Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ask Cristina: Tips for Using Pastels in a Painting

Dear Cristina, (via my website
I have a question for you ...
I am just starting to paint, at the ripe age of 44. The only thing I really know about myself as an artist is that I love bright colors, and I have a creative, "whimsical" bent. I also love the fluid acrylics.

I recently purchased your book, "Paint Happy" and it has become my new best friend. Your paintings inspire me and awe me. I could get lost in them. I have already learned so much from you.

However, I have one stumbling block -- the pastels. I am not sure how to use them. You mention using them interchangeably with the paint, and finishing off the painting with the pastels, but I am unsure of how to do that ... do I just swirl them around? Also, would pastel pencils work in place of the regular pastels? (I don't have a studio, so I try to keep mess to a minimum).

If you have anything I could read about using pastels with painting, or could share some tips with me, I would be so grateful.

Thanks for being you, and for teaching me how to Paint Happy!

Fondly, Maureen

Dear Maureen,

Thanks so much for letting me know how much you've enjoyed and benefited from my book, Paint Happy! I'm always pleased to learn that my work has affected people positively.

Here's my answer to your question about using pastels in your painting:

The purpose of the pastels (as I use them) is as drawing tools that reinforce areas of your painting. Draw over the painting with the pastels to define shapes, soften or enhance edges or energize (with texture) areas. (You won't have to resort to tiny brushes and drawing tools are often easier for most artists to control.)

You can use pencil pastels or colored pencils. I use hard pastels (they are similar to the consistency of a Conte Crayon) because they don't leave much dust and they have a fine point so I can have control over the line.

You can use hard or soft pastels, colored pencils or markers over watercolor or acrylic painting. If you ever decide to try oil painting, you'll want to switch to oil pastels so that the materials will be compatible.

So -- keep working on your art. I'd love to post a painting or yours when you get something done that you'd like to share. Send me a jpeg photo that is no bigger than 800 pixels in either direction.


  1. Hi Cristina,
    Thank you SO much for your quick and wonderful reply! I understand much better now, and I am glad to know of the different types of tools I can use with my paintings.

    Your advice will help me a lot. I tend to get overwhelmed with the smaller (and even not so small) details -- they are SO hard for me to do with a brush. I keep messing things up and trying to fix them and then making more of a mess, and then I just get frustrated and want to give up on art altogether.

    Now I understand how pastels and other "detail tools" can help me to "Paint Happier!"

    As far as posting one of my paintings, I would be happy to -- if I could only get through one! I have two young daughters (4 and 8) home with me, so my painting time has been very limited. Of course, if I paint, they want to paint too ... which is great ... but then I am busy helping them with bowls and brushes and paper, etc. School starts soon, so hopefully I will have a bit more painting time coming up.

    I did finish your first exercise -- the cake! It was a lot of fun, and you made it feel so easy. I am almost done with the second project -- the puzzle piece one. I made it more difficult than it needed to be, and I keep playing around with it. Not sure if I'll be brave enough to post either one of those paintings, but we'll see (they are definitely beginner paintings with a capital "B"). I have a couple other ideas floating around that I hope will take shape soon.

    Sorry for the long post! Thanks again so much for your time and response ... I am very grateful.


  2. Take your time Maureen -- there's no expiration date on my offer! How great that you are painting and setting such a wonderful role model for your kids. When my daughter was that age I gave her a set of plastic storage drawers that roll and a few storage boxes for her to keep her things in. Still, we had quite the messes to contend with. (She's a messy artist -- like her mother!).
    Happy Painting!