Posted in studio tip

Organizing Your Soft Pastels

When it comes to painting with pastels, organization is key.  Some people keep their pastels in their original foam-lined boxes and then proceed to spread out all those boxes on a table when it’s time to paint.

Me?  I solved that issue in my last post by creating a studio box that gets left out permanently and is ready to go when I am.

Now that all my pastels are in one nifty container, how does one put all those colors into some recognizable and usable order???

Well, there are a few ways.  Many artists have a separate compartment for each hue (color), and then within that compartment the sticks are placed from light to dark value.  They may also separate the hues into warm or cool sections, saturated or neutral, etc.  

I find the boxes of these painters absolutely GORGEOUS to look at…like eye candy!

However, when I started painting with pastels a few years ago, one of my first hurdles was to learn how to determine and apply the concept of VALUE to my work.  Value is simply the relative lightness or darkness of a hue.  

Many budding artists have heard the idea that color gets the glory, while value does the work.  This means you can make the color completely other-worldy in a piece, but if the relative values of the major shapes in the composition are correct, it will still make sense!

So since having a believable value scheme is so important, I decided to organize my box mainly by values: 4 to be exact 🙂


Why four?  Because when I plan a new piece I do thumbnails using 4 values. (Some use 5 or 6 values, but I find this works better for me.)

In the exampes above, you can see I use the white of my paper as the 1st value, and then I use markers for the other 3.  I end up with a lightest light, darker light, lighter dark, and darkest dark.

And here is how it translates to sorting and FINDING the correct value in my pastel box!

The section on the left holds my softest pastels (Terry Ludwigs). They are organized into 4 values and are kept separate because they are the softest pastels I own, and tend to rub off on anything that touches them.

The middle and right sections of this box hold my lightest lights, darker lights, lighter darks, and darkest darks of my other brands of pastels (Unisons, Jack Richardson, Rembrandts, and a few others.)

Here’s a tip: organize your pastels into however many values makes sense for you, then take a photo with your phone.  Edit the photo into monotone or greyscale to see if you have sorted properly.  Like this:

This set-up makes sense for my brain.  Each time I go to paint, I save a ton of time searching for the correct value because I have already done the work!  Then I just have to choose the hue, warmth/coolness, and saturation or intensity.

I encourage you to figure out what makes sense for you.  

Now go get organized and Happy Painting!


Rhonda is an artist, violinist, mountain dulcimer player, composer/arranger, homeschool mom, and chicken/goat farmer. To purchase her fine art, visit

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