Soft Artist's Pastels


Commercial Artist’s Pastels are sticks of pigment, held together with a small amount of binder. The binder is there just to hold the pastel together while it is being used.

The highest quality pastels are made without fillers and are usually very expensive for that reason. Cheaper pastels aren’t usually as vibrant due to the colour being diluted by the cheap fillers and extenders used which are usually white.

There is good news though! Making your own high-quality pastels is not difficult and can save a lot of money and have some messy fun at the same time.

The basic ingredients are some pigment and a binder.

There are a few options when it comes to binders including:

  • Gum Tragacanth
  • Tylose powder /CMC / Carboxymethal cellulose (a synthetic version of Gum Tragacanth)
  • Gum Arabic
  • Wallpaper paste (methylcellulose)
  • Wheat paste (flour and water)

Whichever option you go for, some experimentation will be required as different pigments react differently to the binder, some will need a strong mix to hold together others will only need a weak diluted mix. For pastels that are too crumbly, you need a stronger binder mix.  If it’s difficult to leave a mark with the pastel, the binder is probably too strong and will need diluting next time.

The binder most popular with pastel makers seems to be Gum Tragacanth, so we have included a recipe for that. However any of the binders listed above are suitable.

To make a Gum Tragacanth binder you will need:

  • Glass Jar with lid
  • Gum Tragacanth – available online, used in cake-decorating as an edible glue .
  • Water

In a jar, Mix 1 part Gum Tragacanth with 30 parts water. (approximately 1 tsp per 180ml of water)

Place a lid on the jar and refrigerate for 48 hours. The powder won’t dissolve in the water, instead during the resting period it will become a gelatinous gum.

After 48 hours, the solution should become gelatinous.

Store the Gum Solution in the fridge to extend the shelf life.

To make the pastels you will need:

  • Gum Tragacanth Solution  or Wall Paper Paste solution (see above)
  • Coloured Earth Pigment(s)
  • Pallet Knife
  • Paper towel or similar absorbent material

Place your chosen pigment on a non-porous surface such as glass or marble and create a well in the centre.  Add a small amount of the gum solution and mix with a pallet knife. If necessary, add more gum solution or pigment until a dough-like consistency is achieved.

If you want to make the colour lighter, add titanium white pigment and more gum solution until the required colour and consistency is reached. Darker colours can be achieved by adding a small amount of black pigment such as Black Iron Oxide.

Mould the dough mixture into the shape(s) you require and then place on an absorbent surface such as a paper towel to dry.  Once dry (24-48 hours) the pastels are ready to use.

As mentioned previously you will need to adjust your binder for different pigments.

If your pastels are too soft and crumble when you use them, you need a stronger binder mix.  If your pastel is hard making it difficult to leave a mark, the binder mix needs more water/less binder next time.

It’s advisable to make notes as you experiment and record the best mixes for each individual pigment.