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.
I love this little beach in the south of Tasmania – Drip beach seems such a humdrum name for such a gem of a place ! I painted this over the weekend and tried my hand at a time lapse video which I’m trying to edit to post on YouTube this week. Apparantly it’s very simple – I’ve heard that before! Actually I’ve already downloaded some software and done the time lapse bit but the music soundtrack didn’t appear to “stick” and it’s a silent movie – will have another Google and see if there’s a fix for that before I post it.
I also did a full length video of the process – the painting took an hour so not sure if anyone will ever want to sit through that. And I learned that I like to chew my cud whilst painting – who knew! So from now on I’ll have to mindful of all my little painting foibles and do a bit of editing before I hit record. I still have to do the voice over so that might have to wait till later for it’s first night release – so hold off on the popcorn and choc top ice cream till further notice!
Given all the delays that are bound to happen as I navigate the technological maze ahead I thought I’d just throw up a quick still demo here. Apologies for the photos which are not my usual quality – I took some stills from the video and didn’t realise they would be so low res.
Just a few simple charcoal lines to block in the basic shapes of tree line, beach and rocks. There’s no real detail and the rocks will change as I go on.
Here I just layer in loosely some soft pinks and yellows near the tree line and then some light blues at the top of the sky . I run the blues over the pinks and yellows and then with the side of my finger blend the colours together to cover the reddish background colour. I don’t really want the backgrund to show through here but it will give a bit of an underglow to the sky.
Next I go back in with the same colours and lay a light layer down to bring back the luminosity to the sky. The crystal structure of the pastels allows the light to bounce off them but not if they’re all pushed into the paper. That’s why I go back again to get a looser layer on top – I want that light and luminosity back again!
Now I start to block in the tree shapes starting with some deep dark blues along the beach edge . I follow with some lighter greens , golds and siennas. I work the whole area going back and forth until I have a good balance of dark shadows and sunlit areas. I will come back later and adjust. I also add a sliver of sand at the base of the headland.
Using a light blue similar to the sky value I start laying in the water. I pop in sonme of the tree colours from the headland as reflections and then just smooth them a little with the side of my finger. I let some of the back ground colour show through the water.
I add deeper, darker colors for the water in shadow at the beach edge along with some darker blues.
Now I want to get the beach established which I do by laying in strokes of purples for the shadowed sand and pinks where the sunlight finds it’s way through the dense trees. I add some sienna next to the dark water where the sun is shining and the contrast really helps to add a bit of zing to this area.
Back to the water
In with some deeper blues, a few rocks and some white foam around the rocks. I also start some dark shadows in the rocky area.
Now for the rocks
With a deep purple I block in the shadows and then use a cream colour for the brightest highlight on the rocks. Then I can start modelling the rocks using mid value oranges, golds and greys. I then come back in with blues and browns in the shadows until I have the rock shapes defined.
A final round up
I go back over the painting adding a little here and subtracting a little there. I tidy up the rock shapes, add some grey tree trunks amongst the foilage, refine the pebbly area next to the rocks and the painting is done.
This is my very first post! I thought I would start with a demo painting of a local seascape to share my painting process with you. Hope you find it interesting…
Sometimes I’ll know just what I want to paint – other times I’ll look through old photos or my ideas board until something says “paint me”! Today I chose a photo of a local beach at low tide – I like the sense of distance and the diagonals in this photo. I know it will need something else to bring it alive but I have an idea for that.
Choosing the paper.
So I’ve decided which reference photo I’m going to use and now I need to choose the colour of my sanded paper. I use either Canson or Mi- Tientes sanded pastel paper because the tooth holds layers of pastel and I don’t need to fix the finished paper. ( more about fixative later!)
Anyway how to choose one colour from all the possibilities?
I take the photo and look for papers that either provide a strong contrast with the main colour or temperature of the subject or one that matches the dominant colour and temperature or maybe one that matches the temperature but is a darker or lighter tone than the dominant tone of the subject.
Here I’ve narrowed it down to 3 colours so I lay the photo over the intersection of the papers and see which one I think feels right.
I choose the mid tone colour as I think it will give a good under colour showing through the pale foreground sand , it takes care of the middle ground and won’t dominate the sky which I want to stay light and bright.
Now for the pastels!
This is when I get out my boxes of pastels and the fun starts. I’m going for my Great American ArtWorks seascape set, a fantastic set of Sennelier half sticks and my “orphans” box and a couple of pastel pencils to sketch it up.
I could transfer the image by any number of methods but I’m not too fussy about getting it exactly right and just sketch in the main forms of the mountains, hills, horizon, sea and sand The one thing I am careful about is getting the horizon dead level! I use a dark pencil for the background and then a light one for the sand and sea as I don’t want the dark to show through later layers.
Now I start blocking in the main shapes loosely. Mostly I use the local colour ( the actual colour I see in the photo) but in the middle ground hill I pop in some bright reds and golds. I want these to show through a little under the final greens to give some added warmth to the painting. I make sure to put in some light pinks and yellows at the base of the sky for some sparkle. The wet sand gets a swathe of dark blue as it will be useful later in establishing the dips and shadows in the sand. Once I’ve finished blocking in smooth the sky and hills with the side of my finger to blend the colours.
The sky and hills
Next I work in some blues in the background hills and some greens in the middle hill. I add the suggestion of trees and some more golds into the dry paddocks. Also a little work on the junction between the wet and dry sand.
The sea and sand
I add more layers of pale pinks, yellows and blues to the sky and some of the same colours in the sea. I start adding layers of creams, siennas, ochres and some purples to the wet sand and darken the edges of the sand bar . Now I add a sprinkle of washed up sea grasses to the edge of the wet sand.
Next it’s a bit of a suggestion of the path and then some seaweed on the dry sand.
Some shadows on the path
Now some seaweed
I work up the grasses around the path using darks and then some lighter colours for the sunlit side. I use some hard conte sticks for the grasses. Notice I’ve darkened the water’s edge some more and added a little pink to the water as well. I want to give a sense of how shallow it is here. Some shadows from the grasses help to show the slope of the path.
I want to add a little life and movement so I pop in a few wading birds on the wet sand. They also help carry the eye from the strong sand diagonals back towards the water and hills. You can see I’ve also strewn a few white shells and some darker marks around for a bit of added interest and texture to the sand.
A final distant sail boat , my signature and the painting is finished. On the whole I’m quite pleased. The finished painting retains the strong compositional lines that first drew me to the subject but I’ve warmed it up, strengthened the contrasts and added some movement.