Pastel Painting – Some Tips And Guidance

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Pastels painted on Mi -tientes pastel paper.

I like to use rounded soft pastels especially Daler Rowney Artist pastels. These are great for filling in and blending. The straight edged pastels are harder and good for edges and I do use them as well. There are many pastel pencils and they’re great for outlining and for painting detail on animals. You will need a rubber for blending. I use the rubber from a pencil, and also a putty rubber rolled thinly. These are great for highlighting and blending colour.

When choosing your paper on which to paint, It should ideally be something with a bit of a groove to help the pastel to adhere to it. Ingres and Mi – tientes pastel papers are ideal. Ingres has a stripy grain and the other has a dotted texture. Pastel paper with a thickness of 360gms is really good. You can also use sandpaper or buy pastel boards from art suppliers. If you decide to paint on sandpaper, you will go through a lot of pastel. I prefer to use watercolour or a heavy duty cartridge paper. You will need a fixative spray again from an art supplier, although a firm hairspray will work wonders.

Now you can get on and have some fun! Be prepared to get your hands dirty. I’m always washing mine between colours. Play around with your pastels and use different techniques to get the feel of them. You can get lots of different effects by using the following methods:

Just as it sounds, just drawing in any way to fill a space and maybe overlapping this with another shade.
Personally, I just paint in stages, building up my layers and blending with my fingers and a rubber. I paint alot of landscapes and seascapes and I always follow the same pattern.

The technical term for producing a textured look by working small regular strokes in the same direction. Use more than one colour if you want to.

*Cross – hatching.
Where sections of the paper are filled in by criss – crossing the lines of pastel, to give texture and shading.

To give you an idea of how to paint a picture in pastels, I have briefly outlined the methods below:

Firstly I gather together all my materials; paper, pastels, pastel pencils, rubbers and photographs if working from them. I draw an outline of my topic and if it is a seascape, I measure down from the top and draw a line in blue pastel pencil for the horizon. Green or light brown pastel pencil works better for landscapes.

I always paint from the top of the paper down and this has the advantage of reducing the amount of smudging that can happen. Some artists may paint differently, but this always works for me. Skies hold a fascination with me. They are always changing so you can capture so many different aspects. You can use lots of shades of blue and maybe bring in a violet shade and white, or bring in a cream or lemon to mix with the blue. Remember that the skies look best with the lighter hues such as white and pale blue and cream above the horizon and getting darker as you go upwards and higher. Use the soft, rounded pastels for the skies as they blend better.

Blend the colours with your finger using a motion to mirror the shape of the thing you are trying to capture such as a circular motion for clouds and for the sea you would blend left to right. It is a good idea to fix the sky when you have done it. From 12 inches away, just spray left to right, but not too much because the colour can become duller. If you find the appearance slightly mottled, gently rub with your finger and this will get rid of the mottles. You can always add more pastel if you need to. Of course, if you are painting an abstract or something other than a landscape, you may not want to paint from top to bottom, but to start off lightly and gradually build up layers as you go. You’ll find out what makes things easier for you.

I would choose a background colour for the sea or land for example, and build up from there. I would add other shades of green or yellow and blend in. I might take the edge of a square shaped pastel and use strokes to represent blades of grass or stems of flowers. As you build up layers you can add more detail. Remember that everything will have different tones to it because of the light and shade. Things will be in shadow so allow for a darker hue in places. Also when you view things from a distance, you do not see the same detail in something as you would close up, so only paint what you see, not what you know to be there.

I love highlighting things. I use lots of white soft pastel. I break pieces off and use the small bits as I find they are easy to use to portray things like the froth in sea spray and parts of flowers. Give your painting another spray, and check for stray bits of powder. You can always blend in again. When mounting a picture, if you find some smudges of pastel on the mount, do not smear it with your finger. Firstly blow on it to remove any loose particles, and take a soft white or cream coloured clean rubber and gently rub the smudge. It will come off.

Experiment. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. Use coloured pastel paper and try leaving some of it exposed under the pastel for effect. You will need to have your painting framed and protected underneath glass. The mount will keep the glass from touching the pastel, as well as bringing the painting to life.

Have a look at some online galleries to get an idea of what other artists are painting with pastel. The possibilities are endless. I always find that a painting always comes together at the end, even if it seems disjointed half way through. If you’re serious about painting, or you just want to have some fun experimenting with different mediums, pastels are an excellent option.


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