and try to apply their techniques into our own work.

The Pastel Place is a deep-dive online course into soft pastel inside my online art school. Besides lessons, videos, and reading material there is an active and welcoming online community of fellow pastel enthusiasts to share your work with, ask questions etc.

And most importantly, we do explore pastel in a practical way. No lofty treatises but a simple down-to-earth language and approach that makes pastel painting accessible to all.

The Pastel Place

So I created a place where everything pastel comes together: materials, techniques, art history, subject matter, practical exercises and demonstrations. But no place is complete without visitors! Let me be your guide and show you all the wonderful things soft pastel offers and let’s create some magic. 

See you in The Pastel Place.

sennelier pastel

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About the author

Sophie is an artist, art historian, tutor, author and blogger. She writes on oil and pastel painting, art history and the life of an artist. She paints portraits and still life and specialises in painting drapery and lace.

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  1. I can understand why you'd love to write a book about pastels.
    I've been very much attracted to pastel painting ever since I found out there were such things as pastel sticks. I personally think pastel painting is very beneficial to those who are good with drawing since pastel painting becomes effortless.
    Knowing the main painting principles is certainly a plus, and just like with any other medium they apply.
    I love pastels, love using them and I love how my pastel art looks like.
    There are a few drawbacks, however. I have too many paintings to frame them all, and pastel painting must be preserved right away or it will get damaged. I find that impossible. I'd store them with spacers in the middle and cover sheets on top, but that way they're just in a folder and nobody can see them. That includes me, too.
    Secondly, the fixatives for pastel painting are in a very wide range of quality, you never know which one will blow all light tones away.
    And the third is a very personal issue: the sound when pastel touches the pastel paper and the dust make me feel not pleasant.
    Other than that, it's probably the second-best medium after oils. I cannot do oils because I'm allergic, so that leaves acrylic.
    Your articles are very insightful and informative, yet, they a contain a specific, fine-tuned and experience-based points of view. That is a huge plus.

    1. Thank you for your comment Inese, I am glad you are enjoying my blog articles. I’m afraid the book about pastels hasn’t really happened yet, as I’ve put all my efforts in my online pastel course so far.

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