Painting with Pastels

By John, age 11

If you’ve never tried painting with pastels, I’d encourage you to use them. Every type of art media has its own unique qualities and expression, and these are no exception. Although the colors don't mix well, they can be easily blended and added on top of each other to create beautiful effects. Pastels can be used for making quick, inspired sketches as well as large, elaborate paintings. Their portability also make them a good choice when working outdoors.

You’ll find children love painting with pastels as well. They get into their work – literally! Give them a set and a project to work on, and they’ll soon have a rainbow of colors on their paper, their hands, their faces – and have a wonderful time doing it.

Sometimes you will hear artists refer to “painting with pastels” or creating a “pastel painting.” A pastel painting is a work of art in which the drawing surface is nearly or completely covered. If more of the surface shows through, it’s called a “pastel sketch” or “pastel drawing.”

Pastels are round or rectangular sticks made up of pure powdered pigment. These are the same pigments used in making all other types of art media with colors, including ink and paint. Pastels also contain a binder, and they range from hard to soft, depending on the type and the amount of binder used.

You can layer one color on top of another and easily blend them, but unlike paint, pastels don’t mix well to create new colors. For this reason, manufacturers produce hundreds of colors to choose from. Start with a boxed set of 24 to 48. These come in trays lined with foam, which help keep the pastels clean and less likely to break. You can purchase any additional colors you need individually, as well as empty pastel boxes to store them in.

Besides the soft and hard pastels, other types of pastels are also available, and you can combine any of these to get the effect you are looking for. Conte pencils or conte crayons are useful in creating fine details. Oil pastels and water-soluble pastels can be washed over with water. Unlike paint, which tends to dry up, pastels will last indefinitely. You can put them away for years then pull them out again, and you'll find they're just as good as new.

Ready to start painting with pastels? All you really need to begin is:

Soft Pastels


Optional Supplies:

Hard Pastels

Pastel Pencils

Conte Crayons


Oil Pastels

Water Soluble Pastels



If you are ready to try painting a pastel portrait, Pastel Portrait is a great resource. Here you will quickly discover the secrets of painting pastel portraits and develop the techniques for honing your skills as a pastel artist.