7 things you need to work with Soft Pastels

By Geetanjali Saini

Role-playing is exciting! Isn’t it? Practically all through my school years, impersonating a teacher was my favourite; our Godrej cupboard turned into a makeshift blackboard (a greyboard to be exact), chalking away school notes to imaginary students with a seriousness that was self-laudable. This charade spilled over into my bachelor days, followed thereafter by a considerably long disconnect. The fascination for chalk and board never really died though and it wasn’t until years later that I realized this, until it manifested as love at first sight upon spotting a box of soft pastels in a hobby store in Sweden. Soon after, moi and soft pastels dived into a very intimate, intuitive affair that has now graduated into a steady, going-strong relationship. Rolling a pastel between my fingers, colours dusting off and tracing out mountains or rocks on paper is instantly calming, flooding me with long cherished childhood memories.

Pastels are essentially pure powdered pigments with a small amount of binder, rolled out into chalk shaped sticks (either round or square edges). Commercially they are available in the following versions; soft, hard, pan and pencils. While I love using a brush and various mediums that go with it, the charm of holding a pastel and blending with one’s fingers is almost otherworldly. To get started, the following assemblage works for me.

Material to get started

A set of soft pastels:

As a beginner one can experiment with a basic set of 12 or 24 and later add to the repertoire. I began with one from Staedtler, that I still use because of its creamy consistency and some brilliant colours in that collection.

Kneaded eraser:

Knead-able eraser or a putty rubber serves a dual role. It can be used to lift colour as well as a blending tool.


Apart from one’s fingers, one can also use more pointy blenders like paper stumps, Q-Tips.


Best to use paper specially formulated for pastels that has enough tooth to hold the pigments especially while layering. It can be a textured paper or one with a sandpaper like surface. Personally, I prefer using tinted paper over a boring white background.

Pastel pencils and hard pastels:

These come real handy when laying down groundwork/initial sketch. They are also used for creating marks, sharp lines or adding final embellishments to the artwork.

Clear gesso:

When coated on paper, canvas, cardboard etc., it creates a surface with enough tooth to lay your colours on. I have often used it to coat paper with little to no tooth or texture to begin with, yielding excellent results. Oftentimes artists coat an underpainting with one to several layers of clear gesso and once dry, work over this surface.


Comes in a spray bottle and should be used outdoors, in a well ventilated space, preferably with protective gear. Frequently, this is replaced with readily available hairspray, which works, but to ensure longevity of your artwork it is recommended to invest in a good quality charcoal/pastel fixative with UV protection.

There isn’t a set routine that I follow; experimenting with different pastel brands and papers is part of the process. I do pay heed to safety measures since pastel work generates fine pigment dust.

The basic technique involves either an underpainting on paper or a basic sketch laid out with pastel pencils followed by filling it in and blending with the colour palette of your choosing. The final step is fixing your artwork right away and framing it behind glass. I sometimes do away with the fixing bit as it tends to darken the painting a shade or two. In case you don’t mind a muted tone, fixing is recommended. Framing is essential, as an exposed pastel painting will gather dust, impossible to get rid of, unlike acrylics or oils. This is considered a big drawback by many artists despite the beauty of the medium.

Wish to get started on this adventurous journey? You may begin with browsing through Youtube videos and artist blogs. In case you are looking for a personal teacher instead, look no further 😉


TAEP expert team recommendations

Mungyo Gallery Artists’ Soft Pastels – 48 Colors Or if you are an artist who loves to work on location Mungyo Soft pastel half sticks. For the artist on student budget try these Camel Soft Pastels

Cretacolor kneadable Eraser  or Milan Kneadable Eraser

Mont Marte Pastel & Charcoal Paper Stump Blenders or Cretacolor Paper Stumps

Canson has some wonderful paper available in different colours  HempBuff, Azure,  Dawn Pink, Lime,  Dark Blue Canary etc.   If you want to try a whole range of colours without spending too much try BRUSTRO Artist’s Pastel Papers 

Try DERWENT Pastel Pencils  for initial drawing and highlights.

If you have smooth paper to begin with, give a fine tooth by applying Liquitex Professional Clear Gesso 

Don’t forget to fix your beautiful work with student budget fixative from Camel Camlin Kokuyo  or with Pebeo Extra Fine Pastel, Pencil and Charcoal Fixative  if you are in the mood to splurge.

If you have any queries do leave a comment and we’ll get back to you at the earliest.


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