Is Soft Pastel Art a Drawing or a Painting? 

A Drawing, A Painting or A Pastel – What do you call Art in the Pastel Medium?

Did you expect a simple answer? 😅 Well, it kind of is and kind of isn’t.

Clear as mud? Okay, let me explain. 🤓

Soft Pastel can be a drawing medium and a painting medium (as can paint!).  So you can call it what you like.  Some pastel artists call it a pastel or a pastel painting and they refer to ‘pastelling’ like ‘painting’ which is what I do. 

That is simple and yet complicated at the same time I hear you cry!

Okay, I’ll explain again in a couple of different ways to help you understand.

Actually I’ll say there is a lot of controversy (aka confusion) over the difference between a painting and a drawing – I’m really not sure why as I think it should be down to the artist as to what they call their work.

Essentially if you cover the majority of the paper it is classed as a painting.

But if you use your tools (pastel sticks and pencils) in a drawing style, then it is still a drawing.  You can use paint in a drawing style and call it a drawing.  A lot of painters (as opposed to pastel artists) draw their outline first but it doesn’t make it a drawing or a painting.

You see how this is open to interpretation?

For me when I am doing my art, it feels like I’m painting, it doesn’t feel like I’m drawing and colouring in.  I draw my initial outline but then everything else is created – a process of building layers, establishing the darks the mid tones and the highlights, the textures and details.

If you pick up a pastel (stick or pencil) and draw a very simple outline of a character and then you colour it in, that is a drawing.  No question about it.  Here’s my son’s amazing pastel drawing – an alien with a colourful tail!!



Now add  new layers of pastel to this drawing with some highlights and shadows and transition the colour from dark to light with soft blends then add a background with some depth so it’s not flat – now it’s a painting. 

Next, for a new piece, pick up a pastel stick and use the edges in lots of different ways to create a composition of your choosing, be it landscape, waves, flowers, abstract, impressionistic, realistic – whatever you choose, this is a painting. 

What about if you just do a subject and no background?

This is called a Study – neither painting nor drawing even though elements of painting and drawing were used to create the study.

This is my own definition of a pastel painting:
A painting is when the majority of the paper is covered using more than 1 layer to create it and the process used feels to the artist like a spiritual play between colour and light. 

You can make your own definition by changing the ending in red to suit how you think about painting and drawing.

The most important thing is that you are happy with what you call your work.  A Pastel. A Pastel Painting. A Painting. A Drawing. It’s all good.

Sue is a Soft Pastel Artist and International Tutor from England UK
She's passionate about soft pastel art and teaching her students from around the globe.

"Art makes my heart sing and my soul smile"