Using Pan Pastels

Mixing Colors

If you use soft pastels for your art, and you've never tried using Pan Pastel, then sorry, but you're missing out! There are a number of reasons why pan pastels are the hottest thing since sliced bread in the pastel world right now, but here we'll talk about just one: mixing colors.


One of the not-so-good properties of soft pastel sticks is that they don't blend like wet paints do. This means that even if you have a large collection of them, say a couple of hundred sticks, you can still be left wishing that you had (for example) a slightly different value of blue. That can be a little bit annoying.

Pan Pastel which have only been around since about 2006, are a different beast though.  One of their unique properties is that they can be blended very readily and easily, just like fluid paints.

pan pastels

If you haven’t heard of Pan Pastel, then here’s a primer: they come in individual little cakes of pigment in clear plastic containers with screw-on lids – much like a compact for foundation. They’re applied using what’s called a ‘Sofft Knife’ (Sofft is the brand), which is a plastic painting knife with a removable sponge tip.

Pan Pastel come in a range of 60 different colors – 20 base colors, then 20 tints (that is, lighter values) and 20 shades (that is, darker values) of the original 20. That might not sound like very many, but because they blend so well, it’s enough.

Blending pan pastels is as easy as wiping one color onto the surface, wiping another over the top, and using a Sofft Knife to blend them into the intermediate color that you want.

sofft knivesAn alternative is to load one color onto the Sofft Knife, then just blend it with another color in the pan for that color – more like a palette blending technique with fluid paints. Once you’ve mixed the colors and used the intermediate color in your artwork, cleaning the dish of the second color you used is as simple as just giving it one quick wipe with one of your sponges.

So why are pan pastels so easy to blend? It’s because they’re differently composed to ordinary soft pastels. They’re a very fine, soft powder, much more creamy and smooth than what’s used in even the top-quality soft pastel sticks.

The main reason that pan pastels are able to have a different consistency to soft pastel sticks is that they don’t have to be made into hand-holdable sticks. The requirement to shape pigment into sticks that won’t just fall apart in your hands puts certain limitations on the mixture that is used to construct them out of.

It’s always exciting when a new artistic medium is produced (not a very common event) that makes things significantly easier for the artists. Pan pastels are one such new artistic medium, and there’s no doubt that they are and will continue to be very popular. So go ahead and start using Pan Pastels and see for yourself.


pan pastels




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