Materials You Need for Pastel Painting

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One of the big attractions of this medium is the simplicity of the materials you need for pastel painting. You don't have to prepare a palette or a canvas before you start working, and you don't need to wait for anything to dry between layers. Effectively, you have the speed and convenience of a drawing medium without sacrificing the rich, bold colors you have access to in painting mediums such as oils and acrylics.

So what do you need to get started in pastels?

The first thing you'll need to get hold of is the pastels themselves. An easy and cost-effective way to get started is to purchase a set of half-sticks of soft pastels. Anywhere from 20 to 36 sticks is a good number to begin with. Rembrandt and Sennelier are two good brands, and both produce half-stick sets, which let you play with different colors without so big an initial outlay of money. For preliminary sketching you should also pick up an artists' charcoal. These blend well with pastels.

Once you have your pastels, you need a surface to work on. Paper is best for the beginner, given that it is (relatively) cheap and comes in pads, allowing you plenty of space to experiment. You're looking for paper specifically produced for pastels, as this will have enough ‘tooth' (i.e. rough texture) to catch and hold the pigment from your pastel sticks. Pads are usually either 9 x 12" or 12 x 18". Look for a pad that has a variety of shades, so that you can experiment and see what difference this makes.

While you can buy paper in loose sheets, buying a pad has the advantage that the cardboard backing will provide enough rigidity that you won't need a drawing board to work on. If you do need a drawing board, you can use a sheet of Masonite or heavy-duty cardboard. Wooden drawing boards are the best, but they are heavier and more expensive. Around 18 x 24" is a good size for a drawing board. At some point you may wish to start using an easel to work on, but for the beginner simply resting a pad or drawing board on your knees or an ordinary table is perfectly adequate.

Useful tools to use while you work are stumps. Stumps (a.k.a. tortillons) are simply pieces of soft paper tightly rolled so that both ends have a point. They're used for blending, for example blending together adjacent areas of color on your surface so that there's a smooth transition between them. You'll be able to find simple tutorials online if you want to make your own stumps. It can be difficult to get the paper wound tight enough though, and they're inexpensive to buy (about $1 for a packet of three).

And that's it! Not really that many materials you need for pastel painting is there? As you progress you may want to acquire more pastel sticks and accessories, but for the beginner, the things listed above are enough. Enjoy!

Emma Ralph is an experienced pastel artist. To discover more about the materials you need for pastel painting visit

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Occupation: artist
My name is Emma Ralph and I have been using pastels as a painting medium for many years and although I don't exhibit in a gallery on a regular basis, my work sells quite frequently at local art fares and exhibitions. I have also sold acryllic and oil paintings that I have done.

Talking to other artists has made me realize that people who haven't used pastels think they will be difficult or they wont last. Personally, I believe that they are a very versatile and forgiving medium and would love to think that I have helped others give it a try and discover how much fun pastels can be. Please stop by my website, it's specific to pastels and I offer a free 10 day mini course.

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