10 things I learned about soft pastels (the hard way)

10 things I learned about soft pastels (the hard way)


Hello and welcome. I’m conducting an
experiment and I want you to join me. A couple of weeks ago a package arrived. It was full of treasures, but the biggest one of all was this beautiful box of
soft pastels. Thank you, Laurie. I’ve never drawn the soft pastels before, but I do
have some experience with oil pastels and a lot of experience with charcoal, so
my understanding is that these guys should be pretty much like charcoal but
in color. So, for my very first ever trial with chalk pastels I decided to go big.
I don’t even know if that fits on the screen. Big. Let’s see what happens. And the experiment begins. I’ve had this character in my head for a few months now and I’ve been waiting for a perfect way to bring her to life. She’s a young
princess who’s very pampered and protected, and she’s a dancer, but she
dreams of being a warrior. I want to depict a moment during her
dance where she’s fantasizing about swinging a sword instead of a fan. This
may just be the perfect opportunity to draw her. The paper that I chose for this
is significantly larger than what you usually see me draw and it also has more
tooth to it. Tooth is the texture of the paper. When you run your fingers over the
surface and it feels smooth or rough – that’s too. Higher tooth (more texture) is
usually better for media that are powdery, like charcoal or chalks. I don’t
expect to be able to get super fine detail here like I do with pencils on
smooth paper, but I do expect to get nice color gradients and some awesome texture effects. I suspect this will look more like a painting than a drawing. As always,
I start with a light sketch in graphite and charcoal. Actually, I spent nearly an hour working out all the little details of her face
and hair. I don’t really know what to expect from soft pastels, so I want to
get as much important information down as possible. I want her head to be pretty
much the only part of this composition that will be in focus. For the rest of it,
I want to create an illusion of movement and also suggest that it is in fact a
fantasy and not a real scene, by adding some abstraction and blur effect. I plan
to have a lot of large brush strokes. I don’t think there’s any point in drawing
those out though. I suspect they will look more natural if I freehand them
later on. Unfortunately, I only have an hour or so to draw every day so this may
take a while. I couldn’t stay away. I have another 30
minutes that I can steal before dinner. Let’s try those colors. This is
surprisingly more difficult than I expected. Maybe I made the face too small? Or put too much detail in it? The pastels are definitely very cool and the colors of clean and vibrant, but they are so powdery and unruly. I’m being very timid with them. This will take some getting used to. The pastel sticks are too crumbly to
sharpen, so I can’t get a proper tip to draw the lines of the eyes and the lips.
I’m using pencils here and there and I’m trying to use q-tips for blending, which
usually works on charcoal but not so much here. Hmm-hmm … I hope the rest of the page isn’t going to be this tedious. OK, the hair part was cool.
I discovered that blending with the pastel itself creates a much nicer
effect. I also discovered that I can use very light colors over very dark colors
without losing pigment. That’s awesome. OK, so last night didn’t go exactly as
planned. These guys don’t behave anything like
charcoal, so I’m going to switch up my strategy. Working on the kimono, I started
to use pastel sticks directly on the page, mixing colors is a paint. I was
still trying to use my q-tip for blending, but finally gave up on that
since it was just taking pigment away. I really like that I can layer any color
on top of any color. It’s almost like painting digitally. Literally any color.
Pale blue over deep burgundy – no problem. White over black – go for it. This opens up
a whole new world of opportunities for this project. I used the light over
dark trick to create the silk effect on the sleeves and also in adding all the
little cherry blossoms to the fabric design. Drawing all these tiny details
with a pencil and then filling it in with these chalky pastels would never
have worked. Layers are definitely the key to using this medium. By the time I
got to the edge of the sleeve, I was feeling a lot more comfortable with the
chalk sticks. I changed my whole posture and my movements, I moved my arms more freely and from the shoulder, making long passes with the whole edge of the stick.
Standing, of course, and using both hands apparently. This is completely different
from pencil drawing. This is fun. I’m starting to get a feel for it. All right, today’s the really fun part. I have two whole hours to play and it’s time to add the splatter. I was hoping to leave the
background blank, but I see now that the edges of my character are too rough
against the naked paper, so I filled in the background mostly white but with
some light pigment. Making the background the same texture as the rest of my
character also allowed me to create nice motion blur and atmospheric perspective
effects, like on some longer strands of hair and on the sword. The splatter part
was super cool. Glad I did the background first. That allowed for some nice clean
edges on the blood that I could later smear in any direction that I wanted.
While q-tips didn’t work for blending, I discovered the feathers did. I have a
bunch of feathers laying around the studio and I picked a really nice soft
one for my peacock and I’m more rigid one from one of the local raptors.
Yep, I have a pet peacock. His name is Kevin. I used the feathers as large dry
brushes to sweep across the whole composition, adding more motion blur and suggesting movement and direction. I also used the feathers to brush off all the
excess powder that apparently piles up on the page after you make just a few
strokes with the pastel sticks. This stuff is so powdery! Once you start
working with it, it’s like working in a cloud of chalk dust. There’s pink powder
everywhere! I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s a great way to just let go and
create. We can get so obsessed with our sharp pencils and perfect lines that we
forget how to properly finger paint. Once you get into this, it’s actually very
therapeutic. There isn’t actually that much left to do. I only need to add some black brushstrokes and we should be done. Leaving the broad black parts to the very end was the best decision that I made on this piece. It worked out
perfectly. The black was just as powdery as the colors, so I had to be careful in
my feather brushing. I made sure only to brush off the powder in the direction of
my actual black lines. This way, I didn’t contaminate my beautifully saturated
pink and red layers with black powder. This was awesome! I can officially say
that I love soft pastels and I will be making a lot more cool art with them. Let’s go over what I learned over the past 4 days. Going big was definitely the way
to go. High tooth paper – also a win. The texture worked out beautifully.
Doing a full high-detail outline of the character before I started – not a
complete fail, but definitely not necessary. A vague markup of where
everything needs to be would have been more than enough. I didn’t need to spend a whole hour on that. Covering the entire page, even the white of the background,
with an even layer of pigment – win. Trying to keep my room clean – fail.
These guys are messy, but cleanup is easy and painless. The power didn’t actually
stick to anything but paper, and a quick dusting returned my studio to its normal
state without leaving pigment on everything. So, don’t let the powder
intimidate you. Just have fun and get messy. Not smudging what I’ve already
drawn was a tricky part. Be very careful not to smudge what you’ve already drawn.
Use a soft brush or a feather to gently brush off the powder. Layering – big win.
Any color on top of any color – you can’t ask for more than that.
That alone makes me want to use this medium over any other. Level of detail – so far, with my limited experience, I would say medium to low. I would not choose
this medium to do a super detailed pattern for instance, but for images that
are more in the Impressionists side it’s perfect. So, landscapes, clouds, smoke,
splatter, movement, water… mood over detail. Color saturation – excellent. These colors
are vibrant and clean. They’re perfect. Blending – can be tricky at first but
mixing color directly on the page works beautifully. And for the final treat, I
have a secret to share with you. This is something that I learned years ago when
working in charcoal. Powdery a media never really bind to paper completely.
This means that if I want to hang this up on my wall, it will forever shed
powder onto the floor. Negligible amounts of powder, but nevertheless after several
years it probably won’t look so good, and it will get smushed now whatever,
so to lock the powder in I used a simple transparent spray paint. It basically
works like varnish. You can also use hairspray. Now, if you do this, do it
outside, and spray from a safe distance, and from above. If you put your spray
paint too close to the surface, the air blast itself will distort the powdery
effects that you have on the page. What you want is to create a mist that will
gently land onto the page. Let it dry a few minutes and miss it again. It will
lock the powder in nicely you’ll be able to touch the page. Thanks again, Laurie Gregory, for this box of treasures. I love them. I put the link to this exact brand
of pastels in the video description below. I’m not sponsored by these guys, and this was literally my first time using this stuff.
But I absolutely loved it, and I highly recommend that you give them a shot as
well. If you like this drawing, a high-resolution digital version of it
will be available for free on Patreon, for my Feather Wolf tier. Feather Wolves
get to pick a digital copy of an art piece every month, and there’s a lot of
other fun stuff happening on Patreon. You should check it out. I’m always excited to hear your stories and experiences, so please feel free to share those in the
comments below or in my Facebook group TALM – The Art of Lisa Mitrokhin. All of my video material comes from your requests, so don’t be shy. If you enjoyed this
video, please take a moment to give it a thumbs-up, and subscribe to my channel if you don’t already. I don’t think a lot of people realize, but this thing that pops
up here, usually, is actually a button that you can click. A very easy way to
subscribe. I’m Lisa Mitrokhin. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you in the next video. Bye.

12 Comments

  • JOBETH SEXTON'S Polychrome Path says:

    I absolutely loved this video. I enjoyed seeing your process and hearing what you thought about pastels, what was going through your mind at the time of execution (lol) and how you used a peacock feather! Genius!!
    I look forward to seeing, and hearing, a new video adventure soon!
    Until then, cheers!

  • lauracolorstoo says:

    Excellent video!! For details, you might want to try pastel pencils – it's the same as the blocks, but you can sharpen them!

  • Shelley Pasini says:

    Your videos are always so interesting. Fun and informative too! This was an adventure to be sure. Have you tried pan pastels? They are dreamy to work with and eliminates that chalky feeling

  • Sylvie Dufour says:

    Excellent video Lisa, you explain so well and i found you are so good to keep these on your Hands for myself i just can't when i try it's like to bite a popsicle wood the hair of my harm came up right away lol! I absolutely LOVE the Beautiful picture you've created and all of these tips are very Helpful so Thank You so much having made this tutorial and i will use mine somedays xx

  • Natalie Tame says:

    Awesome video Lisa and the story behind this piece reminds me of Mulan! 😃 Love the final result, so beautiful and inspiring, Thankyou so much for sharing! 💞

  • Tiffany Kleinsteuber says:

    This video is awesome! i actually watch it for the second time and still love it. One day i would love to work with Pastels. I never work with pastels before and just wanted to know could i get this effect in pencils as well? Love your work and love being in the zone with your designs.

  • Trudie Ladenius says:

    I love it, the colors are awesome…….

  • Megan Aunchman says:

    I have a few colors of pan pastels and have only used them a few times. Another medium on my to-do list along with water color. Do you ever use watercolors?

  • Rowlf Cowell says:

    You look like rock star from 80's when you all covered by pastels. 😉

  • Laura Craig says:

    I. Enjoyed this it was such fun to watch I ve used pastel pencils and they are fun to color with thanks for sharing it was wonderful to watch you work your magic here xx

  • Isadora Sofía says:

    You’re very talented Lisa! I love watching your videos ☺️

  • Lorna Westwick says:

    This is simply divine.
    I adore how the sword is meant to be focal along with the character, yet has turned out so subtle. The whole piece just looks so delicate x

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