Storing pastels is always a topic of conversation amongst pastel artists. Well, until you find the perfect solution that is. And I think I have finally found it. In an earlier post I wrote about organising your pastels by colour, value, brand or type. In this article I thought it might be useful to go over the ways we can store our pastels. Many would agree that the boxes your pastels come in are not ideal, so let’s see what alternatives there are.
First you Buy One Box of Pastels…
When you buy a box of pastels they usually come in gorgeous looking cardboard boxes with foam inserts. Each foam cutout will fit a single pastel perfectly, and it all looks yummy. They are already ordered by colour for you. So you could easily leave them in their boxes as you use them.
When the Pastel Collection Grows
But if you end up buying another box of pastel things get messed up. You will have two boxes with all the colours in it. So you will have some reds in one box and also in the other. Then you might buy a box of pastels from a different brand. That box will have reds in them too so now you have reds in three places. At another time you might buy some loose pastels for which no space is left in your foam shaped inserts. So they go in an old shoe box. A fourth place to find your reds. It is time to organise your pastels!
Time to Organise your Pastels
Many artists organise their pastels by colour; all the reds together, all the blues etc. Many also order by value and some by temperature. Organised pastels are much easier to work with when you are painting. You can find the colour you need much quicker than going through four boxes to find the perfect red.
But when you are done painting, where are you going to put those pastels?
I found my own system lacking so I went on the hunt for a good storage system to put my pastels in, organised and all.
I realised quickly I wanted to get rid of the foam inserts that pastels come with. Most pastels get broken or are simply used up into smaller pieces. Small pieces don’t fit into foam cutouts. I also have different brands of pastels (Rembrandt, Unison, Schmincke) which all have a different shape. Foam cutouts had to go.
What I need is something that takes little space and can be put in a cupboard. Something which allows me to take out my pastels and spread them out on the table next to my easel (as many as I can fit on). Something I can put away when I am done painting. Something that will allow me to expand my pastel collection in the future (no plans for retirement yet!). For me, it had to be something that will last me forever as I really don’t want to have to do this every few years, and it won’t hurt if it looks nice too.
Many artists use fold-open wooden travel boxes for their pastels. Popular brands are Heilman and Dakota and Jackson’s. These are great because not only do they look good and keep your pastels safe, but these boxes are mobile. They are designed to be carried and taken out and so very popular with plein-air painters or demonstrators. But many pastelists use them in the studio as well. I had a look at the Jackson’s box (the small one) and found them well made, sturdy, but heavy.
As I am not a plein-air painter and because I have limited space in my studio (folded open these boxes take up quite a bit of space, especially if you have many pastels) I did not think this was the one for me. But if you have the space to fold open these boxes and/or your travel a lot, these boxes seem great. These type of boxes are one of the most popular pastel storage solutions.
Box with Trays
An alternative storage solution I found was an art box with various trays kept in it. The trays usually have compartments and foam inserts at the bottom to keep your pastels safe and secure. Below is a great example of how John Shakespeare stores his pastels. I love how organised it all looks! Again it looks useful for taking to places and good storage for a decent collection of pastels. Do keep in mind you will need another box if your pastel collection expands though. But a box like this will be easy to store and does not take up much space. Amazon and Jackson’s do boxes like this.
Many pastel lovers use their own creativity to come up with storage ideas. Empty food boxes, tool chests, cutlery tray inserts, plastic containers, stackable trays, large filing cabinets, old and antique drawers. Check out my Pinterest board for lots of ideas!
A very popular choice amongst pastel artists are these shallow wooden drawers. I was quite taken by this ideas as it takes up little space and looks nice. Almost all art supplies stores sell these sets. Many are brandless and many look the same. Unfortunately many of the ones I saw online looked fairly cheaply made but were not cheap to buy (around £40 seemed standard for a 3 drawer set, measuring around 40x26cm). I figured (wild guess!) I have about 500 pastels and so needed 3 or 4 of these sets to fit them all in so this was going to get expensive.
I emailed various art supply stores to get some more info on the drawer sets they stocked. Many shops had very little information online. I needed to know whether the slightly fatter Unison pastels would fit in, whether the dividers in the drawers could be removed, if there was space for some foam at the base, what material the set was made of, whether it looked and felt posh and expensive or cheap and cheerful, etc.
Many stocked a set which was sold by Loxley, called Fife. Various shops told me the drawer depth was either 15 or 18mm and so ‘fat’ Unison’s would fit. I had a look at it at Pegasus Art Shop.
Another model is made by Artcoe, called Frisk. It seems identical to the Fife set, if you look at the pictures. Art shops gave me mixed reports on the drawer depth so I could not figure out whether Unison would fit but most told me it would.
Jackson’s also stocks a similar looking set for a similar price (see picture). This is their own brand. Unisons fit in fine as do all other main brands of pastels.
Do keep in mind that some pastel brands are quite thick and will not fit in many of the standard pastel boxes.
My Storage Choice
Although I soon realised that a drawer set would be the best solution for me I was not blown away by the quality of most sets. Luckily I found something else at Jackson’s that suited me better. This drawer set was a ‘mistake’; a batch of wooden drawers that they don’t actually stock and they had some of these left. I found the wood quality much nicer and the drawers therefore looked much nicer as well. The only thing (it was an odd batch after all) is that the drawers didn’t close very well. But I liked them enough to buy them and after a day of sanding and planing, it all works beautifully.
I am now extremely pleased with my wooden drawers. I got a few extra drawers for the future (as I doubt I’ll ever be able to buy them again) but most are filled to the rim with my pastels and pencils. I can take the dividers out if I want, I can stack them (the weight of it keeps it in place and stops it from slipping), and the wood feels nice and qualitative. I have put some Unisons on my Christmas list this year so if Santa thinks I’ve been good I can’t wait to add them to the collection!
Some things to keep in mind for finding the perfect pastel storage
(depending on your requirements)
- flexibility in compartments
- easy to carry
- shallow but deep enough for large pastels (measure!)
- has (room for) foam if you move them around a lot
- will work for you in your studio: setting out and painting, as well as putting away
- Looks good, nice materials
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I love reading your blog! Thanks. Just wanted to add: I’ve bout two boxes and first one. Was a treat. It’s well made and had no chemical smell.
It’s the 7 element set of 4 drawers. I bought peel and stick velour paper to cut into my section ( I did not know the sections come out). Unison fit find as do all my fat richesons.
I tried to use a 6 drawer medeen next but it would not pull properly and it smelled too bad.
I’m using a foam based stinkeroo from creative arts which really surprised me. It’s well made but it doesn’t hook into the first brand, but I can’t live with the 6 day smellorama this is 5 drawers for 45.00
There is a 2set pegged together for 10 drawers fo 69.00 that I’m still dreaming about.
I am a sucker …. I think I need to convert my old copy paper rolling organizer and stack your cutlery ideas. Cus I have dreams of many shimmering pastels.
When I was much younger I had an art supply store. It was back in the 70’s. There weren’t many choices in pastel brands back then. I sold Rembrandts. They were in a largish box with multiple drawers unlike the displays you see today. When I closed the shop I kept the display box. It’s been very useful over the years and is much like the boxes shown here stacked but it’s one large box with maybe 7 drawers.
Oh you lucky man! If the boxes are what I have in mind, then those are brilliant storage boxes. In some art stores you still see them. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
You ever think of selling it…. I’m just saying
It sounds divine. I saw a picture of a magnificent piece of custom French cabinetry. The easel was at front and the slim panels of all pastels pulled up from some sorcery below it. They easily went 8” by 6 foot across. Maybe 12 inches? There were no measurements
It reminded me of late 19th century bars with a huge mirror and custom lay flat panels for paintings plus lots of drawers and tool storage. It was done in deep mahogany and cost $5800..
Guess I’ll be looking at those fake French desk apothecary boxes. Lol
Degas pastel box (like a thin suitcase) from Jerry’s Artarama. I replaced the thin foam with memory foam sheets from Dakota Pastels, cut to fit. It’s large, heavy, but could be transported around if necessary. It holds the pastels firmly in place because of the memory foam, the original foam was not secure enough. There are cardboard box inserts, so you can switch collections if you want.
Excellent suggestion! Thanks Deborah.
At the hardware store my husband bought a plastic parts box for nuts and bolts and things like that. I cut up an old bath towel as a lining and my pastels fit in there nicely. I then sort them by color and light to dark. I use a tv tray to set it on when I am working and I keep it flat on a book shelf. It was under 5 bucks!
Excellent idea! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Hi Sophie! I’d like to put my nickel’s worth in here! Mike Mahon makes a great solution that takes an approach you haven’ mentioned here. He calls it the “Pastel Porter”. It’s pricey, but I was able to obtain one a while back through an assistance program with the DepARTment of Vocational Rehab. in Wisconsin ( It’s a Federal program for people with disabilities ). Instead of laying the sticks down flat in the box, Mike created a system that sets them on end in foam! As you pull the stick out from the foam, it cleans the stick! It’s quite brilliant! The box folds open & mounts to an included easel system!
As I mentioned, I think it’s rather overpriced, but one could extrapolate on the concept! The great thing about this technique is that I can store all sizes! From my skinny Rowneys that I ADORE for detail work, to my big fat Mount Visions that have the single most DELICIOUS darks available! I have more sticks of Pastel than I’m ever going to be inclined to count! LOL! Subsequently, I require a rather large Studio space, since I also work in Watercolor, Colored Pencil ( talk about a storage nightmare!), Graphite Pencil ( more storage nightmares ), & Scratchboard ( need I be redundant!? ). I currently live in a small 1 bdrm apARTment & my work is quickly over-running things! I’m planning to move into a larger place come June! I don’t have a *Studio* in my ApARTment! . . . . I have an *ApARTment* in my Studio! LOL! It’s a good thing that I live alone! I need about 3 bedrooms all the same! LOL!
Anyway, look up Mike Mahon’s Pastel Porter! It’s really nice!
Hi Justin, thanks so much for that. A great contribution to the article! I have looked it up and found it: http://mikemahonspastelporter.com
It looks really handy, what a great idea. Thanks again for sharing this. And yes, storage must be one of the main things us artists struggle with!!