What Can I Do With the Leftovers?

Following the Thanksgiving festivities, most of us are probably rather tired of leftovers, but there’s one kind of leftover that pastel artists should always be interested in: the tiny bits and pieces of “leftover” pastel. Quality pastels are expensive and I hate to waste even the littlest sliver. Over time, our precious sticks wear down to tiny nubs and become unusable (unless you’re one of those talented artists that utilize little pastel pearls in your technique). Artists, like my friend Glenna Hartmann, who produce gorgeous, large, painterly pastel paintings with tiny pastel nubs, always dazzle me—bravo! But I happen to be one of those artists who prefers a stick with some heft. Besides wearing the pastels down, we also contend with pastel sticks that crumble when the paper label is removed, and with dust that accumulates below our paintings (which I carefully collect into 
jars). But, all of these leftover pastel fragments can be reworked into viable forms.

I keep it simple, because I don’t want to produce pastels from scratch; I just want to redeploy my leftovers. For health reasons, it’s advisable to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth as well as surgical gloves to protect your hands. Never blow the dust around; instead, use a damp rag to wipe up any messes. Along with the pastel fragments or collected dust, you’ll need a large smooth surface for mixing (a marble tile or ¼-inch picture glass surface works well), utensils for grinding the pigments together (a 1¼-inch putty knife from the hardware store will work), distilled or purified water, and paper towels.

18-leftovers-1.jpgPlace the pastel fragments and/or dust on the mixing surface and carefully grind it by flattening the putty knife blade into the pile. Keep reforming the mound and repeating the grinding procedure until no more grit is felt and the pastel fragments have been pulverized into a pile of pigment. This can take quiet a bit of effort and repetition. If you leave too much grit, there will be surprise flecks of color in the stick you produce. Create a small cone shape (a volcano mountain shape) out of the pigment and make a crater in the center. (The photo at left shows my pile of pastel fragments, the pulverized dust shaped into
a mountain, and my required mxing tools: marble tile, water, putty knife and
palette knife.)

18-leftovers-2.jpgNext, slowly add water, a drop at a time. It’s best to add too little than too much. Since you’re working with what was once a pastel, the binder and preservatives are already part of the mix. Allow some time for the water to soak in and then slowly fold the pigment back into the mix until a paste is created, much like a heavy dough. Pick up with your fingers the amount you wish to form into a shape and gently roll this out on a paper towel until it resembles a Tootsie roll candy. (Some artists like to pat the paste into pillows or other shapes, rather than a log-shape; feel free to experiment.) Leave the pastels on the towel to dry (usually a few days) and then place them back in service in your pastel palette. (The second photo shows the mixed paste, the formed pastel stick (on the paper towel), and an example of finished dry leftover pastels.)

You can mix different pastel colors to obtain interesting colors or mix a lot of fragments and obtain grays (neutrals), something I often do. But don’t fall too in love with the stick you produce, since it’s one of a kind!

Another way of utilizing these tiny pastel bits is to grind them down along with a white pastel stick and create tints (a little piece of strong pigment will go a long way in making a lighter tint).

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3 thoughts on “What Can I Do With the Leftovers?

  1. Judy Webber

    Hello, what a great little demo.

    When I break a pastel in half or thirds I have often ended up with small chips, which I have collected, as it kills me when this happens!
    I will just have to get the putty knife and glass surface now as your demo makes it look easy to recycle these orphans.

    Thanks Richard!

  2. Richard McKinley

    Thanks for the comment. You can mix any brand you wish. It is always a surprise exactly what will come out of the mix and that is part of the fun. Love France – filled with the nicest people and beautiful scenes. Keep an eye out, I hope to return in 2009.

  3. Libby Gough

    Whow! I didn’t know you could do that! Do the pastels have to be the same make or quality?
    Great blog – I’m in France so doubt if I’ll ever get to do one of your courses but keep up the good work. I’m a fan!