Painting with Pan Pastels

Sandrine Pelissier is an artist, art educator, and the author of the latest mixed media book, Painting Imaginary Flowers: Beautiful Blooms and Abstract Patterns. In this article, Sandrine delves into the lovely and forgiving world of pan pastels and what it is like to paint with them.

If you feel inspired to explore pastels further, check out our latest art classes on Artists Network TV: Ballet Dancer Pastel Workshop and Paris Street Scene in PastelEnjoy!

What If You Could Erase Paint?

Pan pastels (the name comes from the leading brand, PanPastel) are artist quality soft pastels packed in pans, which makes them very convenient to carry. They are made to be used dry on paper and applied with a variety of tools. I recently enjoyed using them wet, like a pigment that you mix with water.

Pan pastels are packaged in pans.
Pan pastels are packaged in pans.

To give credits where credit is due, my daughter had this idea. I had left a pan at home and she thought it was paint and used it on one of her drawings as paint. I was going to tell her not to do that but was surprised to see how good what she was painting looked.

So, I have been using pan pastels as paint for a while now. I especially like to use them in my life drawing class and I love the textural effects you get. I also love that you can erase any area that you don’t like, or just make it lighter with a simple eraser. Basically, it is like paint you can erase.

How It Works

I like to use pan pastels with reservoir brushes, especially in life drawing class.
I like to use pan pastels with reservoir brushes, especially in life drawing class.

 

You can use the cover of the pan as a mixing area.
You can use the cover of the pan as a mixing area.

 

The pastel powder stays in suspension on the water.
The pastel powder stays in suspension on the water.

I like to start by mixing a light grey wash that will be my mid-tone for life drawing. The pan pastel powder doesn’t really mix with the water but you will see the powder in suspension on top of the water.

This allows for interesting textures to form when you are painting. You probably won’t get a flat even wash but more likely a wash that is a bit uneven with interesting textures.

Textures will form on your washes as you paint
Textures will form on your washes as you paint.

Going Darker

After I am done applying the first light grey wash, I usually make some areas darker by dipping the brush directly in the pastel pan to pick up some pastel and brush this over the wash as it is still wet.

I usually dip the brush directly in the pastel pan to paint areas darker.
I usually dip the brush directly in the pastel pan to paint areas darker.

To make some areas darker than your light wash, you can just pick up a bit more pigments with your brush and brush them onto a still wet wash. This sometimes makes beautiful speckle like textures.

You can get beautiful speckle-like textures by brushing more pigment into a wet wash. They will stay like this once dry.
You can get beautiful speckle-like textures by brushing more pigment into a wet wash. They will stay like this once dry.

Erasable–Really!

What I like the best about using pan pastels to paint is that, depending on the paper, you can either totally erase the paint, or at least lighten an area, once the paint has had time to dry.

Once the paint has had time to dry, you will be able to erase it.
Once the paint has had time to dry, you will be able to erase it.

It is a bit more difficult to erase on some papers, but at least you will be able to lighten an area.

pan pastels
Before erasing.

 

After erasing.
After erasing.

 

Pan Pastel Drawing Gallery

Here are a few of my drawings done with this technique.

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Sandrine Pelissier is an artist, art educator, and the author of Painting Imaginary Flowers: Beautiful Blooms and Abstract Patterns, available now.

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