Painting with dry pastels with Noun



-  A picture that one admires is not a spontaneous work accomplished on the spur of the moment. It is carefully prepared and thought out.

-  Pastel is wrongly considered to be a very difficult technique. To practice it, as for any other form of painting, the only requirement is to want to do so, and to work, work, and again work.

-  The pleasure and satisfaction one derives from it are much greater than the effort involved.

-  Without technical knowledge, your pastel works will always be clumsy and full of mistakes. It is often impossible to correct a big mistake - in the drawing or the colours - while you are in the process of painting a picture.

-  You must be perfectly familiar with the characteristics of the various surfaces and of the different sorts of pastels in order to obtain the best effect.


   I consider it extremely important for a painter to breathe properly. It gives him the necessary ease and concentration in his work. Throw yourself headlong into your work, to free your spirit; you will never get tired ! A break at least every thirty or forty minutes helps clear and balance the way you look at your picture.

   Don’t hesitate to step back to have a wider view of the subject, and to get closer in order to observe and analyses its structure and its main themes.

 All is light

   Every grain of pigment of the pastel is a filter which reflects a « pure » modulation of light. Applied lightly on the surface, the pigments all lean in the same direction, which amplifies the vibration of the light, while helping to fix the pastel on the surface. Too vigorous a touch will cause thickening which will prevent you from applying the next layer, and will not resist impacts or variations in the temperature.

  Do not think using a fixative will solve the problem. You will notice on the other hand that it invariably dulls or modifies the colours.

  Using a stump should generally be banned. It destroys the natural arrangement of the pigments by flattening and crushing them. This reduces the vibration of the light, and, when pigments of different shades are close together, it results in a grey, chalky effect.

   Using the stump much be reasoned and kept for creating transitions or to place the blurred part in the background of the main subject. Contrary to blurring clear     separations result in placing these parts in the foreground.

   Work on your colours’ light on dark’. Colours should always be chosen one shade below the final tone. Quickly apply a medium colour as a reference (you will never regret being able, in the final stage, to lighten a light shade or darken a dark one).

   Nothing prevents you from working ‘dark on light’, in particular to create a transparent effect .This practice, which requires a great mastery of pastel, makes it possible to express very ‘soft’ vibrations.

   The enemy of light, is light ! Every pastel painter must make sure to eliminate from his subject all unnecessary, parasitic or reflected lights .This isn’t always possible, but the painter is free to choose the representation he wishes. A careful observation of the subject enables the artist to ignore the ‘impossible lights’, which, were he to represent them, would create visual distortions, by bringing forward or pushing back the part concerned in the perspective ( this is becoming very technical !). 


   Every experienced pastel painter has his own knack to express himself, whatever his style and sensibility. To achieve this, he has assimilated beforehand the technical and methodological bases of the dry pastel (i shall not be speaking of mixed techniques).

   Before drawing and painting the subject on the surface, one shouldn’t hesitate to make several coloured sketches to study it and to find the best expression.

   The choice of surface is fundamental and always corresponds to the nature of the work (study, speed of execution, format) and to the type of pastels used.

   Be careful not to attack the surface by too vigorous a touch or with poor quality pastels.

   The first stage consists in drawing your subject. The drawing is preferably carried out with a pastel pencil, with light strokes without pressing (a good test : if you dust the drawing gently with a clothe it should disappear) At the drawing stage it is possible to rectify mistakes with a kneaded eraser .

   The second stage enables you to obtain the relief and to make the different planes of the subject clearer.

   With the help of two pastel crayons -light for the  bright zones and dark for the subdued lights and the shaded parts- indicate the different levels of light and shade by more or less accentuated hatching (alternatively you can carry out this operation with ‘hard pastels’). As you move away from the foreground the hatching becomes less and less visible.

   Avoid swathes of colour which kill the vibrations of light and reduce the grip of the pastel.

   You may fix your work with a fixative after having checked it. A light veil to fix your marks and give more adherences. (Before you start painting take time to check your preparation, look for mistakes and correct them ; afterwards, it will be too late).

  The painting stage

    Although it is advisable to « apply the paint » of the subject at one go, the artist works from top down so that the powder which falls shall not smear the lower part of the work. One can reduce this inconvenience as much as possible by standing the surface vertically on the easel.

   Applying the colour is carried out in successive, very light, layers, starting with the hardest pastels (1).For each layer one works on the values  by balancing all the hues; the contrasts ; the planes ; the relief. Because there is a tendency to spill over one must constantly redraw one’s subject with the help of the marks which have been set.

   One layer is finished when the limit of grip of the pigments is reached.

   For the following layer one acts in the same way using slightly softer pastels. The softer powder will fix on the harder grains without tearing them away. A good pastel painter can thus manage to apply five or more layers, thus obtaining extraordinary effects of light.

At the end of the first layers it is possible to apply a light veil of fixative (2) to reinforce the adherence if you have been heavy handed with the pastel powder. It is wise, before      applying the fixative, to eliminate excess powder by gently tapping the surface.

   At the painting stage it is possible to make small corrections :

       -  You can take away the excess powder delicately with a small brush, being careful not to upset the arrangement of the pigments ; as for me I prefer to use a hard chalk , passing it very lightly.

       -   Using the eraser should be banned.  When the line is fine, it is possible to modify it by cutting it with another line in a different tone. When it is too thick you have a problème.

   At the finishing stage place your lights with very soft pastels. You may use a pastel pencil or a hard pastel of the right colour to blend in the different planes and soften the light.

Beware of tiredness which leads to using abundantly the same hue on the whole surface, forgetting to refer to the model and rubbing out the marks. In a few minutes a wonderful painting can become uninteresting and irretrievable.

   If you lack tact with the surface and you crush the pigments, they will quickly become «greasy ».Your work gets dirty, becomes smooth and shiny and new pigments will no longer grip (some pigments more than others cause the « greassiness », you will fast learn how to recognize them). In that case don’t insist, start again !

   Pastel has no secret. It is just a matter of using the best products, pigments and surfaces and following the advice of the pastel painter from Normandy Francine Conseil « You must be very demanding of yourself and have the courage to let yourself be overtaken by your creation ; then only can a work come to life and reveal the relationship of the painter to the world and to others ».


 1 ; For one pure tone of pigment, the manufacturers  offer a gradation of pastels of many shades. They are obtained by incorporating elements (kaolin, whiting, bone black etc), which results in making them more powdery, softer. They are said to be saturated with white or black.

 2 ; Be careful not to fill the small holes between each grain of pigment by too much fixative, which would result in dulling your colours (light would be less reflected) and limiting the possibility of adherence of new layers of pastel. Ideally one should use a fixative of the same composition as the binder used by the manufacturers to stick together the pigments. Some fixatives go yellow or darken the colours in the long run.