Creative Brain Exercise With Pastels…What Are They?

Creative Brain Exercise With Pastels…What Are They?

Have you ever worked with pastels?

They are soft and easy to apply, get great results, and can be applied in many ways to make a painting.  Using them can be a creative brain exercise to expand that part of our abilities.

Here at Annie's Tips, I want to open up creative avenues for you, my reader, so that you can exercise the creative thinking parts of your brain, the parts that often got pushed aside for many of us as we grew into adulthood.  Exercise for our brain is just as important as physical exercise…maybe even more!

That early natural creative spark often got suppressed.  The result is that we get limited in our possibilities in life!  Who wants to be limited?

I know I don't, and I don't want that for you either.

Pastels are a terrific art form for you to explore.  Let me give you some basic info about them.

You may wonder, are they just chalk?

Pastel paints are chalk and more...and fun to use for creative brain exercise

Pastel paints are chalk and more…and fun to use for creative brain exercise

Well, yes and no.

Pastel paints are a very pure pigment mixed with chalk and a binder or gum to hold them together.  The chalk adds lighter color to create the lighter values.  They are hardened into chalk-like sticks for artist use.

The pastel paints come as hard or soft, even so soft they can almost crumble when unwrapped.

There are Pastel pencils that can be blended and are not nearly as dusty.

There are also oil pastels, which are crayon-like.

Plusses for Pastels

Pastel paints have many great features.  I like them a lot.  I feel very close to the Source with pastels.  The colors are vibrant, and almost pure pigment, diluted with chalk to get lighter values.  Application and blending involves using the hands and fingers instead of a brush, so it is very tactile and connected for me.  I am a part of what I am creating in a way that does not exist with using brushes.

Pastel work is very portable.  I need little equipment to get set up.  It is fantastic for plein air painting, like sitting at the seaside or at a street scene.  There is little set up and little equipment.  There are no solvents or brushes, and no dry time.

I love the multi layering that I can do, drawing out light and color variations as I work my piece.  Color possibilities feel endless.

Oil pastels can be very handy for sketching in plein air, and for indoor work.  They can also be thinned with mineral spirits or linseed oil, and used as a wash.  OIl pastel paints can be layered just as with the soft pastels, and even layered over oil paints.

pastel paints are very pure pigmentMinuses for Pastels

DUST is a huge minus for pastel work.  Especially with the soft ones that I love so much.  I can get covered from head to toe with pastel when I am working on a piece!

For me, I relegate soft pastel work to plein air only.  Because my pastels are so portable, I have them packed in a bag with my portable easel and ready to go to the beach or out to the backyard.

As long as the wind and weather cooperate, I am good to go anytime, anyplace.

Oil pastels do not have the dust element, and for me, this is something I am just beginning to explore.


Tooth is the texture of the surface for applying the pastel.  I typically use a sanded paper or sanded board of 400-600.  The tooth is what the pastels adhere to.  Soft pastels tend to fill up the tooth, so it is good to start with harder pastel in your painting and progress to softer pastels as you work toward completion.  A workable fixative can increase tooth if needed as the painting progresses.  See this post for more information on Techniques with Pastel Paints.

I use a acid-free archival quality paper or board.  I am creating art that I hope my kids and grands and subsequent generations will cherish, as well as friends that I also gift paintings to.  I am currently a part of several art associations where I display and sell some of my paintings in order to support this amazing hobby, and I want their purchases to endure, too.


The other big minus for me with pastels is how they can rub off.  I investigated a lot to find a fixative that would work, without darkening the colors I had applied.  I started with fixatives that I applied,  too heavily, that darkened my art so that it was unrecognizable!   I have learned…I now apply several very light coats of my Sennelier Latour Fixative when I am finished with a painting. It does not darken the work and makes it resist rubbing off.

Oil pastels also need fixative when finished because they do not truly dry as oils do after several months.  I use Caran d’Ache Protector Fixative.  Sennelier Pastel Fixative is another good choice.

There are times when I am not done, but I have about used up the tooth, or want to do some work at the top of a painting without disturbing the base….enter workable fixative.  It saves your work, while enabling further editing and enhancement.

See our review of pastels here.

History of Pastels

The first mentions of use of pastels is in the fifteenth century..  Leonardo di Vinci talked about pastels.   They were primarily used for studies for larger works in oil.  In the eighteenth century, pastels came into their own as an artistic medium only to be rejected after the French revolution as tied to the old regime.  Degas in the nineteenth century did a great deal of work with pastel, sometimes so imbued with fixative that it was almost a paste.

Oil pastels were first made in 1925, at the request of Picasso and Henri Goetz.  Goetz used them for preliminary sketching, while Picasso wanted to use his fingers instead of a brush and used them as the primary medium.

Get Your Fingers Going with Creative Brain Exercise!plein air artist using his easel and paints in his outdoor art studio

If you want to really get into your painting, physically as well as emotionally and creatively, give pastel paints a try.  Their saturated color is unsurpassed.  The layering possibilities are amazing.

Today pastels stand on their own as an art medium once again.  There are pastel societies for mutual support, exhibition and learning.  There are pastel magazines which teach and share ideas and techniques for pastel painting.

Get a beginner set of basic Blick pastels (set of 48- only $10.29 as of this writing, or something better, if you are ready, and some pastel paper and give it a try.  You will have so much fun, and your perspective on what you see all around you will change- for the better.  Take a look at the many options reviewed here.

Let me know how it goes!

Getting going with creative outlets is important for the creative mindful thinking you need for you to explore possibilities in your life.  Pastels are not just chalk!  They can be the release for you of amazing opportunity in your life.

Life Design is possible.  We do not need to live the lives others have laid out for us.

Expand your creative thinking with creative brain exercise.  Give yourself the gift of a life you love!  What brain exercise plan are you doing today?

creative brain exercise




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Published by Annie Collyer

Annie is a mom of four, a business owner and blogger. She and her husband live in New Hampshire, where they are both active volunteers in their community school district. She writes about designing our lives with proven design thinking principles. Join her in creating the life we each want.

  • DianaDM says:

    Very neat and great guidelines on paints.
    I have never thought of paints before but this has made me have a sense of it.

  • Paul says:

    Dear Annie,

    Thanks for the post and it gave me new insights on pastels and I have never worked with pastels but after reading your post I want to give it a try. Thanks for the detailed information.

    Your Friend,

    • Hi Paul,
      Thank you for visiting! I am so happy to inspire you to give pastels a try. Pursuing any creative outlet is so good to exercise that part of the brain, so that we can design the life we want to be leading. Pastels are a fun and easy entry.

      • Paul says:

        Dear Annie,

        Thanks for the reply. Designing the life we want to be leading will be great and people are struggling to do that. We are on our way to achieve success and once we achieved it we need to pay it forward by teaching the same to others.

        Your Friend,

  • Michelle says:

    Oh wow, Annie. I thoroughly enjoyed this article – it really appealed to the artist in me. I will surely be going to the art supply store and try a new fun art project. Thanks so much for the trips and tricks using pastels.
    Going to also get my daughter involved. She loved painting and colors – she is 11 yrs.

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Annie,

    It is fun to work with pastels, but you are right, a big minus with pastels is how they can rub off. I didn’t know there was a solution to that problem. Thanks for sharing this great information. I enjoy doing artwork, drawing, painting ect, but I’m not very good, it is just an activity I find fun and relaxing.


    • Hi Lisa, Thanks for your comments. I believe it is the enjoying and the exercising of our creative brain functions that is the big reason for art, not to be “good” at it. I’m so glad you are one who does. I am glad to have shared with you how to use the fixative!

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