In common parlance, "pastels" indicate colors that are tender and transparent. In painting, however, pastels are intense and powerful. One thin coating after another is applied, thereby gradually intensifying the colors and working out chiaroscuro contrasts. Work can be linear or laminar and subtle transitions can be made by smearing. You can set dark colors over light and bright colors over dark.
Details are hard to represent with pastels and require a lot of patience. The softer the pastel, the more difficult it becomes to set a precise point. One can sharpen the crayons on sandpaper or simply break them to get sharp edges. With pastel chalks, general impressions are easier to create than detailed pictures. This does not mean that one should make such paintings without any details. You merely have to be more creative than with, for example, a pencil drawing.
With pastels, any subject can be worked out, be it realistic or abstract. Pastels can be harmoniously combined with charcoal, ink or water colors.
Tips for dealing with pastel colors
Pastel painting is best done on an easel. If you do not paint at an easel, use a strong base. You must always keep this base at an angle, so that the pigment of the chalk dust falls down and the picture is not dirty. If you work in an area laid out with carpet, you should protect your work area against the color dust with paper or foil.
View your first attempt with pastels as an experiment and do not create a requirement for a "correct" drawing. Work generously to get a feel for the texture and colors of the chalk. However, always wipe off your fingers before picking up a new color, otherwise you may mix the color particles and leave dirty color traces on your drawing.
The first exercises for pastel painting
Pull the chalk only gently over the paper so that it leaves only a bright touch of color. Increase the pressure and observe how this changes the color intensity. Hold the pieces of chalk at various angles - steeply, obliquely and using the broad surface - and move with broad, sweeping stokes across the surface of the paper. Then use the sharp edges of the chalk to make small strokes.
Overlay long strokes, short strokes and dots. Thus you give a structure to color surfaces, particularly with cross shadings. Try overlaying different colors. When you put one color over another, they mix in the eye of the viewer and third color develops. For example, blue and yellow make green, red and yellow make orange.
Practice rubbing with one color, then with several colors. By doing this, the colors mix and create new colors. Various tools, such as cotton, sponges or special paper wipers, can be used to blend colors. Fingers work equally well. They can be cleaned with a kneading gum eraser.
Painting a first pastel picture
Choose your subject carefully and think about what colors you want to use. Sometimes a more impressive effect can be achieved by limiting the number of colors used.
Since the paper texture affects the application of the chalks and, thus, affect the overall picture, it is best to experiment on different coarse grits of paper that might fit your motif. A toned color scheme unifies the painting surface. Choose neutral tones to start with, such as gray or beige paper. In addition, try using a paper contrasting the main colors of your theme.
If you want to outline your design beforehand, use a light toned chalk instead of a pencil. This way the design will no longer be visible when you paint over it, which would be different with a pencil drawing. A sketch is not mandatory. It sometimes serves only to mark the volatile aspects of the picture's composition. If you want to work very generously, you can possibly do without a sketch.