View Full Version : Need to learn pastel techniques in 7 days!

04-09-2003, 01:54 PM
OK, please stop laughing I have got myself into quite a predicament. I have been invited to take part in a rather splendid exhibition at short notice - its just over a month away. As I usually paint in oils nothing would be ready/dry in time, so am turning to pastels in desperation. the problem is that pastels handle nothing like the paints I am used to. My first landscape effort looks OKish, but am now doing battle with tinted grounds & finding it really hard to get the highlights right (on pale blue canson). If you'd like to see my landscape I posted it in a thread called Bluebell wood. Tips/advice welcomed.

04-09-2003, 02:41 PM
I hope you are not setting yourself up for disappointment in trying to learn pastel techniques in such a short period of time.

But for some advice:

(1) When using colored paper, I always tell my students to be sure to leave at least 1 inch if not 2 inches all around the image size. This leaves you a border to test your colors on that particular color paper. The paper does make a difference in the look of a pastel color when you place it on it. You could try using black paper. Almost all the colors really pop when you place them on it. But, it has other challenges. It may not have the look you desire. Also, try to use the smooth side if you are using Canson Mi Tentes. The rougher side gives beginner fits usually.

(2) Try not to blend your strokes with your finger or any other tool. Leave the strokes as if they were broad strokes with a paint brush. With saying that, don't use the pointed end to begin with, hold it on its side and place big blocks of color just like you would with a brush about 1 inch wide. Break the pastels in half to do this and remove the paper.

(3) As in your other mediums, start with large blocks of color and then refine it down to the level of detail that you would like. Try not to have detail everywhere -- only at your center of interest. Start with your darks and then place your lights -- then bridge the difference with your middle tones. If it helps, place your most important color spot as your color and value to judge all the others by.

(4) In pastel on paper, you only have the advantage of covering one color with another in about 3 layers if you don't have too heavy handed a stroke. But, then again, don't be to tentative either -- be bold.

(5) If you need to use fixative - workable fixative in the early layers, do so. But, try not to use it at the end -- it deadens the highlights -- darkens colors somewhat. But, other swear by it -- this is just my opinion. I do use it to make corrections -- you can get another layer of color on top of one that has lost all the tooth on the paper by spraying it with fixative.

(6) Do your thumbnail with value on a sketch pad to lay out your darks and lights -- so you don't have to make corrections with the pastel and loose a layer.

Since I don't know what your style is, my advice to you in trying to accomplish quick work would be to go bold and brash. Colorful!!!! If you have expertise in oil, acrylic, or watercolor -- then you know enough to at least start -- perspective, composition, ect.

Good luck -- this is only a very quick bit of advice and hope you find it useful.

04-09-2003, 05:00 PM
Dear Marsha

Your advice has been more useful than anything I have read in an instruction manual, thank you so much!

04-09-2003, 05:06 PM
Wow Marsha ~ what a superb crash course in pastel painting!

Dreams-of-Flight ~ re your painting 'Bluebell wood', I would suggest a little less blending in the foreground and save that for the more distant areas that you want to appear less distinct. I'm only a newbie pastellist myself so won't attempt to offer any more advice. I think Marsha's given you a brilliant tutorial!

04-09-2003, 05:16 PM
If you can find sanded paper, like Art Spectrum or Wallis paper, you will find that you can work more layers of color onto the paper.

Use all sides of the pastels when working...sides for larger broader strokes which cover quickly. On the side toward the end for more controlled smaller shapes. And the tip or corners for details or lines.

Pastels can be harder or softer which means they will respond differently to pressure and to the surface you're working on. Some folks like to begin with harder pastels (like Nupastels) and work their way to softer brands (like Schminke, Great American, or Unison). The softer the pastel, the quicker you fill the tooth of your paper.


04-09-2003, 06:47 PM
No kidding Marsha!!! I hope u don't mind but I just printed out what u wrote! Awesome stuff u got in there!!:clap: :clap: U 2 Carly!! Thanx guys :D :D

04-09-2003, 10:04 PM
Marsha, I wondered if you could explain #4, one color covering another in three layers, is that to say for example,it would take at least 3 layers of blue to cover red to get the desired blue? I'm just confused as to what that's about. Thanks.

04-10-2003, 02:35 AM
Marsha's advice is excellent - a little potted pastel techniques explanation! And to think I spent weeks writing my explanations for my books! Still - I am glad yu spotted this post before I did, Marsha, it saves me the effort!

Dreams - don't know what instruction manuals you have, but there ARE some good ones out there. Not just to boast, you should know that my book, Pastels Workshop, is now in its THIRD reprint, which is very unusual for an art instruction book, which must mean that it has some worthwile content. And actually, if you ask others on this forum, I think you will be told that I communicate quite well! So why not look out this book in your local library, it is published by HarperCollins, and it has a whole chapter on techniques, and then loadsa chapters showing not only my work, but also the work of many other pastellists, for good inspiration.

The good news is that you can learn pastel techniques in a morning, if you take a large piece of pastel paper, and a couple of pastels, and try out all the techniques Marsha has suggested, and as many others as you can think of (I might post a list later). Once you have a good handle on techniques, you should be able to produce a worthwhile picture in the afternoon! Well, that's what my students were able to do, in my one-day workshops!

There are some pastel tips on my website - www.jackiesimmonds.co.uk

Out of curiosity, I wonder why you chose to switch to a totally different medium like pastels, when you have so little time? Why not use acrylics, which handle much like oils if you work quickly and use retarder, and dry overnight.

04-10-2003, 03:11 AM
I had another look at Marsha's post, cos I don't want to duplicate anything she has said. Her advice is first-class, for producing a painting in pastels.

For those who might want to practice techniques, here are a few ideas. My suggestion would be to take a big sheet of paper, and simply make MARKS. Do not try to paint anything recognisable. In this way, you concentrate purely on the marks you are making, rather than the object itself.

Some important things to remember:

1. Remember to vary the PRESSURE of your strokes.

2. Notice, as you work, how the colour of the paper interacts with the colour of the pastles.

Now try these techniques for mark-making, and colour areas.


1. Linear marks can be useful in a painting, so you need to practice linear strokes - lines. Try making thin, light lines. Then gradually increase the pressure until you are makiing firm, thick lines. Be aware of the pressure, and see how the surface of the paper affects the line.

2. Now develop these lines into areas of colour. First try "cross-hatching". Make your lines criss-cross each other, in varying directions. Huge variety and density can be achieved in this way. You can even try cross-hatching in diffeent colours for different effects. If the cross-hatching is loose, the paper colour will show thro. If you build up more and more lines, the paper colour will gradually be covered, and you will have a dense area of interesting colour if you use more than one colour. "Feathering" is another one to try - instead of crossing your lines over each other, lay them side by side. Try slanting lines, that is the easiest. Now try vertical lines.

3. Try dots and dashes. These will create textural effects. Pointilism came about thro the use of dots of varying sizes. The finished effect will dance with light and vibrancy.


1. As Marsha said, break the pastel, so that you have an unwrapped piece, about 1" long. Using the side of the pastel, make sweeping strokes across the paper.

2. Now change to another colour, and make more sweeping strokes near the first ones, and then use a finger to blend in a few areas. DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH BLENDING. Too much blending in a pic will make it look too soft and squodgy and polished. But it is handy here and there to soften an edge, or a line. Try first with your finger, and then with a tissue. See how the blending differs COMPLETELY.

3. Sweep one colour over another. First try dark over light. Then try light over dark. See how they differ. Lights over darks will shimmer, darks over lights will subdue. This is called layering. It will be very effective over a blended area. Also try a quick spray of fix, and then try layering over the top. The under-colour will affectthe newly applied layer. Cool colour over warm, or vice versa, will add depth and interest.

4. Now try BROKEN COLOUR. Short side strokes of pastel, side by side with just the edges overlapping. You can build up amazing areas of colour in this way. For instance, if you wanted to create an area of blue in a painting, but did not want it to be too monotonous, you could use broken colour, using a variety of blues, all similar in tone, but varying in hue (purple-blue; greeny-blue; royal blue; etc). The resulting patch of colour would be vibrant, and not at all monotonous. Seen from a distance, it would still read as blue tho. You can also create areas of broken colour where the colours vary. Try it, but use harmonious colours - for instance, those next to each other on the colour wheel. Red, red-orange, orange, orange-yellow. The patch of colour you create will be gorgeous.

Finally, using any or all of the techniques above, try graduating your area of colour from very light to very dark, carefully so that the jumps in tone are subtle. (Gradation of tone is essential in order to model form and volume in a picture. Also, to achieve a sense of space or atmosphere in a landscape, the eye needs to move gradually from areas which are fully saturated in colour, to lighter or darker tones and colours.)

After you have spent two or three hours on this kind of practice, you will have lots of tools to tackle a painting. You will also find that you can look at other pastel paintings by other artists, and will be able to analyse HOW they achieved certain effects - effects you might find useful.

Here is an example of a practice sheet, (taken from the book I mentioned above so I am sorry the written explanations are not clear.)


Hope this is useful

04-10-2003, 05:54 AM

On behalf of those of us just learning to push pastels around, thank you both very much.

Between you, you have written the perfect introduction to pastels.


04-10-2003, 06:10 AM
Thanks Everyone and especially thanks Jackie.

Her explanation goes way more into detail than I did. I was just trying to give the most brief of explanations on starting. And, by all means use the pointed end of the pastel stick at times.

Jackie's idea of creating a practice page of varying strokes and layering is perfect. Saves a lot of time when you have an idea what will happen when you press hard or soft, top one color with another and use a color on a colored paper!

louiethe_cat: what I meant was that the Canson paper (a very widely used paper for pastel) will only take about 3 or 4 layers of color. When placeing one layer on top of another one, regardless of the color, you will start losing the tooth of the paper at about that time. Of course, if you are heavy handed (pressure) you will only get a couple of layers and if you press lightly then you might get more layers. Understand? And if you use crosshatching as Jackie suggests practicing, you might get many layers. If you use one of the sanded papers, or create your own, then you might get many more layers. And again, spraying with workable fixative can give you more tooth to add another layer.

Jackie -- thanks for your explanation -- and I too wondered, Dreams-of-Flight, why you aren't doing these paintings in acrylic?

04-10-2003, 06:58 AM
Got it, thank you...Alan

04-10-2003, 09:52 AM
Gees!! Jackie and Marsha! Thank you guys 4 the excellent info - I've dutifully printed it all out on my printer! Agan, thanx!!!:clap: :clap:

04-10-2003, 09:55 AM

WOW so much information in one thread, thankyou so much, i hope they´ve got your book in ireland jackie cos thats where i´m off to today, pity i can´t take my pastels with me, but i hope i´ve lots of subjects to practice on when i get back.

04-10-2003, 03:14 PM
I have not read any of the other posts..but would to submit a suggestion...use a toned/colored paper in the mid value range

04-10-2003, 03:46 PM
This is such a good thread with fab advise I vote it becomes a sticky.........whatcha think folks?

04-10-2003, 04:18 PM
:clap: :clap: :clap:
Marsha's advise & Jackie's are terrific. I can attest to Jackie's skill in teaching as I have a book of hers plus a video that I treasure. The video I has shows how Jackie painted cats on a curving stairway. It's wonderful. I am also going to order a book from Northlight in which Jackie has several paintings reproduced. It's a book about "solutions to problems in pastels".

04-10-2003, 04:43 PM
Jackie's 3rd-reprint book arrived in the mail yesterday and is VERY good. There are lots of little exercises and tips like the ones she posted here. Wish I'd found it a lonf time ago!

04-10-2003, 06:48 PM
Thanks so much to everyone for all the great advice, especially Marsha & Jackie! One of the most useful tips to me has been to take the wrappers off, break sticks and get stuck in. I've always kept pastels pristine in their wrappers and used the ends only, varying pressure and angle to get different strokes (which can take quite a while to cover a big area, lol). Using the sides has made it much more enjoyable and faster too. My next attempt is coming on nicely, will post it soon.

The main reason I switched to pastels from acrylic & oils is that I take AGES to finish in these media. I can spend weeks agonising over details, and as time is of the essence pastels seemed a good way to get me out this perfectionist rut. (Way harder to get the same level of detail than with acrylics & teeny brush, and as the tooth of the paper clogs up after a while I can't add endless layers and coorections, so it forces me to stick to just the essentials). I know that using huge brushes or palette knoves cuts out detail in acrylics, but using those I tend to go quite abstract and I wanted to work in a fairly realistic style.

BTW Marsha, some of your images on your Georgia landscapes webpage are faulty (lovely site though).

04-10-2003, 10:36 PM
this is a great thread.

One thing I don't think has been mentioned yet -- but I know a lot of you do -- is to put down an underpainting in watercolor or similar (I've used watered down acrylics with great results) and then do your pastel painting on top of that. It saves SO much time and keeps you from having light patches showing through the pastel where you don't want them.
I know some people do the underpainting in the opposite colors of what the top will be, some do it exactly as the top and some just splash color all over the paper.... :)
A thick watercolor paper works well for this, smooth surface is probably best.


04-12-2003, 10:26 AM
Thanks for the great idea Cheryl, I will try it on the next one.

04-12-2003, 01:17 PM
Here's my next attempt at pastel landscape, on blue canson paper. Found it hard to get good highlights on this lightly tinted paper, will try deeper tint or stick to white in the future I think. On my next pic I'm going to try using an acyrlic underpainting first. Comments & suggesstions please.

04-12-2003, 01:25 PM
PS The colours in the original are more intense than they look here

10-19-2003, 08:14 PM
Originally posted by Dreams-of-Flight
Here's my next attempt at pastel landscape, on blue canson paper. Found it hard to get good highlights on this lightly tinted paper, will try deeper tint or stick to white in the future I think. On my next pic I'm going to try using an acyrlic underpainting first. Comments & suggesstions please.

I love pics with soft colours. Not all paintings need to jump off the page. Saving this one in my little(ok huge!!WP folder)is that ok??

10-19-2003, 08:17 PM
copied all the tips into my word pad!! Thanks!!
Can't wait until my book comes in!! They said hopefully Nov 6!! I can't wait!!
Off to practice!!
Ink for my printer when it comes in will probably run out with all the printjobs I have waiting LOL.
bye bye for now!!:clap:

10-19-2003, 09:34 PM
dreams-of-flight --

here's one I recently did using the underpainting method. But I was having so much fun that it is mostly watercolor - did't need much pastel .... lol.

But it does help to get those dark darks.....



10-20-2003, 03:40 AM
Originally posted by Dreams-of-Flight
Here's my next attempt at pastel landscape, on blue canson paper. Found it hard to get good highlights on this lightly tinted paper, will try deeper tint or stick to white in the future I think. On my next pic I'm going to try using an acyrlic underpainting first. Comments & suggesstions please.

This is lovely, but the reason you cannot get good highlights going on very pale paper, is because you haven't got any real darks to have your highlights sing against! Using a darker paper in the first instance will help a lot, but it isn't the whole answer - highlights need to contrast with darks, in order to work. Contrast is the appropriate word here.

By all means try an acrylic underpainting, but do be careful not to put the acrylic on thickly. Acrylic is plastic, and pastel doesn't adhere well to plastic. If you paint it on thinly, you will be OK. I always use gouache, because it is chalkier, and the pastel really works well over the top.

The other thing I have used, which gives me dark areas, but doesn't "clog" the tooth of the pastel paper, is either marker pens, or brush pens. The brush pens are the best, they cover the paper quickly with the "ink", which is essentially spirit-based and it wont make the paper buckle like a paint product which contains water. Also, they are fast to use!!! No mixing and fiddling around! I don't worry too much about the colours, just try to get the tones right.

I find, however, that a painting done on Canson Mi-Teinte, the lovely dark umber shade, needs no underpainting for the darks, because the paper is fairly dark to begin with. The light colours really sing out on it!


10-20-2003, 06:23 PM
ce. what a beautiful painting... i love the water

11-23-2004, 01:39 AM
Leave the house, go directly to your nearest art supplier and purchase some sanded paper. You will never look back!! Di :wave: