Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Colored Pencils vs. Pastel Pencils

Liz in colored pencil (above)
Liz in pastel pencils (below)

Someone just asked me these questions in another post:
"What are the differences between the colored pencils [both the wax and oil based
ones] and the pastel pencils? why getting involved with pastels?"
  1. scumbling - you can't realy "scumble" in colored pencil.
  2. Blending - you can blend more easily in pastels. This can be a problem if you overblend, but besides being able to more easily achieve a smooth finish (which you may or may not want to do) you can more easily achieve soft edges and not the hard edges so prominent in pencil.
  3. Pastel & pastel pencils are opaque and colored pencils are semi-transparent. This means that in COLORED pencil every layer will effect each subsequent layer when the lower layers show through the upper layers. Which can be beautiful - but allows less wiggle room and a much more controlled process of steps.
  4. Pastels are dry.... and colored pencils are either waxy or oily. That means that with colored pencil you can not work past a certain amount of layers without a buildup of either oil or wax which fills up the tooth of the paper. With pastels I have not reached a breaking point with the amount of layers - it seems like you can work forever. This again can be good or bad. Many colored pencil artist "burnish" which means they use the buildup of wax to their advantage - its something I personally don't like doing.
  5. They just look different. :)

Please feel free to add to this list or contradict what I said. This is my first experience with pastel pencils and these are just some things I found while working with them.

  1. I am drawn to work in pastel. When I go to galleries, museums or scan through the art magazines at Borders - that is what I seem to like the best. There's something about the softness, the vibrancy, the way the layers lie on top of each other.
  2. I've always told people that I work more like a pastel artist than a colored pencilist and really I wasn't sure if that was true. It turns out that is right - although maybe a hard pastelist?
  3. To give the people commissioning portraits from me an alternative to colored pencil - something they've heard of before.
  4. and finally: To push myself.

When I started colored pencil I started with smooth white paper, moved to other white papers, tried colored paper, then sanded paper... all the while trying different brands of pencils (each of which worked differently). I think it makes you grow when you try new things. Plus I just plain ole enjoyed working on sanded papers and it transformed my work. If I had never pushed myself to try them, where would I be?

Pushing yourself beyond your comfort level makes you grow so much more as an artist/human being. I compare it to my workout routine., I run 40 minutes every morning. If I keep on running at the same pace, same incline, same amount of time everyday my muscles don't grow, but if I push myself to add a little speed or an incline here or there I get stronger.

I'll have an update on the school portrait!


Making A Mark said...

...and for your next experiment will it be the Schminkes or the Senneliers? ;)

It's been really interesting seeing how you use pastels. I think you're going to get on very well with them.

Having said that I think you must try some softer pastels before you decide whether or not you're a hard pastel person. The soft pastels are 'lush' and most of us who've tried them couldn't go back to hard!

What's really interesting is that Barbara Benedetti Newton moved on from coloured pencils to pastels - with very good results - and is now moving on again into oils. I've got her blog in my blogroll if you want to take a look.

It's all a journey isn't it?

vivien said...

as a lover of soft pastels, especially Unison, I'll second that comment

This really is lovely Nicole

2 points I'd make - the pastels will only build up forever as you say with paper with a good tooth

- and I find cp works fine over pastel but pastel not so well over cp - though it may work better on paper with a good tooth.

I hope you do a lot more work in pastel :>)

Chantell Van Erbe said...


I'd have to second everything that Katherine wrote. Senneliers (wider color range) and Unison (softer lay down) being my personal favs in stick form. For pastel pencil, it's Conte'.

You and pastel are a perfect fit. Amazing how different mediums change the appearance of personal style as well. I find when I use pastel that my style is more loose than when using CP's. Pastel gives that extra edge.

Yes, it is a journey!

hbedrosian said...

Very interesting comparison of pastels vs. colored pencils (I plan on taking the plunge into working with hard and soft pastels later on this week). I like both of the portraits shown here, and actually think that they came out pretty similarly in style.

Nothing to See said...

Nicole, both portraits are lovely. The difference is there, but both work well.

Thank you for posting your thought on coloured pencils and pastels. It was nice to read your insights.

I have not worked with pastels yet. I must agree with pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to grow as an artist and a person.

Thank you for sharing.

visioneerwindows said...

Thanks for replying to my questions - I had always assumed you were comfortable with colored pencil [you do such superb work in them], tho in an area I am not interested in - portraiture - it seems you find pastel pencils more to your usefulness... at first was struck as an oddity your notion of growing as an artist meaning one must turn to other mediums, because I had always assumed it meant regards the theming or subject matter [or size even, as the difference between a short story and a novel being similar with 8"x10" vs. 30"x40" or larger even]... in any case, whether colored pencil or pastel pencil, you use either with terrific outcomes - so more power to you in your endeavors...

Alex Louisa said...

Hi Nicole,

I've been thinking about getting back into my pastels too, so I like hearing how you are going with yours! I did a few portraits with them in my late teens but haven't touched them in about 7 years so it's about time I drag them out of hiding!

I agree with everything you've said, except for one little thing. I work on wooden boards with my coloured pencils so I LOVE burnishing!! That's just personal preference though ;)

I'm drawing my first person with coloured pencils now, so I love seeing all of your work. I'll be back often!!

Rita said...

Beautiful work, Nicole!

I have limited experience with pastels but I'll second Katherine's comment in that after trying the softer pastels I wouldn't want to go back to the harder ones. 'Lush' is an excellent word to describe the soft pastels! :)

I'm getting the feeling that this foray into pastels is going to lead to some incredible work from you. I can't wait to see what you start working on next!

Casey Klahn said...

Why do I hear angel's harps, and a little bell tinkling? Every time a pastelist is born, an angel get's their wings.

In all candor, I admire your stepping out with a new medium. I have my sets of CP's, and I have learned to burnish, etc. Actually, some of that learning I apply frequently to pastels.

I endorse the use of hard pastels, especially at first. By no means do I mean that soft requires a foundation of learning with "lesser" hards. What I mean is that there is enormous value in the hard pastels. I use them frequently in my work.

I think I wrote before that without the three Derwent indigo blue pastel pencils, I'd be lost.

You have courage, and this portrait is awesome. My daughter wants the hair clip too.

Paula Pertile said...

The portrait turned out lovely!

You might want to try some 'nubby' (for lack of a better word) handmade textured paper next, if you're feeling adventurous and up for a challenge. I've used pastels on it and its fun. Talk about being able to build up layers!

Unknown said...

Oh Katherine I would love to try some soft ones.... but one step at a time; mostly because I can't afford to go out and buy them! :-)

Visioneerwindows - oh it can mena trying different mediums/subjects whatever - as long as your pushing yourself.

hahah Casey!! Well I am certainly having fun with them... I just wish it were my birthday soon so I could get some more! & that hair clip - its from Gymboree! I think they might be on clearance now too.

Thanks Paula & everyone else I missed! I appreciate the comments!

Belinda Lindhardt said...

Very interesting post Nicole :) I have always loved pastels, i too think my work lends itself to them. I find it hard tho getting the details with them that i have with pencils ... hmmm .. i might give it another go in the not to distant future. Thanks for the inspiration

Gayle Mason said...

Interesting insight Nicole, I think this portrait of Lizzie is lovely.

Anonymous said...

I am confused....I am trying to figure out if Nicole is using just pastel pencils or a combination of pastel pencils and soft pastel sticks? I am trying to decide to take lessons in pastel pencils vs colored pencils and I cannot see where pastel pencils are used for a total rendition....so I am hesitant to pay out a large amount for expensive conte pastel pencils if I should be using soft pastel sticks. I really don't want to use soft pastels at present.
Pat in Florida

Anonymous said...

I would like your opinion about the new "soft" colored pencils vs pastels. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I am about to do a tropical scene. I have been using Prisma Color pencils for a long time. I am going to attempt to render the sun set in pastel, and draw the flowers and vines over the pastel with the CP. My question is. Would it be a good idea to seal the pastels with a clear coat before using pencil?

Unknown said...

Nice paintings. I saw the same art like the above one in an Art Gallery recently. It looks too good.

Alyson Reuben said...

Hi, Nicole,

I realize this is an older post, but it's a really good one! I do have one question. What do you use to set the pastel pencil when finished? Anything in particular? Thanks. :)