I have been experimenting with cutting stencils from acetate using my Cameo Portrait. So now I have a pile of stencils, I wanted to try them out!

I have a lot of soft pastels, but rarely use them. So I thought I would experiment with them for a background in my journal.

If you are new to pastels then I invite you to have a go with this technique as it is a lot of fun, economical and versatile.

Soft pastels are rather like soft chalk, and very cheap to buy too. The professional quality ones are indeed quite pricey, but for this technique you can use the cheapest ones. I am using a 32 pack of Inscribe Pastels (link at bottom of page). You don’t need a lot of colours to do this though, just use whatever you have.


There are other products called “pastels”, which you may encounter.

Oil pastels are like oily wax crayons and quite different from soft pastels. I have done a review of my favourite oil pastels here on the Tin Teddy Blog – Review of Pentel Oil Pastels.

There are also harder versions of “soft pastels” which are much more like chalk. These are great for when you want to draw very sharp lines, but not so good for the technique described in this article. For this, you need the soft type of pastels, which are usually called “soft pastels”.

There are three things you need to know about pastels before using them.

1 – they can be very messy! You will probably end up with pastelly fingers, a pastelly worksurface and more. Make sure you work in a clear area and cover any surfaces you need to protect. Make sure you have a piece of paper behind your journal page to protect the rest of the book. Keep baby wipes on hand for cleaning up.

2 – the dust can be a little bit hazardous. Don’t fret about this, every day there are thousands of artists using pastels without any harm whatsoever. The problem comes when people blow the dust away as they work, which is what you will probably want to do unless you know not to. This puffs the dust up into the air.. and then it is easy to accidentally inhale it. Inhaling the dust is not good for you, so please do not blow your work. If you have any sort of respiratory problems, you may want to wear a face mask whilst working with pastels for any length of time.

3 – pastels need to be “fixed” in place when you have finished, or they will smudge and come off everywhere. Fixing them is very easy.


I sprayed the back of my stencil with Stick ‘n’ Spray to help it stay in place. I didn’t do a very good job of this, as it did move a little when I was working – this was also because I hadn’t tried this with pastels before and underestimated how closely I needed to hold the stencil in place. Practice makes perfect, as they say. If your stencil is not too complicated, then you will probably be able to work just fine without sticking it down first. You could also use a bit of masking tape or washi tape around the edge of the stencil.

I gently rubbed the pastel into the stencil holes, for very tiny holes it mostly went onto the stencil itself. Then I rubbed it into the hole using my finger tip. You could use a tool if you preferred, such as an ear-bud (Q-tip).TTSencilPastel2

I used five colours – reddy purple, dark red, bright red, orange, yellow and a pale yellow. Obviously, you can use whatever colours you have/want.

I blended the colours together to try to give a more subtly shaded look across the page. It is easy to add a bit more pastel to change the colours a bit as you go along. I enjoyed blending within the bigger areas.

Some of the acetate “spirals” did move a bit whilst I was blending, so a few are not as neat as they could be, but as this is a background I don’t think it really matters, there will be things over this anyway. I quite like the slightly smudgy effect.

I also put some of the colours around the edge and blended them together. My stencil is 8″ tall, the same as my journal page, but quite a bit narrower.

When I had finished I carefully removed the stencil and went to wash it, and my grubby fingers, clean. Just run under the tap and the pastel should wash off easily. You can see I also got some on my black trousers, but again it came off really easy with just a bit of water.

TTStencilPastelFingersTo stop the pastel coming off now I was finished, I gave the whole page a quick spray of Spray ‘N’ Shine. You could use any similar fixative spray.  Many pastel artists use hair spray.

I am now going to make some more pastel backgrounds on Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) and for card making. I like to make up a batch of backgrounds for future use.

Here is a link to the pack of 32 Inscribe Pastels that I used. If you buy them from this link then I will receive a small commission for sending custom to Amazon.co.uk.

If you would like to try oil pastels instead, check out my review of the lovely Pentel Oil Pastels here.

A Quick and Easy Background from Stencils and Pastels
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