I know, you have just finally figured out how to make shiny leaves and flowers, how to make fur on your fox hidden in the brush and how to highlight an eye on your fairy coloring. You thought you were at the end of your learning process but then you see that those other colorists, you know the ones… whose gorgeous products always make you feel like yours isn’t finished… it’s the background. I too am still learning techniques on how to do backgrounds but having the right background coloring supplies does help.
Soft Pastel for Adult Coloring Book Backgrounds
The easiest way to put a background in is with soft pastels. They come in several different forms and price points. Questions to ask yourself are do you care if your area is messy because playing with chalk pastels is messy! Do they need to be lightfast, aka do you care if your pictures fade over time. The first set I bought is this inexpensive one that has LOTS of pretty colors because I had no idea what I’d want.
The first set I tried were these Mungyo Soft Pastels in 64 colors. Each stick is a little over an inch long but for backgrounds, you don’t use much. I take my fingernail, a pocket knife, these artist knives that are specifically for this purpose or anything handy and scrape a tiny big on the area where I want the color and using either my fingers or a makeup applicator or q-tip I carefully fill in the background. (See Peta Hewitt’s Tutorial Video’s Below) You can layer and blend colors really easily for a sunset effect for instance or a soft glow around the moon. These are light
My next experiment was a bit more expensive and I still don’t think I’m using them right! I bought these Derwent soft chalk pastel pencils. I don’t like using them at all, first off the sound and feel of using them on the paper is a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard, so maybe I should try sharpening them onto a paper plate and using them with an applicator like the Mungyo’s above. After reading the reviews on Amazon, I guess I should try them again. I think 24 colors is plenty if you are going to use them for backgrounds. If you would use them for other art projects, the 72 color set in the wooden box looks pretty awesome and only a couple more bucks than the tin which we all know are frustrating to use at best.
I would like to give these Faber-Castell pastels a try just to see the difference between the budget brand above and the mid-range artist quality of these FC’s. Pastels, however, can go up in price from here, these iridescent 24 color Sennelier set of chalk pastels are tempting and the reviews are glowing and are the top of the line for artists.
Pebbles Soft Pastels are great! I particularly love the applicator and little cotton buds that come with these sets of colors that come in 15 colors with 2 shades of each color for 30 different options.
The creme de la creme when it comes to pastels for coloring books. They are quite lightfast and low dust. PanPastels used to be hard to find but with the onset of colorists all over the world, they are now quite easy to find on Amazon in both single colors, small and large sets.
I started with a yellow, blue and pink but now that I’ve tried them I want more. You can also use these with a damp brush to give you a watercolorish look. PanPastels are highly pigmented and lusciously smooth in their application.
This painting set contains 10 colors of 9-msl PanPastel titanium white, hansa yellow, yellow ochre, permanent red, violet, ultramarine blue, phthalo green, burnt sienna, raw umber, black colors. The Seascape 10 pack contains titanium white, ultramarine blue, ultramarine blue shade, ultramarine blue tint, phthalo blue, phthalo blue tint, turquoise, neutral grey, neutral grey tint, Payne’s grey colors. The Tints set would probably be a perfect place to start as they are light shades you might want to use for backgrounds, it includes Hansa Yellow Tint, Permanent Green Tint, Permanent Red Tint, Ultramarine Blue Tint, Violet Tint. The drawing set has all neutral colors. Panpastels also have this colorless blending medium that helps to soften or create other layering effects. You can also get this tray that will organize your pastels.
Eye Shadow – yes, eye shadow. Do you have eye shadow from when you were in high school that you never threw away? perfect! Use them just as you would soft pastels. Once you start using them for coloring don’t use them for your eyes anymore, you wouldn’t’ want to use that bacteria in your eyes. You can also just go to the dollar store of the after Christmas makeup kits on half price. This is a fantastic set with 120 bright colors
Do NOT buy Oil Pastels for Coloring Books, they are completely different and will make a smeary mess of your coloring book. You are looking for soft pastels also sometimes called chalk pastels.
Do not BLOW the pastel dust off of your work, gently tap it into the trash can, you can accidentally breathe the dust in which can cause issues. You can also use a fixitive.
Soft Pastel Fixatives
Chalk is by nature dusty and messy and you don’t want that spreading all over the rest of your coloring pages and books in your collection so a spray fixative is necessary. You need to get a workable fixative so that you can go over the chalk with gel pens, pencils or marker and be sure to spray the fixative BEFORE using gel pens or markers as it can make them bleed through the paper or smear. This should be done outdoors of course.
Soft Pastel Applicators
- Pastel Knives with assorted applicator covers
- Applicator Covers – Mixed Shapes
- Disposable Eye Shadow Applicators
- Cotton Swabs or Q-Tips of all types are great for tiny detail work. I like these with the precision tips because I use them to fix my nails when I mess them up so dual-purpose products are always great.
- Cotton Rounds for large background areas. These give you a smoother application than regular cotton balls, but those work too so use what is handy.
Coloring and pastel backgrounds are a precise endeavor so you are going to need an eraser no matter how careful you are. These erasers will serve double duty for your colored pencils and your soft pastels.
- Pen style erasers get into those tiny corners and are easy to keep track of in your pencil storage.
- Triangular Prismacolor Eraser – I really like this one too, it’s got one big flat side as well as lots of tiny detail area.
- Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser Pen with Brush or
- Faber-Castell Pencil Erasers 2 Pack
- Derwent’s battery operated eraser. I really love this one, it’s very low mess and works really well for tiny areas to large areas rather quickly. You can also buy refills.
I’m starting to see colorists using various mixed media supplies to do special effects on their backgrounds and one of the things is the use of stencils. Usually using a repetitive type stencil gives you the best results since you want the background to be just that, a backdrop to your beautiful colored-in picture. Martha Stewart has an entire line of stencils suitable for backgrounds, you could use the soft look of pastels using a q-tip type of applicator or lay down a smooth chalk background and go back in with the simple stencils using a more precise method with your colored pencils.
Tim Holtz layering stencils are my favorite he has dozens of sets.
Experimenting is always fun!
I think this snowflake stencil would look fabulous in Johanna’s Christmas book or any of my top 25 Christmas Coloring Books. Little Circles seem to be a new trend for backgrounds, I really like the look of these Cell Theory by Crafters Workshop since I never like anything to look too perfect. If you don’t like the look of your own lettering or handwriting, these word stencils look fun. This Folk Art Moroccan Tile would make a fantastic background as well as Tim Holtz flowered flourish stencils, (I use this one all the time in my art journal) this flower lace stencil or this layered lace stencil, but my favorite by far are these distressed looking Burlap and Bubbles stencils from Tim Holtz.
Backgrounds using Markers or Gel Pens
I’ve successfully used my Faber Castell Pitt Pens for backgrounds and they work great. A little streaky if you look up close and use that critical eye we turn on ourselves, but step back a few inches and it looks flawless. My recommendation is to use the smaller detail Pitt Pen around the design and for tight spaces. Then the Big Brush pen in the matching color for the larger areas. If you are using Faber Castell Polychromos pencils for your drawing then you will immediately notice that the Pitt Pens match the colors exactly so that makes for a very cohesive look for your project.
Posca Paint Pens – I’ve seen artists raving about these pens and like them over Pitt Pens, so far my experience hasn’t been great. They are the type of paint pen where you have to prime them and when I do that paint gushes out all over the place. I’m going to say try them at your own risk and look up some YouTubes on how to use them. This is the set I bought with the bigger nibs, maybe I should have bought the fine points to try first. At any rate, if you love these lets us know your tips on how to use them, I’m sure in my case it’s user error.
Gel Pens – These are tricky to use for backgrounds because of the smearing that happens inevitably if you are an impatient colorist but particularly using metallics or glitter effects, you can get a really wonderful piece of art. My favorite one is the skull from Magical Jungle where I used the silver metallic gel pen to do quite a bit of fill-in work along with the black Pitt Pen for the full background using only blue colored pencils.