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What Are the Different Pastel Techniques?

Pastel art offers a symphony of techniques, from delicate blending to vibrant layering. Artists can employ scumbling to create texture or use the side of the pastel for broad strokes. Hatching and cross-hatching add depth, while stippling provides intricate detail. Discover the magic of pastels—how will you express your creativity? Dive deeper to explore the full spectrum of pastel possibilities.
Elizabeth West
Elizabeth West

Different pastel techniques produce a variety of effects when using oil or soft pastels. The media are primarily built up in layers, rather than mixed like paint. Paper choice is important too, from its color to texture.

For lines and sketches, using the end of the stick or pencil is a basic method. Hard pastels and pencils can be sharpened to produce a more precise line. Turning soft and oil pastels on their sides or flat edges makes a broad swath of color. This is a good way to lay a foundation for building up layers of color that give depth to a picture.

Artists may use a palette knife to incise oil pastels.
Artists may use a palette knife to incise oil pastels.

Hatching and crosshatching are drawing and pastel techniques using parallel lines close together for blocking in a shape. Crosshatching adds more lines at right angles to the first, building up tone and shadow. More blending and layering will generally go over a blocked shape to fine-tune it. The lines are sometimes visible when a subject has been rendered by these pastel techniques.

Oil pastels are more convenient to use than oil paints and can be manipulated to create many of the same effects.
Oil pastels are more convenient to use than oil paints and can be manipulated to create many of the same effects.

Other artists prefer a well-blended look to a painting. The drier media lend themselves to pastel techniques designed to meld colors together. Paper stumps, blending sticks made of rolled paper called tortillons, or a finger are good tools for blurring colors. If fingers are used, they should be cleaned frequently to prevent unintended color mixing. Paper tools can be unrolled or peeled to provide a fresh surface.

Building in layers can be achieved by the previous pastel techniques as well as adding colors on top of each other and letting the eye blend them. Scumbling involves dragging the pastel stick across a layer of color that has been fixed, covering it with a rough texture through which the original can be seen. Another way to add texture is by feathering with fine, short strokes. These pastel techniques allow viewers to see the colors simultaneously and mix them together in their minds.

Oil pastels use all the same pastel techniques. Instead of a chalky binder, oil pastels have a wax and oil base. They can be layered with an impasto look, a technique where paint is put on in a thick, textured way that holds brush or knife strokes. Artists may incise oil pastels with a palette knife or pencil, removing layers of color to show others underneath. They can also dip oil pastels in turpentine or linseed oil, which makes them soft enough to spread around on the painting surface.

Paper is as much a part of pastel techniques as the media themselves. The best paper for pastels has some tooth, or rough texture, to it. Tinted paper eliminates the need for a wash, and different shades can accentuate different colors. Oil pastels can be used on many different surfaces, from paper to canvas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basic techniques used in pastel painting?

The basic techniques in pastel painting include layering, which involves applying colors on top of one another to create depth and richness; blending, where colors are mixed directly on the paper to create smooth transitions; scumbling, a method of lightly layering one color over another for a textured effect; and feathering, which uses light strokes to produce soft edges or delicate details. These foundational methods allow artists to achieve a range of textures and nuances in their pastel artworks.

How do you properly blend pastels without muddying the colors?

To blend pastels without muddying the colors, it's important to use a light touch and work from light to dark hues. Artists often use their fingers, blending stumps, or a soft cloth to gently merge the colors. Additionally, maintaining the purity of colors is crucial, so cleaning the blending tool between strokes is recommended. Layering colors rather than mixing them extensively on the paper can also help preserve the vibrancy of the pastels.

Can you explain the sgraffito technique in pastel art?

Sgraffito is a technique where the artist scratches through a top layer of pastel to reveal a different color or the base layer beneath. This method is often used to create texture, patterns, or fine details within a pastel painting. Artists can use various tools for sgraffito, such as a palette knife, the end of a brush, or a pointed tool, to achieve the desired effect. The contrast between the layers adds complexity and visual interest to the artwork.

What is the difference between hard and soft pastels, and how does it affect technique?

Hard pastels contain more binder and less pigment, making them firmer and ideal for drawing sharp lines and details. Soft pastels, on the other hand, have a higher pigment content and a buttery texture, suitable for bold strokes and covering large areas. The choice between hard and soft pastels affects technique; for instance, artists might start with hard pastels for the initial sketch and underpainting, then switch to soft pastels for layering and blending to build up color intensity and depth.

Are there any innovative pastel techniques that artists are currently exploring?

Artists are continually experimenting with pastels, combining them with other mediums and exploring new surfaces for unique effects. For example, some artists use pastels over a watercolor underpainting, a technique known as pastel over watercolor, which can add depth and texture. Others may incorporate mixed media, using pastels alongside acrylics or incorporating collage elements. The use of textured papers or surfaces with a "tooth" can also lead to innovative applications of pastel, as the medium adheres differently, creating unexpected and dynamic results.

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    • Artists may use a palette knife to incise oil pastels.
      By: fantasy
      Artists may use a palette knife to incise oil pastels.
    • Oil pastels are more convenient to use than oil paints and can be manipulated to create many of the same effects.
      By: Kadmy
      Oil pastels are more convenient to use than oil paints and can be manipulated to create many of the same effects.