Cleaning Soft Pastels

I had been painting for years in soft pastels before I ever took an actual pastel workshop, and one of the many tips I learned in that class was how to clean pastels that have become dirty and grubby. When traveling with pastels, unless you have a storage system that keeps your pastels separate from each other, they can roll and rub together and pick up colors from other pastels. My small plein air box is protected with foam, but it gets knocked around in my bag, and since I recently organized my extra pastel inventory, I also organized my small plein air box.

Below shows the multiple small boxes of extra pastels I’ve had stacked in my studio, and the new-to-me recently refurbished box drawers I transferred the extra pastels into. While doing that job, I noticed some pastel colors were hardly recognizable, so I pulled out my “pastel cleaner” to remedy the situation.

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I was taught that putting some cornmeal in a container, then rolling the pastels around or rubbing them in the cornmeal cleans them pretty easily, and that’s what I now do when I feel it’s time for a clean-up. As you can see, the cornmeal turns a lovely sandy gray after a while. I’ve heard using a zip bag for your container, works well too, but haven’t tried that – yet. Below shows a couple of dirty pastels, then in the next photo you can see them clean.

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Another example:

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Here’s my small travel set of pastels, laid out ready to be cleaned — I already cleaned the two white pastels in the back – next to them is another white pastel — yeah, that little dark piece is actually white!

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Artist at work…

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More before and after pics:

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Ahhhh, isn’t that better?! Now it’s time to figure out a better traveling plein air box, that will keep my pastels rainbow bright!

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