How to Organise Pastels


These pastels are not organised at all!

I am working on a pastel self portrait (and filming it so stay tuned) and since it had been a while I got my pastels out I just grabbed some pastel boxes from the cupboard and got started. In the boxes is a mix of pastels. They randomly ended up there. I have no method in the organisation of my pastels and no idea of what colours I have. Time for a sort-out!

I am Running out of Space

A long time ago I organised my pastels by colour in a small stationery drawer file unit. I put in some ribbed cardboard to stop them from rolling around. It worked quite nicely. But over the years I worked in oils more and more. I still used pastels on and off and bought more pastels in large boxed sets. So I ended up with an organised stationery drawer file as well as a pile of boxes next to it. And none of it was organised.

And it is Getting Chaotic

I generally don’t put my pastels back in the same slot as where they were when they were new in the box.  So pastels I use get put back in random places in boxes. My portraiture set contains solely pinks by now, but my mixed box is, well, mixed. It is just a different mix from when I bought it…

Because my colours are all over the place I usually grab a box or two and work from those. The pastels in my stationery drawers are often forgotten about. I probably have colours I haven’t seen in years.

I Need to Organise Stuff!

So I think I need to organise my pastels as well as find myself a storage system that can keep all of my pastels.

A great example of how to organise pastels by colour and value. This is Phil Bates’ box.
Artist Marla Baggetta in her studio. Her pastels are wonderfully organised by colour and value.


I am looking into a storage system. But today I decided to organise my pastels.

How to Organise Pastels

Organising is a personal thing. Some people like things very neat, while others are happy with a more messy system. So some artists organise their pastels by brand, others by colour, some by value (light to dark) or by type (hard to soft). There are lots of ways to organise things.

The late Maggie Price, a well-known pastel artist, was known for organising her pastels by value and temperature (see this article for more info); a system I like and wanted to try.

I think (adding up the numbers on the boxes plus guessing random piles) I have around 400-500 pastels. For some that might seem a lot, but just remember I have been painting in pastel since I was a teenager. For others this is not much at all. I have heard of professionals who have thousands!

I am quite pleased with myself for getting this lot organised


First I organised my pastels in the boxes I had (for now). So in the picture above you can see my Rembrandt boxes which my pastels came in. I removed the foam dividers. The boxes are too big and ideally would have dividers to make smaller spaces. I organised the pastels by colour and roughly by value (light to dark).  When I finally found a good storage system, I transferred my pastels into drawers (see picture below).

Sorted by Colour, Value and Temperature

I organised my pastels by colour, value and temperature. I thought this system makes sense. When I am painting and looking for a colour I would look for the right value first, then temperature and then colour, I think. I must admit I found it quite hard to organise by temperature. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether that screaming pink is warmer or cooler than that electric blue. Chroma plays a role as well. Is a stronger colour lighter or darker than a more muted colour? I imagine I will continue to move pastels around until the organisation is right. And then I hope I will put them back in the right tray when I am painting!

So I have put my darkest colours in the tray on the left and my lightest colours on the right.  Within each box I put the warmest colours at the bottom (in this picture) and the cool colours at the top. So all the blues are at the top and go from dark to light as you look from left to right. All the yellows and reds are at the bottom and go from dark to light as you move from left  to right.

I have mixed up all the brands. I don’t mind mixing them up as I have Rembrandts, Unisons and some Schmincke’s and they all have such different shape and texture that I won’t mistake one for the other.

My pastel pencils and hard pastels will stay separate.

How have you organised your pastels?

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2 thoughts on “How to Organise Pastels”

  1. Interesting about pastel boxes. I just brought two boxes form Woolworth for $15.00 Au. I am going back for some more after reading your site. Thanks

    1. Sounds like a plan! I don’t know if you can upload a picture here in the comments but if you can I’d love to see your boxes!

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