How to Layer Pastels

Layering with pastels

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I was asked a question the other day about what is meant by layering when using pastels.

Simply put - Layering is putting one layer of pastel on top of another....

I see a lot of artists who are new to pastels only ever putting on one or two layers of pastel. Consequently, the painting looks more like a colored drawing than a painting.

To really get that painted look to your work, you do need to have depth of pastel, and in order to achieve this the pastel is applied in thin layers.

The photos on this page come from my book "Step by Step A Pastel Scene" - for more about the book click here  This part is where I am beginning to build up the sky area.

pastel painting layers



As you can see in this first photo, the paper is quite textured. With the side of the pastel stick I've laid down the first thin layer.




pastel layers



The next thing to do is to blend or smudge this layer into the paper. You can still see the paper underneath showing through.







Once that first layer is smudged in I take the next color, drag that across the first color and blend both colors together. This becomes the 2nd layer.  Your 2nd layer can be the same color as your 1st, it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Again this is blended in.




layers of pastels



By the third layer after applying the thin amout of pastel and blending it in you can see that the paper underneath is starting to disappear.








And by the fourth layer….it's gone altogether.




You know how you mix different paints to get the right color on the palate or a dish before you put it onto the canvas?  Well with pastels you do the "mixing" on the actual paper.

The key to layering is to keep the layers light or thin. In other words, don't put too much pastel quite light with the stroke and not heavy handed.

Another way is to put all the colors on (using the side of the pastels) at the same time - then blend.

A lot of artists will use a fixative - once they have a couple of layers on, they will then lightly spray with fixative, this helps to stop any further layers from blending into the first layers.  Personally I'm not big on fixative, however, if it works for you...go right ahead.

The number of layers will depend on your paper. If your paper has a good "tooth" (textures that grabs the pastel dust), then you should be able to do a few layers. However, if the paper doesn't have great tooth, then the pastel won't stay on and the layers will start to slip.  Always test your paper to see how many layers it will take before "slipping".

Layering is not just for the blending technique - all the techniques have layering - it's just one stroke of pastel on top of another.  The trick is keeping each layer "thin" using a light pressure.

Learning how to layer pastels properly will give depth to your painting, make it feel more like a painting rather than a colored drawing. Layering colors of pastels is also wonderful for creating different shades and tones and is a must if you have a limited number of pastels.

The finished look, below, has retained some texture, but the layering has given it a depth and more of a painterly quality.

Layers of pastel


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