Pan Pastels and colored pencil are a great mixed media combo. I’m sharing 10 tips on how I use them to get the best results!

Tip #1 – Paper Choice

Use a paper that the pastels will stick well to. My favorite is sanded paper. I use LuxArchival. Unlike ALL other brands of sanded paper, LuxArchival is archival, acid free on both the front AND back of the paper. Why does the back of the paper matter? It will eventually affect the front where the art is. I recently used a PH testing pen on a pack of uArt 500. The back has always tested as acidic (not archival). When I tested that same pack a few years ago the front was fine. I wouldn’t trust my artwork on it either way. Last summer I did a demonstration for other artists to show how the back tested acidic but the front was fine…although the front was no longer showing acid free! The back WAS affecting the front of the paper! Was it because of how it’s stored (the paper comes packed with the back of one sheet touching the front of the next) or was it soaking through the back and reaching the front? I don’t know but neither option is acceptable for my work or my customers.

I’ve used Canson Mi-Teintes which worked ok, but I like the sanded paper much better given how well the pan pastels stick to it!

Tip #2 – Spectra Fix

Many fixatives darken pastel colors. SpectraFix doesn’t as long as you apply it in VERY light layers. I use a fine mist sprayer to make sure I don’t get heavy droplets. Ideally, spray your work several times while you work. This helps the pastels to adhere to the paper better long term. Over the years, pastels start to dust off your paper. Not generally to the point where the work totally disappears, I don’t want to freak anyone out. It’s not THAT bad, but if you look at framed pastel work that isn’t sprayed with any fixatives, you will notice a dusting of pastel on the inner mat. A fixative will help to minimize this. It also will help seal previous layers down for better layering.

Tip #3 Size

When choosing a size for your work you want to consider a few factors.

  • Easy to frame – If you’re framing the work itself you may want to choose common sizes like 8×10″, 11×14″ or 16×20″. These are common sizes so it’s easy to find pre-cut mats and pre-made frames. This cuts down on your cost given how expensive custom framing can be. If you have the tools to cut your own mats, you can cut the inner size of the mat to fit the odd artwork size but keep the outer dimensions a standard size. With this method you end up with a more wide-screen type look where the mat is thinner on two sides and thicker on the other two. It can look great if you are looking to force an odd size into a standard pre-made frame.
  • Smaller is faster but harder to get small detail. If you like tiny tiny detail, you may want to work larger to make it easier to capture in your work. Larger work takes longer though, so if you don’t want to spend as long you can work smaller and focus on your lighting/contrast more than detail to still create a great painting.
  • Larger makes bigger prints. I don’t recommend making prints any larger than the artwork, even if you take a photo with a camera that gets a huge file size. Artwork doesn’t looks good blown up larger. If your artwork is larger, you can print large or small and the prints will look good. Smaller art limits your print size.

Tip #4 Brushes and Sponges to Use

Soft Tools bending tools are my absolute favorite for applying the pan pastels and for most blending. I occasionally use a small mop brush to go over a final area to soften it a bit, but be aware, brushes, even those as soft as a mop brush, will knock the pastels or colored pencil off the paper to an extent. This is more extreme with areas of colored pencil so I normally just use the mop brush for areas that are primarily Pan Pastels that need to be softened.

Tip #5 Blending Colors

My set of pan pastels were provided to me by the manufacturer a few years back. This isn’t a sponsored post or video, but for transparency, I did not purchase these myself. Normally when I get new supplies I want to run out and buy every color I can find. I didn’t feel the need with these because they mix SO WELL! Very similar to mixing paint! I’ve got the set of 20 and it has every color I’ve needed for every project I’ve created! You can blend on the pans themselves or on a scratch piece of paper.

Tip #6 Use Colored Pencils

I love the look of soft pastels, but I HATE the feel of them on my hands. I can’t work with them. Colored pencils over pan pastels on sanded paper look nearly identical though! I prefer Polychromos for softer blending. Higher wax content pencils aren’t as soft to blend out. These will mix with a pan pastel base layer and allow you to get fine detail with your pan pastel work! I use my higher wax content pencils like Caran d’Ache Luminance over areas I don’t want to smudge out as much. In this one I used a white Caran d’Ache Pablo for smaller detail.

Tip #7 Contrast

This tip is true for any medium. Make your subject stand out more by increasing the contrast between the background and subject itself. Is your subject light? Make the area around it a bit darker. Is it dark? Make the area behind the subject a bit lighter where you want the subject to stand out! Remember that your contrast matters FAR more than the actual color you use. Having the perfect green just doesn’t matter that much. Get your lights light enough and darks dark enough, this is what will make your work look more realistic, not finding perfect colors.

Tip #8 Color

When blending a blurry background, if you hit an area that is a brownish tone, don’t jump to straight brown. Those muddier colors are usually created by the two colors next to it blending together. In this case we’ve got magenta tones next to green. When you mix these colors together we get a perfect rich brownish tone that works with this piece. Use LESS colors and mix from those to get what you need. When you use ever color you own without mixing, you make things harder on yourself. By mixing from a limited color palette you learn more about mixing AND you’re more likely to have the colors in your paintings and drawings flow together better. They’re not having to fight each other!

Tip #9 Tape

Tape your paper to a board to keep it from sliding around as you work. I’m using a PH neutral/acid free black masking tape. No point in using archival materials just to put it at risk with the residue from painters tape!

Tip #10 Glassine

Keep a sheet of glassine under your hand. This will prevent you from smudging your work and keep the oils from your skin off the paper. You could use another piece of regular paper, but regular paper is likely to smudge the work too. WIth glassine, nothing will stick to it so your work is safer. You can also use the glassine to protect your work in storage! It’s acid free too!

Supplies used: (amazon affiliate links)

 We all need to be reminded “Don’t drink the paint water”  and other fun artist sayings. 
Why not wear it on our clothes or coffee mugs to make sure we don’t forget.

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