Learn How to Grow Creatively With Painting with Pastels

Learn How to Grow Creatively With Painting with Pastels

creative abstract design exercises creative thinking for life design. When we learn how to grow creatively with painting, we expand our horizons for life design

Creative abstract design exercises creative thinking for life design. When we learn how to grow creatively with painting, we expand our horizons for life design

It's Not What You Do, But That You Do

Pursuing creative activities expands our brains and our awareness in life.  One way that allows us to expand our world is learning how to grow creatively with painting, and use our ability to Design the Life we Want.

Using Pastels, for instance, is less about the art you make than about making art and exercising the creative part of our brain.  Still, doing things well is satisfying.  This post will help you explore the many possibilities for art with pastel paints.  My goal for you is for you to have fun and joy as you experience pastels.

Pastel Paints Possibilities Almost Endless

Pastel paints are really fun to use, with their vibrant colors and layering possibilities. This post is designed to share some pastel painting techniques for beginners with you, to help you get started on how to grow creatively with painting with pastels. I am going to focus on soft and hard pastels, not oil pastels in this post.

Pastel paints techniques pastel paint supplies

Are you ready to give them a try?  First you can buy soft pastels that are very inexpensive and others that cost a lot of money.

I have a review of pastel paint products, to help you choose what will work best for you.   I started using softer better pastels and really love my landscape pastel set.


(When you click on a link here, you will be taken to another page with more information.  Some pages are other posts on Annie's Tips and some are sites where you can learn more about a product and be able to buy it. 

The sites have the best prices available on the internet.  If you purchase a product on a site with one of our links, you will not pay more but Annie's Tips will get a small commission.  We appreciate your support.)

sanded pastel paperPaint Surfaces

Pastel paints need what is called tooth to adhere to a surface. Tooth is like texture. It is the waves and indentations on a paper. When you rub a pastel stick against the paper, the tooth grabs hold of the paint. The rougher the surface, the more pastel paint you can apply without having to use fixative to roughen up the surface to add more.

You can buy pastel papers of many varieties. If you want a smooth painting, you will want less tooth, while more tooth will give you more texture in your finished painting. You can use pastel paper or a rougher variety of watercolor paper (cold pressed, not hot pressed!). You can even buy sanded paper to use.

The paper should be strong enough to hold up to the use you will be giving it – washing, rubbing, blending. It should be acid-free archival quality rag or 100% cotton paper unless you are just practicing and want to use something really inexpensive. I suggest trying 400 grain paper, where I can apply many layers. If your paper has less tooth, the pastel will fill it up quickly and you will have fewer layers.

I also like using Sanded Pastel Clayboards which have good tooth. Here is a picture of a painting I did with board. It was a very pleasing surface to use.pastel painting with layering

Pastel paint surfaces come in many colors, too. You can purchase pads of paper with a variety of color or just one. You can choose a color that is complementary to your painting colors to give the finished product more harmony and unity, or a color with contrast that will give interesting highlights.

Undercoating and Painting

I suggest trying to do a wash of my paper to give it the background I want. This is called undercoating. To do so, I take a soft pastel and wipe it across the surface with broad side edge.

I use either complimentary or contrasting colors for the broad shapes I am putting in my painting. Then I take a paint brush lightly dipped in rubbing alcohol and wash the paper down, one color at a time. This saves on using as much pastel paint and gives pleasing undertones that I allow showing through as I complete my painting.

Can you see some of the possibilities there are for how to grow creatively with painting with pastels?  I've had a blast with them since I found them…I hope you will too!

I also like using a lot of tooth, for many layers and texture in the finished work. I do a fair amount of blending, and my fingers can get raw, so I often wear finger cots! You can take it off after you finish working with a color and avoid some unintended color transfer. I suggest working from top to bottom of your piece, so that you do not smudge the work you have done by accident.

Then, as the work starts to get completed, I do less blending and put in more definition. I will often go to a harder pastel for some dotting and drawing and outlining of shapes.

I suggest trying the way I can bring out light with contrasting colors around objects, like trees and horizons. And use purples for shadowing. I know that I notice so much more when I look around me as a result of painting.

Sennelier Fixative preserve pastel paintsFinish and Frame

When your painting is finished, and that is often before you think – don't overwork it! it is time to preserve it. For that I spray with a fixative. I recommend Sennelier Latour Fixative as one that does not yellow or darken the work. You will want to spray several times lightly, and allow drying between sprays.  Here is a link to Blick Art Supplies, where you can explore quality art products in a wide range of prices…

Then you are ready to frame it! With pastel paintings you can use any picture frame, and get ‘spacers' so the painting does not touch the glass or plastic. You can use a mat or not. Some people are not using glass or mats, and presenting similar to an oil painting. To do that, you will want to make really sure you use enough fixative!

Tools for Pastels

stumps and tortillons pastel paint suppliesBesides paper or another surface, the pastel sticks and your fingers, there are some tools you may want. You will want to dress in clothes you do not mind getting covered in pastel dust!

Having some rags or paper towels and water to clean up your fingers is a must and will prevent your having to run to the sink to wash all the time.

Tortillons are handy for blending. Especially for small areas. A tortillon is a tightly wrapped paper stick. When it gets covered in paint, you just unwrap a bit and you will have a fresh clean surface. There are also pastel brushes and shapers, but you can use a q-tip for blending too.

One must-have is a kneaded eraser, which can be used as an eraser or as a blender.

Share Your Results

I would love to hear from you and see your results! And if you have any questions, please ask. I will do my best to get your answers.

Build and enhance your creative thinking by pursuing art.  Not only is it fun, but you will energize the parts of your brain to help you design the life you want.  Sign up to get the Free Ebook on the top right of this page for more!

how to grow creatively with painting





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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.

  • Anthony says:

    Very clear instruction on how to do pastel painting. I never do this before and would certainly like to try this in the future. Thank you for information.

  • Bob Arsenault says:

    I’m not an artist but you never know!
    I love the texture and blended look of your samples. So many different media for painting. This is one I did not know about.
    When you have to use finger cots, what material are they? Latex, leather, etc. Pardon my ignorance… seems the latex type would be less expensive when you have to change them often but a leather type might help with texture issues.

    Anyway, great info. Thank you so much!

    • latex. Throw always, Bob. Definitely less expensive. I like them when the sanded surface will abrade my fingers. They are not needed with textured but not sanded pastel or cold pressed watercolor papers.

  • Kay says:

    My daughter is an artist wannabe, so this article was very helpful. This article actually gave me some ideas of what to get her for Christmas. As she puts it there is actually an art to being an artist. I will certainly share this article with her. Thanks for sharing.

  • minecraft says:

    I don’t know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering issues with your
    site. It appears as though some of the text in your
    content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and
    let me know if this is happening to them as well? This could be
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