How to Use Pastels

Pastels are pigments mixed with a binder. Traditionally chalk was used as a binder, but today other materials are also used. Pastels allow you to layer and blend vibrant colors to create a soft look. It is and has been a favorite medium of many well-known artists, including Manet, Degas and Renoir.


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    Choose your pastels.
    • Buy a small set. You can buy kits that include dozens of colors; but for most projects, a set of 12 is sufficient. You can choose specific color themes, such as earth tones or shades of gray.
    • Soft pastel sticks allow for better blending, while hard sticks are better for details. Pastels also come as pencils for making fine lines.
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    Use an appropriate paper or drawing surface. You need a paper with good "tooth," or texture, that will grab the pigment and hold it. Most art supply stores sell paper designed for pastel drawing. You can also use charcoal paper, canvas or even fine sandpaper to draw on.
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    Gather stumps to use for blending and a kneaded rubber eraser to remove pigment.
    • Stumps are cylinders made of layers of paper. Use them to do your blending instead of your finger so your hands will stay cleaner. As the stump gets dirty, peel off a layer of paper.
    • Knead your eraser to make it pliable, then press it to your work to lift the pigment off. Clean the eraser by stretching and kneading. Never try to use your eraser to rub off the pigment.
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    Plan your drawing. Make a light sketch with a pencil or block with a hard pastel stick.
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    Work from dark to light. Start with the darkest color, filling in the parts of your drawing that are the darkest color. Then fill in all areas with the next darkest color and so on, layering and blending as you go.
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    Clear the pastel dust from your work frequently. Don't blow the dust off because you will inhale some of it, which will irritate your airway. If you have a sensitive airway, wear a dust mask when using pastels.
    • If you're working on a horizontal surface, take your drawing outside to let the dust drop off.
    • If you use an easel, the dust will naturally fall off onto the floor. This keeps your work clean, but you will have to clean your floor. Consider using a drop cloth under your easel.
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    Keep your hands clean. Use wet wipes frequently or wear gloves to keep the pigment from depositing on your hands. You can muddy the colors of your drawing if you don't clean your hands, especially if you use your fingers to blend colors.
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    Clean off each pastel stick after you use it. Use a dry towel or paper towel to remove any other pigments it picked up from your drawing. You can also help keep your sticks clean by storing them with uncooked rice.
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    Spray your drawing with a fixative when you're done so the pigment doesn't smear or fall off. Remember that fixative is toxic, so follow the instructions carefully when using it.
    • You can also use fixative to separate layers of pigment. This allows you to start a new layer without the pigment blending with the one below.
    • If you choose to transport your drawing before fixing it, or if you choose not to fix it, place it between acid-free, transparent sheets to protect it. Many artists choose not to use fixatives because it changes the colors of the work.


  • Do not press too hard or it will smear
  • Put the pastel sticks in a separated container.
  • A pastel work is considered a painting if the entire surface is covered in pastels. If it isn't, it's called a pastel drawing.


  • Your work will look muddy if you blend warm and cool colors.

Things You'll Need

  • Pastel sticks or pencils
  • Drawing paper for pastel, canvas or sandpaper
  • Paper stumps
  • Gum eraser
  • Wet wipes or gloves
  • Towel
  • Drop cloth
  • Rice
  • Easel
  • Fixative or acid-free, transparent sheets

Article Info

Categories: Coloring and Shading