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Beginners guide to Pastels



Have you ever wondered how to use Pastels? Or what kind of Pastel would suit your creative style? In this article we explain the differences between the various forms of Pastels available on the market and recommended the perfect surfaces for them. Following on from this short blog, we will publish more in depth information on each of the different types of Pastels available on our website!

It is important to note that the exact composition of any of the Pastels will be held by their manufacturer so if you need detailed information on the specific ingredients or composition, it is recommended to check the product’s Material Safety Data sheet (MSDS) provided by the manufacturer or contact the manufacturer directly.



Soft pastels are a versatile and expressive medium in the realm of visual arts. Comprising pure pigment, chalk, and a minimal binder, these art materials deliver intense and vibrant colours. Soft pastels are known for their velvety texture, allowing artists to create rich, broad strokes or intricate details on various surfaces like paper or textured pastel paper. Their blendability and ease of layering make them conducive to creating nuanced shades and gradients. Artists often appreciate the immediacy and tactile nature of working with soft pastels, as they enable the exploration of a wide range of artistic styles, from impressionistic to more detailed and realistic renderings.

  • Composition: Soft pastels are made of pure pigment, which gives them a rich and vibrant colour.
  • Texture: Soft pastels have a powdery and easily blendable texture.
  • Application: They are ideal for broad strokes and blending, making them popular for drawing and painting.


Hard pastels represent a distinct category within the pastel family, characterised by a higher concentration of binder and less pigment compared to their soft counterparts. This composition gives them a firmer and more durable consistency, allowing for sharper lines and a greater degree of control. Hard pastels are well-suited for detailed work and precise lines, making them a preferred choice for artists engaged in technical or intricate illustrations. The range of colours and their ability to be layered make hard pastels a valuable tool for artists seeking precision and control in their pastel artworks.

  • Composition: Hard pastels have a higher proportion of binder, making them more rigid than soft pastels.
  • Conté crayons are a combination of pigment, clay, and a small amount of wax.
  • Texture: They have a harder texture and are suitable for drawing and sketching. Hard pastels have a firmer texture, allowing for more controlled and precise lines.


Pan pastels are a unique form of dry pastel medium that diverges from the conventional stick or pencil format. These pastels come in pans, resembling small, shallow containers, and are formulated with a finely milled, ultra-soft consistency. Unlike traditional pastels, pan pastels eliminate the need for direct application with sticks, allowing artists to use specialised tools like Sofft® applicators, sponges, or brushes for precise and controlled application. The result is a remarkable level of detail and a smooth, velvety finish. Pan pastels are favoured for their versatility, offering artists the ability to layer and blend colours seamlessly, achieving a wide range of textures and effects in their artwork. This innovative format makes pan pastels a valuable addition to the pastel artist's toolkit, providing new possibilities for creative expression.

  • Form: Pan pastels come in small, sealed pans rather than sticks.
  • Composition: Pan Pastels have minimal binder content compared to traditional pastels. The low binder content allows for a smooth and easy application.
  • Application: Artists often apply pan pastels using special soft tools, like sponge applicators. They are known for their versatility and ability to cover large areas quickly.


Pastel pencils are specialised drawing tools that combine the vivid pigments of pastels with the precision of pencils. Encased in a wooden barrel, these pencils contain compressed pastel material, allowing artists to achieve fine details and intricate lines with the ease of drawing. They offer a versatile and controlled approach to pastel art, making them a favoured medium for those seeking the expressive qualities of pastels in a more precise and manageable form.

Derwent Pastel Pencils

  • Form: Pastel pencils have a pastel core encased in a wooden pencil-like barrel.
  • Application: Pastel pencils offer greater precision and are useful for detailed work and outlining.

Pitt Pastel Pencils

  • Composition: Wax-free leads; drawings can be wiped just as with pastel crayons, so need to be fixed afterwards.
  • Texture: They have a soft, powdery texture and come in a wide range of colours.


Oil pastels are a unique and vibrant medium in the realm of art, known for their creamy consistency and intense colour pigments. Composed of a blend of non-drying oil and wax, these pastels offer a smooth and buttery texture that allows for easy blending and layering on various surfaces. Unlike traditional pastels, oil pastels may not require fixatives (it is a matter of choice of finish) and maintain their flexibility and brilliance over time. Artists appreciate their versatility, as they can be applied with the precision of a pencil or used for broader strokes, making them suitable for a range of artistic styles. The ability to combine and mix colours directly on the surface adds to the expressive potential of oil pastels, making them a favoured choice for artists exploring bold and dynamic compositions. Most oil pastel paintings are framed behind glass for longevity.

  • Composition: Oil pastels are made with pigment, a non-drying oil, and a wax binder.
  • Texture: They have a creamy consistency and can be blended easily.
  • Application: Oil pastels are versatile and can be used on various surfaces. They often produce a bold and expressive effect.


Water-soluble pastels are a dynamic medium that combines the vibrancy of traditional pastels with the versatility of watercolour. These pastels are formulated with a water-soluble binder, allowing artists to achieve a painterly effect by activating the pigments with water. This unique characteristic enables a wide range of techniques, from delicate washes and translucent layers to bold and expressive strokes. Water-soluble pastels are favoured for their adaptability, enabling artists to explore both dry and wet applications on various surfaces like paper or watercolour paper. This medium grants artists the freedom to experiment with the interplay of colour and water, providing an exciting and fluid dimension to their artistic creations.

Caran d'Ache Neocolour - Water Soluble Wax Pastels

  • Composition: These pastels are similar to soft pastels but are designed to be soluble in water.
  • Application: Artists can use them dry for regular pastel effects or add water to create more fluid and painterly effects.


Using pastel paper is of paramount importance in the realm of artwork, particularly when working with pastels. The specialised texture and composition of pastel paper provide a unique surface that enhances the vibrancy, blending, and adherence of pastel pigments. Unlike regular paper, pastel paper has a toothy surface that grips the pastel particles, allowing for better layering and intricate detailing. This unique interaction between the paper and pastels not only enhances the visual appeal of the artwork but also ensures its longevity. Below we have curated a great selection of different sized, coloured pastel papers so you can find just the right paper for your artwork.

  • Hahnemühle Ingres Pastel Pads - 100gsm
  • Sennelier Oil Pastel Pads
  • Clairefontaine Pastelmat Pad Anthracite No. 6 - 30x40cm - 12 Sheets
  • Daler-Rowney Simply Pastel Pad
  • Canson Mi-Teintes Touch Pastel Pads - 350gsm 12 Sheets
  • Winsor & Newton Pastel Pad EARTH COLOURS - 160gms


Utilising a fixative on your oil or soft pastel artwork upon completion is an indispensable practice that contributes significantly to the preservation and durability of the piece. Both oil and soft pastels have a tendency to remain somewhat malleable and can easily smudge or transfer if not properly secured. Applying a fixative creates a protective barrier, preventing any unintended blending or deterioration of the vibrant pigments. This not only ensures the longevity of the artwork but also allows for safer handling and framing. The fixative serves as a crucial final touch. 

  • Sennelier d'Artigny Fixative for Oil Pastels 400ml
  • SpectraFix Degas Pastel Fixative
  • Seawhite Clear Fixative Spray 400ml
  • Winsor & Newton Professional Fixative - 400ml
  • Loxley Aerosol Fixative 400ml with a U.V. Filter
  • Daler-Rowney Colourless Perfix Fixative Spray With Anti UV Protection


When starting to use oil and soft pastels, several accessories can enhance your experience and help you achieve the desired results. Here are some essential accessories for working with oil and soft pastels:

  • Blending Tools: Soft brushes, blending stumps, sponges or your fingers  can be used to blend and smudge pastels, creating smooth transitions and gradients.
  • Fixative: A fixative spray is essential for setting your completed pastel artwork, preventing smudging and preserving the colours. Ensure you choose a fixative suitable for pastels.
  • Surface: Use textured paper or pastel paper designed to grip the pastel pigments. A sanded paper surface particularly effective in holding multiple layers of pastels.
  • Palette or Mixing Surface: If you're using soft pastels, having a palette or mixing surface is useful for blending and creating custom colours.
  • Palette Knife: A palette knife is handy for scraping off pastel layers, creating texture, or applying pastel in a more controlled manner.
  • Easel: An easel can provide a comfortable working angle and help prevent smudging by keeping your hands away from the surface.
  • Cloth or Tissues: Keep a soft cloth or tissues handy for wiping off excess pastel from your hands or blending tools.
  • Masking Tape: Use masking tape to secure your paper to a drawing board or easel and create clean borders for your artwork.
  • Storage: Pastels can be fragile, so consider a storage solution to keep your pastels organised and protected.
    A wooden or foam-lined box is ideal.
  • Workable Fixative: If you want to continue working on your pastel layers without disturbing the lower layers, a workable fixative can be applied between layers to set the current state without fully fixing the pastels.