Most artists will tell you that any type of pastel is never chalk, however, this is not exactly the truth when comparing the ingredients between a chalk pastel and a soft pastel. It all comes down to the type of binder, or ingredient that holds the pigment into stick form when it comes to classifying something as either a soft pastel or a chalk pastel.
The short answer to whether a soft pastel is a chalk pastel is yes, soft pastels are the same as chalk pastels. This is because most artist-quality soft pastels are marketed as chalky, even though they are not chalk at all. While there are some chalk pastels out there that are indeed chalk, most chalk pastels you’ll see at major retailers are soft pastels disguised by the name chalk to make them more appealing to people looking for a chalky artistic experience.
What is a Soft Pastel?
Soft pastels may look and feel like chalk, but they do not contain chalk. They are made of a binder and pigment. The pigments are usually of very high quality and these pigments are also used in acrylics, watercolors, and oil paint. A soft pastel is nicer than a chalk pastel because the ingredients are of higher quality.
What is a Chalk Pastel?
The use of the term “pastel” to describe chalk pastels can be a little misleading as they are not pastels at all but are rather artist-quality chalk. Chalk pastels are a stick of compressed powder that are designed to create thicker lines than standard sidewalk chalk.
Chalk pastels tend to be made of limestone and gypsum or other dusty items that compress well into stick form. These pastels, though, are generally not designed for permanence and are better used for projects that have a limited life span or one-off projects for temporary displays that aren’t meant to be kept through the years. These types of pastels are well suited for street artists or those who mean for their work to last only a short amount of time.
What is the Advantage of Soft Pastels?
Soft pastels are made in a way that allows for a smoother application of pigment, though to the untrained eye, they seem like they are also just basic chalk. They aren’t sharpened easily and are better suited for large swaths of color or gradients needed to shade an image. Because they can’t be sharpened to a fine point, they create more dust on the page when used which needs to be removed throughout the drawing process or it’ll smudge and ruin the image being colored.
Keep in mind that soft pastels are generally not safe for children or vulnerable adults because the ingredients are not non-toxic. If your artist tends to get the pastel on their hands and may stick their hands in their mouth during use, stick to non-toxic chalk pastels.
It’s easy to blend a soft pastel with a swipe of a finger, which is great for people starting with more permanent art pieces. The ability to blend with ease enhances the creative process and allows for experimentation with color choices and how they blend to create a whole new color appearance on the page.
Learn about blending tips for soft pastels!
What is the Advantage of Chalk Pastels?
One thing that artists love about chalk pastels is their ability to be sharpened into a fine point, which allows for better minute detail work. Their lack of permanence is also attractive to those who are going to create art in public spaces or on sidewalks that will need to be washed clean after a few days.
Chalk pastels are considerably cheaper than soft pastels and are wonderful for children or adults partaking in less serious art activities such as daily coloring book projects. The amount of pigment in a chalk pastel is equivalent to the amount of pigment in an artist-grade soft pastel, so the color vibrancy will be like a more expensive soft pastel choice. Chalk pastels are also more easily sharpened because they are dustier, which is great for detail work and versatility. After all, shading can still be done if the pastel is rubbed on its side instead of using a sharpened point.
Chalk pastels are better for people who don’t want the colors on the page to smudge together. If you try to smudge a chalk pastel, the second color will generally just turn into a powder that can be blown off the top of the first color applied. This is because the first color fills the tooth of the paper before the second color has the chance to do that, which is great for people who tend to accidentally color outside of the lines but don’t want their colors combined.
Soft Pastels Marketed as Chalk Pastels
Now that the difference between soft pastels and chalk pastels has been established, it’s worth noting that a lot of soft pastels are marketed as chalk pastels merely because of their appearance on the page. The manufacturers that do this are trying to convey that their pastels may pill like chalk and feel like chalk when used, but they are different than legitimate chalk and chalk pastels. The only way to tell if a chalk pastel is an actual chalk or a soft pastel labeled chalk is to look at the ingredients. If the pastel contains limestone, clay, or gypsum, it is indeed a chalk pastel. If it doesn’t contain these cheaper binders, it is a soft pastel.
Higher-end pastels will never be labeled chalk pastels if they are indeed made of artist-quality materials that are designed for permanence and higher art. These types of pastels are frequently used by artists in drawings because of their ability to be combined and layered onto a page, and these drawings are meant to last for years when properly framed.
There is no clear-cut answer as to whether a soft pastel is the same as a chalk pastel, and this convolution of information can be a bit confusing. However, there is a slight difference, so consider the type of work you’re trying to complete and who will be using the drawing implement when deciding between chalk and soft pastels.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an oil pastel?
Oil pastels are created with wax, a binder, and oil that doesn’t dry. When used, they resemble paint more so than chalk or soft pastels. The application of these pastels is buttery, which is great for people who are better at drawing but want their piece to look like a painting.
What is the difference between a dye and a pigment?
Dyes are colored substances that are dissolved in water and are generally found in pens or used to color fabrics. Pigments are non-soluble substances suspended in a binder and are generally used in harder tools, like pencils and pastels.
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