How to Draw with Soft Pastels - Art Tutorial
Soft pastel techniques and tips.
We want to inspire you – with our finest quality and rich colors. Have you ever tried drawing with soft pastels? If you have, then you already know how much fun it is to create pictures with soft pastels. We want to encourage you as a beginner: soft pastels allow you to draw casually and spontaneously. Not everything will be perfect from the word go, but it does not matter because soft pastel drawings can be easily corrected. Practicing the techniques shown below and doing creative work will reward you with a sense of delight. Get started now and give all the techniques and tips here a try!
What a color!
Are soft pastels used for drawing or painting? You can do both with soft pastels because the rectangular shape of the pastel sticks allows you to draw lines as well as color in areas. This blurs the boundary between drawing and painting.
You will notice it immediately on very gentle strokes: Applying soft pastels is a very spontaneous process and the color applied can be easily blended. This is because the pigments in a soft pastel are only minimally compressed and the soft pastel contains an extremely low percentage of binders. Soft pastels can create such flowing and soft gradients like no other drawing or painting mediums.
Faber-Castell soft pastels are available in two lengths: the standard and the mini format.
The right paper
Not all papers are equal. So what is the right kind of paper for soft pastels? Textured, rough-grained papers that allow pigments to stick well to their surface offer the optimal adhesion. Smooth papers are less suitable for this. When starting out, try not to make things too difficult for yourself and choose special papers available in shops designed for pastels. Such papers offer the best possible surface and give you the freedom to fully concentrate on drawing.
Once you become slightly more familiar with handling pastels, you can also try using watercolor paper, canvas, pasteboard or wood as a substrate. Always make sure that the substrate used is acid-free in order to prevent the unpleasant yellowing of your picture.
A test strip helps you with color selection.
Would you like to experience a firework of brilliance? Using soft pastels in combination with colored papers lets you experience this in a blink of an eye! You can create stark contrast by drawing on dark-colored papers, whereas doing so on brightly colored papers produces gentle blends of colors.
Colors glow on dark-colored papers.
It's time to test things out! Combining the same pastel color with papers in cool, warm or neutral tones will result in very different color combinations, thereby significantly influencing the character of a picture. We recommend having a strip of the colored paper beside your drawing for testing purposes. On this strip of paper, you can test out whether you will get the color tone you want.
Lines and Areas
Draw fine lines using the tip - Draw thick lines using the edge - Color in areas using the wide pastel side
The soft pastels were not arbitrarily given a rectangular shape. The edges and flat surfaces offer you many different ways to use the pastels. You can use the tip and edges to draw fine to medium lines. To draw thick lines or color in an area, use the wide side of the pastel for the best results. Altering the pressure intensity is another way you can vary how you use the pastel. By exerting more or less pressure, you can increase or decrease the saturation of the color applied respectively.
Hatch using soft pastels? Hatching is admittedly not the most important drawing technique for soft pastels, but it is an interesting way to add style and can be used in combination with other drawing techniques to create interesting visual elements.
Try using the edge and tip of a pastel to create precise and expressive hatchings. Layering hatchings on each other results in spontaneous color mixes that will give you inspiration for new visual composition.
Blending and Mixing
Apply colors over and beside each other
You will immediately fall in love with this: blending pigments into beautiful gradients and mixes of colors. When painting with pastels, you come into direct contact with the color because it is typically blended using a finger. However, you can also use a blending stump, a rag or other materials to do so. Always blend colors from a lighter area towards a darker one.
Mix soft pastels directly on the paper. Apply colors beside and over each other and blend the layers with your finger. If the blend still does not match what you want, you can further refine it with more color layers. It is advisable to use fewer color shades in the beginning, because a blend of many colors can quickly turn into a shade of grey.
Creating color gradients is a forte of soft pastels. They can create gradients with such flowing and painterly quality like no other drawing and painting mediums.
Apply the colors you have selected for the gradient beside each other. Then blend the colors together only at their interfaces, preferably using a blending stump. The paper stump's tip allows you to work on small areas as well. A simple application technique that produces spectacular results!
Good to know: A blending stump is made of paper rolled tightly together and can be cut to size using a cutter or sharp knife. Blending stumps are available in various thicknesses.
Brighten and Darken
You can of course use black to darken a color. But try using a complementary color to do so. On the color wheel, this is the color opposite the color you chose. In the example depicted, blue and orange are opposite each other. When you layer these two colors over each other, you get a shade of grey. You can vary the shade of grey by adjusting the ratio of the two colors. Blending a color with white is a great way of lightening it. Likewise, you can also try using other brighter shades of color. Depending on the shade of color, you will get mixes with a warm or cool character.
The art eraser
The art eraser is something you truly cannot do without! The soft rubber mass can be kneaded into any shape you want and therefore be used for correction on small spots or larger sections. When dabbed on the desired area, the art eraser absorbs loose pigments by binding them to the rubber mass.
The art eraser offers you another way of brightening colors and correcting parts of a picture. And that's not all it can do: use the art eraser to remove pigments from a picture with the help of a paper edge or a stencil. This allows you to create bright lines or areas with precision on your picture for extravagant effects; this also works on dark-colored papers.
Positive and Negative
Try out new approaches! You usually draw the subject in color on a piece of paper using pastels. And now you are going to do just the opposite: fully fill in the background with color and leave the subject in the paper's color. It is amazing how different the subject appears now. Test out different subjects to see which ones are suitable for this technique.
Without fixative: Top color smudges with the underlying color AND With fixative: Top color does not underlying color smudge with the underlying color.
Even if you have rubbed color pigments well onto the paper, they are only resting loosely on the substrate and are prone to being unintentionally smudged. A fixative allows you to seal and preserve your picture. The fixative is atomized and sprayed onto the picture from a distance of approx. 30 cm. After drying, it permanently protects the surface.
There are differing opinions as to whether you should use a fixative or not. Opponents criticize that using a fixative makes colors appear darker and duller. Proponents use a fixative to protect their picture as well as to allow themselves to further process their picture after the fixative has dried. The next two pages will show you how this works.
The so called intermediate fixing is a technique you can use to correct your pictures as well as work on them in other creative ways. The dried fixative rests on the color like a coat and prevents it from blending with colors applied subsequently. For example, you can apply lighter colors on parts of your picture that have become too dark or place precise points of light. Layer by layer, intermediate fixing opens up a large room for creative picture composition.
Draw and blend. Apply fixative after.
Continue drawing and apply fixative after.
Good to know: Hairspray is not very suitable as a fixative because it makes pigments clump together, giving the picture a blotchy look.
Your can apply a fixative on a preliminary sketch and then draw over it using soft pastels. This prevents the preliminary sketch smudging.
For great effects: Stencils
If you do not want to apply fixative on your picture for preservation, but there is an area on it you want to improve, then here is a little trick you can use. Cut a piece of paper to make a stencil in the shape of the area to be worked on. Then place the stencil on your picture and apply a fixative on the cutout. When the fixative is dry, you can apply more colors to the area.
It is hard to believe, but you can use water and a brush to greatly affect how a pastel picture looks. Give this watercolor-esque effect a try! Draw your subject using soft pastels. Now take a soft brush damped with a generous amount of water and move the brush across the drawing. The pigments on the top will be absorbed by the brush and blended over the painting without messing up the original painting. Simple but brilliant!
You have already met the most important helpers: the art eraser and the blending stump. But there are still more helpers to discover.
A knife or a sand paper block allows you to easily scrape pigment off a pastel. Apply the pigment directly on your picture or scrape it onto a separate piece of paper.
You can pick up the pigment using your finger and incorporate it into an existing drawing or blend it immediately on your picture. This is an ideal technique you can use to quickly color in large areas or create beautiful textures.
As simple as this!
Sketch outlines and apply colors
Blend colors, refine areas and apply fixative
Define trees, draw mountains in, refine water and apply fixative
Apply white and work on the banks
Combining strong techniques
The drawing techniques we have presented offer endless possibilities for creating extravagant pastel pictures. If you are looking for even more room for variation and you love mixed media pictures, experiment with exciting combinations of other materials and tools from the Creative Studio range.
You could, for example, use the Pitt Artist Pen with waterproof ink for preliminary sketching. The interplay of soft and with the Goldfaber drawing pencil also delivers great results.
Soft pastels combined with Pitt Artist Pen
Soft pastels combined with Goldfaber colored pencils
Soft pastels combined with Pitt Artist Pen