My first love will always be chalk. It was through this humble medium I built Lily & Val and also wrote my book, The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering. But over the last year, I can confidently say I’ve developed a new passion and a deep love for painting with soft pastels.
One might assume that chalk and soft pastel share a lot in common, but they are actually completely different! I had no idea when I first started, but I’ve learned so much and wanted to share with you these differences and what I love about each!
What I Love Most About Both Chalk & Soft Pastel
Before I share what’s different, I want to share what makes them similar. Both chalk and soft pastel give the artist a TACTILE experience. That is probably the biggest reason I’ve fallen in love with both! There’s nothing between my hands and the medium. I can connect with the marks in such a unique way, learning the feel of the pigment, the changes when pressure is applied, and how each one lays on the surface a bit differently. Both are dusty, raw, and messy! To see beauty emerge from the dust is like magic. Beauty in the mess. I love that so much about it.
With both, you don’t need much else in order to create- no paintbrushes, palette, liquids etc. The sticks themselves + a surface to apply them on is all you really need. And for both, your fingers will be your best tool!
Soft pastels and chalk also look and feel similar because they are both formed into sticks. Soft pastels especially, to me, are like fancy crayons for adults and it makes me feel like a kid again!
Other than those few things, soft pastel and chalk are entirely different in their make up, composition, and applications.
What is Soft Pastel
Soft pastel is comprised of pure pigment with the least amount of binder necessary in order to hold a shape. Different manufacturers will use different formulas which can make the sticks harder or softer with varying textures and consistencies, but still all considered soft pastel. Typically, a cheaper pastel will contain more binder while a fine art-quality pastel will contain as much pigment as possible.
As a result of the pastel being pure pigment, the colors are incredibly intense and delicious! This is also why a quality soft pastel will cost more. Essentially, when painting with soft pastel you are painting with crystals of pigment. These crystals have light-scattering properties, which gives pastel paintings an unmatched luminosity!
Do you see why I’ve fallen head over heels?
Fun fact: this is the same pigment used in oil paint except oil paint is bound together with liquid, which can degrade and yellow over time. Since there is nothing in the pastel to degrade, it remains pure and clean as long as it is protected from sun and water.
(What comprises a soft pastel also differs from an oil pastel, but that will be another post for another time!)
A pastel artist will typically include a variety of pastel sticks across many brands in their painting from hard to soft depending on their style and the effects they are trying to achieve. I’ve been enjoying discovering my favorites! Soft pastels really shine in their ability to be layered and produce painterly effects.
What is Chalk
Chalk is comprised mostly of calcium carbonate, a form of limestone.
Here is information taken from Crayola’s website:
Crayola manufactures two types of chalk, extruded and molded.
Extruded chalk, such as Crayola Anti-Dust White Chalk, primarily contains calcium carbonate. Molded chalk, such as Crayola Children’s Chalk (available in white or colored), is a softer chalk, and is not dustless. This type of chalk is recommended for children’s chalkboards as well as construction paper, cardboard boxes and paper bags.
Crayola Sidewalk Chalk is a molded chalk that is not intended for use on chalkboard surfaces. It does not include calcium carbonate. This product contains plaster of paris which has a gritty texture and may scratch your chalkboard.
For my chalkboard designs, I exclusively use Crayola White Anti Dust Chalk. It does create dust, but it has a heavier weight and vibrancy than regular chalk.
Since this type of chalk only comes in white, when you see a Lily & Val colored chalk design, the color has been added in photoshop. I’ve tried out colored chalks and, to me, the colors are a bit juvenile and I’m unable to get the palette I want. So for that reason, all my chalk designs begin as white on a black chalkboard surface. After completing a drawing, I will photograph it and use that photo to produce prints and products.
In a Nutshell:
Chalk art is a very humble, temporary medium. It is non-toxic and the tools are accessible and inexpensive. Some people may look down on this, but honestly, it’s what I find charming about it! It’s dust on a surface. That’s it. Manipulated into beautiful designs. It is zero pressure to try because it all erases! Creating with chalk art gives me nostalgic feelings and I just love the vintage/cafe/farmers market vibes it inherently has.
Soft pastel, on the other hand, is a fine art medium made of pure pigments. Soft pastels plus the papers to use with them are significantly more expensive as a result. These pure pigments are archival and will last generations! They also require a great deal of care to be sure you are not inhaling the dust since the pigments can be toxic. The vibrancy and luminosity of a pastel painting are just unmatched! I am utterly smitten with the result and the tactile experience of using them.
To Learn More:
I’ve had a lot of chalk and lettering artists reach out to me about getting started in soft pastel and this is such a thrill! It has brought me life to explore creatively and try something new! I have a deep desire to share more. I’m working on another post that will contain information for getting started – my favorite pastels, supplies etc.
For all my best tips and information on chalk lettering, be sure to check out my book! If you have any questions at all, please drop them in the comments. 🙂
Photos by Hot Metal Studio