How To Make Pastels

Save by making your own

soft pastelsThere’s obviously no shortage of commercially available pastels. You only need to walk into an art supply store to see the huge range of colors, values, sizes and manufacturers. So why would you want to make your own? There are mainly two reasons. The first reason to make your own pastels is cost. This is fairly self-explanatory as if you’re painting a lot then replacing your sticks often gets expensive.

The second reason to make your own pastels is control. As an artist you want to control your tools, your technique, your surface… so why not go the distance and make your own medium as well? With some practice you’ll be able to make pastel sticks that are exactly the color, size, shape and softness that suits your technique best. No more buying sets of pastels and finding that 1/3 of them go unused; when you make pastels you only have to make ones you like and will use.

Happily, making pastel sticks is not difficult. They only contain a few ingredients, which just need to be mixed together wet and then allowed to harden. However, different pigments bind differently: while some pigments have enough innate binding characteristics of their own, others need to be mixed with a binder (such as Gum Tragacanth) in order to form usable sticks. The first category is much easier to work with, and they’re the ones we’ll deal with in this lesson.

Pigments which don’t require binder include: all earth colors; the Cadmium pigments; Titanium White; Cerulean Blue; Chromium Green Oxide, and all black pigments. Start with these, and move on to the more difficult pigments later if you’re game.

Step 1: Materials: 

The most important material is of course the powdered pigment itself. You can buy this from art supply stores (bricks-and-mortar or online) in jars. Remember, this guide is only for those pigments listed above.

You’ll also need a stabilizing mixture to combine with your pigment. Try a mixture of 2/3 calcium carbonate and 1/3 talc (both are readily available in stores).

Finally, you’ll need some distilled water, a non-porous mixing surface (a glass plate works great), and a putty knife.

Step 2: Mix

Pour out some pigment onto your mixing surface, add a little distilled water, and mix it into the pigment using a putty knife. You just want to moisten it. Now add your stabilizing mixture, and mix it in until you get a nice firm dough that’ll hold a shape easily.

Step 3: Shape & Dry

Now shape or roll your dough into pastel sticks – whatever size and shape you want – and lay them out on a large sheet of paper to dry. When they’re dry, you’re finished!

Grab a copy of Pastel Painting Secrets for more on making your own pastels as well as everything you will need to know about pastels

pastel painting secrets

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