Discover how you could use Jackson's Handmade Soft Pastel range in this article where Adrienne Parker uses a variety of techniques to put them through their paces. 

I happily agreed to test report Jackson’s own handmade soft pastels for Leisure Painter and they came in the form of four elegant, rectangular, strong black boxes. The soft pastels were snuggly and firmly held in place so all arrived in perfect condition. I received four sets of 14 colours: Sky-Cloudy, Woodland Brown: Landscape Green and Dark.

My first impression was how beautiful and subtle the colours were. The tint and tonal variations in each themed selection were generous. It's quite difficult to find those special light shades, such as light lime yellow and smalt blue white. I do love my bright colours so I did find myself reaching for strong reds, oranges and pinks that weren’t there. However, the starter set has a good range of brighter colours. My greedy self would like to own all 200 colours in the range!

Look carefully at the themed sets to make sure you have what you need. I was excited to see what I could do with the colours I had and find solutions to those missing colours.

Each pastel is a good size and weight. The slightly chunky, rounded sticks are clearly labelled with sensible colour names. A key in each set would be useful for those artists who like to file colours in a particular order.

To view the full range of Jackson's Handmade Soft Pastels, head over to their website here.

Exercise one: simple texture

Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels are soft and buttery, and deposit healthy amounts of colour each time. I also enjoyed using the stronger colours, such as wine red and lilac violet, over the mid-tones.

You will need:

Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels


  • Watercolour: I used a variety of reds, blues, yellows and greens
  • 3⁄4in. short flat brush
  • Cream pastel paper

Painting with pastels is all about confident application of strokes so start with smaller, less demanding projects. A pear can look very sophisticated!

1. Bold, unfussy watercolour strokes established a base and form for the generous layer of pastel.

2. Simple pastel lines and generous layers of pastel colour brought the subjects to life. The form came together very quickly. It's what you leave out that matters. With a subtle change in pressure, I was able to manipulate the line width.

3. The finished piece. You can achieve a sketchy, textured and creamy finish in one piece of work.

Pastel banner

Exercise two: line and washes

This project gave me a chance to experiment with pastel washes as an interim layer. It can be useful in establishing an undertone or linking colours together. You'll never wash away the texture that pastel creates – you'll only end up scrubbing your paper – so use a watery medium if you want a smooth finish.

I wanted to see how the pastel responded to water. I first added scribbles of lilac violet (293) and dark sienna (307). Adding too much water loosened the pigment so it floated up to the top of my wash. Of course, I just needed to use less water, almost dry brush, which was much better. This, together with the watercolour at the end, worked well.

You will need

Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels


  • Watercolour: I used a variety of yellows, reds, blues, plus violet and ultramarine
  • Grey pastel paper
  • 3⁄4in. short flat
  • PVA glue
  • Old brush and pot
  • Sheet of old copy

1. Despite a light pressure, the pastels still deposited a healthy line with variation in weight. These pastels were very easy to hold and draw with. I can see them being useful in life classes. I used a light Prussian blue (476), yellowish olive green (577) and dark lavender blue (473) here. The line therefore described the form from the start.

2. I added dark umber (649) to balance the textures and strengthen the shadows. You could stop there or experiment more.

3. I enjoy adding text to my pictures. An old book with brown tinted edges that reflected the state of the ballet shoes was a must. Be aware of shapes and where they are placed. I placed the copy around the frayed ‘points’ of the shoes using PVA glue.

4. Watercolour washes were then applied over the shoes and background using my flat watercolour brush. I was careful not to fill in every space, leaving the tinted paper, text and pastel line exposed in places.

Exercise three: bold colour

Once the first few layers were applied, the colours began to blend beautifully. The pastels are creamy and it felt good to be able to make bigger markings. I loved the choice of tonal values and, despite efforts to stick to one set I dipped into a few, building up the earthy mid-tones followed by the stronger shades, including lavender blue, wine red, burnt sienna and the cobalt blues. I did miss stronger oranges and pinks for this subject, but I put the woodland brown set and wine red to good use.

You will need

Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels


  • Cadmium red acrylic
  • White mountboard
  • Old oil brush for applying Golden Ground for Pastels
  • Small pot for the ground
  • Pages of copy
  • PVA glue

1. I arranged and glued a background made up of pages of copy. A tablespoon of ground and a squirt of cadmium red acrylic were mixed together and applied over the surface of the copy and parts of the mountboard.

Do apply it as thinly as possible – the pastels adhere a lot better that way. How would the pastel respond to mountboard, ground for pastels and printed pages?

2. Once dry – and it did not take long – I blocked in various pastel colours. I applied a little more pressure, engaging more of the ‘nose’ of each pastel. I found the ground a little scratchy so I used my fingers to soften the first few layers.

3. The soft pastels blended to a creamy finish on the ground and adhered with a little more difficulty on the bare copy and mountboard. However, the finishes presented plenty of interest and contrast, which is perfect for mixed-media work.

Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels are easy to layer up and the pigments are rich, even if they are applied in line only. I would certainly recommend them and they are good value, too. The big question is: what colours would you choose? I found the colours in four of the sets irresistible and I certainly want them all.

To add Jackson's Handmade Soft Pastels to your collection, visit Jackson's website.

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This product report is taken from the October 2017 issue of Leisure Painter.