There are two kinds of pastels, soft pastels which are soft and chalky and oil pastels which are harder.Most users prefer soft pastels which are easy to blend giving a lovely painterly result.If you are new to painting and drawing this is good and forgiving medium to try.No water, or smelly oil or turpentine.No squishy tubes to keep the top on.You just brush up anything that falls on the floor.
There are many makes of soft pastels,the most costly and lovely to use are Sennelier and Unison but if you are new to this medium and want to practise buy a cheaper make otherwise you may end up with a lot of very expensive dust on the floor.I have found that the Pastel Artists's Bible is a comprehensive guide to the different types of pastels available and shows a variety of ways they can be applied with useful examples.
The artist Lionel Aggett uses Unison pastels in this landscape
French Impressionist Degas used Sennelier pastels for many ballet scenes
Choice of paper is important.Daler Rowney Murano cool and warm coloured pastel paper is my favourite .The surface has a tooth which the pastel clings on to.Ingres paper is also good.I find paper with gritty surfaces difficult.
A good supply of pastel pencils are useful for putting in detail.I buy a lot of my art materials from Amazon.They are pristine fresh and have not been damaged from being handled by staff and customers in a store.
Rembrandt soft pastels are good for both beginners and more experienced artists.They produce a sturdy box containing a generous 15 half sticks in a good selection of colours.
Daler Rowney coloured pastel paper provides an instant background removing the expanse of white paper to fill that is so intimidating when starting a drawing.The pack shown below has lovely shades of blue.
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Now You Have Pastels and Paper
Before you begin pastel painting analyse some artist examples.Use coloured paper so that the light colours have value and show up.You do not have to do a whole finished scene to achieve a good result.
This pastel sketch by Mary Cassatt has an unfinished look.She uses hatched strokes of colour and finished with a few defining strokes in black .She has not drawn a whole scene completely covered in pastel colour resulting in a fresh ,lively portrait.
Another approach is to smudge colours together,take care not to overwork the blending otherwise you will end up with mud.Focus on important areas ,a photo realistic finish is not what you are after.An overall impression of a scene with a few sharp lines for definition applied at the end can give a great result.This is how Degas achieved some of his paintings of ballet dancers.
The possibilities are endless.Give pastels a try.
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