10 Practical Tips for Mastering Pastel Painting Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Choose the right pastels
  2. Select the perfect paper
  3. How to hold your pastels
  4. Layer your colors
  5. Use a light touch
  6. Work from dark to light
  7. Blending techniques
  8. Avoid overworking your painting
  9. Cleaning and preserving your pastel paintings
  10. Practice makes perfect

Are you wondering how to pastel painting like a pro? This art form may seem intimidating at first, but with the right tools and techniques, you'll be creating beautiful pastel artwork in no time. Here are 10 practical tips to guide you on your journey to mastering pastel painting.

Choose the right pastels

The first step in learning how to pastel paint is choosing the right pastels. Not all pastels are created equal, and the quality of your pastels can have a significant impact on the results of your artwork. Here's a few factors to consider:

  • Hardness: Pastels come in a range of hardness, from very soft to quite hard. Soft pastels are great for blending and creating smooth transitions, but they can be messy. Hard pastels, on the other hand, are better for creating sharp lines and detailed sections.
  • Quality: It's worth investing in artist-grade pastels if you're serious about pastel painting. They contain a higher pigment concentration, meaning the colors are more vibrant and will last longer on your paper.
  • Color range: A good set of pastels will offer a wide range of colors. This allows for more variety in your work and makes it easier to find the perfect shade for every part of your painting.

Remember, the right pastels for you will depend on your personal preference and the style of painting you want to achieve. So, feel free to experiment with different brands and types until you find what works best for you. And remember, practice makes perfect when it comes to mastering how to pastel painting.

Select the perfect paper

The next step on your journey to learn how to pastel paint involves selecting the perfect paper. The right surface can truly make a difference in how your pastel painting turns out. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Texture: Pastel papers come in a variety of textures, from very smooth to quite rough. A rougher texture will hold more pastel, allowing for more layers and intense colors. On the other hand, a smoother paper will give a softer appearance to your pastel painting.
  • Weight: When it comes to pastel painting, heavier papers generally work best. They can withstand the pressure of applying and blending pastels without tearing or buckling.
  • Color: Pastel papers are available in a wide range of colors. The color of your paper can greatly affect the mood and overall appearance of your painting. Lighter papers will make your colors appear brighter, while darker papers can add depth and drama to your work.

Just like with pastels, the perfect paper for you will largely depend on your personal style and the effects you want to achieve in your painting. Don't be afraid to experiment with different types of paper until you find the one that feels just right. After all, discovering your own preferences is part of the fun when learning how to pastel painting!

How to hold your pastels

Now that you've got your perfect paper and pastels, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to pastel paint. Believe it or not, how you hold your pastels can really affect your painting. Here are a few pointers:

  • Hold it like a pencil: This is the most common way to hold a pastel, especially for beginners. It gives you good control for detailed work and allows you to use the tip of the pastel for fine lines.
  • Hold it on the side: This technique is great for covering large areas quickly. It allows you to use the side of the pastel, which can lay down a lot of color at once.
  • Overhand grip: This is when you hold the pastel between your thumb and fingers, similar to how you would hold a piece of chalk. This grip is perfect for loose, expressive strokes and for blending with the side of the pastel.

Just remember, there's no right or wrong way to hold a pastel. It all depends on what feels comfortable for you and what kind of strokes you're trying to achieve. So go ahead, pick up that pastel and start exploring! Who knows, you might just find your own unique style of how to pastel painting.

Layer your colors

Let's move on to another interesting aspect of how to pastel paint—layering your colors. Layering is an essential technique in pastel painting. It can bring depth, richness, and complexity to your art. Let's look at some steps to layer your colors effectively:

  1. Start with a base layer: This will be the foundation of your painting and can consist of a single color or multiple colors. The base layer helps set the tone of your pastel painting.
  2. Add subsequent layers: After your base layer, you can start adding additional layers, gradually building up the complexity of your colors. Each layer should be lighter than the previous one, helping to create a sense of depth and dimension.
  3. Consider the texture: Layering can also create different textures in your painting. For example, if you want to create the texture of a tree bark or a rough road, you can layer different shades of the same color.

Remember, when layering, it's always a good idea to let each layer dry a bit before adding the next. This will prevent colors from mixing too much and will keep your painting clean and crisp. So, are you ready to bring some depth to your pastel painting with layers?

Use a light touch

One of the most important tips in learning how to pastel paint is mastering the art of using a light touch. Unlike other mediums, pastels require a gentle hand. Here's why:

  1. Preservation of Pastel: A light touch helps you conserve your pastels. When you press too hard, more of the pastel is used up, and you might find yourself running out of your favorite colors quicker than you'd like.
  2. Control over Shades: A lighter touch gives you more control over the intensity of your colors. By gently applying the pastel, you can achieve a range of tones from soft and subtle to bold and vibrant. This is essential for creating depth and realism in your painting.
  3. Prevention of Mud: When you press hard, colors can become muddy and lose their vibrancy. A light touch helps keep your colors clean and bright, which is one of the joys of pastel painting.

Remember, pastel painting is not about force; it's about finesse. So next time you pick up a pastel, think less of a firm grip and more of a feather-light touch. Happy gentle painting!

Work from dark to light

When figuring out how to pastel paint, it's key to remember the golden rule: always work from dark to light. This is somewhat contrary to other mediums, like watercolor, where you typically work from light to dark. Here are a few reasons why this method works best for pastel painting:

  1. Building Depth: Starting with your darkest colors allows you to establish shadows and depth early on. As you layer on lighter colors, your painting gains dimension, creating a more realistic image.
  2. Highlighting Details: Light colors applied over dark ones can act as highlights, drawing attention to key details in your painting. From the shimmer in an eye to the sunlight on a leaf, these small touches can make a big difference.
  3. Preserving Pastels: Dark pastels tend to be softer and can fill up the tooth of the paper quickly. By using them first, you ensure there's enough texture left for the harder, lighter pastels.

So remember, when it comes to pastel painting, it's all about the light at the end of the tunnel—or in this case, at the top of the layer. Keep this tip in mind, and your pastel painting journey will be much smoother.

Blending Techniques

Blending is a core technique when figuring out how to pastel paint, and it's a lot like making a smoothie. You start with individual colors (or fruits), and through blending, you combine them to create something new and delicious. Here's a few blending techniques that can help you make your pastel painting as smooth as a summer smoothie:

  1. Finger Blending: The most straightforward method, finger blending involves simply using your fingers to smudge and blend colors on the paper. It's a good way to get a feel for your pastels, but remember to clean your hands often to avoid muddying your colors.
  2. Tortillon Blending: A tortillon is a tightly rolled piece of paper, pointed at one end. It's a great tool for blending small, detailed areas of your painting without adding any extra pastel dust.
  3. Color Layering: Instead of physically blending the colors, you can layer different pastels to create a mixed color effect. This is a great technique for achieving a more textured, vibrant look.

So, whether you're a fan of smoothies or prefer your fruits whole, these blending techniques can help jazz up your pastel painting skills. Happy blending!

Avoid Overworking Your Painting

Imagine you're baking a cake. You've mixed your batter, it's light and fluffy, and you're ready to pop it in the oven. But then, you decide to mix it just a little bit more — and suddenly, your light and fluffy batter is dense and heavy. This is exactly what you want to avoid when learning how to pastel paint. Overworking your painting is like overmixing your batter — it can take the lightness and vibrancy out of your work.

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind:

  1. Know when to stop: It might be tempting to keep adding details and layers, but sometimes, less is more. If you're happy with how a section of your painting looks, leave it be!
  2. Take breaks: Stepping away from your artwork can give you a fresh perspective. When you come back, you might find that your painting is closer to being finished than you thought.
  3. Trust your gut: You're the artist, and you know your vision best. If something feels done, it probably is.

So, remember, you wouldn't want to eat an overmixed cake, and you wouldn't want to overwork your pastel painting either. Keep it light and fluffy!

Cleaning and Preserving Your Pastel Paintings

Now that you've created your masterpiece in your journey on how to pastel paint, you'll want to make sure it lasts. Just like you wouldn't leave a priceless painting out in the rain, you need to take steps to protect your pastel artwork.

Here are some tips on cleaning and preserving your pastel paintings:

  1. Keep it dust-free: Pastel is essentially pigment and a binder. Over time, loose pigment can fall off which is why it's important to keep your painting in a dust-free environment. A soft brush can be used to gently remove any dust accumulation.
  2. Use a fixative: A fixative is a type of spray that helps to set the pastel and prevent it from smudging. However, be careful! Too much fixative can alter the colors of your artwork. Use it sparingly and from a distance.
  3. Store it right: If you're not displaying your painting right away, store it properly. Sandwich it between sheets of glassine paper — a type of smooth, non-sticky paper —and keep it flat in a dry, cool place.

Remember, your pastel painting is not just a piece of paper. It's a piece of you. Treat it with the same care and respect you'd want to be treated with, and it will last for years to come.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like any other skill, mastering the art of pastel painting doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and lots of practice. The great news is, every stroke, every blend, every sketch takes you one step closer to perfecting your technique. So, how can you make the most out of your practice time?

  1. Set a schedule: Consistency is key when learning how to pastel paint. Whether you can set aside an hour a day or a whole weekend, make sure you spend regular, dedicated time practicing.
  2. Try new techniques: Don't be afraid to experiment. Try different strokes, play with colors, or even switch up your subject matter. The more you explore, the more you learn.
  3. Learn from your mistakes: Not every painting will turn out how you want it to, and that's okay. Instead of getting frustrated, try to learn from it. What didn't work? How can you improve next time?

The journey to mastering pastel painting is unique for everyone. There's no 'one-size-fits-all' method. So, take your time, be kind to yourself, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Remember, every artist was once an amateur, so keep practicing and keep painting!

If you're looking to further enhance your painting techniques beyond pastels, consider exploring the workshop 'Improve Your Acrylic Painting Skills' by Rachel Christopoulos. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and guidance on how to boost your acrylic painting skills and broaden your artistic horizons.