Pastels for Pleasure

In April I saw a course called ‘Pastels for Pleasure’ advertised on Facebook. I initially brushed it to one side, but it kept popping up again… then my housemate helpfully sent me a link to a course that he saw pop up on his News Feed – the same course! Marketing on social media really does work sometimes!

Anyway, I signed up for the course, and not really knowing what to expect, went along to the first session on the 25th April. Each session is run for two hours on a Tuesday evening, and every week has a different theme. I’ve now done the first four weeks, and have thoroughly enjoyed my ‘messy’ evening each week…

Week 1: Experiment and discover pastels

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This first week was more about trying the effects of various types of pastels on different papers, and have a go at drawing from a range of fruits set up in the middle of the table.

Week 2: Still life

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The second session also involved choosing subjects from a range that was set out on the table. I chose to spend most of the time focussing on the reflections on a bottle of sloe gin, and a couple of glasses. I enjoyed working on black sugar paper, it’s a shame that it’s not colourfast!

Week 3: Botanical

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Once again I chose to work on black sugar paper. Flowers are quite a difficult subject to draw as it turns out – I wanted to sketch a range of flower types and experiment with the use of different colours – which I feel I achieved reasonably well. The bluebells were probably the most difficult colour to blend, as it was hard to mix the colours on the paper without losing some of the finer details.

Week 4: Landscapes

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This is my favourite work so far. Working on a dark red pastel paper (unfortunately I can’t remember the brand!), I found the texture initially quite difficult to work on, but after really working on the blending it started to come together. The inspiration for this is my own photo that I took in Oulton Broad on my phone. Following advice from the tutor I opted not to try to capture some of the really fine details, such as boats and birds, and instead focused completely on the beautiful colours both in the sky and reflected in the water.

I had intended to go back to my sunset drawing but have now decided that I do really like it how it is – stepping back from it and looking at it with fresh eyes has removed some of the personal doubts.


Some of the things I have learned so far:

  • Pastels are a versatile and vibrant medium to work in – the range of effects is not limited to particular subjects;
  • There is a huge range in types of pastel – not just oil and chalk based;
  • Although you do need to work on a surface or type of paper that has a certain ‘tooth’ for the pastel to adhere to, there are various cheap alternatives such as brown parcel paper and sugar paper – the only thing to note with the sugar paper is that it does tend to fade in the sunlight!
  • Stepping back and looking at your work from a distance or from another angle is essential – even taking a photo with a cameraphone and viewing it on the screen helps.
  • Pastels are extremely messy!
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