I love the Huon River in all it’s moods. Here it is on an overcast day , full of atmosphere and quiet beauty. The grasses and bushes on the river bank add another layer of interest and texture against the backdrop of misty mountains and gentle reflections.Here’s the reference photo to go along with my YouTube video .( If you want to paint along feel free to use this photo.)
Here’s the video.
…and here’s the pastel set I used ( along with a few Conte sticks for sharper details on the boat.)
If you want to ask for feedback or advice about your own painting, or you have a question about something I haven’t covered in my You Tube videos, or you have a suggestion for a topic you would like me to cover you’re in the right place!
Just leave me a comment with your question and/or a link to your painting and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
This is a step by step tutorial on how to frame your pastel painting using a ready made chain store frame.If you choose a well made wooden frame you can save big dollars and still have a tastefully framed painting.
a ready made frame with a mat ( the opening to be slightly smaller than your painting) Check the corner joints are well formed with no gaps.
some mat board or foamcore offcuts
a sharp craft knife
a pair of scissors
acid free framing tape ( can be purchased from an art supply store)
a kitchen table knife
a lint free cloth
2 small screws
2 D rings
hanging wire the width of your frame plus 10 cms.
You can buy picture hanging kits from the dollar store which include the screws, rings and wire.
Step 1 – Remove the backing board using the kitchen knife to prise up the metal tacks flat against the frame.Take out the paper and mat. Make sure you place the mat on a clean surface!I like to use the paper insert from the frame as it’s just the right size.
Step 2– Check the frame for any damage. Especially check that the corner joints are smooth with no gaps. Check the glass to make sure there are no scratches.
Step 3 – Make a spacer frame. Cut four strips from your scrap board long enough and wide enough to make a frame that will sit approx 2cm in from the mat opening and 2cm in from the mat edge. You will make the scrap “frame”on the side of the mat that will be facing the painting.The spacer frame will allow any falling pastel dust to fall behind the mat keeping the front of the mat and the glass clean.
Step 4– Attach the spacer frame with the framing tape making sure the tape doesn’t show in the mat opening. You don’t need to tape over all the strips – just enough to hold them securely in position. You could also use double sided tape for this .
Step 5- Centering your painting on the backing board. Take the pastel painting and sit it on the middle of your backing board. Here I’m using a piece of foamcore cut to the same size as the MDF backing board I removed from the frame. You cam use the MDF board but if you do it’s a good idea to seal it first with a coat of varnish or gesso to prevent any acid in the MDF from causing discoloration of your painting in years to come.
Now place the mat over the painting to make sure only the painting is showing in the mat opening
Take a ruler and measure from the top of the mat to the horizon line on both sides to check you have the horizon level.
Once you’re satisfied with the painting placement remove the mat and tape the top of the painting to the backing board with a small piece of the framing tape. This stops it moving when you place the long strip of tape on.
Now cut a piece of tape long enough to cover the full length of the painting at the top and attach to the backing board.
Step 6– Placing the painting in the frame. This is the fiddly bit. As you’re doing this stage you need to constantly be checking for any stray pastel dust on the mat and the glass before you go onto the next step. This is very important!
Clean the glass with a lint free cloth ( I use glass cleaning cloth)
Lay the mat on the glass making sure the spacer side away from the glass and the metal tacks are all showing. You can use the knife edge to lever the mat in gently to get it to slip below the tacks.
Holding the painting on the backing board carefully place it face down on the mat
You might need to use the knife again to ease it past the tacks.
Use the flat of the knife to push a top and bottom edge tack flat onto the backing board.
Turn over and check carefully for any dust or stray specks on the glass or mat board. If you see any remove the painting , clean the glass and/or mat and replace. You can use a kneadable eraser to clean any pastel dust off the mat. Only when you are completely sure you have no unwanted dust should you move onto the next step.
Step 7- Taping the frame to keep moisture out. Turn the painting glass down . Take the framing tape and stretch it along the top edge of the frame just in from the edge.
Cut each end using the craft knife and gentle pressure.
If your frame back is flush with the backing board then start in the middle and carefully press the tape downand gently press as you move your hands out to each edge. Don’t worry if you get a few wrinkles- no-one will see it when it’s hanging on the wall! If the frame is above the level of the backing board as mine is just cut into the corners as below and then starting in the middle press the tape down into angle formed by the frame wall and the backing board.
Continue until all sides are covered.
I need to cover the small corner gaps now so I just cut a square of tape and place in each corner.
Step 8. Attach the hanging hardware. You will need 2 small screws, 2 D rings and some hanging wire. Notice that the D ring has a flat side and a curved side.
Repeat on the other side using a ruler to make sure they are at the same level.
You shouldn’t need to pre drill holes but if you do make sure to do it before you put the painting in as the vibrations will loosen the pastel dust and cause you grief!
Now stretch the wire across the painting to check the length is right. You should have a bit extra each side.
Run it through one D ring and pull it through a second time. Pull tight and tie off .
The excess is now wrapped tightly around the wire.
Repeat on the other side making sure to keep the wire tight.
Now just wrap the ends of the wire in a small square of the framing tape to keep all sharp ends covered.
I fell in love with pastels for their bright and glorious boldness but as our relationship developed I began to appreciate more and more the quiet beauty of the muted greys. So in this video I explore the more restrained colours that can help develop a more subtle mood.
Painting with pastels is very intuitive. I think this is because it takes us back to our childhood when we used crayons and chalks in a very fluid way. We hadn’t started judging our art yet so we were happy with every picture we drew. For me, picking up a pastel stick takes me right back to that happy place where each stick of luscious colour was there to be slathered on the paper with joyous abandon. I don’t worry about the end result I just enjoy the experience.
Using pastels is a combination of drawing and painting and there are many different mark making techniques to experiment with. The more you paint the more ways of manipulating the pastel you’ll discover.
When I started out I used a small range of simple marks and they still form the basis of most of my paintings. Of course I’ve learned a lot over the years and developed some of my own ways of adding texture and interest but the basics underpin all my work. You can check out a demonstration on my mark making video.
Different pastels for different marks
The type of mark you make with a pastel depends on a number of factors:
the hardness or softness of the pastel stick
the amount of pressure you exert
the part of the pastel that comes in contact with the paper
Soft pastels v. hard pastels
Soft pastels give up their colour more generously with less pressure than hard pastels. It’s surprising how easy it is to “eat” up a soft pastel when using it on sanded paper. Less pressure is the rule here! The marks are generally softer and more rounded than a hard pastel as it’s more difficult to keep a sharp edge on a soft, round pastel. Soft pastels lend themselves to natural forms such as clouds, trees, flowers, landscapes, skies, animals etc
Hard sticks are often square and are wonderful for sharp, linear marks that you would find in grasses, wire fences, boat masts, rigging and architectural details. Compared to soft pastels you will need to use more pressure to get the same amount of pastel deposited on the painting surface. They are also a more economical way to block in large amounts of colour in the early stages of a painting with the added advantage of leaving gaps in the colour to allow optical mixing of later layers.
Here you can see the larger swathes of colour left by the soft pastels creating shadows in the grass clump and the crisper linear marks made with the edge of hard pastels help to define the individual grasses.
Where the pressure has been lighter the pastel has less contact with the paper so the grasses are thinner and finer. By increasing the pressure you can vary the thickness of your mark.
Side of the pastel v edge of the pastel
Using the side of a round or square pastel you can lay down broad strokes of colour quickly to establish areas of sky, water and land. Then the edge of the pastel can be used to add crisper details.
Here you can see that I’ve used the broad side of different blue pastels to make sweeping bands for the sky and water. Layering these blues will give your sky and sea more interest. Then I came back in with the edge of a white pastel to suggest some sails.
Rounded end v sharp tip of the pastel
The rounded end of a pastel is useful for painting trees and bushes in the landscape. Just moving the pastel the paper in a scrumbling motion will give a soft rounded form. When you come to adding in branches, trunks and stems a sharp tip is just the thing.
Try slanting the pastel so differing amounts come in contact with the paper to give a natural variety in your tree and shrub shapes.
Bringing it all together
So let’s see how we can bring these basic techniques together to create a painting full of life and interest. This a little 30 minute sketch using the basic techniques. You can join me and paint along as I demonstrate how to paint this in a step by step video.
You can copy and print this reference photo if you would like to practice these techniques or paint along with me.
I would love to see your paintings so feel free to post a link in the comments section.
There’s such a huge range of pastels available at such different price points it’s difficult to know what to buy when you first decide to dip your toe in the enticing world of pastel art. At least that’s what I found when I decided I wanted to try my hand at pastel painting. I didn’t have much spare cash for art supplies so I couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money and then find out it wasn’t for me. So I bought a very small and cheap set of earth toned pastels from my local newsagency. Turns out it was love at first sketch!
Adding to the first set – half sticks.
Once it was clear I loved pastels I wanted to expand the colour range. You will probably feel the same! I still stayed with a cheaper brand ( Munygo) and bought a box of 64 half sticks which gave me a good range of colours to further experiment with. The advantage of half sticks is you get twice as many colours for your money . Because you rely less on actual colour mixing with pastels it makes painting so much easier if you have as big a range as possible of colours to choose from. Half sticks also have the advantage that they don’t come with wrappers so I didn’t have to spend valuable painting time peeling off the papers! The cheaper brands all have a good colour range and work fine when first starting out – I still use them sometimes for underpainting. They do make more mess and dust than the more expensive brands.
Good choices at this price point are: Munygo, Faber Castel, Cretorcolor
Growing the collection – quality counts!
My first expensive, quality brand purchase was a box of Schmincke pastels I bought in Germany. We’d been travelling on holiday and I’d been thinking about buying a set as they’re a German made pastel and I thought it would be a great souvenir . On my last day I passed a small art shop and when I looked around there were no boxes of Schminckes! I was very disappointed as it was my last chance so I decided to ask the sales person who got a ladder and found a box on the top shelf. How could I not buy them? I still remember the first stroke with these soft, buttery sticks that just glide across the paper leaving thick swathes of brilliant colour in their wake. I was officially hooked on high quality pastels from that moment on.
Good quality pastels come in all sorts of sets as well as individual sticks. You can buy landscape, seascape, portrait, floral or general sets. Sets generally work out quite a lot cheaper than buying the same number of individual sticks.
My favourite brands.
My favourite brands are Unison, Great American Art Works, Schmincke, and Sennelier.
Unison is a hand rolled British pastel with a wonderful colour range. I think they have some of the best landscape colours around. The pastels are soft but not crumbly and the sticks last longer than some of the softer, more crumbly brands. I have a number of their sets- Landscape, Darks, Lights.
Unison Lights Pastel set
Great American Art Works are an American brand that is buttery and soft and just glide right onto the paper. Their Seascape selection is just fantastic with some beautiful acqua and turquoise colours. I also have a set of greys that is very useful for more subtle , moody paintings and general cloud work.
Sennelier are a French brand with a beautiful colour range and same very good value half sets. I do find them a bit crumbly but they are still a great choice.
Sennelier soft pastels
Travel box of pastels
Sennelier soft pastel half sticks
Hard pastels, soft pastels and inbetweeners.
At the hard end of the pastel range are brands like Conte, Faber-Castel and Cretacolor. These are usually square sticks that can be used to lay in the initial blocks of colour and add some crisp details at the final stages.
I’ve covered the soft brands above – they’re great for adding the top layers and highlights. Because they’re soft it can be difficult to get crisp lines and details .
Sennelier soft pastel half sticks
Schminke set of 60 soft pastels
The inbetweeners are often classed as soft pastels but they just don’t have that buttery softness. They can be good for underpainting and details but I prefer soft pastels for the majority of my painting. Brands in this category are generally a bit bit less expensive than the really soft brands . Good brands in this category are Daley Rowney, Rembrandt and Art Spectrum.
Where can I buy pastels?
Most good art stores will stock both cheaper and more expensive brands. Depending on which country you live in you may find it hard to get some brands. I live in Tasmania and it’s difficult to buy Unison here without taking out a second mortgage. I’ve never seen Great American Art Works but I can buy Sennelier and Schmincke for a reasonable price. I do shop online for brands that are too expensive to buy locally or that I just can’t source and here are some of my favourite shops. When the exchange rate is good I can get some great buys from the US even with the postage costs.
Join me on YouTube for my pastel painting course. The course will be structured to cater for the absolute beginner and progress from the materials you need to get started through basic mark making techniques and on to composition,creating textures, underpainting right through to how to fix your painting and prepare and frame it.
As I post new videos I’ll add a link to this page. I aim to add a new lesson every fortnight so come and join me for a year of lessons.