In the tutorials on our website you will find that Colin uses Polychromos Pastel Sticks and also Soft Pastels. But what are the differences between the two and which ones should you get?
What’s the main difference between hard stick pastels such as Faber-Castell’s Polychromos and Soft Pastels?
Now soft pastels are just as they are described – you can get various textures you can get some that are quite crumbly and you can get some that are very very soft (there’s quite a few different makes). I personally am not a great lover of the soft pastel mainly because I prefer to do pastel pencil work as you know and hard stick pastels serve me better.
When would you use them?
Now I really explained that already I would use to stick pastels to enhance pastel pencil work and you can and on occasions I do use a softer pastel when I want highlights. But you can’t really mix them together that well they don’t like it. After all a stick pastel would scrape off the soft pastel so they can’t really be used together. I wouldn’t say that can’t but it’s not probably advisable to do that so.
A lot of good artists use soft pastels and because they are very soft they are very responsive. But you’ve got to be prepared that they’re very messy too. You can get in a right state and, if you’ve ever seen me work with the pastels, you see my hands are covered in pastel. It’ not good for the paper and you can make a right pig’s ear of your picture if you don’t know what you’re doing.
With the polychromos sticks you can use those on almost anywhere on a picture you want except if you’re dealing with detail. If you’re dealing with a detailed area it shouldn’t go near it. Why? Because you haven’t got the control. Generally it would be a sky or background.
I use them quite a lot as you know in backgrounds and it works well there because you haven’t got to worry about the detail side it’s more an impressionism that you’re looking for. You could use it in fur to enhance it but not for drawing detailed fur.
As an another example, people have tried to use polychromos pastel sticks for doing whiskers and unfortunately it doesn’t work. The trouble with that is it becomes too thick because you haven’t got that fineness that you do with a pencil. That’s why I never use the stick pastels for whiskers.
Would I use half sticks or the whole sticks?
A lot of my pastels that I have are half sticks (faber-castell do half stick) and other makes do half sticks and they are quite nice because, I tell ya, if you have a whole stick of pastel you’re almost certain to break it up or take a bit off.
It is very hard to use a whole stick. You don’t get the control over it so I tend to think it’s probably better to use it as a smaller piece. If you have a large stick you can break it up.
How long do they last for?
If they’re stick parcels they last quite a long time, if they’re soft pastels you tend to use more on the surface (the pastel paper). There’s a much greater usage on the soft pastel so they won’t last as long. Of course it does depends on how much you use them.
Does one have a higher pigmentation than the other?
Yes. The softer the pastel the higher the pigmentation (usually). You can also work from dark to light. Normally in pastel pencils and pastel sticks you tend to work the other way – you build up your colour. But with soft pastels you can then put the light soft pastel over the dark for instance.
Again this is probably not recommended but it can be done. It is certainly a bone of contention with me with soft pastels because as I said I prefer to use pastel pencil and stick pastel so I don’t often stray into soft pastel.
My own personal use of these materials is I use the stick pastels when I want to enhance the pastel pencil. In other words you want to add a little bit of extra life to it or sometimes if I’m working on an impressionistic area (they tend to work towards more impressionism than realism unless you sharpen them up and that’s not a good idea).
The reason I don’t use soft pastels often is because once they’re applied you can’t really add any colour on top of it. I find I can’t use a pastel pencil or in fact the harder stick pastels as I’ve mentioned earlier.
So a soft pastel can be used just as a finishing touch. Sometimes you’ve got animals fur where you just want a little bit extra white or an extra cream or any other colour come to that and you just touch it on afterwards but you can’t touch it after that.
And the only other problem with all of this is the soft pastels do tend to fall. If you see a picture that’s done with soft pastel (and it’s mounted) you usually find little stray bits of pastel on the bottom of the mount – this is a bit of a failing with soft pastels.
Now the other option of course is to fix it. I don’t like fixing pictures and I don’t have to with the pastel pencils because we never ever get that fall or that drop but with soft pastels you certain you would.
I hope that provides some insight into working with hard pastel sticks and soft pastels. What are your experiences? Share them in the comments below.