Tag Archives: soft pastels

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!

 

Building a pastel collection

Starting out with pastels- small and cheap sets

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard pastel set
Earth tone pastel set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Munygo pastel set
Munygo half stick pastel set

 

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.

Schminke pastels
Schmincke set of 60 soft pastels

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 .

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.

http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/pastels.htm

http://www.dickblick.com/categories/pastels/

https://www.cheapjoes.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=pastels

 

Happy pastelling!