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Hand Coloring With Conte' Pastel Pencils

By: Theresa Airey

I prefer coloring my photographs and inkjet prints with pastel pencils. I especially enjoy the Conte' Pastel Pencils because like in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears....they are not too hard, nor too soft...they are just right ! They also work both on semi matte photographic papers, artist water color papers, as well as inkjet coated papers.

If I had two sets of pencils from which to choose for coloring, it would be Conté Pastel pencils and Marshall Oil pencils. Conte’ has a great selection of 48 beautiful colors which blend easily with your finger, a tissue wrapped around your finger or a cotton swab. The color can be reduced or taken off with a kneaded eraser, leaving no tell tale smudge behind on the surface. If you don’t like the color you have applied, remove it --Nothing could be easier or more fun!

The main difference in working with pastels is that with all other mediums you blend (or mix) the colors on the palette and then apply to the paper or the canvas.

With pastels you blend the colors directly on the paper or canvas surface. To layer colors use a light coat of Krylon’s Workable Fixatif. Wait for the coat to dry (about five minutes) and then add more color. An image colored with pastels (whether pencils or chalks) should be sprayed when finished to keep it from smearing and to protect it from the atmospheric pollutants. The finished print should be given a light coat of “Workable Fixatif”. A good one that is readily found at art and craft stores is made by Krylon.

When spraying remember pastels are water soluble and if the spray is held too close or you give the print too much at once, the colors will dissolve. Best to give two light coats. Give the first coat and wait 5 to 10 minutes, then apply another. You can after applying a coat of Workable Fixatif still apply color on the print. In this manner you can “layer” colors to create another color. If you do apply more color, after a coat of workable fix has been given, you must give the print another application of workable fix to set the color before spraying the print with a final fixative, such as Krylon’s Crystal Clear or any spray of your choice.


As pastels needs a textured surface to grab the coloring medium, the rougher or more textured inkjet coated papers work the best. Some of the papers that I prefer for coloring with pastel pencils are: Lumijet’s Flaxen Weave and Tapestry X. I also like to color on a watercolor paper called Arche’s Bright White, cold pressed watercolor paper made for inkjet printing.


  • Begin your coloring with pastels from the top of the image working your way down to avoid smearing.
  • When applying pastels using pastel pencils, lay the pencil slightly on the side, this will avoid “pencil marks” on the image and it will also avoid scratching some soft surfaces.
  • Use the color sparingly, pastels will spread and fill in the area when blended.
  • If your print will not take more coloring, use a light spray of workable fix, wait until dry and then apply more colors.
  • Always spray outside, all sprays contain toxins.
  • Always spray the print at arm’s length and give two light coats rather than one heavy one as a heavy coat of spray will dissolve the pastels.
  • Always apply a coat of Workable Fixatif first before your final fix. If you apply the final fix first...all the colors will disappear and go to pastel heaven :)

Theresa Airey