Discover More About Pastels

Want to find out more about pastels? The answer to that question should always be YES, as the best artists never stop trying to learn more about their medium! Here are eight more things to learn about pastels:
1. Trying for an exact likeness of your subject may not be the best idea
It’s important to realize the strengths and weaknesses of your medium. Yes, in the right hands, soft pastels are capable of reproducing something very closely, but it’s never going to be what they’re best at. So relax, aim for a looser take on your subject, and you’ll find more success.
2. Pastels are MESSY
It’s easy to pick a pastel artist: they’re the ones whose studios are permanently covered with a thin layer of pigment! Because pastel sticks are more or less entirely made of powdered pigment, they tend to shed dust into the air and onto everything around them while they’re in use. Getting an air filter for your work area is a good idea, as is working outdoors where the dust doesn’t matter.
3. They’re perfect for spontaneity
While pastels are not great for producing an exact likeness of something, the flip side is that they’re great for when you want to be spontaneous. So don’t plan ahead too much; dive in and create.
4. Experimenting often will bring rewards
Ask 10 different pastel artists how they work and you’ll get 10 different answers. That’s because there’s no right and wrong way to use pastels. They reward experimentation, so go ahead and try new things. Who knows, you might just stumble on a great new technique.
5. They’re great for working outside
The characteristics of pastels make them perfect for working plein air (i.e. outside). They’re easy to transport and don’t require anything liquid. Also, the fact that they’re fast and easy to use means that they’re good for capturing outdoor scenes where the light is rapidly changing, such as at the beginning and ends of the day, or when the weather is changing.
6. Pastels need to be kept clean while you’re working
As you work, the tips of your pastels will rapidly become contaminated by other colors. Keep a paper towel close at hand while you work, and clean your pastel tips by drawing on it every time you finish using a stick.
7. Take care with fixative
The use of fixative spray on a finished pastel artwork is somewhat controversial. Yes, it protects the surface by preventing pigment from getting knocked off every time the artwork is bumped, but it also dulls the colors that pastels are so well-liked for. Try it and see what you think.
8. Colored paper works
It’s unusual for a pastel artwork to completely cover the surface it’s on. Usually, the underlying surface is visible at least to a degree in some areas of the artwork. This means that the color of the paper you use can act like a sort of base coat, meaning you don’t have to do as much (or indeed any) underpainting.
So continue to learn about pastels as you go along and don’t be frightened to experiment and have fun.

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