What Are Soft Pastels and How to Use Them?

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Soft pastels are so much fun to use, and I always recommend them to art students. You might be surprised to see just how quickly you can create a beautiful painting with pastels. It takes much less time than it does if you are working with acrylic paint or oil paint.

Soft pastels are ideal for anyone who travels a lot but still wants to be able to create art while on the road. You can create quick sketches, and bring them to life without needing to use any paint. They can easily be stored in a suitcase or a briefcase.

What Are Soft Pastels?

Soft pastels are a type of artist’s medium that consists of pure powdered pigment and enough binder to hold it together into a usable stick form.

The big difference between soft pastels and oil pastels is that the oil pastel feels more greasy and waxy whereas soft pastel feels drier.

They are called “soft” because they have a higher ratio of pigment to binder, which gives them a velvety texture and a vibrant, rich color. This contrasts with “hard pastels”, which contain more binder and less pigment, resulting in a firmer texture and less intense color.

Soft pastels are one of the four types of dry pastels. The others are hard pastels, compact pastels, and pastel pencils.

Are Chalk Pastels The Same as Soft Pastels?

Yes! The term “chalk pastels” is often used interchangeably with “soft pastels” in a colloquial sense due to the chalky texture and appearance of these art mediums. Chalk pastels are just soft pastels. However, it’s important to clarify that true pastels, including soft pastels, are distinct from chalk.

Below we are going to talk about how soft pastels are made, as well as some of the fun techniques I just know you are going to want to try.

Continue reading to learn more about soft pastels and some of the techniques used with them.

How Are Soft Pastels Made?

Also referred to as dry pastels, soft pastels are made with pigment, binder, and filler. These ingredients are mixed to form a paste, which is then rolled, shaped, or molded and allowed to dry. Depending on the brand, the ratio of pigment to binder may be different.

One thing to know about soft pastels is that they crumble easily. But, the colors are pretty intense, so crumbling is a small price to pay.

Soft pastels are best for layering, and they can easily be blended to create other colors.

5 Soft Pastels Techniques You Can Follow

Now that you know how soft pastels are made, it is time to learn how to use them. There are several fun and interesting soft pastel techniques you can use for soft pastel paintings.

For instance, if you want to draw lines, you can use the edge of one end of the pastel crayon. Hold it just as you would hold a pencil. Use different amounts of pressure for thicker and thinner lines.

The more pressure you use, the thicker your lines will be. If you use a light touch, you will get very fine lines. I like to use heavy and fine lines in my pastel art.

One of the unique aspects of soft pastels is that the color you see in the stick is the color you get on the paper. This is because the colors aren’t altered by a liquid binder, as is the case with paints.

Here’s how to use soft pastels:

Drawing With Pastels

If you are going to use soft pastels for drawing, it is best to use the side of the pastel crayons. If the crayon is too long, you can simply break it in half.

This is a great way to lay down a lot of color at once, which is referred to as “color blocking”. You can create wide, even strokes simply by using the side of a pastel crayon. I have used this technique to create lovely backgrounds for pastel paintings, such as mist and fog.

Hatching and Cross-Hatching

If you want to create hatched marks on top of a color on a pastel drawing, it is easy to do. Use the edge of the pastel crayon for this purpose.

Draw diagonal lines in one direction, and then draw more diagonal lines in the opposite direction to create the cross-hatching effect.

This technique will allow you to experiment with colors. It is also great for mixing colors without actually blending them together. For instance, if you use orange on top of blue, you will get a muted shade of blue.


One of the things I like the most about using soft pastels is that it is so easy to blend colors together. You can also use this technique to create many different types of edges.

There are many tools you can use for blending. I often use my fingers, but you can also use a piece of paper towel, cloth, or even a cotton ball.

You can create some beautiful soft effects by blending soft pastels. But, don’t use this technique too much. After all, you want to have some variety and different textures in your picture.


Another cool way to get some texturing effects that have loads of color is to use the scumbling technique. This involves lightly dragging a soft pastel a layer of color that is already fixed on the paper.

To really make this technique work for you, be sure to use the softest soft pastels you can find. The softer, the better!


Finally, we come to layering. This is the only way to successfully mix colors when working with soft pastels.

You start with a layer of base color and then lay another color on top of the base color.

You can keep on adding colors until you reach the color or shade that you are looking for. Soft pastels can also be blended together on paper, as long as the colors are laid down lightly. When you press too hard, layering will be next to impossible.

If you want colors that are rich and vibrant, you will need to learn how to layer the colors. First, lay down a base color. Then, lay another color on top of the base color.

You can keep adding layers until you achieve the color you are trying to create. You can leave them like this, or blend them together on the paper to make them appear softer.

When layering, be sure to lay down the colors with a light touch. You won’t be able to use many layers if you are pressing too hard.


Soft pastels are ideal for anyone who wants to create art but doesn’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. You can create something pretty amazing in a short amount of time when you are using soft pastels.

The techniques I described here today will help you to create lines, blend colors, and much more. Take some time to practice these techniques. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to create something quite magical with soft pastels!

Check my guide on Pastel Painting Ideas and soft pastel art ideas for more tips.

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*image by gorgev/depositphotos