What is a pastel?
A pastel is pure pigment moulded into a stick that feels and looks a lot like chalk. There are many different brands and qualities, obviously the more expensive ones are the better ones but you can get a good basic set of Art Spectrum 20 half sticks for around AU$55 to start.

What kind of paper do I need?
There are papers specifically made for pastel, it needs to be textured so the pastel can grip it. My favourite is Pastelmat or Colourfix. You can get sheets of pastel paper in A4, A3 and 56 x 70 cm or pads (MiTeintes by Canson is good) of A4 and A3 size. Don’t buy cheap paper, it’s actually really important to have the best paper you can get, it makes the world of difference. You can also apply pastel to other surfaces such as board, as long as you prime it first with pastel primer to make the surface textured.

Are pastels water soluble?
Yes, working with pastels is dirty and it does get all over your fingers but it washes off with soap and water easily. It’s a good idea to apply hand-cream first, this keeps your hands moist (pastels are dry), protects your skin from absorbing the pastel and also makes it easier to wash off. You can wear surgical gloves to keep your fingers clean if you prefer but make sure they’re well fitted. You can also wash in pastel with water and a brush, it’s fun to experiment and a good pastel paper will take some water without buckling. 

Where can I buy pastels?
Any good art supply shop will have a range of pastels. You can get them in sets from 20 up to 200 and every colour you can imagine. They’re delicious. There are also a lot of online options, here in Australia we www.softpastels.com.au where you’ll find a lovely range of pastels. The Art Shed Brisbane has a lovely selection of pastels and papers and I work there a few days a week so come and say hello! You can visit the shop or buy online. https://www.artshedbrisbane.com.au/

Which brands are the best?
Art Spectrum, Schminke, Faber Castell, Sennelier, Rembrandt, Blue Earth… Try not to purchase cheap pastels, you will be frustrated and won’t get to experience the beautiful textures and colours as you do with the ‘good stuff’. Cheap pastels are dry and chalky and the colours are sort of washed out and pale. A good pastel will be rich in colour and hold on to the paper. There are differences though, even between the high quality brands, some are creamy and others are hard and others are chalky. They all have their uses and over time you’ll learn which ones are ideal for different applications.

How do you frame a pastel painting?
Unlike oil or acrylic painting, pastels need to be framed and behind glass. The reason for this is because pastels are dusty and fragile so if they’re left unframed and something or someone brushes against it, it’s going to smudge. A good framer will know how to frame a pastel successfully so it will last for years. You can spray a fixative over a pastel painting to set the loose pigment, but fixatives tend to darken the colours. It is great to use in between layers though, and that’s what I prefer. DO NOT use hairspray – it will yellow your painting over time.

Delicious Art Workshop Jeanne Cotter

Who comes to your classes?
So many different people! Let me tell you about some of them… (real names are not used to protect privacy)

Jane is in her 60s, retired and has just moved to Brisbane to be near her daughter. She’s never tried pastels before, she is looking for activities to keep her mind active, she’s raised four kids and is now widowed. She’s done craft and sewing over the years and she’s keen to meet people in her new home town.

Lorraine is retired and had always wanted to learn to draw and paint and now she finally has the time! She’s been coming to my art classes for three years now and has adapted easily to online classes since COVID changed everything in 2020. She really enjoys pastels and has discovered pastel pencils and pan pastels as well. She even has friends asking her to draw their pets and has entered a few pieces into local galleries! Animals are her favourite subject and she’s become really good.

Sarah is around 40, she has her own business and she’s crazy busy with teenage kids, her husband, keeping fit, running a household, her business and clients. She comes to classes because art is something that’s always interested her and it’s the only time she gets for herself. She loves finding her inner artist and taking a few hours out of her busy week to relax, paint and learn and do something for herself.

Janet lives in country Queensland and has always wanted to attend my classes but couldn’t travel to Brisbane. Now that classes are online each week, Janet is able to attend via her computer and she’s thoroughly enjoying the experience and being part of our online community.

Jean is English and has come out to Australia for 6 months to spend time with her daughter and son-in-law. They both work full time and Jean, who’s now retired after traveling all over the world for work, loves art class because it gives her something to do, new people to meet and she likes to then go home to her daughter’s and keep painting during the week. She’s loving the way that art is making her think differently, to see clouds for all their glory and notice the colours and shadows in the trees.

Mick is 40 and he’s a web developer, so he spends all his time on a computer. Art classes for him are a few hours away from his business and life to get back to art because he liked it at school and hasn’t done art since then.

Kate is in her 30s, she has a 12 year old daughter and is recently divorced. She’s held a high-stress corporate IT job for many years and she’s just quit. She’s taking two or three months off to de-stress and enjoy life and do the things she’s never had time to do like yoga and art.

Kelly is in her 30s also, she’s single and has taken stress-leave from her job as a carer and counsellor for homeless youth. She’s emotionally exhausted and battling depression and wants to re-ignite her art, de-stress and figure out what’s next in her life. She loves the peace, creativity and connections.

Emily is in her 60s and has just finished chemo for breast cancer. She’s taking time to enjoy her life, feeling grateful for another chance and loving finding her inner artist.

So, as you can see, there are all kinds of people who come to our online art class. Maybe you resonate with one or two? The classes aren’t counselling sessions, they’re a space to learn and chat at the start and end if you want but for the most part we’re pretty quiet and everyone just gets into the zone and spends time with themselves and their art while I talk our way through class, describing each step as we paint together. Each class includes a demo with pastels and tutoring.