Pastels For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Getting Started

Part II: The Lowdown on Beginning Techniques

Part III: Heading to the Next Level: Intermediate Techniques

Part IV: Drawing Places and People

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting Started

Chapter 1: The Lowdown on Pastel Basics

You and Toulouse: Why Artists Love Pastels

A love affair with color

The variety of stick pastels

The ease and intuitiveness of making art

Perusing Pastels and Paraphernalia


Papers and boards

Basic equipment

What you need to get started: Your basic list

Where to Work: A Room (or Table) of Your Own

Starting a Sketchbook

Embracing a Drawing Philosophy

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Your Pastels

Identifying the Basic Ingredients

Understanding pigments

Grasping how binders bind

Noting other ingredients in your pastels

Eyeing the Different Types of Pastels

Chalk pastels

Oil pastels and oil sticks

Chapter 3: Assembling Your Materials

Preparing Yourself for Your Shopping Experience

Setting a budget

Keeping quality in mind

Making a shopping list

Knowing where to shop

Eyeing the Essential Materials You Need

A basic pastel starter set

Something to draw on: Supports for pastels

Looking at Other Equipment and Supplies

Checking out other practical stuff you may want



Supplies for health and cleanliness concerns

Sighting sticks and viewfinders

Identifying other miscellaneous supplies

Storing Your Supplies

Chapter 4: Preparing to Work

Setting Up Your Own Workspace

Choosing between a dedicated space and a dual-use space

Working with the space you have

Choosing equipment for your dedicated space

Creating a healthy, dust-free workspace

Getting in the Right Mindset for the Pastel Process

Keeping it simple

Giving yourself permission to make mistakes

Making a commitment

Being objective and gaining perspective

Part II: The Lowdown on Beginning Techniques

Chapter 5: Building Basic Drawing Skills

Using the Tools of the Trade

Finding your scene with a viewfinder

Sighting and measuring with a sighting stick

Mastering Basic Drawing Strategies

Getting started with basic shapes

Getting the gist with gesture drawing

Constructing drawings transparently

Making linear perspective easy

Knowing when to try more advanced techniques

Combining Photographs Using Linear Perspective

Acting Like an Artist

Working from what you see, not just from your imagination

Building visual language skills

Making thumbnail sketches

Chapter 6: Diving Into the Drawing Process

Getting Ready to Draw: Planning and Preparing

Choosing your subjects: Start easy

Arranging your subjects with a viewfinder

Setting your lighting

Making thumbnail sketches

Choosing and situating your drawing surface

Putting Pastels to Paper: Beginning the Pastel Drawing

Laying out your drawing: Making the first marks

Checking for accuracy

Adding Color: The Layering Process

Exploring the basics to layering

Working from general to specific

Using workable fixatives to allow more layers

Bringing the image up in layers

Finding light and dark areas

Making corrections

Deciding when your drawing is finished

Project: Draw a Pear

Chapter 7: Picking Papers for Pastels

Grasping Paper Basics



pH neutrality

Tooth and surface


Encountering Different Kinds of Papers

Drawing papers

Printmaking and watercolor papers

Choosing a Surface that Fits Your Goal

Smooth surfaces

Rough surfaces

Preparing Your Own Surface

Using ready-made solutions

Making your own surface

Toning Your Own Paper

Choosing a color

Laying down a tone: The how-to

Handling and Storing Paper

Project: A Simple Still Life on Smooth and Textured Papers

Chapter 8: Exploring What You Can Do with Pastels

Establishing a Drawing with Line

Thinking about line variation

Underdrawing: Making initial lines

Finding contours

Looking through objects

Creating emphasis with color

Project: Still life on black

Creating Tonal Drawings

Grasping tones

Finding the shapes of light and dark areas

Project: Eggs on colored paper

Bringing Lines and Tones Together

Project: Going Bananas

Chapter 9: Making Your Mark

Understanding How Marks Create Mood

Creating Marks for Realistic 3-D Objects


Massing color

Considering Blending Techniques

Whipping Up Some Creative Textures

Project: Nine Parts, One Experimental Masterpiece

Chapter 10: Making Your Work Look Real with Shadows and Solid Forms

Illuminating News: Creating Shadows

Grasping how a light’s position affects a cast shadow

Modeling the lights and darks

Seeing how colors make shadows

Adding Dimension to Your Scene

Working with a broken stroke

Thinking about edges

Project: You Say Tomato . . .

Chapter 11: Pastels, Color, and the Big Picture

A Simple Color Primer in Pastels

Describing colors

Getting acquainted with the color wheel: Hue

Grasping value and intensity

Looking at Real Color and Invented Color

Understanding what you see

Considering the importance of value

Creating Harmony: Color Chords

Using light and dark colors

Using cool and warm colors

Project: Using analogous colors in objects

Incorporating Contrast Creates Interest

Adding Depth with Color

Making objects appear near

Making objects appear farther away

Project: Exploring How Color Chords Affect a Composition

Chapter 12: Starting with Still Life

Starting Your Pastel off the Paper

Arranging an interesting still life grouping

Lighting your arrangement well

Using a viewfinder

Making a rough sketch

Sighting and measuring to refine your drawing

Drawing Your Pastel Still Life

Laying out the initial drawing

Blocking in the basic values

Developing and refining the forms

Preventing Rookie Problems

Righting leaning shapes

Rounding out flat-bottomed cylinders

Separating intersecting masses

Project: A Still Life Self-Portrait

Part III: Heading to the Next Level: Intermediate Techniques

Chapter 13: Capturing Shiny or Textured Surfaces

Adding Some Sparkle: Modeling Metallic Surfaces

Breaking down a metal’s look

Capturing all those reflections

Project: A simple metal object

Giving Your Surfaces Transparency: Seeing Through Glass Objects

Getting a head start with glass-drawing tips

Looking closely at shapes and distortions

Knowing when to blend and not to blend

Project: Looking through glass

Creating Textures

Nailing down form before moving on to pattern

Identifying an object’s texture and letting the strokes work for you

Building complexity with color variety

Project: A furry subject

Chapter 14: Finding Your Artistic Voice

Juggling Technique and Ideas

Elevating technique by focusing on ideas

Project: Putting yourself in the picture

Finding Ways to Amp Up Your Unique Artistic Voice

Exploring your own point of view

Working on odd surfaces

Experimenting with materials

Examining other ways you can tap into your own creativity

Project: An Expressionistic Work with Distortion

Chapter 15: Trying Abstraction

Defining Abstraction

Getting Started in the Abstracting Basics

Simplifying forms

Repeating forms

Tapping Into Your Abstract Side

Stream of consciousness: Letting out your inner self on paper

Making artwork about ideas

Sampling Different Kinds of Abstraction

Project: Abstracting a realistic scene in two steps

Project: Dabbling in Cubism

Part IV: Drawing People and Places

Chapter 16: Going the Scenic Route: Sketching the Landscape

Taking Your Studio Outdoors

Preparing to go

Setting up at your work site

Protecting your work

Finding a Good Composition

Collecting Resource Materials

Making rough sketches

Using photographs

Communicating Mood with Landscapes

Exploring the effects of light: Shape and patterns

Taking different atmospheric approaches

Drawing Land and Water

Shaping the flora: Trees and bushes

Depicting water

Illustrating clouds

Project: A Full-Blown Landscape

Chapter 17: Sketching Exteriors and Interiors

Drawing the Outside: Basics for Exteriors

Getting started: Finding the placement

Sketching in the structure lines

Capturing light and shadow

Sketching the Inside: Basics for Interiors

Looking at the room as a box

Sketching windows and doors

Drawing chairs, tables, and other boxy objects

Sketching plants, fabrics, and other natural shapes

Creating the right mood with lighting

Steering Clear of Newbie Mistakes

Remedying common mistakes

Maintaining a single point of view

Project: An Interior Scene

Project: A Village Scene

Chapter 18: Portraits: Capturing Realistic Head Shots

The 4-1-1 on Blocking a Portrait

Getting a handle on proportion

Using the relational method

The 1-2-3 of Blocking in Initial Portrait Drawings

Capturing Features: The Drawing and Modeling How-To

Looking at eyes

Sniffing out noses

Mastering mouths

Exploring ears

Brushing up on hair

Depicting Skin Color

Identifying which colors work

Using unconventional colors

Project: A Step-By-Step Portrait

Chapter 19: Adding People to the Picture

Making Quick Sketches of People

Having Someone Sit for You

Sighting and measuring the body

Eyeing general modeling tips

Fitting Your Model on the Page

Working from the inside out

Drawing foreshortened body parts

Drawing Realistic Hands and Feet

Getting a grip on hands

Jumping into feet

Project: Creating a Seated Portrait

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Ten Great Subjects for Pastel

A Collection of Potted Plants

Donuts or Slices of Pies and Cakes

A Grocery Store Vegetable Display

An Abandoned Building

Your Backyard

A Friend at the Beach or Pool

A Still Life of Your Art Materials

A Self-Portrait in a Rearview Mirror

Eggs on a Windowsill

Glasses of Water

Chapter 21: Ten (or So) Ways to Protect and Store Your Art

Store Your Artwork Flat

Handle Your Paper and Works Carefully

Cover Your Work

Allow Art to Touch Only Archival Materials

Use Fixative When Appropriate

Frame Your Work with Glass

Mat and Shrink-Wrap Your Work

Avoid Using Regular Masking Tape

Attach Your Work Properly to Its Backing

Pastels For Dummies®

by Sherry Stone & Anita Giddings


About the Authors

Sherry Stone is a Senior Lecturer in Foundation Studies at Indiana University Herron School of Art and Design. She has taught beginning courses in art and design for more than 20 years. Stone co-authored Oil Painting For Dummies (Wiley) with Anita Giddings. This is the second book they’ve written together.

Anita Giddings is an artist and educator living in Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from IU Herron School of Art and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana State University. Giddings is currently a faculty member of IU Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


For my father, who helped make this possible. —SS

For my mother for all her support over the years, and for my students. —AG

Authors’ Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Chad Sievers, Mike Baker, and Megan Knoll at Wiley Pub-lishing for their expertise, help, and patience in this project. We are also indebted to the rest of the staff at Wiley for their efforts to make us look good and get this book to press. In addition, we extend our thanks to Sari Gaby, our technical editor.

We also thank our colleagues in the faculty and staff at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. We would especially like to thank Dean Valerie Eickmeier and William Potter at Herron for giving us the time and space to complete this book.

We wish to express our gratitude to Susan Watt Grade, Carolyn Springer, Carol White, Kyle Miller, and Christine Plantenga for the loan of their artwork. We also thank Carolyn Springer and Mary Ann Davis for allowing us to photograph their studios. Our thanks also go to Corrine Hull and Elizabeth Kenney for daring to be photographed as they worked, and to Debbie Masten and others who modeled for drawings throughout the book. We wish to thank artist Diane Steele for her assistance in writing and for personal support. We also thank Mike McCune of Multimedia Art Supplies and Colleen Richeson Maxey of Jack Richeson & Co. for their support in this project.

Our endless thanks go to our own teachers over the years who guided us. We also express our gratitude to our families, friends, and students for putting up with us during this project, and to everyone at Herron School of Art and Design who acted as our sounding board and gave us advice over the past few months.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Chad R. Sievers

Senior Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editor: Megan Knoll

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Technical Editor: Sari Gaby

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Editorial Assistant: Jennette ElNaggar

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: Sherry Stone and Anita Giddings

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Kristie Rees

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Samantha Cherolis, Melissa K. Jester

Special Art: Sherry Stone, Anita Giddings

Proofreader: Shannon Ramsey

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Special Help
Elizabeth Staton

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Nothing cries color like pastel. Maybe you came to pastel because you love Degas’s ballet dancers, Mary Cassatt’s simple domestic scenes, or Toulouse-Lautrec’s dance hall scenes. Regardless, when you pick up pastels, you join the legions of artists over time who have been seduced by the medium’s color and rewarded by its endless possibilities. A box of pastels can produce anything from a few simple sketches to elaborate artworks that beg to be called paintings. Pastels are limited only by the potential you see in them to create art.

In this book, we help you get started with pastel. If you have a little experience, we can help you fill in the gaps or give you the tools to take your artwork farther. As we help you build your skills, we also help you develop your voice as an artist. You can find many good books on pastel, but what sets this book apart is that it’s geared to help you work at your own level, even if you have little experience with art.

This book follows our philosophy as artists and teachers. We bring to these pages the concepts and techniques we use every day in our classrooms.

About This Book

We designed this book with you in mind. We’ve taught hoards of students over the years and know how difficult learning on your own can be, but we believe you can discover how to make beautiful pastel drawings. In this book, we arm you with everything we think you need to know to establish a good foundation for making pastel drawings and to continue to develop as an artist for years to come. We don’t teach you tricks — we lay out a time-honored process that helps you become the artist you were meant to be, not the shadow of someone else.

The format for this book is easy to follow. We start with pastel basics so that you can get a handle on the technical aspects of pastel and paper and set yourself up to work efficiently. Because drawing and modeling forms is so important to pastel, we provide some easy-to-follow instructions for mark-making and give you a basic primer in drawing and color. After applying those skills in simple still life, we explore ways that you can express yourself and experiment with different approaches to pastel images. Finally, we help you get started working in genre painting — landscape, portrait, and figure — so that you can have a broad range of skills to build on as you move forward with your pastel artwork.

Throughout this book, you find sketchbook exercises and step-by-step instructions for projects. Never fear if you’re a rank beginner — we don’t assume you already know how to draw well. We provide beginning strategies for drawing and include step-by-step sketchbook exercises so that you can practice your new skills. On the other hand, if you come to pastel with a little drawing under your belt, you can tackle complex subjects and new ways to make art.

We limit the discussion in this book to chalk pastels because of their versatility and ease of use. Chalk pastels can look like both drawings and paintings, and they’re friendly to anyone just beginning to draw. Even though oil pastels have the advantage of generating less dust, we advise you to save them for later. They’re more difficult to control if you’re still working on your drawing skills.

Color is an important part of working with pastel. To help you develop fluency, we include chapters that give you a good foundation in color. Additionally, a running conversation about the role color plays in an artwork weaves through this book. We also refuse to let you get away without talking about designing your artwork well and how to avoid rookie mistakes.

As you work your way through the book, be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and think of them as learning opportunities. Forget the word talent. Hard work, a willingness to learn, and being objective as you evaluate your work are worth much more. If you work regularly, you discover something new with every pastel work you do. If you have a troublesome drawing, don’t get bogged down by it; just move on and churn out more work.

Conventions Used in This Book

To help you navigate this book, we use a few conventions:

We use italics for emphasis and to highlight new ideas and terms that we define within the reading.

We use boldface text to indicate a set of numbered steps (you follow these steps for many of the projects). We also use boldface to highlight keywords or phrases in bulleted text.

Web addresses appear in monofont.

The main drawing projects in the book have their own project headings so that you can easily identify them as you flip through the chapters. Every project tells you what you need, when you need it. Before you start any project, read all the way through the steps to make sure that you have the supplies you need.

What You’re Not to Read

This book is set up so that you can find the information easily. This book is full of essential material, but you can skip over the sidebars if you’re short on time. These shaded gray boxes house information that’s interesting or technical but not necessarily need-to-know; skip ’em for now and come back later if you need to.

Foolish Assumptions

In writing this book, we have made some assumptions about you:

You have done a little drawing in your life but want to improve those skills.

You’re interested in and appreciate art. You may have a little knowledge of art history, but only artists commonly known by people on the street.

You like pastels and may have tried them but are looking for ways to avoid muddying them and want to go beyond merely “coloring” with them.

How This Book Is Organized

We’ve organized this book so that you can drop into the conversation at any point and flip from one area of the book to another following your nose. At the same time, if you prefer to work sequentially, the organization supports that approach as well.

Part I: Getting Started

In this part, we bring you up to speed on the basics of pastels and help you gather materials and set up a space to work. We give you an overview of the different kinds of color drawing materials and how they’re different from pastels. We also discuss what working with pastels is like.

Part II: The Lowdown on Beginning Techniques

We discuss the basics of working with pastels in a comprehensive way in this part. It walks you through the basic skills you need to address each step of the process and then begins with an overview of the process of making a pastel drawing. We help you choose papers and apply pastels in different ways, as well as give you the skinny on when and how to use spray fixatives. We provide primers for basic color and drawing and give you concrete techniques for using value to develop the drawing so that it looks realistic. Finally, we pull it all together in a full-blown still life.

Part III: Heading to the Next Level: Intermediate Techniques

Part III is all about taking the skills in the earlier parts and finding your voice as an artist. It begins by walking you through some techniques for subjects that many people find difficult, such as glass and metal. Then we look at expressive ways to work with pastels. We finish with a wild dive into abstraction and give a nod to conceptual approaches to pastel and art-making. Buckle your seatbelts, because you may never look at pastel the same way again after this part!

Part IV: Drawing Places and People

In Part IV, we bring you right up to speed in portrait and drawing people, with easy to understand steps for drawing realistic people even if you have little or no experience. If landscape is your thing, we address how to approach landscape, including drawing on-site.

Part V: The Part of Tens

This part is chock-full of ideas for projects for those days when your brain just can’t think of anything fresh to draw. Part V also provides essential advice for handling and storing your artwork, something you may not consider until you find yourself with a pastel drawing in hand and no safe place to put it.

Icons Used in This Book

The icons you see in the margins direct you to some really cool information:

tip.epsThis icon saves you time and energy by letting you know an easier method for doing something.

remember.epsYou know you’re looking at important information whenever you see this icon. It may serve to remind you of something already covered elsewhere in the book, and at other times it lets you know to remember this informative tidbit for later.

warning_bomb.epsThis icon addresses potential dangers to you or your artwork so you can avoid potential headaches.

sketchbookexercises.epsThis icon points out practical sketchbook exercises you can practice in your own sketchbook to help you develop your skills.

Where to Go from Here

We wrote this book so that you don’t need to read it sequentially. If you’re just starting out, we suggest that you start with Part II, which gives you an intensive course in the basics. If you have been working with pastel for a while, some of the information in Part II may fill in the gaps of your experience, but you may also be ready to dive into Parts III and IV for some more advanced fun. You can also feel free to check out the Table of Contents or Index to find a topic that piques your interest.

The bottom line: Have fun. Laugh at the awkward drawings you do, practice and experiment, and relish your successes, regardless of how small they are.

Part I

Getting Started


In this part . . .

Pastels are more than pretty sticks of color — they’re one of the most flexible art mediums around. Artists have used them in one form or another for hundreds of years, and you too can do almost anything with them.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of working with pastels and why artists love them so much. In Chapter 2, we introduce you to the various kinds of pastels available and give you some insight into how they’re made; Chapter 3 digs into the other materials you may need. Working with pastels isn’t just about materials, however; you also need a place to draw, and Chapter 4 gives you the lowdown on setting up a workspace.