Category Archives: pastel painting

Muted pleasures – Tuscan Sky

If you’ve seen many of my paintings you might think I only use brights. It’s true I’m a bit of a colourist and my hand naturally gravitates to those jewel bright sticks in my pastel box but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the muted pleasures of soft greys. Tonight I pulled out my box of Great American Artist greys to use in a small painting of a Tuscan evening sky and I didn’t miss those brights at all.

The inspiration

I’ve had this photo on my idea board for a while . It’s a quick snap I took a few years ago on a trip to Italy. We were driving home one night and the sky was just beautiful – full of soft pinks and mauves with a typical Tuscan farmhouse and cyprus trees silhouetted against it. Well – I took more than one snap that night but this is the one I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d planned to paint it fairly large but as I walked past my painting area a scrap piece of purple paper that looked just right caught my eye so I decided to go small and paint right then!

Tuscan evening sky
Tuscan evening sky

 

The plan

The photo doesn’t show much colour in the foreground so I wanted to up the colour there for a little more interest. The sky was the main inspiration so I planned to render that area fairly faithfully . The tree on the right didn’t seem to serve any purpose in the composition so I got rid of it. I decided on more contrast between the fields and the foreground bushes to add a bit more depth to the picture…and that was my planning process before I started painting.

 

The pastels

Grey pastels
Great American Artist Grey pastels

This is a fantastic set of greyed pinks, blues, purples, browns and greens. They’re so useful for evening skies, soft shadows and understated subjects. These weren’t a cheap buy but I don’t regret a cent – they’re a must have in my collection. This is the set I used for tonight’s painting with the addition of a few darks. It’s surprising how few pastels you actually need to paint a subject like this.

The painting

 

Tuscan painitng
Tuscan Evening – pastel painting

I’m reasonably happy with this little 20 minute painting. It has a bit of verve, I haven’t overworked it, there are some lovely soft colours in the sky that give the glow I was looking for. True ,the house roof could do with a bit of quieting down and a few of the trees are looking a bit stunted , but overall I’m pleased with the results of my box of muted greys.

Intuitive Mark Making with Pastels

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
Different pastel sticks
Different pastels and edges

 

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.

Pastel marks

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.

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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

3The 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

Pastel painting - wetlands

 

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.

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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.

Happy mark making!