Fact Checked

What Is Chalk Pastel?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

Chalk pastels are a type of art material used to create color works‭ ‬of art‭.‭ ‬A chalk pastel is created by mixing pure colored pigments with a substance such as gum arabic that binds it together.‭ ‬Chalk is added to the pastel to soften the color, create a variation from the pure tone and help transfer the pigment to the surface being drawn on.‭ ‬The pigment contained in a chalk pastel is present in the highest concentration of any drawing medium.

Many artists employ chalk pastel to create small studies that can be used for larger paintings in a different medium.‭ ‬This is because of the very immediate nature of working with chalk pastel.‭ ‬They are easy to use,‭ ‬have good color depth and can be blended without effort.‭ ‬Some artists produce entire compositions with chalk pastel.

Gum arabic powder, which can be used to make chalk pastel.
Gum arabic powder, which can be used to make chalk pastel.

Using chalk pastels is relatively easy compared to some other mediums that require mixing,‭ ‬thinners‭ ‬or other special supplies.‭ ‬The primary‭ ‬technical‭ ‬aspect of using chalk pastels is the amount of dust produced.‭ ‬Each stroke of a pastel will create a significant amount of pigmented dust.‭ ‬This dust collects quickly and can be hard to remove from clothing and even other areas of the‭ ‬drawing surface.‭ ‬Using an easel can help to reduce the amount of dust that must be dealt with.

Chalk is added to chalk pastel to soften the color.
Chalk is added to chalk pastel to soften the color.

The type of paper used is important when working with chalk pastels.‭ ‬The pastels rely on the roughness of the paper to evenly distribute their pigment.‭ ‬Smooth surfaces, such as hot-pressed art board or Bristol board, might not be suitable because the pigment will not be applied evenly.‭ ‬Rough surfaces such as cold-pressed boards or watercolor papers are preferable,‭ ‬especially when they have a smaller grain.‭ ‬Softly colored papers are commonly used for pastel artwork,‭ ‬specifically light sepia and gray tones.

Completed chalk pastel artwork is incredibly vulnerable to smudging and other hazards.‭ ‬Even the act of framing a pastel piece can destroy parts of the painting.‭ ‬For this reason,‭ ‬spray fixatives are a crucial element of using chalk pastel.‭ ‬The fixatives will create a binding coat on the pastels and seal them in place.‭ ‬Although the pastels might still smudge even with the fixative,‭ ‬it will be much more difficult to do so.

Spray fixatives can be used during the creation process, as well.‭ They can be used to create different layers of chalk pastel to serve as‭ ‬an undercoating that does not interact with the next layer.‭ ‬This process takes time,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬because the fixative must dry completely before it is safe to apply more pastel on top of it.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


I like to do chalk pastel drawings on black paper. This allows for a subtle, almost haunting image, and I can just leave the background blank.

I once drew some Indian corn on black paper, and it looked so realistic. The corn had red, brown, and black kernels, so for the black ones to show up, I had to highlight them with a bit of white around one edge.

I also did a really cool drawing of a green bottle on a crumpled cloth with some grapes and a banana. I made the green the brightest wherever the light hit the bottle, and I left the transparent areas black.

If you draw on black paper, then the contrast and brightness levels won't be nearly as high as they would on white paper. However, you will achieve a very realistic, understated look.


I am an artist, and chalk pastel is my favorite medium. No other material will let you blend colors so seamlessly and achieve shadows that are so true to life.

I love drawing items with slightly round shapes, because they have interesting shadows and highlights. I add just a little bit of black pastel on the side of a red apple and blend it with my fingers, and the shadow fades flawlessly into the apple. If I need one area to have a slightly darker shadow than another, I just add more black.

I find it is best to blend the chalk pastel colors with your fingers. I have tried using a paper stump from an art store, but the tip was just too blunt, and even when I used the sides, I just couldn't get as smooth of a blend as I can with my fingertips.


@Oceana – I studied under a couple of great chalk pastel artists in college, and they both told me to buy the cheapest can of hair spray I could find to use as fixative spray. I thought they were crazy, but it worked!

I was afraid it would be really sticky, but if you let it dry completely, it isn't. I did a drawing of a pumpkin and two gourds, and I colored them in with just a solid chalk pastel color and no details before applying the first fixative layer. It only took a few minutes to dry, and then I went back in and added details before spraying it again.

I think I sprayed it three or four times in all. The only drawback to this is that it will make your drawing curl up around the edges a bit, so once you are done and it is totally dry, you will need to lay something heavy on top of it to flatten it out. I use a sheet of wax paper with a book on top.


Wow, I've been waiting until my entire piece of chalk pastel art is done to apply fixative spray. Doing it throughout the process probably would have saved me some headache!

I've been having problems with layers blending together. When I color in the background, some of the chalk pastel inevitably gets on the edges of the images in the foreground, and this creates a weird blend of colors. If I had known all along that I could be securing the layers in between, I would not have had this problem!

The fixative spray I use is rather pricey, and if I use it several times while drawing the piece, I will probably run out of it quicker. Does anyone have any recommendations for a cheap fixative spray that works well?

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Gum arabic powder, which can be used to make chalk pastel.
      By: lculig
      Gum arabic powder, which can be used to make chalk pastel.
    • Chalk is added to chalk pastel to soften the color.
      By: PRCreativeTeam
      Chalk is added to chalk pastel to soften the color.