Pastels have three components: a pure, powdered pigment (also used in traditional paints), a filler, and a binder.

Unlike oil paint or watercolor, premixed dry pastel colors are not always composed of a single pigment but are often a combination of two or more pigments bound together.


Includes a brief history of the advantages of the medium.

History of Pastels

Pastels were first mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495, documenting his recipe for pastels using the word "pastello," which means "paste" in Italian, and have been in use since the Renaissance.

Chardin. pastel. 1771.

During the 18th century, the medium became very popular in Europe, especially in France. It was fashionable for the aristocracy to have their portrait painted in "pastiche," the French word for pastel, until the French Revolution.

The medium reached American shores during the 18th century and initially only had occasional use in portraiture; however, in the late nineteenth century, pastels became accepted in modern and contemporary art because of their broad range of bright colors.

Recently, the quality of pastel products available to pastel artists has increased dramatically. Today, pastel paintings carry the same stature as a significant fine art medium parallel to oil and watercolor. Many of our most renowned living artists have distinguished themselves in pastels and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

About Pastels

Pastel is a painting or sketching medium favored by many artists who are constantly on the go. It does not darken, fade, yellow, crack, or blister with time because it does not contain a liquid binder, as found in oil paint.


A particle of pastel, seen under a microscope, looks like a diamond with many facets. Therefore, pastel paintings reflect light in the same way as a prism, in multiple directions. Beautiful, long-lasting, high-quality works of art can be produced quickly because no drying time is needed as with wet mediums.

Pastel combines drawing and painting skills, allowing a spontaneous approach to the subject. It has a velvety texture, and no other medium has the same color intensity.

Variety of Pigments

Pastel artwork is created by stroking the stick across an abrasive surface, embedding the color within the "tooth" of the paper or board, also called "the ground."

Pastels do not oxidize with time. When applied to acid-free archival paper or board and framed correctly, they are one of the most permanent mediums.


Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were created, although in many cases, the paper has begun to deteriorate, not the pastel.

How Are Soft Pastels Made?

The current process for manufacturing pastels today has remained almost the same ever since the sixteenth century, except most manufacturers keep their unique recipes secret to stay competitive with other brands.

Jars of Raw Pigments

Pastels are made with dry pigments and fillers that are ground into a fine powder. The filler is a white base used to tint the pigment. It also gives the pastel substance and creates consistency. Gum tragacanth is added to bind the mixture together.

The softest pastels only have enough binders to hold the pigment together, while harder pastels or pastel pencils have more or different binders.

When added, the binder creates a paste, which is then rolled into a stick. After the binder is dry, the stick is ready for use. Unfortunately, the shape of the pastel stick (round or square) gives no clue as to the degree of its softness or hardness.

Techniques or Tutorials

Includes the following.

How to Use Pastels

Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes, and techniques may vary with each artist. They may also be layered over each other for optical mixing (or blending).

How to Ship Pastels?

Artists use plexiglass on pastels shipped over long distances or on larger works of art because it is lighter. If using plexiglass, it's suggested that you first treat it with Sprayon or a similar anti-static spray to neutralize the static electricity and prevent pieces of pastel from clinging to the plastic.

Materials or Supplies

Includes unique types or brands.

What are Soft Pastels?

Soft pastels are sticks that are available in various sizes, shapes, and degrees of softness. They are easy to blend, layer colors on top of one another, and cover larger areas quickly.

Studio Box of Pastels

Henri Roche's handmade pastels

Preferred Brands

What are Hard or Semi-Hard Pastels?

Soft pastels contain more pigment and less binder than hard pastels and pastel pencils. Harder pastels can be sharpened and will release the pigment with more pressure. These drawing sticks are made of pigment, chalk, or other binders. They can be sharpened to a point that offers crisp or hard edges. They do not crumble. They must be snapped to be broken down into smaller sticks.

Preferred Brands

What Are Pastel Pencils

Pastel pencils are wood-encased sticks of soft pastel. They serve as a cleaner alternative to working with sticks of soft pastel. These pencils are ideal for sketching or drawing and can also be used to add fine details to any soft pastel painting. Pastel Pencil techniques are characteristic of pastels and sketching mediums such as charcoal or graphite. For example, hatching, crosshatching, or smooth gradations can be achieved. They can also be blended to create one even flat tone.

Preferred Brands for Black

  • Stabilo CarbOthello "Lamp Black" (No. 760)
  • OR Faber-Castell PITT® (No. 101)
  • OR Conté "Black"
  • OR for pencil lovers: Faber-Castell Polychromos "Black."

    Preferred Brands for White

    • Stabilo CarbOthello "Titanium White" (No. 100)
    • OR Faber-Castell PITT® (No. 101)
    • OR Conté "White"
    • OR for pencil lovers: Faber-Castell Polychromos "White."

    Preferred Brands for Brown

    • Stabilo CarbOthello "Bister" (No. 635)
    • OR Faber-Castell PITT® (No. 177)
    • OR Conté "Bistre"
    • OR for pencil lovers: Faber-Castell Polychromos "Brown."

    PITT® Pastel Pencils

    Faber-Castell calls its PITT® line of pencils and pens because they are earth colors that appear as though they came from a "pit," hence the name morphed into "PITT®." You can buy them separately or an entire set of colors. I also use these pencils for color drawings.

    Faber-Castell PITT® Pastel Pencils are suitable for lines, shading, delicate color transitions, and extended areas. They can be used for sketches, studies, portraits, still-life, and landscape drawings. They give a smooth flow of color without being used up too rapidly. The colors are rich in pigment, which allows dense shading. They do not change when fixed or exposed to light. Wood-cased PITT® Pastel Pencils do not dirty the fingers; the leads are free of oils. They can easily be wiped or use a brush to merge areas of color.

    What are Pan Pastels?

    They are genuine artists' quality pastels uniquely packed in a pan format but not in pure powder pigment form. They were developed so artists could easily lift, apply, control, blend, or mix the colors. These colors are professional quality and highly pigmented. Each has excellent lightfastness. They are also fully erasable and compatible with traditional pastel sticks, pastel surfaces, conventional fixatives, and other artists' colors.

    Preferred Brands

    What Are Oil Pastels?

    Oil pastels or oil sticks are considered a different medium than soft pastels because they use a "wet" or non-drying oil or wax binder instead of the gum binder used in soft pastels. For this reason, artwork done in oil pastels is generally excluded from "pastel" art competitions and exhibitions.

    It is not possible to mix oil pastels in their manufactured state. Odorless mineral spirits would be needed to soften or liquify their state.

    Oil Pastels

    Pastel Surfaces

    Pastels may be applied to many surfaces, including various paper, cloth, and canvas types. Two popular surfaces are sanded paper and rough-surface rag paper, which may come in multiple colors to augment or contrast with the painted image.

    Some surfaces are undercoated with gesso, marble dust, or pumice. The artist may create an "under-painting" with acrylic, oil, or watercolor, then use "broken color," which can be achieved by layering or hatching pastels over one another.

    For more information on choosing a paper, click here.

    Drawing Surfaces

    Surface Protection

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