I have tried pastels before. Before that is I got distracted by the wonders of oil paints and they fell by the wayside a bit. My interest was sparked again by the very generous gift of a large box of pastels and a pastel book by some friends of mine.
Presentation of particularly art materials is important. The box itself and then the wonderful rainbow of colours when you open it invites you to dive right in and experiment. There is always the challenge of when starting a new media, or going back to it after an extended break of what to do with these wonderful new toys you have been given.
I am actually quite a big fan of these how to books. Many are available but Jenny Keal's (shown above) is a good example of the genre. These books, if done well should do a number of things. There should be a short and concise introduction to the medium and the equipment you need. There should be a short account by the author as to how they use it, then there should be a number of examples of various different types that you can work through. This has the effect of getting you started, comfortable with the pastels, an idea of techniques and approaches and perhaps most important of all a body of work to use as your base point.
Above are the first two I did. What is good for me is I felt and I think you can see a definite improvement from the first to the second. There are elements of using pastels I find difficult. As my main media of choice is oil paint I am used to mixing the colour I want before applying it to the paper. There is layering to be sure but part of the process for me is manufacturing the colour. I find it a different intellectual process to select the nearest matching colour from such a wide range and that all the mixing is effectively done on the page.
There are some elements of using pastels I greatly enjoy though. The visceral feedback of blending the pastels, particularly with your fingers is very enjoyable. Top tip, have plenty of facilities for cleaning your hands as you go along. Another top tip, pastels are messier than you think. Another factor of course is that you don't have to wait for pastels to dry, however it is much more difficult than with oils to correct errors without making a horrible smudgy mess (at least I found it so).
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.