What Are Pan Pastels?

A revolution in art medium

If you’re used to working with ordinary soft pastels, then pan pastels might just make you stop and do a double-take. Put simply, pan pastels take pigment that is similar to what is found in soft pastels sticks, and put it into shallow plastic dishes (or ‘pans’). Color-wise with pan pastels you can choose from 20 mass tones, 20 tints and 20 shades of the mass tones, and now there are also 20 extra dark shades of the mass tones as well.

 pan pastels

Anyone who knows something about pastels will immediately recognize the inherent advantage of putting pigment into a ‘pressed pan’ format. That’s because pastel sticks are both the medium AND the application device, and this imposes restrictions on how they are made. If pastel sticks were too soft, for example, they would just fall apart in your hands.

Pan pastels, on the other hand, don’t have this restriction, as with pan pastels the pigment is separate from the application device. That allows them to be much softer and creamier, both very positive attributes.

sofft applicatorsAnd the application device? Actually there are several kinds. The company that makes pan pastels (officially ‘PanPastels’), Colorfin, makes first of all something called a Sofft Knife. Sofft Knives are basically plastic painting knives with shaped heads. There are four different head shapes: round; point; flat, and oval. Over these heads fit little micropore sponge ‘socks,’ which become loaded with pigment when they are wiped 2-3 times across the surface of the pastel pan.

Another kind of application device made by Colorfin is the Sofft Art Sponge. These sponges come in eight different shapes – some better for blocking in large areas of color, and some better for specific shapes and finer details.

So: just like an oil painter has a selection of brushes, so too the pan pastellist has a range of tools. Four Sofft Knives and eight Art Sponges – that’s 12 different methods for getting the pastel pigment from pan to page, and for working with it once it’s there. It’s a nice range of choices, and one that will almost always allow you to pick exactly the right tool for the job.

More on Using Pan Pastelsusing pan pastels

A final feature of pan pastels that differentiates them from soft pastels is that they don’t produce very much loose pastel dust. That means much less mess while you work, and also a much reduced need to use a spray fixative when you’re finished – which, as we all know, can really change (and in some cases, ruin) a finished pastel artwork.

Let’s sum up: pan pastels are softer and creamier than soft pastels; give you the option of 12 different application tools, and don’t produce much loose dust. Are you convinced yet? You should be!

pan pastels

A bonus book specifically on Pan Pastels is offered FREE with the purchase of the book "Step by Step With a Pastel Portrait"

Find out more here:  "Step by Step With a Pastel Portrait" 

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