Chalks and oil pastels are the perfect techniques to create colourful yet soft illustrations, with the first being the paler of the two.

Not only are they easier to apply than some other art mediums, they are also relatively cheap and don't create a huge mess. For beginners or those turning to art as a hobby or pastime, the idea of not having to wash up equipment after every use is a big positive.

Though cheap and clean, chalk and pastel can be used to create images with a professional finish. While there are no rules on how to use them, you may appreciate some tips on the different ways you can manipulate the mediums. Chalk and pastel techniques can really spark creativity and produce vivid and layered results.

The Rich Colours Of Pastels

Several types of pastels are available, but the main categories are hard, soft and oil pastels as well as pastel pencils, each offering their own unique characteristics. The colour is often more intense than other mediums.

Pastels can be used to create intensely colourful images.
Of all the tools in your artist's box, pastels will give you some of the purest and deepest colours. Photo credit: See-ming Lee (SML) on Visual hunt.

No matter which type of pastel you use, you are sure to produce brilliant colours, and quickly. Unlike traditional drawing pencils and crayons, you can easily create colourful pictures that are rich in pigment, and all without the need for paintbrushes, palettes, solvents or water. The only tool you will need to produce a basic pastel drawing is your fingers - you can't say the same for many other art mediums!

You will of course need to have a suitable surface like heavy paper designed for pastels. Pastels are made with chalk and dry pigment, bound together to form a thick paste. The paste is then moulded into sticks and left to dry.

Oil pastels have, as the name suggests, an oily finish but, as a result, offer the artist a great deal of flexibility since the product never fully dries. This means that the medium remains soft and therefore workable even after application.

A Short Introduction On How To Draw With Pastels

As we've mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to use pastels but it is helpful to know your options.

Soft pastels have a velvety texture which means that most people find them very comfortable to use (like they are 'fluent' in using them, as it were). Soft pastels are more prone to breaking then harder alternatives.

Before you start, you should expect to produce a lot of dust with dry pastels, much like much like charcoal and charcoal pencils, but you don't have any brushes to clean up. So open a window for some ventilation before you get drawing. You might also want to wear some gloves or have some wipes nearby to keep your fingers clean.

Once applied onto your surface, you can use a paintbrush, toilet paper, cotton wool, chamois, rag or even just your finger to push and blend the pigment. You can either use the tip of the pastel or drag it on its side to create different effects too. The key to creating beautiful, creamy tones of colour is layering. A drawing teacher or online tutorial can show you some of the techniques you could adopt with the various types of pastels.

Conte Pastels: Steeped In History

Conte crayons have been used by some of the world's most renowned artists like Picasso, Degas and Delacroix, which shows how long they have been used in art. The colourful tool is made up of a blend of clay, graphite and natural pigment which means that it responds in a similar way to a graphite pencil but with stronger colour pigments.


The colour pigment in pastels is usually quite strong.
Using Conte pastels, you can create beautifully intense colours like in this piece. Photo credit: mbtphoto (away a lot) on Visualhunt.

Being thinner and harder than other pastels, they are well-suited to works requiring more precision, like detailed sketches. (If you like sketching, you might also enjoy drawing in ink.)

Chalk And Chalkboard Art

You may be used to the idea of using chalk on a blackboard, but such materials are really inconvenient for artists as they only offer a temporary surface. Instead, artists might like to try applying chalks to paper adapted for chalks or pastels (or any paper with a slightly textured surface).

The beauty of chalk is that you can either apply the medium straight onto the paper or you can scrape some of the pigment onto a piece of scrap paper and use the powdery substance as a secondary tool, with each offering different finishes. Chalks often come in a slim format but jumbo chalks are also available and are sometimes better as they aren’t so prone to breaking.

While some artists might prefer to work with more traditional materials like paper or card, others like to use blackboards, chalk paper applied to other surfaces (like cafe or restaurant signs and labels) or paths and sidewalks (just one variety of the field known as 'street art').

How Chalk can Be Used

It is hard to walk down the high street without noticing the colourful specials boards that are often displayed outside restaurants in a bid to lure customers in.

No longer are chalkboards used to scribble on with white chalk, restaurants are employing artists to come in and create beautiful, bespoke designs and fonts on their marketing boards. This is just one example, among many, of how art overlaps with our everyday lives.

Other uses for chalk are on the street, to decorate our dreary concrete pavements - a bit like graffiti art which sometimes gets given a bad name but is more often than not created by very talented artists.

Artists across the world have experimented with chalk on the streets, creating huge masterpieces that draw in the crowds. The beautiful chalk drawings created by Dick Van Dyke's character Bert in the original Mary Poppins movie is an example of this in popular culture.

Examples Of Chalk And Pastel Uses In The Art World

Oil pastels are the first choice for children’s picture book illustrator Lynne Chapman, who creates truly stunning images designed for young readers. Not only are her pieces high in energy, they are also of a supreme quality and are explosive in colour.

Chalk art can create scarily real scenes on our streets.
This is Muller's amazing piece of chalk art named The Crevasse. Photo credit: tati01691 on

At the opposite extreme, there is street artist Edgar Müller who was born in Mülheim/Ruhr in 1968, and grew up in the rural city of Straelen in Germany. A talented painter, he enjoyed painting the rural scenes of his hometown until one day, aged 25, he decided to actually draw and paint on the landscapes that were once his subject. He now travels the world creating chalk street art.

In 2008, he attended the 2008 Festival of Culture where he wowed visitors with his work titled 'The Crevasse'. Müller transformed a huge slice of a pier into a fascinating ice age scene, which resembled a real life icy crater in the earth.

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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.