Breaking the Pastel Fear-Barrier

pastel art of dusk over Amman Valley, Carmarthenshire
Dusk Over Amman Valley - Pastels

My first experience of pastels was when I bought some cheap set of Inscribe pastels back in 2018 and did a couple of sketches. One was a tiny pastoral scene, the other was a sketch of the Gorsedd park in Ystradgynlais with St Cynog’s Church in the background. It wasn’t quite what I was after. Pastels were such a brand new medium to me and I was having trouble getting the look I wanted, but I was enthused.

St Cynog's Church drawn in soft pastels
Gorsedd Park and St Cynog’s, Ystradgynlais – Pastels

I thought I needed some better, softer pastels so I bought a quality set of Rembrandt pastels a few months later — I didn’t use them. I didn’t do much art at all that year.

In 2020, in an effort to find the right surface for my pastel art, I bought a few different pastel pads, and after a few experiments, none of them seemed right.

In September that year, still harbouring the desire to create pastel art, I bought a couple more sets of bargain pastels and tried again — no good, I wasn’t feeling it. Something just wasn’t right and the works were screwed up and binned.

Jess bought me a set of pastel pencils for Christmas — I was too scared to use them.

A month later I even bought a pad of Pastelmat which is supposed to be THE paper to use for pastel paintings. I was too scared to use that as well!

FINALLY, the other morning after a few unsuccessful attempts at working with watercolours (brush issues), I somehow cast aside my fears and thought I’d mess around with pastels again. I just wanted to have a play and picked a reference scene of dusk over Amman Valley from my collection. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere — especially as I was putting down the first layers of pastel. After a while, something just clicked and I realised the piece was actually going somewhere. I was using the full range of pastel brands in my collection, the paper that I hadn’t had any luck with before, and I broke out the pastel pencils from Christmas. It all just seemed to come together.

I’d finally broken through my pastel fear-barrier!

So what was holding me back?

Clearly the scarcity complex I’ve experienced previously was rearing its head — the fear of using up all my pastels and my papers by making mistakes. It’s intriguing because the fear of using up all my materials in the hope of getting the results I want was actually stronger than the guilt created by buying all these materials and not using them. It’s clearly irrational because the money is better spent trying, than avoiding.

Secondly inspired by other artists on Instagram, I thought maybe I was trying to do scenes that were too textured and complex. I perhaps thought I needed to have a different style for when I worked in pastel. But it seems I have a clear idea of the art I want to produce. At first, using the chunky pastel sticks with my usual detailed approach seemed unsuitable. However, on producing this recent piece I realised that the constraints of the medium add to the style of the piece, but also that with the addition of the pastel pencils I can add a certain level of detail too.

I’ve got to say, I love soft pastels — they’re not quite painting, and they’re not quite drawing — they’re in a niche of their own. Now that I’ve broken the fear barrier I had holding me back from creating pastel art, I’m excited about doing more pieces in this medium.

Published by Chris

Landscape artist Chris Richards lives on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in the village of Ystradgynlais. Chris works mainly in oils, but also dabbles with acrylics, ink pens, watercolours, and soft pastels.

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