pastels

PanPastels – An Overview

We’ve already learned about using pastels with polymer clay, then we explored the types of pastels there are out there. Now I want to give you some more info about one specific brand of artist’s quality pastels, PanPastels. While you can still have phenomenal results with regular student quality pastel sets, polymer artists often want to invest in PanPastels. So here’s more info about them, helping you buy them with a better understanding. Remember, pastels are a general type of art material, but PanPastels are a brand name for a specific pastel product by the ColorFin company.

Why PanPastels?

If all artist quality pastels are good enough, why would I want to splurge on PanPastels? Because they’re SO easy to use for our purposes. Polymer artists don’t apply sticks of pastels to a rough surface the way that pastel painters do. We’re applying powdered pastels to our unbaked polymer clay, usually using a brush or sometimes a sponge or finger. PanPastels come in a flat pan, just like blush or eye shadow, that load onto a brush in just the same way. The pan is also quite soft. That makes it super easy to load a lot of pigment onto the surface of the clay with ease.

I have to admit that I tend to avoid trends and I dismissed the popularity of PanPastels as a cult craze. But you know what? Using PanPastels changed my entire polymer clay experience. It was a total game-changer. I’ve never been much for using tons of products with my clay…I guess you could say I’m a purist. But these things are different. Rather than using the clay as a mere canvas for painting, PanPastels allow me to fundamentally change the character of my clay and what I do with it.

PanPastel Packaging

PanPastels come in flat, round, plastic jar (or pan) that has a screw-on lid. The pan, itself, also has a threaded bottom so that you can stack the pans into a tower, with only a lid at the top. This makes them easy to carry and store. Just unscrew at the level of the color you want to use.


This also works nicely for you to collect specific color sets if you need to bundle several together for certain types of projects. You could make towers of blue or yellow, for example, customizing them however you’d like.

In most sets, there is also a thicker, empty pan for holding small sponge-tipped applicators. I don’t typically use them, but you might. If so, they will also screw onto the tower allowing you to have tools right at hand.

PanPastel Colors

The PanPastel line contains 92 colors and 5 mediums. They’re packaged in a variety of sets, some of which give you the impression there are more colors. Confusion abounds. So here’s a breakdown. There are colors, metallics, pearlescents, and mediums.

Original Colors

Although it looks like PanPastels come in a huge array of colors, in reality there are only 20 hues. Each hue, such as Ultramarine Blue, also comes in a tint, a shade, and an extra dark shade. So each of the 20 colors has a light version, a dark version, and an extra dark version. You can see here the range of colors of Turquoise and Hansa Yellow. The tint version contains white, the shade version contains black, and the extra dark version contains more black. Only the pure color contains the single pure pigments, without white or black.

Here you see the tint, the pure color, the shade, and the extra dark shades of both Turquoise and Hansa Yellow PanPastels. Each color comes in four variations.

Each container of PanPastel has the color name and the color type of the back of the label, so you always know which one you have.

Pan Pastel Tints – This is all 20 colors of PanPastel, but tinted with white.
PanPastel pure colors
PanPastel shades, which are the pure color shaded with black.
PanPastel extra dark shades, which contain even more black.

Obviously, things get weird with black and white…how can you call them a color and then shade/tint them with white or black? So in addition to white and black, there’s an array of neutral grays in various gradations, plus the nearly-blue color of Paynes Grey in all variations.

Pearlescent Colors

Not strictly pure pastels, the six pearlescent colors contain mica powder to make them shimmery. They don’t behave the same as pure pigment pastels, but they’re a fun novelty. They’re high quality, much denser than eye shadow, and are pure-ish colors (as opposed to the fashion blends you’ll see in eye shadow).

Metallic Colors

Similar to the pearlescent colors, PanPastel also carries a line of six metallic colors. They’re your usual assortment of copper, bronze, pewter, silver, and a couple of golds. And again, they contain a heavy load of mica powder so they’re sparkly.

Mediums

What if you want to make a one of your regular colors sparkly? PanPastel mediums are colorless sparkly pans, in both white sparkle (pearl) and black sparkle. They come in both a fine and coarse version. There’s also a colorless blender, which I’ve never found a use for. Imagine talcum powder in a pan. (I’ve not found these medium very useful with polymer clay, but your mileage may vary.)

PanPastel mediums and metallic colors.

PanPastel Accessories

Unlike other artist’s quality pastel lines, PanPastel has an array of accessories that you might want to consider. If you got your colors in a stacked set but later decide that you want to have them in separate containers, you can buy new lids. By the way, be aware of the fact that PanPastel containers and lids are made from styrene, and will fuse with unbaked polymer clay if you leave them touching. Always put your pans away when you’re not using them!

Sofft Tools

The peachy colored soft sponge-tipped tools that PanPastel uses are called Sofft tools. They can be purchased separately. There is a huge array of pads and various sized and shapes as well as “fingers” that are sleeves that fit over light blue palette knives. If this is your jam, you have many to choose from. You could also use sponge-tipped makeup applicators as well as cosmetic sponges, which appear to be the same material.

Trays

Oh yes, my beloved trays! This is my favorite accessory. I rapidly got tired of unscrewing and re-screwing the jars and lids as I was using them. Not only is it time-consuming, but the lids cross-thread easily and make me cranky. I tried adding a bit of vaseline to the threads, but that just collected the powder and made things worse.

Instead, PanPastel sells trays that hold the pans, minus lids. The trays are perfectly sized so that the pans snap it securely and won’t fall out. But you can easily pull them out if you’d like. One tray holds the colors that I want to use and then entire tray has a lid. It’s very convenient and easy to use. There are two sizes of trays, both 20 slots and 10 slots. You can buy them on Amazon or on Blick or in fine art shops.

Buying PanPastels

Because they’re fine artist’s materials, you won’t find these in the craft department. Get them where you buy oil paints and canvases. Online, good sources are Amazon, Dick Blick, and Jerry’s Artarama. Outside the US, I’d look for them wherever fine art materials are sold.

What colors should you choose? I have all the colors and I seldom use the very light tints. I use the extra dark shades the most, but that’s because I usually use them on white clay and I love the shading. If I were to pick one set, I’d pick the shades set. I’ve never used the mediums. I seldom use the grays or blacks.

Buying Sets

By the way, you can buy sets of a whole variety of color combinations for special color needs. There are sets of portraits, landscapes, sets with or without mediums, sets with a tray or without. So think about what you need and see if you can’t find a set that gives you a better deal. The colors in each set should be mentioned in the listing, so pay close attention. No matter what the set, it will contain the colors I’ve mentioned here. There aren’t other colors.

You don’t have to buy a whole set. You can buy any color you’d like, individually. My suggestion is to get a set of student quality pastels (sticks) and use them for a while. You’ll soon get the feeling for which colors you use most in your work. Have fun experimenting!

PanPastels are Expensive

One more note, and that’s about cost. PanPastels are an investment. I don’t recommend that you buy them if you’re struggling to make ends meet. Student quality pastels will work nearly as well. PanPastels are artist’s quality materials and the prices are comparable to other sets of the same quality. Artist’s quality materials are expensive. Period. But these pans last forever. You likely won’t use up any of the colors and if you do, you probably deserve a new one. 🙂

And if you’ve not already checked it out, please explore the Pastel Challenge in the Discovery Challenges in the Community. It’s a treasure-trove of discovery!

A Focus on Pastel Quality

Pastels are an artist’s and crafter’s material that is incredibly useful and versatile for use with polymer clay. I discussed them first in this article, so make sure to read that one first. But I wanted to give you an idea of the types of pastels out there and which ones you should buy.

Artist’s vs Student Quality

Historically, artists have created their paints using a single pure pigment and a carrier such as linseed oil for oil paints or gum arabic for watercolors. (Pigments are particles of pure coloring material. You can learn about them here.) Because artists need to have consistency with their materials, each color of paint (or pastel) contains a single pigment. You’ll recognize the names of the pigments on the paints, with words such as yellow ochre, viridian green, phthalocyanine blue, etc. Some pigments are natural and some are lab-created.

High-quality artists paints contain high “pigment load” without fillers or other extenders. They’re essentially pure pigment with just enough carrier added to allow you to use and apply the paint. Pigments are expensive, so artist’s quality paints are quite expensive. While you can buy them in sets, they’re also sold individually. Yes, you can buy one single stick of cobalt blue pastel!

When someone is just learning to create, however, there’s no need to use expensive art materials. That’s where “student quality” paints come into play. This tier of paints (and pastels) use fillers and extenders so there’s not as much density of pigment. Student quality materials come in sets with a range of colors that help a student create without being expensive. These inexpensive sets of colors often use general names for the colors, such as “pine green” or “lemon yellow” and the colors might contain mixtures of pigments. Student colors are often perfect for the work we do in polymer clay and the lower cost allows us to afford a greater variety of materials.

Pastels and Quality

Artist’s quality soft pastels contain single pigments, and a lot of it. They’re very dense and blend on the clay’s surface nicely. Artist’s quality pastels are expensive (like all artist’s quality art materials). But the quality is excellent. Polymer artists who apply the pastels to our clay with a brush, will find that artist quality pastels will be easier to apply and will require less pigment to get a dense look. But they’re also expensive. I recommend that you start with a small set (or even buy a few sticks individually from a place like Blick before committing).

Student quality soft pastels come in sets of chalk-like sticks. They have a lot of filler so the sticks are harder and you can’t usually get much on your brush by rubbing. You will need to scrape the pastel stick with a blade to get very much pigment. (That’s not an issue if you’re pastel painting…the rough paper grabs the pigment nicely.) Polymer artists on a budget will find that student quality pastels will work just as well as artist’s quality pastels, but you’ll need to add more.

Artist Quality Pastels

You’ve probably heard people talk about PanPastels and you might have assumed they’re the only type of pastels. They’re not! They’re just one brand of artist’s quality soft pastels. They also have a gimmick in that they’re packaged in a pan form, making them really easy for polymer artists to apply with a brush or applicator. They’re also much softer than stick pastels, allowing you to apply them with a brush.

But they’re not the only brand of artist’s quality pastels! Other excellent brands are Sennelier (fellow Insider Karolina carries a small set of them in her shop, btw), Schmincke, or Unison, which comes in stick form.

Student Quality Pastels

I’ve seen some pretty crappy sets of pastels. Some are so hard and gritty that they’re more like sidewalk chalk! But there are a few brands that give you a good result at a good price. Faber-Castell Creative Studio Soft Pastel Mini-Sticks is a small set with lots of colors. You still need to use a blade to scrape off what you need, but the coverage is good.

The Mungyo Pastel Sets available on Amazon (they’re Korean, I think) are even more reasonable in price and have excellent reviews. (Mine will come Monday and I’ll update this after I’ve tried them.)

You’ll find other sets in your area and your local craft store. Also, many of us still have our pastels from high school art class. (Actually, I also have my mother’s from her high school art class.) So ask around to see what people have in their closets. Hey, you never know.

Do you have to buy PanPastels?

In a word…no. I have all the Pan Pastel colors and I use them often. They’re wonderful. But they have a limited range of colors. I also use my student quality pastel sets quite often. So my advice is to buy a good quality set of student pastels first. See how you like them. Learn how to use pastels with your polymer clay (such as doing the Pastel Challenge). After that, you’ll know if you want to splurge on PanPastels and also which colors you’re most likely to use. There’s no need to buy the entire set…you won’t use them all. In fact, if I were to do it all over again, I’d just buy about 10 of the PanPastels and the rest would be the student quality pastel sets. For light colors, where pigment density really matters, I might splurge on some of the high end individual sticks if the color didn’t come in the PanPastel range.

But most of all…get busy playing around with pastels. They’re the most versatile material that I’ve ever used with our beloved polymer clay. So much fun.

A variety of artist's pastels

Working with Pastels and Polymer Clay

Pastels are commonly used with polymer clay, and for good reason. They’re very versatile, and we can use them in many ways with our polymer clay work. Here is summary of what pastels are and how they can be used with polymer clay. This article is part of the Discovery Challenge #2 in the Community.

What are Pastels?

If you apply pigments to the surface of a canvas, they will easily be washed or brushed off. So artists use various binders to create paint that will stick better to the surface. Oil paints use linseed oil. Watercolors use gum arabic. Acrylic paints use acrylic medium. Tempera (originally) used egg yolk. But there’s another type of painting that doesn’t use a binder to adhere the pigment. Pastel painting relies on the “tooth” of the paper to hold the pigment that’s applied. The paper fibers, themselves, hold the pigment particles. When the pastel painting is finished, a fixative is typically sprayed on to fix the pigment in place.

Inexpensive pastel stick sets from the craft store will work just fine. They’re usually hard, however, so you’ll need to scrape the pigment from the stick using a blade or knife.

Because of the way pastels are applied to paper and fixed later, the pastels are very nearly pure pigment. They contain just enough extra ingredients so they can be pressed into a stick, similar to chalk. These pastel sticks are what artists hold, like a pencil, when they apply the colors to the paper.

Oil Pastels vs Soft Pastels

There are two types of pastels, oil pastels and soft pastels. Oil pastels have an oily base, similar to lipstick but less creamy, and aren’t used much with polymer clay. They can be chopped up and mixed into the clay, but aren’t terribly versatile for our use. (And I do welcome experimentation with them! You might find a neat way for them to be used.)

oil pastel crayons
Oil pastels are not generally used with polymer clay and are not as versatile.

Soft pastels appear similar to chalk (but artists balk when you call them chalks…they’re not). Some high-end (expensive) pastels are very soft and contain high grade pigment with very few fillers. These soft pastels are nearly pure pigment and can be quite expensive. They are very soft and the pigment applies very easily to the paper. More inexpensive soft pastels sold in sets at the craft store tend to have more fillers (yes, such as chalk) that make the sticks harder and the color doesn’t come off as easily. Inexpensive soft pastels sometimes have to be scraped to release very much color.

using a craft knife to scrape a pile of pigment powder from a soft pastel stick
Hard pastel sticks are perfectly usable if you scrape the pigment from the stick into a fine powder with a blade.

What are Pan Pastels?

Artist quality soft pastels are mostly sold in stick form. But the Pan Pastel company has chosen a different approach. Instead of pressing the pigment into sticks, they press them into pans, much in the same way that blush or eye shadow is pressed into a little pan and applied with a brush or sponge. Pan Pastels are a specific brand name of high-quality pastels in pan form. Aside from being in pan form, Pan Pastels are the same thing as soft pastels in stick form. They come in a large range of familiar artist’s colors.

pan pastels
Pan Pastels are a brand of soft pastels that are sold in pan form instead of sticks.

Pastels and Polymer Clay

Because pastels don’t have any sort of binder or adhesive, there’s nothing to hold them when applied to a plain surface such as baked polymer clay. They just won’t stay. But unbaked polymer clay is naturally sticky. Pastels applied to the surface of raw polymer clay will stick just fine, coloring the surface. In fact, you can “paint” with pastels on the surface of raw polymer in much the same way that artists paint with them on paper.

Pastels consist of nearly all pigment, so the pastel powder can also be mixed into various mediums to color them. This includes varnish, liquid clay, acrylic media, and yes, raw polymer clay. You can even create interesting faux ceramic effects by mixing the pastels into liquid clay that is then poured over a texture.

polymer clay faux ceramic tiles
Pastels can be used to color liquid clay for a faux ceramic effect.

Application Tools

Just as when applying blush or eye shadow to skin, you can use your finger, a brush, or a sponge applicator. If you’re using high-end soft pastels, they’re usually soft enough that the color comes off the stick quite easily and you can just rub the stick with a brush or your finger to load up with color. But with harder pastel sticks, you’ll need to scrape the stick to release a fine powder of pigment. This is very easy if you use your blade of a craft knife. Make a little pile of powder and apply that to your polymer with a brush, sponge or finger. If you scrape more pastel powder than you’ll use, you can easily store them in tiny plastic containers like these paint pot strips. Then you’ll have the powders ready ahead of time.

soft pastels in paint pots
These small paint pots work nicely to store pastels scraped from a craft set of soft pastels.

Pan Pastels are quite soft and you can load a lot of pigment onto a brush just by stroking it across the face of the pan. Pan Pastels come with sponge applicators (called Sofft Tools) of various sizes. While they DO work nicely, I find that brushes work just as well, perhaps even better. You can also use the small sponge eye-shadow applicators that come with nail powders. Cosmetic sponge wedges also work and are cheaper than the Sofft tools.

 

Various sponge tools that you can use to apply pastels to polymer clay
Various sponge tools that you can use to apply pastels to polymer clay.

What Kind of Brushes?

I use inexpensive craft paint brushes for applying pastels. The brushes should be fluffy enough to hold powder and soft enough that they won’t scratch the surface of the polymer clay. Makeup brushes actually work very well. You can find them cheaply from online marketplaces like Amazon.

inexpensive makeup brushes
Inexpensive makeup brushes work nicely to apply pastels to unbaked polymer clay.

I don’t typically clean them after each use. Rather, I have a selection of brushes that I use for the purpose, each one sticking with a color family. Periodically, I wash the whole lot with soap and water.

Applying Pastels to Unbaked Polymer Clay

Unlike mica powders, which cannot by layered, you can add many layers of pastels to unbaked polymer clay if you’d like. Just as when adding blush to your own cheeks, a light dusting of color can be very effective to give a subtle color effect. It’s common to use red or pink pastels to add a rosy glow to the cheeks of a figure, for example. But the unique character of pastels applied with a brush means that you can create lifelike shading by artfully choosing how you apply the colors. Whereas paint can look thick and fake, pastels can be applied in thin layers, creating artful impressions of real life.

painting pastels on the surface of polymer clay to imitate bread
The subtle shading of soft pastels make this miniature loaf of bread very lifelike. Much better than paint.

But the oils of the clay will soak into the powdered pigment, allowing the applied color to become one with your creation. This means you can keep applying more and more color, shading as you go, building intense colors on the clay. This is a point that’s sometimes hard to fully realize. The pastels can be applied VERY thickly and the colors can layer to create a surface that is not possible with any other medium. I find that students underestimate this and tend to apply pastels with a light hand as you would eye shadow. Keep going. The clay will hold a LOT of color!

textured veneer colored with pastels
This textured veneer is made with white polymer clay that’s been colored with a variety of soft pastels. You can see how deeply colored you can make the clay.

Fixing and Finishing Pastels

Because pastels applied to the surface of unbaked polymer clay will “soak into” the surface, they’re relatively durable after baking. They don’t generally rub off. If the item needs to be protected, you can apply the polymer-safe varnish of your choice. Often, you want to preserve the matte surface and therefore will want a matte varnish. I like DuraClear Ultra Matte. If you need a spray, I recommend Helmar Crystal Kote Matte.

polymer clay pinch pot leaf bowl
Pinch pot bowl, made with white Premo, textured with leaves, and brushed with soft pastels to create color.

Pastels and Texture

Because higher areas of texture will grab more pigment from your brush than the lower areas, soft pastels are perfect for accentuating the texture of what you’re making. As you can see in the above veneer and pinch pot, you can apply the color in a manner that makes the texture much more evident. Try using silkscreens, texture sheets, and found objects (such as leaves) to create texture that you’ll develop by brushing with various colors of pastels.

Base Color

You’ll find that the lightness of white polymer clay means that your pastel colors will be much richer than if you’d used a darker color. But you can still apply pastels over any color of clay. Expect to see somewhat of a visual blend in some cases, with the clay color showing through. Below is a pattern that I made with turquoise clay, a stencil, and various colors of Pan Pastel.

pastels applied over a stencil on turquoise polymer clay
This is turquoise Premo, a stencil was applied, then various colors of blue, green, and purple Pan Pastels were applied.

If you apply the pigment thickly enough, you can even have good results applying light colors over black clay. The votive below was made with a sheet of black Premo, a stencil, Pan Pastels, and a crackle technique.

votive using pastels over black polymer clay
This glass votive was covered with a veneer that was made with black Premo, a stencil, Pan Pastels, and a crackle effect.

Making Veneers

Sometimes you want to make a decorative sheet (called a veneer) that you’ll use to make or cover something. Because pastels are pigment (and not dye), the colors will remain exactly where you put them and the veneer can be stored over time. If you’re going to store veneers, I do recommend that you don’t use a “fracturing” brand of clay like Fimo, Cernit, or Pardo.

What About Eye Shadow?

Eye shadow is pigment, right? Isn’t that the same thing as pastels? Well, yes and no. If the makeup is flat/matte/dull/plain, then yes, it’s pretty close to the same thing and you can use it interchangeably with pastels. But if there are sparkles, then there’s mica in it and it will behave very differently than pastels. Mica and pigments are not the same thing and they stick to polymer clay differently. You see examples of each here. Some Pan Pastels (the metallics, iridescents, and pearlescents) contain mica powders and therefore won’t behave exactly the same way that pure pigment pastels will. (They will have their uses, but not the same as we’re exploring in this article.) So go through your eye shadow palettes and find the powders that don’t sparkle. They’ll work great for this topic!

Buying Pastels and Pan Pastels

I’ll write a second article with some suggestions on buying pastels and Pan Pastels. Give me a week or so. 🙂

Discovery Challenge #2: Pastels

The Discovery Challenges are a feature in Blue Bottle Insiders where we apply what we’ve learned and challenge ourselves to discover new things by experimentation and exploration. This article is tied to a Discovery Challenge that you’ll find in the Community, in the Discovery Challenges section. Have fun!

 

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