Pastels For Dummies Cheat Sheet - dummies
Cheat Sheet

Pastels For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Pastels For Dummies

By Sherry Stone Clifton, Anita Marie Giddings

Drawing with pastels can be both fun and intimidating, but a few tips and tools can help you set pastel compositions and choose colors like a pro. With your sketchbook, viewfinder, and color wheel in hand, you’re ready to create artwork.

Choosing Pastel Colors with the Color Wheel

When working with pastel (or any art medium), a color wheel is a tool you should be familiar with because it helps you understand hue relationships and choose colors for pastel compositions. The following color wheel and terms can help you select colors for your artwork:


  • Primary hues: Red, blue, and yellow. Theoretically, all other hues are made from these hues.

  • Secondary hues: Violet, orange, and green. Secondary hues are a mix of two primary hues and situated halfway between those primary hues on the color wheel.

  • Tertiary hues: Red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. Tertiary hues are a combination of a primary hue and a secondary hue.

  • Analogous hues: Three to five hues next to each other on the color wheel, such as red, red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange.

  • Complementary hues: Hues directly across from each other on the color wheel, such as red/green, violet/yellow, and blue/orange.

  • Warm/cool hues: Warm hues include the hues from red through yellow and yellow-green on the color wheel. Cool colors include the hues from blue-green through blue to violet on the color wheel. The leftovers — red-violet and green — appear warm when surrounded by cool hues and cool when surrounded by warm hues.

You can use the color wheel to help you determine colors for your pastel composition two ways: when choosing colors for modeling (giving realism to) individual objects and when choosing the overall patterns of colors in the composition. For example, understanding the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors helps you blend pastel colors to make new colors you don’t have in your pastel palette (such as creating just the right orange out of red and yellow. You can also choose a set of analogous hues, selecting a color for the body of the object and then hatching (stroking) cooler and warmer colors from nearby on the wheel into the shadowed and lighter areas

Making and Using a Viewfinder to Set Pastel Compositions

A viewfinder helps you focus your scene and determine your pastel work’s orientation. You can buy various adjustable and window viewfinders, but you can easily make your own as well. Your pastel composition will thank you.

When you use a viewfinder, you hold it so that you can see the scene you are drawing in its window. The viewfinder isolates your scene by cropping out everything except the part of the scene you want to draw so that you can see exactly what it will look like on your paper if you transfer it accurately. The viewfinder also helps you establish accurate positions of your subjects on the paper in your initial drawing. If you bisect the window of your viewfinder with threads, you can draw lines on your paper to bisect it in a similar manner so that you can use them as guides to transfer your image, drawing the shapes according to their positions on the grid you created.

To make a basic window viewfinder, stick to these simple steps:

  1. Take an index card and cut a window in the center using the same proportion of height and width as the paper you’re using.

    For example, if your paper is 12 inches x 16 inches, measure and cut a window 1-1/2 inches x 2 inches in the center of the card.

  2. Use a metal ruler and a utility knife to cut straight edges.

  3. After you cut the window, mark the middle point of each side and tape a thread from one side to the opposite side, bisecting the window horizontally and vertically.

    See our following example.


To use the viewfinder, look through the window at your scene and notice where objects in your scene line up with the threads or corners of the viewfinder. Lightly mark the halfway points on each side of your paper and use them to help you map the size, shape, and positions of the objects in your scene.

Coming Up with Fresh Ideas to Draw with Your Pastels

Whether you’re new to drawing with pastels or have drawn hundreds of pastel works, you may find yourself in need of fresh subject ideas. When the idea tank is dry, fill it up with the following drawing strategies:

  • Draw something from a different point of view. Changing your point of view forces you to think more consciously about what you’re drawing. Try mouse-eye and bird’s-eye views, which are very low (as if you were lying on the floor looking up at your subject) and very high (as if you were standing over the subject looking down on it) in relation to your subject, respectively.

  • Use your viewfinder to find an interesting but unrecognizable section of a larger object. Instead of drawing the same old shapes you’re used to, this strategy lets you focus on the textures, colors, and so on your work may not typically show. Hold your viewfinder so that you can see through its window and look for an interesting composition of shapes, textures, colors, or values of light and dark. Dramatic combinations of dark and light shapes are particularly effective.

  • Make a collage out of images cut from magazines and photographs and then use it to create a pastel drawing. This playful idea helps you break out of the realistic box. You can put impossible, dreamlike images together as you find in the work of surrealist artists Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte, or you can make an abstract design. Start to build an image by adding clippings to an existing photograph or by putting many clippings of photographs together (but keep the collage simple the first time you try it). After you make the collage, refer to it as you make your pastel drawing.

  • Choose a masterpiece and put a portrait or figure of yourself in the picture or update the masterpiece to modern times. Secretly adding yourself to your study of a masterpiece or making yourself the main focus of the work adds a humorous element to it and breaks up the monotony you may be feeling in your normal drawing. In another approach, updating a masterpiece gives you the chance to put your own spin on a time-honored work, like creating West Side Story out of Romeo and Juliet.

  • Do an inside/outside drawing that incorporates an interior with a view outside the window. This kind of composition helps you think about how to balance color, light, and competing areas of focus in a way your usual work may not. Decide where you want the viewers to look first and work out how to use contrasting colors to attract their attention. At the same time, determine where to use similar colors to quiet areas of the composition and make them recede.

  • Make a pastel drawing that incorporates the past, present, and future into the picture. This strategy adds the element of time that may be missing from your everyday work to the picture and tells a story. Try depicting a scene that tells all the events of a story in one picture or show a sequence of movements in a still scene.