Image collage with ceramic tile, colored pencils, and caption about the subject - using Pan Pastels as a cold finish

First – what IS cold finish as it relates to ceramics?  A cold finish is anything that is NOT glaze/underglaze. Only to be used for sculptural items – yes, jewelry can fall under this category.  It is relegated for sculptural items ONLY because it is NOT food safe.

Cold Finish Medium Used

As it says in the title of this post, this tutorial is all about using Pan Pastels – and only Pan Pastels – as a cold finish on sculptural ceramics.  In future posts, I’ll be discussing how to best layer Pan Pastels with other mediums, like oil or acrylic paint for example.

Pan Pastel is the actual name brand of the chalky pastel that I use.  From their website: ” PanPastel Colors are professional artists’ quality soft pastel colors packed in a unique pan format (cake-like). The special qualities of PanPastel Colors mean that artists can blend and apply dry color like fluid paint for the first time.  Pans contain 0.30floz (9ml) of color – 40% more material than the average pastel stick*, yielding at least 4-5 times more coverage than sticks.”  The best way to use this product is to use the specially made sponges – Sofft Sponges – as they are made to work with the consistency of PanPastel.


Variety of Sofft Tool Sponges –  I prefer the “knives”

Pan Pastel – “Susan’s Garden” set is a great starter set.

Bisqued Ceramic Item (I make carved relief tiles to use as test tiles)

Paper towels or rag

Some links for products I use ARE affiliate links and I may earn a commission from your purchase. 

My Process

In the image above, you may have noticed that one side is white and one side is off white.  The white side has been primed with gesso while the off white side is bare stoneware clay.  In my cold finish exploration, it’s not just about the mediums that can be used.  It’s about finding the best combination to create the best results. I’m testing all my current materials on tiles that have been primed with Liquitex Gesso Once I complete this round of testing, every medium will get tested again with a different priming material.

  1. Prime half the test tile. Let sit overnight.
  2. Decide on color scheme. Use Sofft Sponge Knife tools to apply color to the tile (or sculptural piece).
  3. Apply sealant (spray on sealant is best).

I know… seems way to simplistic, right?  Well it is EASY, but I’m saving the more in depth and time intensive tutorials for those in my member group. This process/tutorial page is definitely geared for folks who just need a little prodding, to know the basics, and like to explore the DIY approach. If you’re interested in the more in depth tutorials, check out the MEMBERS ONLY tab at the top and look at all the different subscription levels. There’s something for every budget. 


As you can see, using the soft tools on the bisqued ceramic clay can tear them up a bit. Especially using the knife tool.  The larger sponges and the white tip (that looks like an eye shadow applicator) Sofft Knife tool and coverstend to hold up a bit better than the .  For coverage and blending I prefer the Sofft Applicator (the white head).

When comparing the gessoed versus non-gessoed side of the tile, I personally prefer the non-gessoed side.  However if you look at the picture with my fingers in it, you can see that the gesso provided a bit more tooth for the pastel to grab on to.  What this means is that when I rubbed my finger over the edge (before applying the sealant), less of the pigment came off. Because there is so little binder with the loose/chalky pastels, a sealant is almost always a must.  Otherwise you will experience your piece losing color as it is worn away by the elements.

In this final picture, you can see the differences in using a variety of different sealants.  For this iteration of experiments I’m using ModPodge.  I’ve used Krylon as a sealant but have found that for my preference (a matte finish), Mod Podge Matte provides that better than some of the other sealants I’ve tried.  As with the primers, I will be doing these same sets of test tiles with a variety of sealants in the future.

You can clearly see the different at the bottom, between the brushed on glossy and matte ModPodge.  Typically, i leave the top 1/3 of the tile unsealed.  However, with PanPastel and the need to seal the pigment, I used my spray matte sealant.  I find it interesting that even there is a slight variation in finished appearance between the brush on matte and the spray on.


  • When using PanPastel, you don’t need a new applicator for every color.  When you are finished with one color, simply wipe it on a paper towel or rag until no more color comes off onto the rag. You can then use the same applicator with a different color.
  • While you CAN use the same applicator, it’s nice to have multiple so that you can seamlessly switch between colors.  This works well if you are blending two different colors in a gradient.
  • Since the bisqued ceramic “bites” into the Sofft sponges, it’s nice to have backups so that when the sponge starts to shed you can change to a new one.
  • Spray sealant works best. If you use a brush on one, apply in a single direction in thin coats to avoid smudging/smearing the PanPastel pigment


I hope that these basic pictures, tips, and brief instruction were helpful.  At the very least, it should give you a starting point to launch your own exploration into this medium as a cold finish.  For more information about additional cold finishes, check out the COLD FINISHES page under the RESOURCE CENTER tab.  To be notified when I publish new tutorials or blog posts, sign up for my newsletter or RSS feed and check back often.

Have any questions?  Please ask!

cold finish technique exploration and resource page funded in part by a project grant (2018-2019) from the Maine Arts Commission