View Full Version : Open stock, online, in person....? Buying more pastels questions

10-15-2013, 11:11 AM
Do you usually increase your supply with open stock purchases? It occurred to me recently that buying another set would probably just give me some repeat colors. Too bad they don't sell half-sticks open stock.

Do you usually order online? I have a Dick Blick 4 hours away but with gas prices it'd be cheaper to buy online. Yet I can't see what I'm getting. The thought of drooling over and handling pastels in person is awfully tempting.

How do you go about buying more colors/brands?

10-15-2013, 11:58 AM
Whenever possible I purchase in store where the colors and feel of the pastels play a major role and of course the biannual trip to IAPS candy store. This is a rare occurrence for me, as most major stores are several hours drive. The rest of the time, mail order has to fill in the blanks. Most frequent purchases are papers or other necessities. It does seem like quite a few of the manufacturers like to sell only in sets, instead of open stock. I also hate to repurchase a set to obtain just a few needed colors and have multiple sticks of unused colors.


10-15-2013, 12:08 PM
The two big art supply stores here have only broken old Senneliers and medium sized selections of Rembrandts. Both marked up to about twice what they are online. I buy online from open stock to replace often-used colors that I run out of and to fill value voids. I buy sets because I can't resist them. :heart: :heart: :heart: The usual sequence is: buy a set to get the 'feel' of a particular brand, hit on a number of colors in that set that become must-haves, use 'em up and then re-order just those colors from open stock.

The next set on my radar is the Girault McKinley Plein Air. I really enjoy Giraults. (McKinley's Neutrals & Friends set was a great buy. I have replaced colors in that set multiple times. Excellent range of beautiful quiet colors.)

If you are planning on spending a boatload of dough, it might be worthwhile to make that trip to your nearby Blick. Be sure to compare prices with Dakota before you go. You might be surprised. Also, Dakota's sales are pretty significant, so watch for those. (Signing up for email notice is handy.)


10-15-2013, 12:15 PM

When I started to buy pastels I didnīt know that there were so many to
chose from, (but not soo many as today) so I bought 60 piece set of Rembrandts, but that was not so much. I have bought the whole set from
them and they are good as a 'workhorse'. They are very good because that
they are not so soft so you can lay softer over them.

Then I bought a half set of the Sennelier (around 225 sticks or so) they
have so Beautiful colors, but I was not aware of the problem with them (that many of them crumble)

I wanted to test Unison so I bought open stock and they have some half stick
sets which is nice because then you can test more colors, I bought one set.

I always buy open stock as much as possible. I bought a 25 stick set from
Girault portraits because I wanted those colors and it was a rather small set.

I try to buy locally but they dont have everything I want, and as you say it
is cheaper to buy online than to drive far away. The problem in the beginning
when one dont have so many sticks is that you want them NOW, so its necessary sometimes to plan ahead what you want because its very hard
to wait!!

I buy from overseas and when buying online, just check what amount you
have to buy for and how much the weight can be to have minimum freight
costs. I find it very convenient to buy online. I also know its very nice to
look at the sticks and see the colors in real Life, but I have never returned
a pastel stick because I didnt like the colour:)

Oh I remember I bought a pastel sampler from an online shop in the Usa to
see the various brands and test them out. One set I have bought for many
years ago was the hard pastels from Nupastel. They are nice for details, but
you also have Faber Castell if you need hard pastels to sketch with.

I have bought a small set from Terry Ludwig to test them and a few Schmincke open stock which are the softest.

If you know what subjects you prefer to start to paint, its nice to just
buy open stock the colors you need or a small set of for instance landscape
or portrait. So if you buy online there are several shops to buy from maybee not too far from you.

If one buy only BIG sets one will find out that there are colors you seldom use so for that reason I recommend open stock and then smaller sets.

Hope you didnt get too confused now

10-15-2013, 12:42 PM
Mostly open stock (yes, it is a bit of guesswork if it is a new brand), but I can buy a set if it is special. Like Heavenly Shadows, Turquoise set, Special Colours, Orange set, and the likes.

Open stock reduces the risk of duplicates. OK, sets are often cheaper per stick, but if I then don't use a quarter to a third of it, it actually becomes more expensive.

10-15-2013, 05:39 PM
Thanks everyone. I admit I'm really surprised that you all buy sets!

I went to the art store today and either I'm not remembering correctly or they've added to their stock. They had:
* Richeson handmades open stock for $3.15 each.
*Unison open stock for $3.45.
*Rembrandts open stock for $4.50 each.

I knew that was high for Rembrandts but pretty good for the other two considering I'm buying it in a local store and not paying shipping and can see what I'm getting.

LOL, I too doubt I'll ever buy one I don't like even sight unseen!

10-15-2013, 08:18 PM
The open stock at the local stores here is sparse and way over-priced so I buy online. After piddling around for a couple years trying to get by on limited sets I decided what brands I liked and just bought full sets of Polychromos, Rembrandt and Mount Visions and have left it at that. Well, okay I admit I bought a set of 24 Holbeins just to see what they were like. I like them but not enough to be tempted to buy more.


10-16-2013, 02:01 AM
David, I'd like to do that eventually! I've only been doing pastels for a short while so I don't want to spend the money yet on full sets until I have a better idea of....well, all of it.

10-16-2013, 09:22 AM
Lots of pros and cons to both open stock and sets. As mentioned, sets can be cheaper, but may also have duplicates and colors you will never use. On the other hand, they may allow you to experiment with colors that you would never choose from open stock - and you may end up liking them! Half-stick sets can be a good deal as they allow you to experiment with more colors.

I think a usual method is for beginners to start out with sets, and then replace the pastels they use and need to buy again with open stock. In order to do this, you need to track the pastels and their brands. so that you can reorder in open stock when needed. Some folks break their sticks in half and then reorder when the first half is used up. If the sticks come with numbers, then keep the number with the stored half. Many other folks keep records of their pastels by creating charts that have a color swatch along with brand and number, like these:


Most folk's charts are probably neater than mine!

Luckily, I live in Rochester, NY home of the Fine Art Store, so I never buy sets as a wide variety of open stock is available. In your case, the Rembrandts (a medium hardness) and the Unisons (fairly soft) might give you enough variety to create a good open stock supply. There are some nice "specialty" sets available in different brands that often fill in the gaps that some brands are lacking - such as really dark pastels or grays and neutrals.


10-16-2013, 10:14 AM
I have no choice but to order online as they don't sell the brands I use at all around here. I may buy a set to start with but then only purchase open stock to fill up on the colours I actually go through. I use very few blues, greens, reds, pinks etc. Its all brown, grey, cream and a ton of black and white. My last order of pastel pencils I bought 10 whites, ten blacks etc and I don't think they will last me that long!

10-17-2013, 10:06 AM
Don, you ARE lucky! I was really shocked by our lack of more art stores here in Orlando. I plan on starting my color charts this weekend before I have hundreds.

Liger, I had to check out your page to see what on earth you were using all those colors for. You do beautiful work!

10-17-2013, 11:44 AM
Dakota Art Pastels sells many of the brands they carry (and I think they carry almost every brand available!) open stock. I recently visited their warehouse, which is open to the public -- it is like an addictive candy store for artists! Check out their website and note that they have monthly specials and sales: Dakota Art (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index.aspx)


10-17-2013, 10:03 PM
I usually get sets, because I'm always ordering online. Unlike many, I don't wind up with colors I don't use so much as need open stock replacements in certain color groups. I also snapped up a number of discontinued pastels while building up my collection, so I sometimes have even often-used colors in several similar brands and don't worry about it.

I've replaced favorites a few times but more often, when I'm thinking of what to paint, I might actually choose a subject that uses colors I have lots of. I rotate what I'm doing. I don't mind duplicates because I'll eventually use them anyway.

I used to chart them all for exact duplication but now, with the number of discontinued pastels I've got, I don't worry about that so much. I might go to an art store with a nub of something discontinued to try to match something similar, or do a bit of guesswork in the brand nearest its texture and settle for something similar instead of as close a match.

It helped when I took Charlie's course and organized my colors by hue around a twelve color spectrum. I stopped thinking I needed the exact degree of blue-violet as much, because if I have something near it I can play with it to push it more toward blue or violet.

10-18-2013, 05:38 PM
One of my reasons for asking this question is my disappointment with my Sennelier half-stick set. Ready for this?? I can never find just the right color. Am I to assume I'll be plagued with this for the rest of my pastel life no matter how many I own??? :D

Oh Art, that's just cruel! ;) I'd think I'd died and gone to heaven if I walked into a store and they had a wall like that.

Robert, I've been wondering about colors and how exact they have to be. I see all these shots of studios with thousands of pastels and just assume You Must Have the Exact Color. I'm gonna do a chart, but should I fall into my typical lackadaisical way of doing things it's good to know colors can be pushed.

10-18-2013, 08:39 PM
In a way any pastel palette no matter how many sticks are in it is limited to some extent. For me that's been the hardest thing to learn to deal with when it comes to painting with pastels. When I go to select a pastel to represent a color I want to put on my paper I look first for the right value, that's imperitive. Second, I look for the hue, if I can't find quite what I want, (normal) then I make sure the hue is close in temperature to what I want. For example, if I need a warm highlight on the foliage of a tree I know I need a light value, then lets say I'm looking for a yellow-green, If I can't find the exact yellow-green I want (likely) I make sure I pick a warm color, one that leans towards yellow rather than towards green from the exact color I want. Another consideration is the saturation. For that highlight it won't do to use a grayed down yellow-green even if it's the exact hue or right temperature, but in some other instances a fully saturated yellow-green won't do.

So, in order of importance - Value then temperature then saturation. At least that's the way I deal with it, though it can still be frustrating at times.


10-18-2013, 08:46 PM
Thank you, David. I didn't know that was how to do that. That's a huge help and I'm going to use it on what I'm currently working on.

10-18-2013, 10:12 PM
Christine, I hear you about the gaps in the Sennelier half sticks set. It's one of the better ones but it has gaps. Some of them are big gaps. It's not just you, general sets wind up lacking some important go-to colors that almost all pastelists need. Not just "the slightly bluer blue-violet" but say, a full value range of violet, or orange, or turquoise.

In a crayon box, you don't get purple in the basic set and you don't get turquoise till it's the larger bigger set. You don't get a dark purple, mid-purple and lavender till it's quite a big box. You always get the bright kindergarten green, a full intensity mid-green leaning neither yellow nor blue. The one that's exactly the color you need to include green plastic objects in a still life and useless for foliage except in tiny accents or with a lot of modifying violet and orange.

Goldenrod, that warm bright yellow ochre color, so useful, doesn't turn up till the pretty big box. Let alone a bluer aqua and a greener aqua.

Yet these are colors that most pastelists use a lot. The general ranges are limited. The go-to colors turn up in small sets with value and hue ranges, an 18 color Violets or Orange or Turquoise set. I wind up seeing those in all subjects too, not just florals.

Colorix did a wonderful class that taught me color, completely changed how I handle color. Still Life the Colourful Way (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=527268) is why I no longer worry about having the exact right stick. I now find it fun to do limited palette challenges with randomly chosen sticks as long as I've got some tints and darks in the random range.

That class includes a good full palette that could be put together out of open stock and paint anything with it, using her method, in about 40 sticks. But, that leaves out all the convenience colors. It also leaves out the very smooth gradation you get if you pick up a 10 color Ludwig box of Ultramarine or Cobalt blue. Skies could shade radically using all the sticks, or be lighter in winter or northern latitudes, having all those blues allows finesse.

The subject with the Cobalt blue eyes won't have to be done with Ultramarine if you get them all. And there is why all the specialty sets are there. Southwestern landscapes don't need the same colors as Pacific Coast forests or Midwestern summers or East Coast winters. If you do landscapes, where you live might affect your personal palette as much as your techniques.

What Charlie's class did for me was help me organize all the pastels I have, continue expanding and truly enjoy the thousand sticks I've now got. My collection was about 600 and beginning to approach my comfort level when I took the course. Now it's over a thousand and definitely comfort zone.

Part of my personal comfort zone is having so many choices that I will never run out of light blue, olive green, golden tawny earth yellow - the colors I use over and over again in so many paintings. I like sunny skies, this will chew up the light blues. I like variety so I don't always use the same ones and can avoid buying replacements now that a higher cost of living ended my crazy buying sprees back in Arkansas. I had about $200 a month in spending money, then cut that to $150 to start a savings plan (which helped get me to San Francisco) but still wound up seriously investing in pastels for years.

Some of them were gifts from friends clearing out their collection. Some were swaps with friends who didn't like dry pastel and had lots of them, but had switched mediums and wanted colored pencils or watercolors or something else I had extras in. You can find supplies swaps on WetCanvas, they're a lot of fun, if you have something you don't use much, you can usually eventually find someone who loves it and has something you'd like.

Swap Shop is also good for just getting lots more whenever someone's selling off pastels. They turn up now and then. People move, or clear their studio, or get a big set but don't like that brand - and they sell it off and you wind up getting it cheaper. I got a lot of my pastels in Clearance sets or on sale with the big coupons from Blick. Biggest haul ever was 200 Winsor & Newton pastels in a wood box, a complete range in a wood box, a cherished lifelong dream since I first saw the Sennelier super box - a giant wood box of a hundred or two hundred or more that was a full range to anchor my collection.

I can't get replacements for them. I got a lot of them in grab bags so I have replacements for some colors but not all the colors. After that, I will be buying similar colors in similar textures, Rembrandt and Art Spectrum and so on. But the happy thing is that I did also get the awesome wood box, so I will probably maintain that as 200 colors in that range.

I know folks here who have 5,000 pastels. I reached a comfort zone at about a thousand. That's so many that I just do not fear running out of the blues or worry about doing replacements any time soon. I'll be self supporting again on novels before I actually need more pastels.

Do I still want more pastels?

Of course I do. Anyone who got me pastels for my birthday would get a loud roaring purr so heavy it'd convince my neighbors the Big Earthquake just hit. That's whether they bought them or did a Dakota gift cert or just went through and piled random unidentified bits between two pieces of foam in a used set box. A couple of my friends have given me those precious gifts and I use them! My collection is big enough that I've actually identified most of the unidentified pieces by weight and texture, makes it easy to use them.

Some artists develop a strong personal palette in a favorite brand or two. Then refine that and give away or sell the unused sticks, develop a unique color style and that's part of who they are. Others like me adjust the palette to the painting. What I like best is having a huge assortment and sometimes letting the colors inspire me on subject.

I got into that habit long before pastels when I used colored pencils. I had 72 and then 120 Prismacolors, with a chronic habit of using up the blues, greens and browns way too fast and then winding up broke or short on rent/bills and need to economize, too expensive to get Prismacolor replacements. So I'd start trying to think of how to use the colors I hadn't used up as much, think of doing a red-orange-yellow floral instead of a landscape, or actually use the grays to do a rainy day.

Eventually, because colored pencils wear down faster than pastels, I started getting a handful of favorite colors in bulk. Pastels are sometimes available like that too, you can get a discount for five sticks of the same color sometimes, or six sticks or something. This is great. Sometimes you need that if a favorite color is usually used over broad areas on almost all paintings. Other pastels, I'd never have to replace them because I usually only use that for accents.

The red-orange-yellow side of the spectrum in bright Prismacolors rarely wore down because I had so many choices of bright reds each a little closer to orange than the last, and orange-cast yellows, that it was easier to just pick exactly the right one for the subject and rotate or mix them.

I recommend beginners get lots because that's how you find out what your own go-to colors are. But if you read through Still Life the Colourful way and try the exercises, you might find you don't need many more Senneliers to fill out the full color range and be able to combine them to any specific hue and value you need.

Then get into collecting or not as you like. I organized all my muted convenience colors the same way, because that way I can start with them in a low key painting - something like a rainy day in the city instead of a flower garden at the height of summer - and use all the same color tricks Charlie taught with the brights to get the same impact in my rainy day painting, but subtle, and realistically rainy. I like being able to fine-tune the palette to the painting. I also hogged out on sets of different brands and textures, so I like rotating which ones I use and working around gaps in the sets.

For example, my Unisons 72 color set really needed to be 78 colors and have a strong violet range. I think their 120 color half sticks set does, but it wasn't available when I got my Unisons on sale. I bought the fancy set with the aluminum box and clear acrylic lid on a whim, because I drooled at that forever and then it went on sale for less than the same set in a plain Unisons box. Turned out the plain Unisons box fits into the fancy aluminum one.

But it's got a clear lid. It was worth it because I can leave it out with the top foam off and the clear lid closed to keep my cat off the pastels. Personal quirk, that inspires me to paint, just looking at the colors in spectrum order. I am sometimes tempted if my collection grows too far, to take out the Unisons, box and all, then put dividers in the aluminum box and use it the way my Dakota Traveller is set up, to become the Studio Box that holds lots more than the Traveller by area.

I know in a couple of years my income will grow and with it so will my pastels collection, just more slowly. I'm back to keeping most of them in drawers and swapping out what box is open in reach and which ones are put away in the drawers or on the shelf. I've got a bit of room to grow into doing that, it's just the logistics of a small space. But it can be done, even if you get too many pastels it's possible to manage them. The more you get, the more organizing them matters to being able to see them and use them often. But the more they inspire you to use them often!

What else I've seen often is craft boxes with dividers and maybe 200 or so pastels organized into color groups, purchased open stock or some general sets broken up to anchor it. That's its own comfort range - the level where you won't run out of any color group too fast and know when you need to look for some interesting new greens.

The big thing - and I've run long again so this time I will just hit POST and let it fly - the big thing is that the better you get, the less it's about getting the exact color you need. Once the big gaps are filled it's easier to adapt and lighten that too-dark blue with the light pink that will shove it toward being redder while getting it to the right value.

So look at Charlie's palette, organize those Senneliers and see where the big gaps are. There probably are some. I know I went nuts looking for a good cold red in the Sennelier half sticks set, and for purples. Sometimes the orangy warm reds are not the right reds at all.

10-18-2013, 10:32 PM
Robert, I am thrilled you are back. Your posts are so helpful. I really missed them when you were gone for a while from WC.

10-19-2013, 11:02 AM
Thank you, Robert, for that wonderful post! I always learn several things when you post. :) I keep seeing "Still Life the Colorful Way" recommended and I guess I just need to do it. I've looked through it and gotten overwhelmed, not due the thread itself but my being soooo new that everything overwhelms me.

But there's only way to fix that, huh? I love the idea of learning how to work without the exact color. I'm hoping my pastel class that starts next week will cover a lot of this stuff as well.

I'm enjoying this thread and learning a lot from everyone!

10-19-2013, 05:53 PM
Purr thank you both! Christina, it can be a little overwhelming. Those of us that actually took the class, it was easier to keep up because there was enough time per exercise and we didn't have the weight of all the upcoming cool stuff pressing on our participation. Each stage becomes pretty easy if you do the ones before it in order.

I really recommend reading through it slowly from beginning, and then try the first exercise. If you post your block study and later exercises in Studio and mention "from Still Life the Colorful Way" a lot of alumni may drop in to post on it and help, especially if you mention you'd like critique.

The palette she describes is an extremely workable one in about 40 sticks or so, maybe a few more convenience colors once used to it. The block study is broken down into layers too, the method involves four layers and you get to understand why as they go. If you don't think beyond the block study itself while working on that, it helps.

There really is a lot of information in the course. So taking it in stages is the best way to understand it all and internalize it. I find myself applying the principles even in sketches where I'm not using the full method. It completely revolutionized how I look at color, changed how I see color. It also completely freed me from trying for literal color in a painting - which often winds up a tribute to that photo reference's camera distortions and limited color range.

Last tip on the block study - it does not hurt to use a ruler and a protractor to get the angles right in a light pencil sketch of the blocks before any color goes on. That establishes perspective accurately from the photo, it's a rule I use in architectural sketches too. It's so easy to be off by a couple of degrees in drawing a block from life or by eyeball, and then wind up with a distorted shape that breaks perspective.

If you ever had two-point perspective in a drawing class, you can use the vanishing points and extended lines in the pencil sketch and work out perspective that way, it works just as well. But measuring the angles and lines on the photo works too and it's quicker. If you haven't had a perspective sequence in any drawing classes, then definitely copy the photo's lines and don't worry about it till you get to it in a different study.

If her class were to be republished as a book, I would be very tempted to ask North Light to include line drawings of the exercises, since this is much more about the color and painting than about drawing and rendering. You can find perspective lessons for free right here on WetCanvas in the Drawing and Sketching forum.

Basic 101: Foundation of Perspective (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=597782) is an easy class which always, like all the Drawing & Sketching forum 101 classes, has more experienced members watching it and commenting as volunteer tutors. Anyone who's taken it can tutor someone new that comes along, I've never failed to find several tutors when I did one of the sequences. You can do them out of order or in order to learn classical drawing skills. I've taken a bunch of them in order out of curiosity to brush up on basics (and filled some serious gaps when I did) and then started cherry picking specific things I was interested in that I was drawing or painting at the time. It's another tremendously useful resource on WetCanvas that beginners don't always realize is there.

Anyone who hates their sketching and has problems with drawing issues can find what they need to solve the problem permanently in those 101 classes. Being able to draw things from life more accurately than a camera can depict them is just another immensely massive collection of specific skills that's organized well in those classes.

Self paced, no pressure, plenty of help, they're one of many reasons I Love WC.

Unfortunately I think I just dumped even more homework on you, so keep that in the back of your mind and if you haven't ever learned perspective, just copy the photo carefully in a light pencil line drawing and you're good. It's not the same skill. Copying the photo will usually get you enough accuracy to render a subject, which is why that's such a common intermediate level.

I was earning good money at the "Copy the Photo" stage of drawing and rendering because I was careful, meticulous and my buyers loved the results. I've noticed online places that sell portraits done from your photo to exactly that level of skill for $50 - I think of that as something like a journeyman thing. It will also teach proportion by practice if you do it long enough on similar subjects, which is why if I'm teaching someone to draw, I encourage things like tracing.

There was this big flap in one of my art circles in Chicago over whether certain famous local artists traced or drew freehand. To me it doesn't matter, because the artists accused of tracing were doing some extremely cool things in the rendering and color and were artists. It's not cheating. It's a method like any other - but it is one that limits you to what the photo reference has and transfers camera distortions.

Up in the extremely wealthy artists level, there's a photorealist who takes his own photos with a high quality camera and then blows them up to mural size and paints. One critic pointed out that he had accurately rendered a JPEG artifact in one of his photorealist murals. I laughed my head off - and realized that for him, doing photorealism, the camera was his sketchbook and he just had skipped manual rendering to build his style because the technology exists.

What hand drawing does though, is free you from the camera's distortion. Ultimately hand rendering lets you draw from imagination and rendering, makes it much easier to combine sources. I never learned to combine references in Gimp the way some artists do in order to compose landscapes - taking shots of different areas and pasting in the tree from the other side of the slope where it ought to be for the composition, putting the animal in from the other photo, composing it all on the computer. That's an alternate method. Because I do draw freehand from life, I am more likely to open all the references on my screen and then sketch the animal where I want it, move the trees where I want them, decide which sun angle I want and adjust all the shadows accordingly - on half the elements making up shadows so they're consistent with the light I decided. It became easier for me to look at a photo and decide I would like it better at a different time of day, adjusting the colors and shadow shapes accordingly.

So while I recommend drawing from life, that's its own long study. I've been learning from the time I was four or so and stopped to take classes at many significant points in my life. Here at WC, most of what I learned before WC is concentrated in easily organized form and would have cut decades off that learning curve if it had existed then and the Internet existed then.

The other thing about life sketching if you want to approach it on your own with a pencil and sketchbook, is to start with small simple forms like pebbles and teacups that don't move, and just do it a lot. Lots of small sketches give a better learning curve than large complex drawings with a lot of detail and multiple subjects. Doing the same one over and over from different angles does even more for learning curve. I did that with my sleeping cat and it's improved my animal and figure drawing tremendously - now every living creature's anatomy is "in relation to a cat" and makes sense, the anatomy of all creatures makes more sense for really understanding how he's built.

I went from "Copy the Photo" portraits very suddenly to "Life drawing with pastels within the patience of the average tourist" in 1990. The trips weren't cost effective any more but the city license was cheap. In the first weekend I found out that enough practice copying the photo kept all my life drawings within the range of human proportions and reasonable accuracy. No one complained that my works were ugly or badly proportioned, most of them thought they were flattering. By the end of that weekend I was tons better at life portraits just by that concentrated practice.

I had limited time per subject, no more than a half an hour to 45 minutes to get it done before they got annoyed with having to pose that long. I had to work fast without hesitating and so I simplified things I would have noodled over with pencils, hair became loose masses of color and light, clothes just a loose smudge and scribble, eyes detailed, faces less so, mouths detailed, noses defined by their shading.

So if you want to improve life drawing skills, pick one subject you love and set timer on it so that you can't slow down and fuss over the details. Then do that general subject over and over - I mean dogs, or people, or trees or rocks, a category, though picking out the one you love personally and painting over and over gets even more intensive.

I did that over the past five or six years with my cat, starting with poses when he was sound asleep and sometimes now sketching him in motion or waking poses from life. The result is that each sketch was a whole new observation. Each position showed something more about him as a shape moving in space - and moving inside his skin as muscles bunch up or loosen, stretch or contract. Fur moves around a lot, the direction of the hair all over his body was something I came to understand by constant observation. All of it by trying to draw him before he woke up or rolled over. He only holds a pose for at most two minutes even sound asleep. If I want a detailed painting I still take his photo first and choose from among my better photos of him.

For landscapes drawing pebbles will give you mountains and cliffs and boulders, rocks break in the same ways and wear down the same way by type regardless of size. I've done a continuous pebble study the same way, also trees, that's why my sketchbook is so full of trees.

So while doing everything else, it's good to keep up with your sketchbook. I use color mediums in it and love my color Conte for that, it's not the same kind of pastels work as the full color method in Charlie's course. It's color sketching more than painting. Colored paper is a great shortcut to these color studies, pick a color that predominates in the subject and the paper does half the work for you. Hard pastels or pastel pencils are good for this kind of sketching, also medium-firm sticks like Rembrandts. I should say sketch pads, because I bought several pads of colored paper in different brands for it.

That tends to improve my serious paintings a lot. Right now I am mostly doing pastel sketching as opposed to painting. That's a matter of health issues and time constraints, something that may change in future. I do some layering and some variety of marks, actually a lot of painterly marks because they're faster than noodling over it like a drawing in detail. But it's not the full colourist method and I know from my sketches that the next time I do a big serious painting on sanded paper, it's going to blow everything I've done in the past out of the water.

Actually now that I thnk of it, keeping all these pastel sketches and small color studies means the next time I do a big serious painting on a large piece of sanded paper, it'll be very planned and I'll be using my previous sketches as part of that planning. Colorix does this on most of her good paintings. I bought one of her wonderful landscapes and she included the small plein air version she did to establish the colors from life.

So maybe sometime this winter I'll go through all these sketchwall pieces, pick something cool and start planning a serious painting. I'll never be able to produce enough of them within a month to live on it, but improving my painting is worthwhile in its own right - and once I'm self supporting again, it'll be the difference between a hobby that pays for itself and a side income that could be substantial. I just don't want it to fall into the "Needed to survive" category again, got to make my writing take up the necessities so that I don't get burnt out into trying to paint when I'm not physically up to it and produce lousier works because I really was not up to it and couldn't give enough time to rest up and think better.

Ah, personal rumination here - I have chronic illness and notice that sometimes if I'm sick, I make mistakes that I know better. I regress sometimes if I am too sick to work. I'm not sure if these lousier sketches and pieces are worthless because they're still practice. A better thing than trying to force it and work when I'm sick is to back up and choose easy subjects in physically easy sizes and methods - say the color Conte versus more cleanup with softer pastels and rock studies over whole landscapes, that sort of easier.

But that's only relevant to readers either very busy or dealing with disability. Actually "Very busy" makes it relevant to the abled. Everyone has physical limits. Active, healthy people who have a job or kids or both and have to squeeze out painting time may be too tired to do a good job during what time there is to paint. So do not beat yourself up if something you do isn't as good as the previous things you did. That can happen and it's still good practice and you learned something in it. There is usually something good in it, it just isn't salable-good.

So there's a comment to all the artists here who are selling their work, if you do stuff that isn't salable, it's not worthless. Don't toss it. It might be a good preliminary to something else or give you ideas or be a reference for something else. I just store those now. They are good for one more thing.

When you're not sure of yourself over something later on, you can go back to your worst previous drawings and realize "Wow, I have grown so much! People used to pay for that crud! I can't imagine why, but even that dreck was salable and people liked it." And know how far you've come, regain confidence for the current leap of skill.

By taking up art at all, we set off on the infinite learning journey. The best painting I ever do is likely to be my last, unless I'm so sick at the time that it's really "the last time he felt good enough to paint." But it would hold the seeds of a good painting that got cut off by my dying young.

Thank you for encouraging me to ramble again like mad. Nothing gets me started like giving advice. I usually wind up rereading it to realize I gave the advice I need to hear. If it's useful to others too, awesome!

10-21-2013, 10:16 AM
Thank you, Robert! I'm at that newbie steep learning curve stage where my brain is easily overwhelmed so it's me rather than the class. I'm terribly excited about, again, working with less-than-exact colors so I will take that class. It's on my list to start this week.

So if you want to improve life drawing skills, pick one subject you love and set timer on it so that you can't slow down and fuss over the details.

Oh, I love the timer idea and hadn't thought of this for sketching. I did do this recently with a painting and it put me into "class" mode, which is a good thing. And it'll be cats since I love them, have 4, and they're always around! I'll include the perspective class and others in my To Do list. I really do want to improve my drawing. I've already noticed how my lack of skills limits me.

Doing the same one over and over from different angles does even more for learning curve. I did that with my sleeping cat and it's improved my animal and figure drawing tremendously - now every living creature's anatomy is "in relation to a cat" and makes sense, the anatomy of all creatures makes more sense for really understanding how he's built

Very interesting! I get this totally. I don't know if clouds are considered challenging but I'm terrible at them. I've often thought about just drawing/painting clouds over and over again until I'm satisfied with my cloud abilities.

Ah, personal rumination here - I have chronic illness and notice that sometimes if I'm sick, I make mistakes that I know better. I regress sometimes if I am too sick to work. I'm not sure if these lousier sketches and pieces are worthless because they're still practice. A better thing than trying to force it and work when I'm sick is to back up and choose easy subjects in physically easy sizes and methods - say the color Conte versus more cleanup with softer pastels and rock studies over whole landscapes, that sort of easier.

You have my sympathy and I understand as I have a chronic illness as well that dictates my day-to-day activities. I've often wondered as well if doing something artistic anyway and in a haphazard way because I'm forcing myself....if that's a good thing or not. It's frustrating when you want to do something and your body says no.

You know, that's a very good point re: able-bodied people have hurdles to overcome too. I mean, really, I'd never thought of it that way. We all have loads to carry and overcome in order to pursue what we really want. Great food for thought!

I LOVE to go back and look at stuff I did just 3 months ago. I recently ran across an apricot. I laughed out loud when I saw it. Let's just say it IS roundish and it IS apricot colored. Oh but I was so proud of it I posted it here, lol!

Again, thank you for taking the time to respond!

10-21-2013, 08:25 PM
Don, you ARE lucky! I was really shocked by our lack of more art stores here in Orlando. I plan on starting my color charts this weekend before I have hundreds.

Liger, I had to check out your page to see what on earth you were using all those colors for. You do beautiful work!

Thank you :) It chews up alot of pastel doing all that detail but I cant stop myself :lol:

10-22-2013, 04:27 AM
Hi christinal,

I bought a 72 unisons set, and after using it for a little while I realised where it had gaps. I then bought a bunch of open stock that I hoped would fill the gaps. I'm now noticing smaller gaps, which I may fill later. I think it was good to start with the set because I would have been paralysed with indecision had I attempted to choose 72 individual sticks to begin with. I never saw them in person before buying online, because I'm in berlin and there aren't places that sell soft pastels nearby. But I examined photos online - dicl blick has many many photos of all kinds of stock. I'm sticking with unison because I like their colour range, but also because narrowing down the hundreds of choices helped me get started.

10-23-2013, 01:09 PM
Elise, I am so with you on that! I love my 72 color Unisons set, but it was much more useful after I bought 8 Shadows with it to get violet hues. I don't have those with me, which is frustrating, but I can still work with the gaps using blue-violet where I want violets. Substitutions are easier with practice, also combinations to create the right hue instead of having it. At least the gaps are mostly in secondary colors and tertiaries.

What I have seen of the 120 Unison Half Sticks makes that a great choice if a beginner can afford it, because it closes a lot of the gaps in the 72 color set. Also the new 18 color John's Colors closes some gaps in "strong tints" where they had good light tints and good brights but nothing in between.

Liger, yeah, I hear you on chewing up pastel in details. A large palette helps a lot with that.

Christina, I am so happy to hear about your four beautiful cat friends! You've got handy models any time you want them. They sleep 2/3 of the time so there's probably always got at least one draped in an interesting position.

Overall I have to say, pushing yourself is a good thing. Otherwise what's left in life is Being A Patient. It can get immensely frustrating but it's self rewarding to push and then do something artistic. Doing something artistic actually supplements pain management. If I can get myself started on a painting or a novel, the process of painting generates endorphins. Pain killers produced within my own body start to knock back my symptoms.

There is a big middle zone where pushing myself gets more net energy and results than if I didn't. It is self reinforcing that way. The risk is pushing myself so hard that I wind up getting sports injuries and setbacks, the difference between staying on my feet too long or just staying up sitting up and sketching or writing instead of sleeping or reading. On low energy days I sleep a lot sometimes out of boredom.

You have my commiseration.

Don't hesitate to post and feel proud of something like the apricot even if you know a few months later you'll do something that blows it out of the water. That learning curve is for life and there are beginners who'd be in awe of that apricot for being round and apricot colored. It's always cheering to see progress and know how much I've accomplished.

It also helps to bring sketch materials to appointments, because you will always wind up spending some time in the waiting room. It's better to sketch in the waiting room than just be bored. Most of them have something in them worth sketching, whether it's people or a potted plant or whatever. Or you can load some interesting references on your phone to sketch from.

I found that sometimes reducing the size of a reference so that I see the whole thing helps me avoid putting too much detail and makes it easier to plan the composition, versus looking in close at it with high resolution. I used to deliberately work from tiny phone photos before I got the good 5mb phone camera that's better than my digital camera, for that reason. It also helps me to work from life sketches done fast while I'm out.

I have to thank Charlie for that idea, because she does small plein air paintings on the site that don't take more than an hour to finish - so she captures the local light and effects, gets the color true, then does the big painting at home in the studio. I started thinking of my sketchbook as a big book of reference drawings. Hard pastels are great for that, or color Conte which are technically not hard pastels but feel like them and I lump them in with them.

As for clouds - YES!

Clouds are challenging! Clouds are harder than they seem! In kindergarten you learn to do clouds as sort of a hard edged scalloped oval in white on a flat blue sky. From there, it's almost impossible to break that into the real infinite variety of cloud hues and colors. "White" clouds usually aren't. It's much better to shade them with lightest lights and mix hues, use the whole rainbow of tints to combine to do them.

Deborah Secor did a landscape video with wonderful clouds instruction. That's who taught me to use pale orange, pale green and pale lavender together to create a neutral clouds mix that sizzles vibrant and gorgeous. Touches of pink or blue into that are great too.

Clouds are often soft-edged in particular ways. They trail out long or puff up, there's a bunch of different technical types of clouds in different weather. The moody grays of dark rain clouds are fun to play with too, stormy skies - again, mixing bright hues to get those grays is a better way to do it because they can lean more violet or more greenish or more orangy by what the predominant color of the ground is. Clouds will reflect the colors of the landscape in a subtle way.

I am still working on doing good clouds. I'd love to do some landscapes where the horizon line is just a little sliver of land and an irregular hill line, the clouds are the main subject and how they interact with patches of bare sky. The color of the sky is different too depending on latitude (how far North) and weather, season. Winter skies are generally more violet-cast blue, summer skies more green-cast blue. Southern skies are more green-cast blue and also literally a darker blue. Skies are always lightest at the horizon and darkest at the zenith (middle of the sky) so top of the painting sky is the darkest sky hue. Southwest landscapes always get away with a gorgeous turquoise sky.

Turquoise is a go-to color in so many things I can't count. Simple sets focus more on primaries but the tertiary colors like Turquoise are sometimes among the most useful.

Try picking out a good clouds reference from the Reference Image Library and paint it carefully true to the photo for shape, soft edges and value, even color. It'll be surprising and probably the best sky you've ever done. Backlit clouds are gorgeous and a very dramatic effect in paintings, if the sun's behind a cloud edging it in pale gold or near-white or bright gold (depending on time of day).

Light breaking through in a long clear beam from a hole in a backlit cloud is a trick often used in religious paintings to highlight the saint or Jesus or Mary or whoever the subject is. It also works to "spotlight" a barn or an animal or some other landscape element, a pointer to add to the focal area's intensity.

So there are hundreds of cool clouds tricks like that and discovering them is a matter of practice. Sketch-practicing drawing the immediate clouds above you can help, try drawing them from the negative by the sky around them and leave them blank in a sketchbook except for light shading for values. Clouds are three dimensional and will shade as a floating complex 3-d object, but some are so small they seem white all the way through.

Too regular a shape though, and you wind up with clouds that look like a flock of flying sheep. Very frustrating, that. I'm still working on them myself and in mind I paint clouds beter than the ones that wind up on the paper. Like everyone else, I'm ahead of myself. Teaching my hands to do what I can see and imagine is a life's work.

10-24-2013, 11:39 AM
Elise, I too was overwhelmed and bought a set of half-sticks and I'm now seeing all the gaps in it, which I'm trying to fill online and IRL. It's quite overwhelming still!

Robert, I didn't know the process of painting generates endorphins. You know, my art class was in the evening for 2 hours. For me, that's a lonnnnng time on my feet due to pain. Yet......I was distracted. And even after maybe it was endorphins that prevented me from hurting for the next 24 hours, which is what would normally happen. Hmmmm. Anyway, good to know.

Clouds, clouds, clouds!! The most beautiful and frustrating things on earth. Or in the sky anyway, haha. I live in Florida and we have beautiful clouds. I spend so much of my time outside glancing/staring up at them. I've painted them for years...in my head. Now if I could just get my arms and hands to cooperate! I'll find that video on youtube, thanks!

I sketch a lot in waiting rooms. Just yesterday I worked on a wheelchair while waiting. I wanted to draw a lady sitting next to me but she would have caught me. :D I've also got a sketching app on my phone which I enjoy also and it doesn't allow blending like wet paint so I have to layer. Good practice.

I love the idea of reducing a ref photo! I'm going to do that on something I'm working on now as I'm getting lost in fiddling with the details already and I've only just begun it! Another thing I may do is print out the pic and hang it on the wall so it's blurry without my glasses.

Teaching my hands to do what I can see and imagine is a life's work.
And I wish us all the best of successes in this endeavor!

I told my husband over the weekend I may take up astrophysics as I believe it would be less frustrating. Less rewarding though. ;) He keeps reminding me that nobody is born knowing how to paint.

I wonder how many paintbrushes are in the bottom of Monet's lily pond.

10-25-2013, 08:37 PM
LOL yeah, I'm sure there are some paint brushes in Monet's pond!

The endorphin relief tends to be very lasting. I know that when I'm painting it doesn't suddenly come rushing back after the painting's done. I've usually got the body energy to get up, run around, find push pins, get it onto the sketch wall afterwards. Pain itself takes a lot of body energy to resist, it can be exhausting, so pain-free time when it's because of something internal to the body like endorphins from being happy has a deeper, more healing effect.

Nobody is born knowing how to paint. Getting frustrated with your own paintings is partly attitude (no matter how good you are, you will always imagine and see better than your hands can paint, your mind's always three leaps ahead of those hands), and partly getting past a certain basic skill in rendering. It does get easier with practice.

Also at any level once in a while you do something that's serendipitous, way beyond your current level. There's a painting that when it's done, your jaw drops and you can't believe you did that. They come more often the more you learn. It's a wonderful feeling.

Sketch lots, that's the fastest way to get past that first milestone of stomaching your own attempts. Especially life sketching of things that sit still, simple subjects, a round glass, a sleeping animal with its back turned, a ball, a plate seen on edge. Or plastic fruit. I love plastic fruit for still lifes because once painted you can't tell it was fake. Pears are especially forgiving and have lots of character. You can do the same one in different colors too, any color you've ever seen a pear in the supermarket - all from one lime green plastic pear.

10-27-2013, 01:30 PM
Pain itself takes a lot of body energy to resist, it can be exhausting, so pain-free time when it's because of something internal to the body like endorphins from being happy has a deeper, more healing effect.

Yes, it does. It's a vampire, sucking the life out of a person. It's interesting to me that since I've finally begun to pursue my dream of learning to paint my health has been pushed aside. I'm still in pain always, still tired, but I'm distracted. And more fulfilled. The pain isn't necessarily at the forefront of my life. I'm not using food as much to cope. I'm automatically using art instead. And it's far more satisfying.

Oh, I love using plastic fruit, lol. We used it in class along with fake flowers. I think I will try painting them in some outlandish colors too. That sounds like fun. (I'm never going to live long enough to paint everything I want)

But the advantage to the real stuff is you get to eat it after. :D

I've had those brilliant paintings appear on my paper. People then see one and think that's my skill level and then think I'm being falsely modest when I protest that I can't paint like that normally. :cool: We're so misunderstood, us arteests. :D

10-28-2013, 08:47 PM
I used to be a very slow painter (now I'm "just" slow), and really liked faked fruit and flowers.

Indeed, when we focus on something else, aches and pains lose their importance. Painting is a great drug!

10-28-2013, 10:54 PM
That is a great idea. I should get some artificial flowers again, choose a few favorites and keep a box of them for still lifes. I never buy real ones for budget reasons, but decent well made silk flowers are just as realistic as the plastic fruit and just as permanent. I had some red ones in an arrangement in Arkansas but it got so dusty that I couldn't see the color, so they really need to be stored except when in use. Or dusted by home carers.

Art treats instead of food treats will definitely help with any weight issues too. I think half my fascination with candy was the wonderful colors and variety of shapes in some candies. Transparency, translucency, opacity... maybe I'll get good holiday candy this year and start arranging it.

10-31-2013, 11:56 AM
Yeah, it's amazing how those fake flowers and fruit never rot or wither. And dust just requires a shower. :D Up to a point anyway.

I never thought of painting candy, which would be gorgeous with some sun lighting it up....wow. Last night I did look at a cookie I was eating and think of painting it.

11-02-2013, 01:25 AM
Go for it! My home carer brought me some Halloween candy, Kit Kats and Jolly Ranchers and the best Paint Before Eating, short Rainbow Twizzlers with the warm colors in one pack and cool colors in the other. Irresistible still life of candy. I could leave them in their cellophane and try to do cellophane effects too, or take them out and arrange them separately... too cool.

11-03-2013, 01:41 AM
Go for it! My home carer brought me some Halloween candy, Kit Kats and Jolly Ranchers and the best Paint Before Eating, short Rainbow Twizzlers with the warm colors in one pack and cool colors in the other. Irresistible still life of candy. I could leave them in their cellophane and try to do cellophane effects too, or take them out and arrange them separately... too cool.

Please do share when you get these painted! I'd love to see them! The uniqueness, quirkiness, textures, colors....it doesn't get any better in my book. I'm inspired. I was eyeballing a gherkin pickle today and thinking it'd make a cool little subject.

11-03-2013, 11:41 PM
You know, it's really most important to have a useful range of values in your pastels -- good non-black darks, a number of very light non-white sticks and a reasonable variety of cool and warm sticks for the in-between values.

If you are missing a color you want, it's not a disaster. Just use another color (hue or saturation) of the same value that fits into your color scheme. Don't agonize about not having "exactly" the color you think you need. Another color of the correct value will work fine -- and perhaps even pull your painting in a fascinating, unexpected direction. Remember the Matisse painting often called "Green Stripe," a portrait of a woman with a green stripe running down the center of her face. The green he used is a middle value, and it fits the value scheme of the portrait.

My own favorites, the ones I always keep on hand so I can have the values I need: pale yellow ochers for highlights, deep blue violets for the darkest passages, greyed violet and greyed green for light-middle values, a good range of mineral reds (ochers, oxides) and of grey-greens for the middle values. And finally ... a saturated turquoise and a saturated mid-value red-orange or magenta to add sparks of intense color. With those in hand, I can pay attention to what matters most -- keeping the values right in my composition.


11-04-2013, 01:13 PM
Ciel, you know if I wasn't specifically looking for it I'd probably have never noticed that green stripe. Amazing.

I'm about to take the class Robert suggested and learn how to do the things you mentioned. I'm excited!

11-04-2013, 03:39 PM
Enjoy the class, Christina, and the endorphins!

Robert is a bottomless source of ideas, isn't he?


11-05-2013, 02:43 AM
Yes, Ciel, he is! :D And thank you.

12-06-2013, 11:01 PM
Dakota Art Pastels sells many of the brands they carry (and I think they carry almost every brand available!) open stock. I recently visited their warehouse, which is open to the public -- it is like an addictive candy store for artists! Check out their website and note that they have monthly specials and sales: Dakota Art (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/index.aspx)


WOW! Loving that photo :)