Soft pastels are unique drawing or painting mediums. You can manipulate them to create beautifully blended and smudged colors. However, blending soft pastels is not always easy. I will share my method of how to blend soft pastels so you can achieve the smooth, buttery mix of colors. My method only includes three general steps: organizing the colors, applying them on the paper, then blending them.
Let’s dive deeper into the details of this process.
Organizing the Colors
The first step of my process does not include putting pastel to paper just yet. But even then, it is a critical step. I organize my pastel sticks based on their colors. I group the darks, lights, and rich colors.
This step helps me ensure that I apply the proper pastel on the paper first. It allows me to see the tones of the colors in relation to each other. For example, if I need the lightest shade of blue, I can easily find it and not mistake another shade of blue as the color I require.
The thing about blending soft pastels is that there’s very little room for mistakes. Once you commit the oil pastel on the paper, it’s hard to erase. And once you apply color on top of another color, that’s nigh irreversible. Organizing the colors lessens the risk of mistakes.
So, no matter how much you think it’s unnecessary, organize the colors of your arsenal.
Apply the Primary Colors
I don’t go into the details the moment I start putting pastel to paper. I like first to make a rough outline of what the painting will look like once it’s over. So, I apply the primary colors of the picture first.
What does applying the primary colors first? If I’m painting a scenic view of the ocean at sunset, the primary colors can be either yellow, orange, or red for the sun and blue for the ocean. I apply those colors generously to the paper.
However, I take care not to mix them yet. Rubbing a soft blue pastel on top of a yellow pastel will only stain the blue. I keep the colors separate. And if the colors should have a different shade between each other, I leave those spaces blank.
For example, around the area where the sun’s light meets the ocean, the light goes from yellow to orange, then to red. So the space between the ocean’s blue and the sun’s yellow should be blank.
Apply the Detailing Colors
I like to call the secondary colors of the painting the detailing colors. They are the colors that add details to the image. In our example of sunset on the ocean, some of the detailing colors are the orange and red hues of the sun’s light as it sets on the sea.
I carefully apply those colors to the blank spaces between the primary colors of the painting. Then, I am ready to blend the colors.
Start Blending Away
Once the stage is all set, you can begin blending the colors smoothly. There are many ways to blend soft pastels effectively. You can use your fingers, tortillons, pastel shapers, q-tips, or a kneaded eraser.
For finger blending, I strongly advise using a finger cot for each color you want to blend. Finger cots are like gloves, but only for the fingers. They have a non-stick surface perfect for handling soft pastels. With these tools, you can blend colors and get a smooth buttery effect.
Furthermore, using your bare fingers to blend soft pastels exposes the pastels to the oil in the skin. The oil in the skin can ruin your drawing.
The tortillon – also called stump – is a popular blending tool among artists. It is a tightly-wound paper shaped into a pencil. To blend, simply rub the tip of the tortillon on the area you want to blend. If the end gets too messy, merely unwind the stump to expose the next layer of a clean tip.
Pastel shapers look like regular paintbrushes except for their tips. While paintbrushes have brushes on their ends, pastel shapers have flat or tapered rubbery ends. The elastic ends are manufactured explicitly for blending soft pastels.
The flat rubbers are great for blending large areas of a pastel drawing. The tapered ends are ideal for detailed blending.
Q-tips are practical blending tools that you can easily acquire. Because of their thin shapes, Q-tips are ideal for detailed blending. The only problem I have with Q-tips is that they get messy quickly. But if you have no other blending tool available, Q-tips are no less effective than any other tools mentioned here.
Commonly, kneaded erasers are used for removing colors or pigments from the paper. But soft pastels are different – their pigments are hard to remove from the paper. So a kneaded eraser will work great for smudging those colors instead.
Additionally, kneaded erasers are malleable. You can shape them for blending large and small areas alike.
Blending Pro Tips
I usually use the darker colors first then the lighter colors on top. This method may sound absurd and illogical, but it works for a smoother blending. When blending, I pull or smear the darker colors towards the lighter colors. In our example of the sunset scenery, I pull the sky’s blue towards the sun’s yellow.
To give more definition to your drawing, lightly add more layers of pastel on the picture to darken the darks and brighten the lights. Blending in this stage of the process should be selective. Blend only the areas you want to appear soft. Keep your touch light and gentle since too much smearing or blending can take away the vibrancy of the pastels.
Drawing with soft oil pastels is like painting, but soft pastels are more nuanced. They require more meticulous methods to blend the colors. So, how to blend soft pastels? I begin by organizing my colors. I group the darks, the lights and make sure I get the shades in the correct order.
Then. I apply the primary colors of the drawing without focusing on the details. Afterward, I add the detailing colors. Lastly, I blend the colors by smearing the darks towards the lights. This is my general method.
But blending soft pastels is intuitive. You have to practice smearing the colors in the right direction with the correct pressure and use the right shades. Those are skills that no blog can teach you.
However, this general guide on how to blend soft pastels should help you start mixing like a pro.