Soft pastels (shop pastels) can be applied to many different types of paper. The finished look of a pastel painting directly relates to the texture of the paper used because the pigment is picked up and grabbed by the paper’s “tooth.” Because the artist mixes pastel colors on the paper’s surface as opposed to a palette, the application of color is important as the paper will only accept a certain amount of chalk. One way to ensure success is to apply your colors in layers. Begin by applying a coat in one shade, then add another on top so the bottom layer shows through. At some point the paper gets full and will accept no more color. To avoid this, a thicker paper is better. Watercolor paper, printmaking paper or any type that is thick with some texture is good. There are also specific types of pastel paper designed to absorb layers of chalk. You can buy pastel paper in single sheets or in pads. Colored papers are interesting and useful because they can help in adjusting your eye to the correct tonal range of what you are painting.
Depending on the finished look you desire, there are a number of blending tools to choose from for use with pastels, charcoal, and other dry media. Blending Stumps are sticks made of compressed paper which have double pointed ends and are easily sharpened. Tortillons are only pointed at one end and are made of tightly wound soft gray paper. Chamois cloths are fine quality skins also used for blending and shading pastels. A recent addition to the blending category is the Colour Shaper. Colour Shapers, Clay shapers and other similar tools are used for shaping and blending pastels, shaping thick paint, detailing clay and much much more! These versatile tools provide a truly unique approach to blending and moving color. Consisting of a long handle fitted with flexible, washable rubber heads they come in an assortment of shapes and sizes suitable for any technique.
Fixatives (shop fixatives) can be very helpful for working in pastels. Fixatives are for many different types of media, for protecting color, strokes, from smudging, and as a clear coat! Workable fixatives are used during the painting process when the paper surface gets saturated with pigment and can no longer pick up any more. A workable fixative will layer the surface and create a grained clear layer on top of the surface allowing you to resume painting. A finishing fixative is used to prevent smudges and create a protective, fade resistant clear coat on the surface of the finished artwork.