It’s always interesting to discover something new to paint with, particularly when that intrigue leaves you excited and more than curious to try the product out, to see how it will affect your painting approach. PanPastel artists’ pastels were developed on the east coast of America by Ladd Forsline and Berni Ward in 2007 and are distributed in the UK by Premium Art Brands. They are cake-like pastels in a dry format that work like paint and my first impression was just how clean, easy and efficient they are to use.

PanPastels produce very little dust and last three to four times as long as traditional pastel sticks. Thanks to the unique binder used, every colour – even the dark mass tones – is silky smooth. Seamless blending between multiple colours was really quick to do and really addictive, which came as quite a surprise – I usually back off from such techniques as I like my pastel stick marks to show in multiple layers of broad side strokes, to give an impression of blending.

There are 92 colours available, which include 20 pure colours (mass tones), 20 tints, 20 shades, 20 extra dark shades, six metallic and six pearlescent colours. In addition there are five mediums, which I really like. Each colour comes in a clear plastic pan, the lids of which open or close with a quick turn. Colour information is on the base of the pan. The pans are designed to be stackable, which makes them easy to store and transport. All colours are available as individual pans or in sets of 5, 10 and 20 pans. All sets come with free tools and accessories.

The PanPastel palette trays are very useful as they hold 10 or 20 pans of colour and have lids that hold the pans in place. The trays can be stacked, too. I used two trays of ten colours for fieldwork and they fitted perfectly into my backpack. I was able to prop the trays at an angle and dip into the colour with large Sofft Tool sponges to create very quick broad pastel applications of colour. The colour within the pans remained in place the whole time I was working and did not slip – very impressive!


I was surprised how light the individual pans are. You can hold these close to your work as you are painting and easily dip into the colour with the other hand, using either a Sofft Tool knife or Sofft Tool sponge.

To apply the pastels there is a wide range of Sofft Tools available to choose from. Made from micropore sponge, each Sofft Tool is unique in shape and form to give you maximum flexibility with creative mark making. The large Sofft Art Sponges are really effective for applying swathes of brilliant, highly pigmented colour. You really do feel like you are ‘painting’ with pastels when using the sponges. I only wish there was a bigger one! In my trials I found them to be really effective in my mixed-media work. Varying the pressure of your marks enables deeper, more intense areas of colour or lighter marks with softer edges. I found the Wedge Art Sponge gave the greatest precision in a linear stroke.

The Sofft Applicator has a straight wood handle and a replaceable sponge head. It is suitable for smaller detail and precise marks. The plastic Sofft Knives are ergonomically designed and can be used alone as painting knives or with the Sofft Covers fitted. These come in Round, Flat, Oval and Wedge shapes. Mini applicators are also available. The smaller sponge heads are useful for refined details.

With PanPastel colours and Sofft Tools you can create very painterly visual effects and finishes, not only in pure pastel works but within mixed-media paintings, too. It’s well worth giving them a try.

PanPastels’ innovative system allows you to stack your colours, and add or subtract as needed, including your Sofft Tool Covers and Sponges.

Flowing Waters – Rydal Beck, Rydal Hall, Cumbria, mixed media with PanPastel on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 100% cotton watercolour paper 140lb (300gsm), (53.5x68.5cm)

I used inks, black and white gouache and black acrylic paint as washes, charcoal and black pastel to create the foundation for the rest of the painting. It provides the perfect foundation for mixes of PanPastel pearl medium black fine, pearl medium black coarse, pearl medium white fine, pearl medium white coarse, black 800.5, neutral grey extra dark 820.1, neutral grey extra dark 820.2, neutral grey shade 820.3 and titanium white. I used a wide variety of Sofft Tools to create the marks – the possibilities for creative expression are endless.


The Mediums Starter Set has:

(a) A selection of spare tools in a storage jar

(b) Pearl Medium – Black Fine 013

(c) Pearl Medium – Black Coarse 014

(d) Pearl Medium – White Fine 011

(e) Colourless Blender – 010

(f) Pearl Medium – White Coarse 012

Gordale Scar – Malhamdale, Yorkshire Dales, mixed media and PanPastels on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), (56x76cm).

Mixed-media painting in progress before adding PanPastel (above) and after adding PanPastel (below). This studio painting is based on an outdoor sketch made with different media. To maintain the spontaneity, freshness and expressive feeling, I kept my marks open and loose. Having applied several layers of acrylic ink and gouache wash I applied PanPastel bright yellow green shade (680.3) with the large sponge Sofft Tools as I would a brush. This one colour made all the difference – imagine what other colours are going to do!

Here PanPastel bright yellow green shade 680.3 and burnt sienna extra dark 740.1 are being applied with the mini applicator and big Oval Sofft Tools Sponge. I used the same Mini Applicator to apply burnt sienna 740.5, red iron oxide 380.5, diarylide yellow 250.3 and phthalo green tint 620.8 to areas of the water, mossy rocks and foliage, to enhance the painting and give it real depth and added dimension.

Sparkling Sunlight – Rydal Beck, Rydal Hall, Cumbria, mixed media and PanPastel on Canson Moulin du Roy 100 per cent cotton Rough watercolour paper, 140lb (300gsm), (51x48.5cm).

The initial watercolour and gouache washes were quickly enhanced with PanPastels, which added instant brightness and depth.


  • PanPastel colours interact brilliantly with other brands of soft and hard pastels – don’t just think of them as a solo product.
  • PanPastel colours are a great choice to block in mass tones or to tint your paper before you begin.
  • PanPastel colours can be sprayed with fixative to deliberately darken them, otherwise very little fixative is needed as they are dustless – more pigment stays on the painting surface.
  • PanPastel colours can be worked dryin- dry with the Sofft Tool sponges to mix and blend like paint for an infinite palette.
  • PanPastel colours are rich, ultra soft and low dust, lightfast and permanent, so they work perfectly with pastel sticks in lots of creative ways. PanPastel colours are fully erasable and leave no smear or stain, unlike stick pastels, because of their unique binder. A block eraser will remove PanPastel colours from your support and will leave straight edges, if required.
  • PanPastel colours can be blended with one another by moving quickly from one pan to another, lifting the colours as required. Any contamination on the pastel surface can easily be wiped away with a paper towel.
  • PanPastel colours Sofft Tools are simply and effectively cleaned by wiping them with a paper towel. Wipe from side to side, rather than front to back, which could remove the Sofft Tool heads.
  • Sofft Covers and Sponges can be cleaned with lukewarm soapy water if desired. Allow to air dry at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Sofft Covers and Sponges are made from durable synthetic sponge. Natural sponges do not give the same effect.
  • Sofft Tools can be used on rough and abrasive surface supports to create many different effects, but will last longer if used on dedicated pastel supports and Not or HP watercolour papers.
  • Sofft Tool Covers and Sponges can be stored in the clear storage jars that fit the PanPastel tower system
  • Sofft Tool Sponges and Painting Knives with covers allow a really clean and efficient painting method with PanPastel colours – ideal for artists who do not like the feel of a traditional pastel stick in their fingers or do not want to get their hands too dirty.
  • As with all artists’ pigments, finger blending is not recommended with PanPastel colours as the natural oils in your skin affect the mark applied. It’s always good studio hygiene to avoid skin contact with pigments where possible.

For further information about PanPastel colours please visit

Robert Dutton is a professional artist and tutor. For details about his workshops and holidays, and to see more of his work, visit