Coloring with pastels

Coloring backgrounds can be finicky, time-consuming and frustrating. In fact, many people skip doing the background altogether. But it can be lots of fun too. The problem with coloring backgrounds is that it is a wide open space. Most mediums will have issues with either coverage or time.
  • Colored pencils take forever!
  • Pens and markers leave ugly streaks
  • Watercolor doesn't work well on all books
So what do you do? Soft pastels – also called chalk pastels – are the solution to your background woes. You can create nice blending between colors with pastels. They give a smooth finish and do not streak at all. As a bonus, using pastels is very quick. My backgrounds don't usually take me more than 5 or 10 minutes!

What to Buy?

Like most art supplies, you can get pastels in a variety of grades – from student to artist quality. But the good news is, you don't really need expensive pastel sticks for backgrounds in your coloring books. 

Pastels come in two types – soft/chalk and oil. For our purpose, you need soft or chalk ones. Do not get the oil pastels.

The second thing about pastels is that you don't need a huge set. Artist pastels come in over 400 colors but you won't need even a fraction of that. A small 24 pack of pastels from Faber Castell will set you back about $15. 
These sticks will last you for years, so there's really no need to get anything bigger for coloring alone.

How to Use Pastels

You can either draw directly on the paper with the edge of the sticks or scrape a bit into powder with a knife onto the page. For soft backgrounds, use the latter method. 

How do you combine pastels and color pencils in the same page? Won't the powder get everywhere? The secret lies in the fact that color pencils resist pastels because of the wax or oil in them! Again there are 2 ways to use pastels in coloring books specifically.

Do the Background First

In this method, you first do your background. Scrape some powder from the sticks directly on to the paper and then apply with cotton rounds. Don't worry about getting color inside the artwork, you can erase it later. Once you're satisfied with the colors and blending, brush away the excess dust. Now finish your page with pencils as usual.

Now you need a fixative spray to seal the pastel powder. Otherwise, they will move around under your fingers and spread all over the page. Secondly, you might not be able to completely erase the pastels without tearing or destroying the tooth of the paper. 

Do the Background Last

First, finish your page as you would usually. The darker colors will resist the pastel powder. Lighter colors may need to be sealed to prevent staining. Simply go over those areas with a blender and burnish it well. You don't have to do the entire picture, just those areas which are on the edges of the design.

Now scrape some powder from the sticks onto the page. You can do all the colors at once in different areas or do them one by one. Then take your cotton ball and blend the powder all over the page with light pressure. 
Just keep in mind that if you add multiple layers, you will most likely need fixative spray to seal the pastels.

Fun Effects

Remember how I said colored pencils resist pastel powder? This is a great tip to keep in mind since you can create some really fun effects with it. I followed a tutorial by Peta Hewitt and made the bubbles on the Jellyfish page to make it seem like it was underwater! 

This is just one example of what you can do with pastels. Try creating a line of mountains or trees in the background of a forest page. Or some soft waves for underwater scenes. The list of possibilities is practically endless!