Using Pastels Safely


March 10, 2014TipsNo comments

Painting with pastels continues to be extremely popular. However, there are a number of safety considerations that need to be taken into account. The three most important recommendations are as follows:

Using Pastels Safely Using Pastels Safely

Keep skin contact minimal

The tactile nature of using pastels to paint makes it even more vital to ensure skin contact is reduced wherever possible. Many people working with pastels, both soft and oil, now choose to wear gloves. Latex gloves work well as they are very close fitting and thin, almost like working with bare hands. Those artists who prefer to make their pastels themselves are strongly recommended to wear gloves and to use other safety equipment, such as a respirator.

Minimise exposure to airborne particles 

Soft pastels are powdery and brittle. The process of painting with them creates dust as the pigment is transferred from stick to paper. This dust can contain tiny particles of hazardous material, such as heavy metals. Even where non-hazardous pigments are used however, it is not a good idea for anyone to spend long periods of time inhaling the dust as the respiratory system can suffer adversely.

Artists typically use a vertical surface when painting with pastels. The ideal angle is for the painting surface to be slanted ever so slightly forward to allow dust to drop off the painting and on to the floor. Of course, all pastel studios end up with a collection of dust on the floor, on workbenches and on the artist themselves. For this reason it is important that a good hygiene routine is observed. Pastel dust should be carefully wiped up using a damp cloth to ensure the particles are not dispersed back into the air again.

When using pastels the advice continues to be to use a respirator. This can be uncomfortable, but most people are in agreement that protection from the potential ill effects to health posed by the dust makes the discomfort worthwhile.

It also makes sense to use an area well away, or completely separate to, any living areas. This is the case with any medium, but particularly with pastels, as airborne particles can travel far and wide. Use specific painting clothes or an apron, available from any good art supplies store. Removing these when leaving the studio will minimise the dust transferred from the studio to the car or home. These clothes should always be washed separately.


Pastel artists use a variety of different fixatives to ensure their work adheres to their choice of canvas. These often come in aerosol spray cans. Some of the components within these fixatives are volatile and will disperse into a very fine mist. A safer option is to use gelatin fixatives in pump applicators, such as those available at Jackson ‘s Art Supplies.

Only apply fixatives in well ventilated areas and try to contain the mist as far as is possible. The safest and most responsible way to work is to use a spray booth outside, which will reduce airborne particles.

So long as these key principles are adhered to, there is no need for pastels to cause any harm. Once artists always comply with basic safety measures, they can get on with simply enjoying their work.

Image courtesy of:  Simon Howden /


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