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. Most pastels won’t work on regular drawing paper. 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 and papers, their service is excellent.  Soft Pastels in Newcastle have an amazing range of pastel products, find them at https://www.softpastels.com.au/. The Art Shed Brisbane has a lovely selection of pastels and papers. 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 usually sort of washed out and pale. A good pastel will be rich in colour and hold on to the pastel 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 sometimes 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. I’m currently experimenting with varnishing my pastels and painting on to primed board. The cost to frame art behind glass is sometimes out of reach and when you want to sell your art, you need to factor in your costs, that’s why a lot of framed art is so expensive. I have spent up to $500 on framing alone!