Pastel Pencil Techniques

Authored by Christy Olsen
3-minute read.

Pastel Pencils are perfect for various styles, from loose drawings to finer details or linear drawings. It's all in the way you hold your pencil combined with the way you sharpen & maintain it!

Pastel Pencil Set

Sharpening Your Pencil

Use a sharp pocket knife, razor blade, or X-acto knife to remove the Wood, exposing at least one inch of pigment. From now on, you will have to pay attention to the pressure so you do not break the tip. You will also need to ensure that the pencil has an excellent round conical shape, as shown.

Tip: Make sure you have several sheets of paper underneath the surface you are working on to cushion the encounter of the pencil.

Remove the Wood from the pencil with a Sharp Knife, then Smooth it with Sandpaper.

Holding the Pencil

Make sure you hold your pencil at the very end for loose drawings. Then wave it like a magic wand touching the paper with a soft touch, using your whole arm to move the pencil.

For finer details, such as eyes and brows on a figure or portrait, make sure the point is sharp, then hold your pencil the same way you usually would if you were writing something down. This will provide more control.

Tip: When working in pastel, make sure you have a mahl stick or an extra sheet of paper underneath your hand to keep from smudging the drawing or existing marks on your paper.

Flat Tone or "Smoothing"

Flat Tone or Smoothing

Creates a nice, even tone without any texture. Lay down some hatching with the pencil and then use a Q-tip, your finger, or a cotton stump to smooth the pigment into the paper.

Tip: For larger areas, wear nitrate or surgical gloves and use the palm of your hand to rub the pigment into the paper.



Is a result of mixing one hue or color family with a different hue or color family. They combine together to create a new color. Lay down one color on top of another, then rub them together using a Q-Tip, stump, or burnishing tool.

Tip: The pencils' degree of softness (dustiness) makes them easier to blend. If you love to blend, then you should look for softer pastel pencils, like the conté brand.



Is similar to blending. However, you combine white with a single tone to lighten the value.

Tip: Use a clean Q-Tip so you do not contaminate the color.



Is similar to blending; however, you are combining black to darken the value.

Tip: A little black goes a long way, so you will have to practice the pressure when adding in the black.

Broken Color

Broken Color

Refers to a painting technique 'invented' by the Impressionists. One color is laid down, and another color is layered over it. No blending occurs. The colors are mixed optically by the viewer. This technique can also unify an image if the strokes are similar.

Tip: This is an advanced skill and takes some pre-planning on your part. Otherwise, you may end up just blending the colors together.



Is the act of creating a line or depression on a piece of paper, affecting the marks made over it. For example, using a paperclip to score the paper, we can put down thin lines, then when a flat tone is layered over, the original paper shows through without any pigment.

Tip: Any tool can be used, such as a knitting needle or an embossing tool.



Is a technique where making tones on paper over an uneven surface creates designs and marks that may or may not be organic. The marks may be left or used as a basis for further refinement.

Tip: You will create a frottage from the surface you are drawing on top of. If this is not the desired effect wanted, make sure to have extra sheets of paper underneath the surface you are working on.



Is a technique where isopropyl alcohol is applied with a slightly wet brush. The alcohol dissolves the binder in the pigment and turns it into a wash. When dry, the pastel is permanently bonded to the paper. Brushstrokes may be left visible or blended to flat tones.

Tip: Use a Hake brush for backgrounds or flat tones.

Some examples use the same subject matter but different techniques in some smaller studies.

Blending & Smoothing

Using an Isopropyl Alcohol Wash

Broken Color

Note that there are many more pastel pencil techniques listed here are only a few.

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