Get Started on Your Pastel Artwork with a Pastel Art Supplies List

Pastel - purple freesia
Claire Plumridge / Getty Images

When you decide to start painting or drawing with pastels, the choice of art supplies available can be overwhelming and confusing. But like starting any new hobby, first, assemble the basics. When you become proficient or decide that you really like the medium, then it's time to upgrade, experiment, and compare different brands, quality, etc. Here's an art supplies list of what you need to start using pastels.

Pastel Paper

Different brands of pastel paper have different textures or surfaces to give the pastel something to grip onto. This can be quite prominent, such as a honeycomb pattern, or simply a slight roughness to the paper. It's worth trying a few brands to see which you prefer.

Pastel Colors

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Don't get intimidated by all the pastel colors available. Begin with a starter set, and build up from there by either buying further sets or individual sticks. If you buy half-sticks rather than full-sized pastels, you'll get a wider range of colors for your money.


Applying Fixative
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To fix or not to fix is a perennial pastel painting question. Use too much, and it'll darken the colors. Apply none at all and your artwork may be ruined by a careless smudge. If you want to use hairspray as a fixative, you'll want to experiment first, rather than try it out on a piece that you worked hard on. The hairspray could come out in bigger, wetter, oilier (if it contains conditioner) drops than artists' fixative.

Sketchbook for Practicing

Pastel with sketchbook
sketchbook with pastels. MIXA

Part of learning a medium is to spend time practicing and playing, not aiming to produce a finished artwork every single time. If you practice in a sketchbook rather than on top-quality paper, you're more likely to experiment.

An Easel

Artist Easel
Peter Dazeley Getty Images

Easels come in various designs, but try a floor-standing, H-frame easel because it's sturdy and you can step back regularly as you are working. If space is limited, consider tabletop version.

Drawing Board

clothing designer sketching ideas in studio
Drawing Board. Getty Images

You'll need a rigid drawing board or panel to put behind the sheet of paper you're painting on. Pick one that's larger than you think you might need, as it's annoying to suddenly discover it's too small.

Bulldog Clips

Bulldog clips
Dorling Kindersley Getty Images

Sturdy bulldog clips (or large binder clips) function well to keep a piece of paper on a board or for holding up a reference photo.

Pencil for Initial Sketching

Red Pencil
Sketching Pencil. Getty Images

If you like to sketch before you start painting, use a relatively hard pencil, such as a 2H, rather than a soft one, to lightly draw on your paper. A soft pencil risks being too dark and smudging when you start painting.

Disposable Gloves

Hand holding a drop of paper craft rain from cloud
Getty Images

You'll need to decide whether you want to hold pastels in your fingers or wear gloves to avoid contact with the pigments. A few pigments are toxic, for instance, cadmium-based reds and yellows, but many are inert. Check the ingredients list to know for sure whether cadmium is actually in the pigment or just in the name of the color. 

An Apron

Happy female design professionals inking up etching plates for printmaking
Artist Apron. Getty Images

Pastel will wash out of your clothes, but if you wear an apron, then you don't have to worry about it.

Sanded Pastel Card

Pastel painting art supplies
Photo © 2010 Marion Boddy-Evans

Sanded pastel card is a stiff kind of paper with a coating that gives a soft but gritty surface that really grabs and holds pastel. Think of very fine sandpaper stuck to a card. It's more expensive than pastel paper, but do try it at least once, as it holds far more layers of pastel more readily. Working with soft pastels on it gives a creamy, painterly feel.