making pastels

making the pastels

Take a quantity of base material about 3-4 times the quantity of pigment you are going to use. Make a heap of it on your work surface and make a well in the middle. Pour appropriate solution into well. Mix together with palette knife until you have a dough which is dry enough to handle easily. You will probably have to add more base or binder to get to this (generally speaking it is easier to mix the materials in proportions that produce a wet dough and then add base to bring it to the desired consistency. Roll into a ball and put on one side.

Mix the pigment and the binder in the same way. Take half the pigment dough. Divide it up into quantities suitable to make pastels the size you want. (You will soon learn to estimate this). Roll into a ball between your palms, them roll out into sticks under your finger (hold the finger in the same direction as the pastel, not across it). I find it easier to leave the balls of dough on newsprint to dry a little before I roll them and then roll them on newsprint. When you have made your pastels put them on newspaper to dry.

There is a problem mixing organic pigments such a pthalo blue and green, hansa yellow and alizarin crimson. These are very light powders and need to be ground into the binder. It is not easy to do this with the palette knife. Luckily they are all strong tints. You can mix them with an equal quantity of base material without noticeably affecting the hue. If you make a dough with base material and then add an equal quantity of dry pigment and the appropriate binder you can readily mix these pigments.

Mix the other half of the pigment dough with an equal quantity of base dough. Again take half of this mixture and make pastels with it, then mix the other half with an equal quantity of base dough. Keep repeating the procedure until you have either used up all your base dough or are making white pastels.

Following this procedure will give you twice as many pastels in your lightest tint. You will find with experience how to make pastels in the tints you will use – until you do you will find yourself with lots of pastels you never use. Then again you can always crush these pastels and add pigment or base to get to the tint you do use.

These days I tend to make full strength pastels only and separately a large batch of white pastels. Then when I want lighter shades I crush them together and remake them mixing the powder with water.

You will find the pastels take a few days to dry. The exact length of time depends on how thick your pastels are, how warm it is, and where you are drying them. You can easily tell when they are dry. Whilst they are drying the evaporation of the water makes them cold to the touch. When they are dry they will feel to be at room temperature. It is best to let them dry naturally – if you heat them they will become brittle and crumbly.