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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pros and Cons of Painting with Soft Pastels

There has been a little conversation about favorite media for painting going on in comments and elsewhere between artists. I will expand here on the pros and cons of pastel (soft pastel only as oil pastels are a different medium) in my world. Pastel is a tactile medium which I find perfect for me, well, almost.

Old pastels even look good.

And the colors??


  1. Tactile: So nice to feel the pastels in your hand to use for lines, broad strokes, scumble and smear with a liquid.
  2. Fast: No waiting for paint to dry. You can put on another layer of color .. right now.
  3. Beautiful to look at: Just seeing them in a box is delightful and in a painting, well, you decide.
  4. Easy to use: Pick one up and paint! You can make hard edges, wide strokes, sprinkle the dust on to your surface, etc.
  5. Easy to correct: You can brush it off, paint right over it, spray with fixative and go over it again, blot with a damp towel and get back almost to the original surface with just a little staining of the surface, push it around with a rubber tipped color shaper, erase it.
  6. Permanent: As long as it is not touched/smeared it will stay on the paper/board indefinitely. It is very colorfast as it is almost pure pigment. (I have a painting in the bedroom that was painted when we were in Bolivia that has no glass, broken, it looks the same as when I painted it. I'm sure it has Texas dust on it, but you wouldn't know that, dust into dust as they say. I also had some paintings damaged by fire when I had a show at a restaurant several years ago, the oils and acrylics melted, the water colors singed and the pastels were fine other than broken glass. The pigment protected the paper.)
  7. Ways to use pastels: Almost unlimited. You can combine them with other media, and put them on many different surfaces.
  8. Easy to store: You can put glassine paper in between and put one on top of another between foamcore or other backing. (See Hard to store below)
  9. Easy clean up: Walk away and come back later and put them in the storage containers.
  10. Easy to transport paintings when traveling or plein air (painting outside) painting: Just put between foamcore and tape or clip securely.
  11. Fun to use!

  1. Framing: require glass glazing so the artwork is not disturbed by touching/rubbing.
  2. Hard to view in storage: You can put many unframed paintings in layers between backing or in a drawer, but then you cannot just flip through them for easy viewing.
  3. Dusty: Care in handling required to avoid breathing in the dust. Gentle brushing, keep hands washed, don't use fans over your work. You can wear a mask and use gloves to help with this.
  4. Heavy to transport: For traveling or plein air, you cannot take a large number of pastel sticks with you, they weigh a lot. Paintings are heavier, too, with glass.
  5. Hard to display: Paintings have to be under glass, so you can't have a bin of unframed paintings for people to look through.
  6. Usually not used for large pieces because of the glass. They can be sprayed with a fixative which changes the colors or worked with acrylic medium to make them "glass free".

I'm sure there are many more pros and cons, these above come quickly to mind. Please comment here to add what you think about pastels.

You can find more information about pastels at these sites, and many more:

  • Pastel Society of America You can go from there to visit the more well known pastelists like Daniel Greene, Doug Dawson, Alan Flattmann, Richard McKinley, Sally Strand, Albert Handell, Ramon Kelly, Frank Federico, Claudia Seymour, Stephanie Birdsall, and many more.
  • Art Show
  • IAPS International Association of Pastel Societies
  • Katherine Tyrrell Katherine not only paints in pastels but has arranged an encyclopedia of pastes on her Squidoo page.
  • Pastel Journal Blog From there you can get to the Pastel Journal and Richard McKinley's pastel blog.
  • Pastel Forum where you can find pastelists, instruction and more. From there you can check into the Soft Pastel Studio and Gallery to see current threads with work in progress.

See some wonderful pastel paintings at these sites, from each of those you can click on to many more:

You get the idea, I could list so many more places to look and learn. Many artists work in oils and pastels or other media so the list is endless. This should point you in the right direction. You can check my helpful links for artists on the right hand side of my blog, too, to find other sites for learning about painting and art.


Rodrica Tilley said...

Jo, Love your NM paintings; Mountain Sun & Peeking In. "Enchanted" for sure. Also like your Pros & cons...quite in accordance with my own thoughts on pastel, especially No.1. Tactile! I guess you either love them or hate them. I've heard people tell me they can't stand the feel of the pastels. Hmmm???

Thanks for looking at my blog.

"JeanneG" said...

Very interesting post. Nice to see your bits and pieces of pastels.

Miki Willa said...

I used to work in watercolor until I discovered pastels. Now, I am not really interested in working in any other medium. I love the feeling of the pastel in my hands, making direct contact with the surface without the intervention of a long handled brush. I love the brilliance of the colors. One of the pros for me is ability to layer to achieve great dimensional qualities. You are right about not being able to look through stored paintings easily. We have a large cork board where we mount recent paintings until it gets full. Then we put the older ones in storage. Thanks for the great post celebrating pastels.

Joan said...

Jo - In your hands pastels work so well!!! I love the radiance of that tomato!!!

Jo Castillo said...

Rodrica, thank you back. :) Pastels are my favorite. I found your blog looking for pastels, nice work.

Jeanne, thank you. I know you prefer colored pencil. That shows patience, right?

Miki, thanks for your comment. Another pastel fan and it shows in your work.

Thank you, Joan. You know I love to pant red things!

Teresa said...

Thanks for the good info. I love the look of pastels.... they have such a soft richness that is unlike other media. Keep painting!

Jo Castillo said...

Teresa, appreciate the kind words and encouragement. :)

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Jo: I do like your vegetable painting, really nice.

Jo Castillo said...

fishing guy, hi there! Thank you, I forgot to put the name of the painting, it is Salsa Stuff. I do like to paint tomatoes .... and apples.

Rebecca Collins said...

Thanks for the rich information. I also love to create unique and eye-catchy pastel paintings.

Jo Castillo said...

Rebecca, I just found your comment, it was stuck on the moderation page. Sorry. I'm happy you found the info useful. Would like to see your work.

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About Me

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Bastrop, Texas, United States
I Grew up in a small town , Magdalena, New Mexico. I enjoy art and the pleasure other people get from my work. I always donate some of my sales and art to charities, especially for children. That started in Bolivia with Para los NiƱos. (Link on sidebar) "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns." -- Winston Churchill


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