I’ve been working with Soft Pastels and trying to come up with my own approaches to use them. After watching many tutorials and reading lots of books, I want to simplify my steps in painting.

I always, no matter what medium, print a Black and White photo so I can see Tonal Value.


Drawing a small thumbnail is very important for painting with soft pastels.Mapping out the Shapes and Tonal Value it gives you a chance to change things and allows you to know which tonal values you are trying to match with your colors.

  • Which areas are going to be pushed back (softened)?
  • Which areas are going to be the focal points?
  • What colors and medium are you going to use (if you do) for the under painting?
  • Should you add more interest or remove things?


Well, me being lazy and quite impatient, I’ve found a way and materials to help me with this. Instead of markers I picked up a small pack of Soft Pastels that would allow me to draw as many tonal values as I want in a Thumbnail.



I chose three tonal value pastels that were further apart to help me differentiate  them easier.


OK, now that I have my basic Shapes and Tonal Value figured out, I want to do an under painting. I’ve decided to use my Pastels with alcohol to paint it.


An under painting of the mid tones helps me so much in developing a painting.

  • Less use of your pastels.
  • Helps you choose the colors to coincide with the tonal values.
  • Creates more interest in your over all painting.


Again, I’m trying to simplify this step and used my cell phone to separate the values in my pastels I am going to use for the under painting.

By taking a picture on your phone, changing it to Black and White, allows you to see the values without the color tricking you.



I separated them in three tonal values (not exact, but close enough). And I’ll choose the colors which I think will be the best for my painting.


I use a small jar to keep my alcohol in and a brush to create the under painting. You do not need a lot of pastel, the pastel color gets darker when you get it wet and spreads well.

I like to use alcohol instead of water because it dries quicker.


I put down too much pastel I think.


I went with Orange for the field, next time I think I will use the complimentary of it, blue just to create a little more interest in the field.

Now I can start building with color!

I use my original photo for reference, but not to try and duplicate.


One of the many reasons I love Soft Pastel is it allows you to use creativity without fear. If you don’t like what you put down, wipe it off with a dry brush or cover it with a different color.

I personally struggle with my realism background, I always tend to gravitate back to detail work. But now that I’m older I want to tap into my more creative side and allow my self to create  more impressionistic artwork. The size of the pastels helps me, almost limiting my details, along with blending techniques using pipe insulation, yes, pipe insulation. It’s probably the only time I’ve been in a Home Depot in years! Lol



After I’m happy with my painting I usually give it a gentle tap to remove any excess pastel and I use a fixative very carefully to bind it to the painting a little better. I’ve used several different brands of fixative. My absolute favorite is-



It doesn’t darken the pigments nearly as much and really works well.

Happy Painting!!!

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