Working with pastels can be a wild foray into traditional art. It has quite a different feeling than digital painting but pastels give you a way to practice art from the real world.
If you’ve ever wanted to pick up some pastel sticks and go to town then these books can guide you all the way.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or a semi-experienced artist looking to learn a new medium, there’s something in this list for everyone.
Pastel Painting Atelier
This complete guide by artist Ellen Eagle is perhaps the definitive resource on working with pastels. It’s one of the longest art books I’ve found totaling 190 pages and dozens of chapters ranging from sample exercises to the history of pastels in art.
Pastel Painting Atelier is quite the comprehensive guide to this subject and doesn’t assume any prior experience. Instead this forces the reader to gain a genuine curiosity about the medium and how to apply pastels in your everyday work.
Ellen writes about her thoughts on the medium and how you can play with transparency/opacity in your work. She also discusses the hardness of the medium and how blending works(or at least how she blends pastels).
Working through this book does not feel like a typical how-to exercise manual.
Instead it feels like a visit to an artist’s studio where you learn from Ellen herself in a very personal writing style. Great read for anyone serious about pastels.
Pastel Artist’s Bible
Here’s another intricate book that fits best as a studio reference guide.
The Pastel Artist’s Bible by Claire Brown shares a bunch of useful tips for artists just getting into the medium. This book is also fairly lengthy with 192 pages and dozens of chapters on how pastels blend/work into certain types of paper.
There is no single “correct” way to use pastels. Everyone has their own preferences and this handbook really goes through everything in a detailed manner.
Each chapter includes a bunch of tips for working on different materials and mixing colors, all of which have plenty of examples to showcase how your pastels might look in the real world.
Painting with pastels can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. This is especially true if you’re teaching yourself and want to learn the medium from scratch.
Pastel Innovations acts like a complete guide into pastels starting from the basics and moving slowly with varying difficulty levels in each chapter.
Throughout this book you’ll work on 20 different exercises that each build on top of each other. This way you’ll develop higher confidence and learn how to run with pastels following a constructive methodology.
You don’t need a rigid course to learn pastel painting. You just need some inspiration and a kick to push yourself to learn.
This book has both of those things in spades, plus a whole lot of practical advice to boot.
Pastel Pointers: Top 100 Secrets for Beautiful Paintings
The author of this book Richard McKinley has been a working artist pushing 40 years(and counting!). He compiled his many decades of experience into one amazing book Pastel Pointers: Top 100 Secrets for Beautiful Paintings.
You get to read a professional’s opinions on the medium including the basic tools, the materials, blending colors, and designing compositions that work.
Each chapter dedicates some space for frequently asked questions to answer common problems like pigment issues and color blending.
Towards the end of the book you’ll find tips on completing pastel projects. Topics include framing, shipping, hanging, and even getting your artwork accepted into galleries.
An amazing read on everything pastels from an author(and artist) who has the experience to back up his writing.
Painting with Pastels
If you’re looking for a clear pastel guide from start to finish then Painting with Pastels is your best choice.
The book is reasonably thick with 128 pages of instructional step-by-step walkthroughs on painting with pastels. You don’t need to know anything before starting since the first chapter covers materials and how to set up.
Throughout the rest of the book you’ll work over a total of 21 unique exercises made to help you understand the beauty of pastel painting. Topics include blending colors for common scenery(skies, water, plants) along with tips on hitting bright lights with dark shadows.
Color selection is everything with pastels and by following this book you’ll pick up the best practices every pastel artist should know.
Pastel Painting Step-By-Step
One other book I recommend for beginners is Pastel Painting Step-By-Step. This book was first published in 2012 but it’s just as relevant today as it was back then.
It’s authored by 3 skilled artists who all share their thoughts on the medium. It’s like diving into your own studio course with three trained instructors who guide you through pastels and how they work.
Each chapter covers a unique subject like painting water, hills, trees, a large townscape and even a nearby garden.
Naturally it helps if you can get yourself to these places because working from reference is rarely as good. Generally I’d recommend this book more for people who prefer nature painting over working at home.
Grab a copy if you plan to get out and use the world as your pastel inspiration.
Painting Sunlight and Shadow with Pastels
Another brilliant title aimed towards nature is Painting Sunlight and Shadow with Pastels. The artist Maggie Price has published a few art books and I think this is one of her best.
Regardless of what medium you use or where you paint you’ll need to master lighting to create believable pieces. But rather than rambling about the science of light this book delves more into lighting from a practical perspective.
You’ll learn how to capture sunlight during certain hours of the day or in certain weather conditions. From foggy evenings to rainy afternoons there are plenty of tips for everything.
Maggie teaches you how to observe light and how to use this pragmatically in your work.
This is an incredible guide covering the fundamentals of light & shadow, but with a slant towards pastel painting for those inclined to learn.
Painting the Landscape in Pastel
Landscapes are some of the most popular pieces and they’re especially popular with pastel painting among realist artists.
Painting the Landscape in Pastel offers an insightful look into the wild world of pastel painting from scratch. You do not need any experience to dive into this book cause it’ll teach you all about the materials and best practices for beginners.
Early chapters talk about planning the composition and how to divide landscape forms into colors. You’ll learn how to develop a focal point for each piece and how to work with lighting to create the illusion of realism.
From blue skies to rock-hard trees and even snowbanks, this book has it all for the aspiring pastel master.
The Pastel Book
In The Pastel Book you can find a whole heap of resources as a pastel beginner. It’s recommended that you have some experience drawing or painting in another medium, but naturally rules can be broken if you work hard enough.
Each chapter includes a series of drawings and paintings that’ll familiarize yourself with the stages of a pastel piece. You’ll see how you should approach new projects and what they should look like along the way.
However this book was first published in 1999 and hasn’t been updated since. A lot has changed in the art world so these techniques may feel a bit old-fashioned if you’re familiar with pastels on your own.
I’d only recommend this for absolute beginners who want a visual guide to painting in pastels. Once you work through this book it’d be wise to move onto a more recent title to expand your knowledge.
For truly expanding your creativity and seeing what pastels can do I recommend Pastels Unleashed by Margaret Evans.
This book is so fun to read through and the visuals are fantastic. It’s 144 pages full of techniques on the fundamentals, tips on composition, ideas on mood, atmosphere, and subject matter.
Plus each chapter has tons of live examples along with a bunch of work-in-progress pieces that’ll leave your mouth watering for more.
If you’re a semi-experienced painter who wants to see what you can do in pastels then definitely grab a copy of this book. It’s so full of life and the writing style is sure to keep you glued to each page.
But in truth all of these books are great for moving into pastels and improving your current skillset. It’s important to know where you stand and what you want to learn, and once you know that you’ll have a much easier time finding the right books for your needs.