Art Medium Exploration: Soft pastels/Chalk pastels
Soft pastels are often regarded as “messy” and difficult to control, however, their vibrancy of colours, affordability, and many possibilities of creative use is making them one of the best materials for therapeutic and creative combination.
What are they? Chalks or pastels?
Soft pastels come with a long history of art, used from impressionists’ paintings to humble school class use.
Soft pastel is a colour stick in the look and feels, resembling chalk a lot. However, it is not chalk. There is a cheaper version of soft pastels called chalk pastels/chalk stick too- maybe a little bit less vibrant in colours but nothing wrong in using it too. It is a personal preference. Student grade soft pastels are not awfully expensive to purchase and will last a considerable amount of time. The one I used and can recommend is Reeves, Royal & Langnickel Essentials, and my beloved Mungyo soft pastels.
Drawing with soft pastels sticks
Using pastels like a drawing material and holding like a pencil (vertically) will create diverse marks that can be:
-blended with finger or paper tissue
-overlap on top of each other so colours blend naturally
-fill in bigger shapes with colour.
This technique allows for the production of a variety of marks and colours and can encourage “flow” movement with the medium increasing relaxing and colour exposure time. Mandalas are a great example of using this technique in combination with the horizontal holding position of the pastel (below). Drawing with soft pastels will not work well; when we want to include details, as the sticks are quite chunky but bigger shapes, pattern, colour combinations can be achieved with a great result.
Colour coverage- horizontal holding position
By holding and drawing with soft pastel in a horizontal position we can create large colour coverage and colourful passages that again can prompt exploration of colour changes, movement of the line and often involve the creation of larger pieces. Blending is even easier as pastel covers paper with thinner layers, ready to mix with another colour. Using pastel in this way on large scale could also be used in couple work, when each person starts from the opposite edge of the paper to meet in the middle.
With the two mentioned drawing techniques the side effect is the powder that drawing creates. The better paper we use the more pastel sticks to it but there is also some degree of wastage. This doesn’t have to be a waste and additionally, powder can be created deliberately by rubbing pastel stick against sandpaper. Pastel powder again can be used for drawing with hands and fingers -it will behave like sand that partially sticks to the paper.
Blending- fingers, tissue, brush
Soft pastels are made for blending. Just moving one into another on the paper allows smooth blend and transition of colour. Blending can be done in a variety of ways and depending on preferences:
Finger blending- the most direct way, simply with the use of fingers. The advantage is that it is quick and easy. However, if somebody doesn’t like their fingers to get dirty this is not the best option, also there is a possibility of “contaminating” one colour into another if fingers are not cleaned between some of the blends. The advantage also included therapeutic sensory interaction: some clients enjoy and find it healing to feel pastels and smudge them on the paper.
Tissue paper blending- using any paper tissue will allow for blending without worry about dirty figures. Sometimes baby wipes can be used too to create a different effect with their moisture.
Paper is important
Paper for pastels ideally need to be the one that has a texture called in the art world “tooth”- this allows the powder to stick to paper instead of coming off. Special pastel paper is expensive to buy and the best alternative for therapeutic work is what is called “recycled sugar paper”. This is a softer, thinner paper that comes in a range of colours and can be purchased online (Amazon for example 50 sheets around £5). Once you seal artwork this type of paper can be rolled up and stored away. Because it comes in a range of colours it provides additional creative choice for the client as different colours will interact in a varied way with pastels.
Pastels easily come ff the paper so sealing them on the paper is crucial. This can be done with art fixative spray for pastels or in a more budget version with hair spray. Spraying needs to be done from at least 30 cm away from paper and then allowing to dry. Please make sure the room is well ventilated for the procedure.
Soft pastels clean easy from the skin with hot water and soap, they are basically pieces of colourful powder on the skin.
Examples of therapeutic use are endless. I would encourage you to return to my previous text from CCC on soft pastels mandalas to read more. Soft pastels can be also used for individual drawings where subject matter/creative exploration encourages blended and bold colours. Landscapes and backgrounds are perfect as well as creating colourful papers with pastels and cutting into pieces for collages or art journals.
Wishing you many creative explorations with soft pastels!