Soft Pastel Drawing Techniques

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I absolutely love soft pastel drawing, and have been hooked ever since I started using them! I could not recommend the medium more. There is a greater sense of immediacy with soft pastels than compared to painting with oils or acrylics. I say this because one can create a quick sketch much quicker with soft pastels than with paint. So, I find soft pastels very ideal for creating brief portrait drawings or even taking with on travels.

However, enough about how amazing this medium is. Here are some great soft pastel techniques you can use.

Creating lines with the edge of a pastel

clean pastel mark made with the edge of a soft pastel stick

When creating a line use the edge of the end of a pastel stick. Hold it upright like you would a pencil. It is a great way to capture a clean line in your soft pastel drawing. You can vary the types of lines you do by how much pressure you apply to the stick. The more pressure you place on the stick the `thicker the line will be. A light touch will create feather light lines. You can add a variation of them both in your drawing.

Using the side of a pastel for soft pastel drawing

a soft pastel broken in half with a soft pastel mark made with the side of a pastel stick.

Using the side of a pastel is a great way to create a variety of marks in your soft pastel drawing. I like to break my pastel stick in half because the length of a full stick is too long unless you are working on a very large drawing. Using the side of a pastel can be an effective way to put down a lot of color at once as well as ‘block in’ areas. It is a wonderful way to create beautiful wide strokes. Try it out!

Hatching and Cross Hatching

hatching and cross hatching with soft pastels

You can create hatched marks by drawing clean lines on top of some color with the edge of a pastel. If you want to create a cross hatched texture then draw diagonal lines like in the example above. This technique can help you ‘test’ out some colors without fully committing. Also, doing this can help mix colors without blending. And placing orange on top of blue like in the image above is a way to create a muted blue.

Blending

blending with soft pastels

One of the most unique aspects of soft pastels is that you are able to blend the colors together. You can use the blending technique to either mix colors together or create a variety of edges. You can use a variety of tools for blending – either your finger, paper towel, a piece of cloth or a cotton ball!

Blending can create incredibly soft effects. Just be sure not to use it too much. If everything is soft then your drawing will lose all character. Rather, you want to vary the texture in your drawing.

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Scumbling

scumbling with soft pastels

A great way of getting some textural effects with vibrant color is to lightly drag some pastel across a layer of already fixed color. The effect this creates can be very visually stimulating. Just know that it is best to use the softest of the softest pastels for this technique.

Layering

layering colors in a soft pastel drawing. Soft pastel drawing technique

Layering is the only way you will be able to mix colors with your soft pastel drawing! It is essential if you want to create specific and rich colors in your. You will lay down a base color and lay down a color on top of that, and depending on what color you are trying to achieve you can lay down more colors. You can either leave the colors as they are, or you can blend them together on your paper to create a softened effect. Just be sure to lay down colors lightly. If you press too hard you will not be able to layer many colors.

Recommended Materials

Below are some recommended soft pastels. For a thorough overview of the best materials for starting in Soft pastels check out Soft Pastel Drawing for Beginners.

Sennelier Soft Pastels – Half Stick set of 80

I personally love Sennelier Soft Pastels. They are one of the softest buttery pastels I have ever experienced and are very fun to use. You can create beautiful drawings with the brilliant colors these soft pastels come in. This particular set comes in half sticks with a range of 80 different colors.

Sennelier Soft Pastels – Portrait Colors – Set of 40

If you are a portrait or figure artist, this is the pastel set for you! It comes in a set of 40 different colors

Elisabeth Larson Koehler creator of art studio life

Hi! I am Elisabeth

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