Working with Soft Pastels

If you follow our videos on DMTV you’ll know that I’ve been working with still life subjects recently. Because I had a couple of still life set ups already arranged it seemed like a good idea to explore the same ideas in my sketchbook. The course asks us all to consider ‘My Place’ and the things associated with it. What could be more appropriate than a favourite fruit bowl, a lovely jug and the kilim cushion I see on my sofa everyday?


This module introduces soft pastels – the colours might be similar but these soft sticks are quite different to the oil pastels we’ve already been using. They are often used with a textured paper where the tooth holds the pigment rich medium particularly well and is available in lots of different colours. I wanted to see how they would work direct to the page of the sketchbook and also on top of a watercolour wash.


First I prepared the pages with a mixture of green and blue paint from the palette in the kit. You may notice a touch of gold metallic oil pastel rubbed over some stitched lines for a little embellished detail on the left edge. I love a bit of glitz! When the pages were dry, the butterfly on the right was cut out of a photograph and collaged down with gel medium. Of course, by cutting the photograph carefully I was left with the background shape and was able to use it as a stencil to make the same shape on the left hand page by simply applying pastel to the edge of the stencil and dragging it into the butterfly shaped aperture. Once I had the basic shape established I could draw finer details with the edge of the pastel stick.

I also wanted to try some coloured pastel paper to see how different that made everything look. This particular brand has a really textured surface which almost looks like woven canvas. The paper was a plum pink colour which suited the drapery and fruit in my still life. I couldn’t resist adding more gold oil pastel to all the edges of the page, especially over the machine stitches which I’d used to secure the loose sheet of pastel paper to the page of the sketchbook. The single apple on the right was drawn direct to the painted page. I used a blending stick to mix and smudge the colours. This can easily be overdone if you’re not careful and it can make the drawing ‘woolly’ looking so once I had done some blending I went back in and drew more fresh colour and detail over the top. Notice the touches of turquoise – they weren’t actually visible on the fruit but I thought it looked like reflected colour from the background paint. Artistic license! Both pages were sprayed with artists’ fixative to prevent colour transfer when the book is closed. Fixative does darken the colours slightly but is essential.

I always like to sample materials and techniques to discover the difference it makes to the outcome. In this final drawing I worked on a loose sheet of 140lb ‘Not’ watercolour paper which I’d painted with blue watercolour over some rubbed gold oil pastel at the page edges. You can see how textured this paper is compared to the sketchbook pages. I built up layers of soft pastel to achieve depth and richness of colour, then added pale colours where I saw the light was falling on the subject. It’s surprising that for a medium that can be used very delicately with transparent veils of colour, it is also possible to build up a dense layer of really saturated colour. And that white or pale colours like buff and yellow will still show on top! I’ve avoided soft pastels in the past because I’m one of those fussy people who hate getting dirty hands – unavoidable with soft pastel sticks like these!  I’m converted now that I’ve used them again because I’ve decided the results justify a bit of mess!

Hope you are enjoying this module – it’s great to be putting all the techniques the course covers to good use isn’t it?

Talk again soon,

Linda x