View Full Version : Pastel Journal 14 stick idea, sketch

03-22-2013, 10:37 AM
Sketch "Stockholm Old Town Cathedral Yard"
Size A4 (ca 11x8")
Limited palette


In the Pastel Journal of February 2013, Michael Chesley-Johnson talks about how to mix colour with pastels. He demonstrates and gives advice on how to use only 12 colours (a warm and a cool of the primaries and secondaries) plus black and white, a total of 14 sticks. As I maintain that a huge palette isn't needed, I took him up on the challenge.

As I don't have the same brand, I picked colours that were similar. I made three changes:
1) I chose charcoal instead of a black stick, because it is a softer and warmer black that goes extremely well with pastels, and I can feather an area slightly darker.
2) I chose a lighter value warm blue, so it could be used for the sky and for shaping volume in shadowed floliage, and work as a cooling agent for foliage in light.
3) My 'white' is a warm peachy yellowy almost white, as I would use it mostly in sunlit areas.


Then, I found out that if I wanted to darken a fairly light area, it worked really well to smear some pastel on my finger and gently blend it in, while using a darker pastel directly on the painting tended to get too 'brutal' for the very small amounts of pigments needed for darkening the lights.

Mostly I used colour to darken colour, but the charcoal is definitely in the sketch.

Same goes for lightening darks with white. I used the finger trick, but mostly I lightened with lighter colour.

A reason for the "finger painting" is that the sticks I chose are much softer than Michael's, and thus release more pigment.

And, I (gasp!) blended quite a lot with my fingers. :D

This palette is definitely all that is needed, especially for us who paint with plenty of colour. I felt a lack of lighter tints of the darks, and I would have liked to add some lighter pinks, too, for easier and more comfortable painting, that is, a bit quicker.

Plenty of colour, but no area has less than 4 layers of different colours, and I created many greys and dulls too. I left it as a sketch, as the size is to small for fussing.

C&C always welcome.

03-22-2013, 11:12 AM
I think it's a very good painting Charlie, but are you happy with it? Were you able to create the painting you wanted to using that limited palette? Or was this just an interesting exercise that you are unlikely to repeat?

If I felt like I could make paintings that pleased me with such a limited palette I'd be very excited, but my past experiments with a tightly limited pastel palette have been frustrating and disappointing.


03-22-2013, 12:10 PM
Obviously the palette works Charlie: Colorful and well integrated.
I like the people establishing scale. The dramatic building perspective is aso a plus.
:thumbsup: Enjoyed, derek

03-22-2013, 12:24 PM
Great sketch! (OK, I would call it a Painting) And an excellent demonstration of using a limited palette. Maybe because I dabble mainly in figures, I rarely use even 14 pastels in one painting, and probably never more than 20 in any one painting including landscapes. Of course, they are not the same 20 in each painting. Any more and I get confused!

Beautifully done!


03-22-2013, 02:51 PM
David, thank you, yes, I'm pretty happy with it, considering. I've not solved all the compositional stuff yet, though. It became a bit of going back to basics. My usual palette is an extension of this one, in that I have each colour in 10 values -- when possible, as yellows are naturally very light. And normally I weave much more colour into an area, and balance them so the overall look is for example blue sky, but there are yellows, violets, pinks, and greens in it as well as different blues.

So, actually, this experiment was a bit quicker for me, as I couldn't fuss so much. I guess it helps that I started in oils, and have done my share of colour mixing.

And one huge difference was that I put black into the very first layer. As I want the luminosity of colour, I prefer to put colour over black when possible, rather than mix black into colour.

Plen air, and travelling, would be way easier with a minimal palette. It is great that a good enough result can be had with so few sticks.

Derek, thank you. with so few colours, I sort of had to pop them all into everything = instant integration. :-) You nailed it, the people are there only to establish scale, and, OK, to provide a secondary COI. This might grow into a bigger painting.

Don, thank you, I guess I call it a sketch because I didn't solve some problems, and left some things half-finished. It is kind of inbetween a sketch and a painting, or, a loose painting. A study?

My way of keeping track of what I'm doing is to sort my palette according to values. Then it is very easy to grab the same value but another colour to make a blue sky lean more towards turquoise, for example. But I know what you mean, I did that too before adopting the weaving of colour.

03-22-2013, 03:11 PM
a good answer to the challenge .

the scene allows mid-value and r/y/b sticks with good saturation .
> the olive green ties it altogether with the general temperature !


Donna T
03-22-2013, 03:16 PM
I would never have guessed you used so few colors, Charlie. Nice result! What a great way to force ourselves to 'make do' and not depend on a million different pastels to get just the right color. Nice sense of harmony too!

03-23-2013, 12:09 AM
This is very nice. Well done.

03-23-2013, 04:59 AM
Thanks so much for sharing the process you used to create this painting. I really like it! It has a sense of freedom, harmony and light that really appeals to me. I'm intrigued enough by this concept to try my own study of a limited palette in the near future...

03-23-2013, 12:48 PM
Looking at the painting, I would never have guessed you only used 14 sticks. You only have one real green stick, but they still read as trees. With this limited palette you end up with a very good color harmony. This takes away that "need" to find the perfect hue.


03-23-2013, 02:15 PM
I wonder if the number 14 is a magic number, Terry Ludwig does his mystery boxes using only 14 pastels..... but those sticks are not selected with much thought, unlike what you did here Charlie, fabulous! Just goes to show you don't need all that many sticks, just the right sticks! Oh, and I love the way you snuck in your signature at the top, neat!

John Palmer Fine Art
03-23-2013, 02:37 PM
Very nice Charlie!

03-23-2013, 03:19 PM
rsmith, John, thank you!

Ed, thanks, part of the trick was to choose the reference, absolutely. Orangey ochre church, and 'green stuff' (trees) do look believable with blue foliage in shadow. I really like that olivy green for foliage in light, and it is also great for dampening the redness of red, while still keeping reds in warm light.

Donna, thanks, Michael made a great job with his article -- inspiring -- and it certainly is an eye-opener to make do with a limited palette. Well, either one spends the time looking for the exactly right stick, or one spends time adjusting the colours one has.

Katie, thanks, and do try it. Michael used hard pastels, so he could layer by using a very light touch. Much of the sense of light comes from using intense yellow as an underpainting. Yellow is light in value, and 'says' Sunlight better than what white does. Lightening by whitening works better for cloudy days, when the light is cooler.

Doug, thanks, and yes, I used that green in the trees in light especially right next to the shadow areas, but then there are oodles of bright yellow and that warm blue mixing optically to green. The other, cool, green is slightly greener in real life, I took the picture in cool light so it looks more blue than it is.

Chris, thanks, it was fun to use the bright colours, as they can indeed produce muted ones too. For the TLs, it might be so simple as that the boxes are that size... :-) I think I could get by on 12 sticks, provided that the cool yellow could be changed for the yellowy 'white' I used, and if either the blue violet or the violet blue would be at least one value darker.

But, OK, one has to take that artist's licence out of the wallet and use it.

On the other hand, I have a collegue in Germany who has painted with only 5 sticks, with great results. (R, Y, B + white and black), and a certain English lady we know has done so too, also with smashing results. So I guess I must try it too... they've kind of challenged me.

03-23-2013, 04:22 PM
Well, we know you are up to any challenge Charlie, so go for it! I'm sure it's a coincidence about the 14 sticks, I thought it was funny though!

03-23-2013, 04:49 PM
I think I remember a challenge we had here at WC that was to do a painting with six sticks and it was amazing what everybody came up with. I guess with a limited palette it's "the less choice you have, the easier it is to choose." Or something like that.:)

03-23-2013, 10:31 PM
I love the vibrant colours in this!

03-24-2013, 02:12 AM
The limited pallet hasn't deminished your wonderfully colourful very Charlie painting. Glad the wing has healed.

03-24-2013, 06:02 AM
Chris, Doug, I vaguely remember painting a lemon with only a handful of sticks, that might be the WC challenge Doug remembers, years ago? I failed miserably, btw... so it is time to try it again.
Yes, I agree, it *is* easier with fewer choices, as one is forced to use what there is. I mean, if I want to lighten an orange, I can only choose a yellow or a white to do the job. And I know the white will also cool, and the yellow will also brigthen (in addition to lightening) so depending on what I need/want, I choose one of them.

Jayde, thanks, it is because I altered colour with colour, mostly, and not so much the charcoal and white, as both of those dull down colour.

Jen, thank you, (see above response too), and yes, the hand *is* healing well, thankfully. I've regained 80-90% of the mobility, but still need to work on 'bodybuilding'... or should that be *hand*building? Shovelling 5 spadefuls of snow was beyond what it could do, though...

03-24-2013, 02:26 PM
Just a limited palet but...beautiful.

03-29-2013, 05:43 AM
Thank you, toniov!

04-01-2013, 09:07 AM
What brand(s) pastels you used ? i allready think 30-45 palette setup... this pic shows clearly my idea works. when hues are carefully selected. not maybe using colour wheel but way which gives best mixes for artist needs.btw is 30 very hard but 45 looks like its possible. but still very hard i think optium palette size is for me is about 60 colours. its suitable small setup but 45 or 30 is optimium when i think its price...

04-01-2013, 09:34 AM
Most of the sticks are Unisons, but the vivid cool pinks are Sennelier (as Unison doesn't have them). For me, a convenient palette has about 60 to 80 sticks, but that is mostly because of the method I use. If I were a tonal painter, I could be happy with fewer sticks.

I even painted one painting with only black, white, red, yellow, and blue, and I blogged about it. Possible to do, but not a convenient number of sticks.

04-01-2013, 10:19 AM
I know unison dont have them and even Sennlelier ones not very lightfast based pigments and how they are then.ps. btw my favorite brands are Unison and Schmincke. which allows work with blending nicely.they blend well and hues are exactly what i want. and even Schmincke dont have much shock pinks but they have generally better lightfastness in manufacturer tests than Sennelier. in real world in dont know.

04-06-2013, 08:31 PM
Love this Charlie., and.... This is how I am learning with Leigh Rust. With limited colours and blending/layering the pastels to get values and colours within the painting. no finger blending though, and I am thoroughly enjoying learning this way.