View Full Version : Should a struggling artist stick to one medium

04-06-2014, 01:58 PM
Hi all I would like to hear your opinion on this.I am at the stage of my art journey where I am thinking I should decide if I should continue with pastels or watercolour,or acrylic. Love to hear your comments.

04-06-2014, 02:26 PM
Are you thinking you should because you are being told this or thinking that being an artist you "have" to venture out into other mediums? I am a pastelist though I have recently gotten back into watercolor. I only decided to continue with the watercolor because I love the medium and the excitement of learning this difficult medium.

I have worked with Acrylics and I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the time learning it at the time. I love mixing paint and I feel that I have the knack for it, I might go back to it, who knows. I think that you should venture out to discover what you like and what you want to do. After all, this art experience is a personal thing, don't you think? I haven't decided to take up watercolor because of anything other than I love the medium and especially how I feel when I paint with it.

Perhaps the only way to find out is to venture out and discover if it is something that moves you. Art is an emotional and spiritual experience and if it doesn't feel like you, don't do it. Hope this has helped.

04-06-2014, 02:56 PM
I think it is rather individual. Some artists do well in three media, while others need to focus. Many do two.

I did oils and pastels, as what worked in one of them more often than not worked in the other, but I abandoned oils because pastels were more fun (and no brushes to clean). But, just to get out of the rut, I dabble with watercolours (not showable to humans), precisely because the thinking is backwards (light to dark, losts of negative painting). It stimulates, and many things are useful for pastel painting too.

Do you prefer one medium over the other? Do you have time for 3 media? Might work to have one primary and two secondary. Or two primary and one secondary.

04-06-2014, 04:36 PM
I think it depends on your goals. There's no reason you can't focus on one medium and then every once in a while when you feel the itch pull out one of the others and do a painting or two. That's more less what I do. My primary focus is acrylics, it's the medium I just keep coming back to, but every now and then I get the itch to get the pastels out or the oils, I then do one or two paintings, get the itch out of my system and end up back with acrylics. There are artists that are accomplished in as many as three or four mediums, but I suspect those artists have been full time professionals for a long time. If art is a part time pursuit and your goal is to accomplish mastery and professionalism as soon as possible then it might be best to focus on one medium. The hard part is deciding which one! They all have their advantages and disadvantages.


04-06-2014, 05:38 PM
Personally, I think you should use whatever - and however many- mediums you like to work in. Aside from the extra cost of using various mediums, I see no reason not to work in more than one. If you do many, there is a good chance that you will ultimately enjoy some (or one) more than the others and the decision will be easy. If that doesn't happen, well, versatility can be a good thing, too! Personally, I find that some mediums are better at certain subjects than others. In pastels, I can do reasonably high quality portriats and figures, but to do a landscape, I am far more proficient in oils or acrylics.


04-06-2014, 07:45 PM
Margaret thanks for commenting I started in oils when I was in high school63 years ago also some watercolours. Did not pick up a brush until 13 years ago then it was watercolours and acrylics. Four years ago I found this forum and fell in love with pastels. However like all loves they sometimes get get stagnant. So now most of my work is in watercolour which I actually feel is not my best work but that is my opinion only. I work watercolours on both paper and aquabord and they are as different as night and day. Therefor more to learn.
Charlie nice to here from you it has been a while the reason I am not on here as much is twofold one I am a painting machine I love all the mediums I work in. But as I sell very sporadically I am finding my self bogged down with inventory. And I just sort of feel that having 3000.00 worth of pastel equipment that only get used once or twice a year is not a good business decision. I have two faults one being I can't seem to work with a limited palette I have to have all my pastels spread out over my large work bench still in there original boxes eight of them in all . I never could get used to making up a palette of all my colours. The second reason is I am lazy always looking for the fastest way to get something done thus so much easier to dig out my watercolours.
David I am afraid I will never become totally happy with my paintings no matter what medium I am in. But like you I love painting and will never stop trying to improve.
Don you may have hit the nail on the head with the additional cost it is quite possible that I am being a bit frugal,after all I am a Scotsman. Thanks to all this has been very informative for me so let's keep it rolling maybe my pastels won't end up in the swap shop yet.

04-06-2014, 11:28 PM
Interesting discussion.

I would just add that in order to "get really good" at something, one has to devote more time to it (thus devoting less time for other things). Unless you were born an art prodigy, which I am certainly not!:)

Like the saying "jack of all trades, master of none"

For me to improve, and be the best I can, I have to focus on one or two mediums. For me its pastel and oil. Pastels being the primary. Any more than that other then just playing around, I would be spreading my time between too many mediums, thus not growing fast enough in my favorites, pastel and oil. But thats just me.

04-07-2014, 12:13 AM
I returned to art upon my retirement after a "hiatus" of nearly 40 years...oh, how life gets in the way. My intention was to take classes in watercolors as I have always loved that medium. After some dismal results, I thought drawing classes might help. However, they weren't drawing as I had imagined, but pastels which I totally enjoyed from the beginning. So, I now take classes and work in both watercolors and pastels. I'm also eyeing oils or acrylics as I have dabbled a little in those. I really like the fluidity of paint and mixing colors which is something not done so easily in pastels. My thoughts, for what they're worth...work in whichever medium makes you happy, knowing that it might change from time to time.

04-07-2014, 02:05 AM
My opinion respectfully differs from all the above answers. Over the decades I have worked in oils, watercolor, acrylics, digital and pastel. It was fun and I learned a lot. Currently I am focusing on pastel and I consciously put away my paints and equipment for other mediums as I am easily distracted or tempted to revert when I get discouraged with my pastels. I have made the mistake all this time in not putting a full effort into one area and consequently never truly mastering any medium. When I finally admitted that the years were growing short (along with my endurance), I realized that only by sticking with one medium could I accomplish anything meaningful.
Looking to the future I feel secure knowing that I can work in pastel with minimal space, mess or cleanup. I can work anywhere and not spend half my time on setup or putting everything away. I can work seated at a table in any room. And my painting clothes will wash up good as new.
If you are a young person, definitely try every medium( if you can afford it) but for those of us seniors, my opinion is to get the most from art, focus on what you love.

04-07-2014, 01:02 PM
This thread is interesting.
I work in many mediums. Acrylic, colored pencil, ink, watercolor and most recently pastels. what can be gained by using so many different materials- you can get the effect you want for different subjects. I like the transparency of watercolor for florals, but find I struggle with watercolor landscapes. I like the graphic look and the sharp edges you can get with acrylics. I think pastels were MADE for landscapes and portraits, though I struggle with both.

I think part of the decision should be based on what you want to accomplish with your art- is it a business or an expensive hobby.

As a business, unless you're one of the few that become well know, it makes little sense financially. I just hung 53 paintings at a retirement home. I was a last minute fill in, and decided to take the spot while knowing I had 20 things to frame in a week. I spent a lot of money on frames etc.. spent 4 hours of my husbands time hanging them, plus travel time and $- to maybe sell a couple small paintings? I may recover the cost of materials for all the framing, maybe not. Net loss. Not a good way to make money.

As a hobby- I justify the expenses of so many different choices with things like- I only get my hair cut once a year. I spend little money on clothes, I clip coupons for groceries. I try and save my "lost money spent on my hobby" in other ways. I find what materials I want, then wait for the best price. As a thrifty person I understand the quilt of spending a lot of money on something that won't necessarily give back. I'd be better off buying a new hay bailer than more painting supplies! I'm grateful I have a supportive family. My husband has given me an opportunity to see if "art as a career" is a possibility.

If I picked my medium on a strickly financial basis, I would be an acrylic artist alone. I would spend my time pumping out large bold florals. I still enjoy learning and trying new things. Pastels have taught me more about color than any of the others, they have helped me become a better artist in all the things I've tryed.

So is it a hobby with potential financial benifits or is it a new career? I think that should come into play. I have asked myself this question so many times over the last few years. No answer for me yet.

I recently did the identical subject in both pastels and watercolor. I liked my watercolor MUCH better. I think doing that helps you see the limits and benefits of both without the subject matter coming into play. Then decide where you want to go.

I hope this makes sense.
sorry for my spelling- spell check hasn't worked for a while

04-07-2014, 04:53 PM
For me mastering a medium is important. If you have a medium mastered, it makes it easier to then master a subject. At least if you have a medium figured out, you can then concentrate your efforts on a particular subject without fighting the quirks of the medium. It's sort of like a building block in the journey. If an artist is intent on learning everything there is to know about let's say landscapes, having to figure out how to handle a medium as well can make things more difficult.

What does an artist do though, when they are just starting out???? I guess it can be sort of like "what comes first, the chicken or the egg?"..... what do you decide to do, perfect your medium, or perfect your subject, or do both at the same time...... The only answer to that would be to pick a medium that you seem most comfortable with, or one that you just "like the looks of" best. Then combine both the medium and the subject and have at it. Of course, often times an artist will change their mind once into it (I did..., I am sure there are many others that did as well).

I think given the choice, I would try to perfect the medium, painting whatever subject pleases you. The trick is to pick a medium you love. Decide what you love most about all the mediums you've tried, and narrow it down to the one you love most. For some people there just isn't one, for others there is.

My journey was one of graphite black and white drawings, which led me to color pencil drawings. I wanted to dabble with color and paint, so I tried watercolor. My teacher at the time suggested I try pastels, because they were closer to graphite and color pencils, the two mediums I was most comfortable with. Watercolors were (and still are) fun, but not my first love. After about a year of playing with pastels, I fell in love with them. I didn't love them at first, it was more of a love/hate relationship. Once things started to become clear, and I was able to get some satisfying results, pastels became my "go-to" medium, and I haven't looked back. I still play with watercolor, but I haven't framed one in a very long time. They just don't do it for me like pastels do. I love "the look" of pastels, I can spot one in a gallery or an art show immediately, I always seem to gravitate towards them. The pure color, the immediacy of application, no brushes, no dry time, the endless ways to underpaint, the different surfaces to paint on, they are so forgiving, there is a lot to love about pastels. Their only negative is the framing, they must be under glass..... I've just learned to accept it as part of the process.

04-07-2014, 10:03 PM
Thanks Ron ,Peg ,Sunione, D.B. and Chris you have all very obviously put a great deal of thought in to your answers.I think that we are all agreed in the believe if you want to master a medium then sticking to the one is the best route to take. However it seems that there are quite a variety of questions to be answered before that decision should be made. I will always be a hobby artist,and I am comfortable with that.I just have a hard time accepting my work if I don't feel it is my best. Having said that I can get that feeling when I am working in either medium which brings me back to should I stick to 1 medium.
I totally enjoy working in both mediums I pass at least four hours every day painting I have paintings every where, I am running out of storage places. Pastels are more of a nuisance to store. I also painted the same scene in pastels and in watercolour and I think that the w.c is the best but neither where very good and of course that is only my opinion. Anyway I am thoroughly enjoying this thread so thanks to you all again.

04-07-2014, 10:46 PM
I use many things,and i still have another creativity i compose music. But to graphical arts i like mostly watercolors,soft pastels and watercolor pencils/crayons.

04-08-2014, 12:28 PM
I believe it's personal choice. I find working in different media really strengthens my skill level across all of them, and keeps me fresh and inspired.

I work in oils, watercolours and pastels, I switch between them because it's fun.

I just finished a complex oil painting, then went straight back to pastels, and discovered how much I love them all over again.

In my humble opinion the driving reason to make art is the sheer fun of it, if you enjoy both watercolours and pastels, then do that. :)

04-08-2014, 01:43 PM
If you have time to spend about 4 hours a day on painting, then I think that you really can continue in more than one medium. Mastering more than one medium may be difficult if you have time constraints. Even during times when I was most productive, I probably did no more than a dozen paintings a year. In that case, it is hard to switch mediums and continue to advance, but with painting time every day, I would definitely do as many mediums as I could. I would think it would be very boring and I would get stale if I worked 4 hours a day in the same medium!


04-09-2014, 07:51 AM
I got into art (the subject I enjoyed most at school) because SWMBO wanted to try it. We started with a graphite plein aire or outdoors drawing, that's a few years ago now. We are both retired. and that gave me all the time to play. I enjoy every medium of art. I have enjoyed w/shops in them all. Could I pick one above all others to master? Nope, I'm having fun and I do not have to master any of them.

Along come grand children and I get side tracked into all sorts. Computers and archery and the latest is metal detecting. So I am a very busy chappy doing lots of fun things and introducing grandchildren to interesting things-including drawing.

04-10-2014, 12:49 AM
I like to switch sometimes and it always makes my creative juices flow faster. I switched to oils for a while and am currently playing with clay making handbuilt critters. I also sketch and occasionally use coloured pencils and pen and ink. I am having a blast and will eventually come back to pastels. I am retired so have plenty of time to try just about anything. Each time I go back to another medium I find I have growth from the time before, so I think just creating in of itself makes you a better artist all round. Everyone is different but I enjoy the variety.

04-10-2014, 08:25 AM
the important thing to bear in mind, imho, is that watercolour requires the artist to work from light to dark..........while with pastels, and oils, and acrylics, you do not have this restriction....and often, it is better to work the other way round completely, from dark to lightest touches at the end. This requires a totally different mind-set, so switching from one medium to another all the time could be muddling and could prevent you from making the progress you seek.

Also, keeping all your pastels in their original boxes means that you have not bitten the bullet of sorting them out into TONES. I really believe this is an essential part of your learning, and of your ability to work well with pastels. By all means, keep hard pastels, and soft pastels, separated....because it can be frustrating to pick up a hard pastel and try to work it over soft ones - and anyway, hard pastels do not have the tonal range of soft ones.

I suggest you spend one of your four hour painting sessions, sorting out all your soft pastels. MIX THEM UP AND REBUILD THE BOXES, IN COLOUR AND TONE - can I hear you gasp in horror? Well, too bad, it will do you so much good. Make yourself
a box of blues and purples
a box of greens
a box of reds and oranges
a box of yellows and ochres and browns
a box of warm greys
a box of cool greys

now that is only six boxes, not too bad to sort out. If you want, you could go further - cool greens, warm greens, etc.

Then, sort them further into tones, shading from lightest to darkest. This is really the most important bit.

This exercise alone will teach you so much about tone values, and this will feed into all of your work, no matter what medium.

Herre is Richard McKinley's outdoor palette. See how he has stripped the paper off the pastels, and then sorted them out not just for colour, but also for tone. AND NOTICE HOW HE IS NOT WEDDED TO ANY ONE BRAND. He buys for the colour and tone, and then uses these as he needs them, and sorted this way means that he can glance at his box and pick up just the right colour/ tone needed. You have to plough through 8 boxes! And this is just his outdoor kit. In my studio, I have a setup which is as described above..a variety of boxes sorted into colour, and then tone.....and my outdoor kit looks like Richard's. ( Only not so tidy.) I buy good brands that I know I will enjoy working with - Schmincke/Terry Ludwig/Rowney - my favourite softies - and then I make sure that I put them into the right tonal slot in the right colour box.


I think it is marvellous that you devote so much time and energy to your love of painting, but it is sad that you never feel satisfied with what you produce. Perhaps it might help to concentrate on one medium for a while, before switching to another when you feel the time is right for a change. Maybe 6 months at a time will give you a fair old crack of the whip, and give you a chance to really improve your techniques in each medium.

04-10-2014, 11:08 AM
My personal opinion is: try more technique as possible, so you know how they work and which is the best for you. I started with watercolors, move to gouache, then tried oils.. After I return to gouache,then I move to acrylics.. Finally I recently found love in soft pastels.. :) So now I've decided that I've got to stop here, because I feel it in my heart and in my mind! I think it's the medium that choose you, not you that choose the medium! :) Like a musician that feels which instrument is the best for him for his sensibility! :)


04-11-2014, 04:07 AM
Do not get rid of your supplies if you decide to concentrate on one medium! Sometimes it's good to do that. Sometimes for a while, but more often it's something to do and there comes a point you need a break.

That's when to get out something else and use it. I use different mediums in different ways. For pocket stuff, watercolor pencils turned out to be my favorite but I didn't realize this till I'd carried around many pocket sketch tools for years - and I still do because that might not be what I want to do at the moment.

Not being interested in something at the moment doesn't mean you won't find a use for it later. Especially the combo of watercolor and pastels. Watercolor underpaintings are part of pastel technique. I like to do them on watercolor paper and then use Colourfix clear primer over the underpainting, so I now have an underpainting and a sandy surface.

Acrylics can be used for a lot of things, including a lot of hobby or around the house sorts of decorative painting that aren't art on a canvas. I found them really nice for painted postcards, they stand up to the post better than watercolor or pencil drawing or pretty much anything else. If I wanted pen and color, acrylic thinned till it's like watercolor on a pen drawing worked. There's these different ways of using the materials and having them around is handy.

But if you're running into financial problems buying stuff, focusing in one and developing a really good collection helps a lot. Newer pastelists benefit from the most possible sticks in the biggest range of color and tone. Jackie is right. If you're still using them in the set boxes and haven't sorted for color ind tone, it's harder to see all that you have and harder to paint. Pastels are one of those media where the more the merrier. Color, tone and texture are really the things to expand on.

It doesn't mean not painting with a limited palette of only a few sticks. It's more that being able to choose it out of a very large range gives much more control and more possibilities. I like the strong colors and lean toward Charlie's palette sometimes, but every now and then I want to do something more muted and go to the muted gray-green, gray-violet or blue, the browns that lean toward red, orange or yellow.

Colored pencils are like that too and the manufacturers are finally getting it about enough lights and darks across the spectrum. I can use one brand for the whole painting, but it works a lot better if I go hard to soft in the layers. It also saves money, the hard or firm pastels are cheaper than the softest or the hand rolled. Half sticks are a good bargain. Used sets are a wonderful bargain that often come pre-sorted and peeled. With enough of a collection I am good at guessing the brand on a piece from its texture and shape, but that took time.

That said, don't get rid of your previous supplies if you decide to focus. There's my own added bit of advice. I ditched all my supplies once and seriously regretted that when it came to replacing the ones I missed. Inevitably that impulse results in getting rid of something I'd really miss and keeping some stuff I'd scratch my head about later.

The only trouble with acrylic underpainting might be a slick surface. But, I used that Colourfix primer and that'd break up the slick surface. You could underpaint with thick acrylic, give it some texture and brush strokes, sandy primer over that or mixed with the paint. Then pastel over that added texture and have another cool texture. Use the heavy brush strokes to build up areas of less texture or more texture so maybe your rocks are very rough and rocky, but the smooth sand down on the beach is smoother and easier to gradate, the foam on the waves is all done sort of with the tip of the brush to make a rugged texture but the shape of the waves is followed with a stiff brush - and you can't experiment like that if you get rid of your supplies. They may all come back into your pastel painting in some way. Richard McKinley even uses oils in underpainting sometimes.

The box Jackie showed is a Dakota Traveller. It can be brought outdoors. Those boxes tend to be expensive but a good investment, the Dakota ones cheaper than the Heilmans but not quite as fancy. At the cheapest you can use foam core and duct tape to make studio trays at home yourself that fit your painting area. Or go with the multiple boxes by hue or hue group to sort by tones within a color group. I have the small Dakota, mine is sorted into four bright color groups, blue, green, red, yellow-orange, with warm neutrals in one and cool neutrals in the last.

Break the sticks into halves or maybe thirds with Mount Vision. This is a lot easier to paint with. Buying half sticks sets is really good. With enough sticks it doesn't matter as much replacing a specific color in a specific brand, I tend to use them all and the one that fits at the moment rather than develop and wear down total favorites. Your results may vary, but I got to that point at about a thousand total pieces in different colors, textures and tones. Don't hesitate to email either Dick Blick or Jerry's Artarama and ask for samples of brands you haven't tried. Both companies are very generous with samples of the artist grade brands and those can let you feel and try the texture before putting hundreds of dollars into a big order or a set. They're all cheaper in sets per stick though, and I found all colors useful anyway. I think of open stock as either to try a brand or to get colors missing from my palette. Usually that's gaps in the lights or darks more than in the full pure tone middle ranges.

Keep in mind too that there are days when the logistics of one medium may be too difficult, if you're tired or don't have much time or get sick. Something you love may not be today's easy thing but something else turn out to be fantastic in another situation.

As for learning, I found that every time I work in other media, I learn something useful in pastels. This even includes color mixing. In blended earlier layers or background areas, color mixing does work. Mostly with my thumbs and fingers despite having gotten a lot of fancy blenders. Any paints allow mixing easier and so you can get away with fewer colors, tint and shade for yourself with black and white or black and thinning liquid.

Acrylics mix well with powdered grit to make primers to create sanded surfaces, there's a wide variety of cool grits available that you can use with them. The primer I like is basically acrylic with clear grit in it.

Pastels are Instant Gratification. They are the medium where I can get the boldest results in the least time. I can work bigger and brighter and full color in pastels without getting lost in too much detail or taking forever to finish, there's no waiting for paint to dry. These are all the reasons pastel floated to the top for me as my eyesight degraded and my working time diminished. Colored pencil realism was my favorite for a long time though, for the opposite reasons. I already had mobility limits and the first dose of chronic fatigue, so something that got me sitting still hours on end to produce something beautiful was just right to help me relax and produce something I love.

As for making it pay for itself even as a hobby, pastels out of all the mediums I've tried were my go-to. They sell fast, I got good prices for them and could do them in quite a short time. Framing necessary, oils or acrylics on stretched canvas don't need frames. Larger watercolors took a lot of standing up and moving around that became too difficult for me, so I don't really do those large but treat it as a pocket medium on small watercolor blocks. Water brush and pan watercolors proved easiest for that too, along with the watercolor pencils and water brush.

Drawing, just basic drawing, with a pencil, charcoal or pastel is real important to figurative art. What you practice in isn't as important as doing a lot of it. Sketch a lot. Keep sketchbooks. Anything will work, ball point pen on sketchbook works, just whatever you have to hand. This will improve your pastels and your paintings in all mediums. I like the soft smudgy B and high number B pencils like 6B best, or charcoal pencils because that's closer to pastel and I like shading by smudging for speed. I don't have the patience any more for layering with slow careful tonal layers although it was a good hand exercise to do so with normal HB pencils or even hard pencils (the H range).

I do recommend watercolor pencils or water soluble crayons like the ArtBars and a waterbrush for a sketch medium, you get sketch in and then wash to get tonal areas or just run the brush over the tip to get color and do wash areas. They're handy. Some of them re-wet and dissolve, others once dried don't re-wet and can be worked over. Most artist grade colored pencils are pretty soft and do work well as sketch pencils as well as for serious careful realism drawings.

The main thing is to keep doing drawing practice as well as painting practice, in whatever medium. The things wet paint does can come through in pastels. You can even wash underpaintings done in pastel, dissolve it into liquid and blur it or move it around or mix it. These other mediums and their techniques contribute to my pasteling and I always learn something that comes up again in pastel paintings.

There is so much to learn in art that it can't be fully mastered in a human lifetime, not even in one medium. Focusing in one direction or another can be good but it doesn't have to be forever and even if it becomes your main one, getting into something else for a while can help you improve your main one. Same thing with subjects, a new one might give a new perspective on favorites. I didn't like doing people until I could do them well, but once I could, portraits were easy and helped me do better wildlife and especially cats. Life drawing anything, difficult or easy, helps all mediums.

So there's my thoughts on it. Don't throw out what you're not interested in now, just focus your budget more on your main interest and use every sensible trick to get the most for your money. Also sell pastels to support the pastel addiction, it really helps to do that. Even though they're expensive I never bought a set that didn't pay for itself pretty fast. The same could not be said for colored pencils.

04-11-2014, 02:30 PM
Well now I think replying to you all is going to take up some of my. Four hours dedicated to art.lol.
Don thanks for commenting I might not have made myself very clear,on the four hours somedays
That 4hours can be totally consumed in study such as watching videos and taking J. Vloothius paint alongs. not all but most of my paintings take me about 8 hours just to rough draw that is the bigger ones 24 x36 and over.(not pastels that big).
Jim thanks for your comments.I also have a recent grandson now 2years old and the are such a joy he works in chalk and crayon it's very hard to tell what the. Subject matter is.lol
Jen thanks for your comments I too enjoy a change in mediums. I am happy working in any medium and never get bored there is just to much to learn to have time to be bored.
Jackie thanks for your comments you are always there to get me back on right track. I am afraid that I got so discouraged with my inability to sort my pastels in there correct values that I gave up trying and I did try every suggestion Fromm squinting to using red coloured plastic paper nothing seemed to work for me. However after reading Roberts comments I have decided to keep my pastel collection and if I do that I have to get them in more serviceable boxes.
I actually have all the papers of my pastels and made up a wall chart with all the colors on it. And the most of them are in half sticks I also have Stephanie Birdsall landscape box and Albert Handell landscape box by Unison.plus all sorts of hard pastels. I could open a candy store.:lol:
Enrico thanks for your comments It looks like I will be taking time to work in at least w.c. And pastels with the odd acrylic thrown in.
Robert So nice to hear. From you, you were of the site for a few months a while back and I really missed your expert advice, now once again you are instrumental in my decision making. Thanks for taking so much of your time to give me your advice,I am pleased to tell you that I am taking it to heart and keeping my pastels bad news for the pastelists looking for deals.:lol:
Once again thanks to all for there wonderful comments

04-12-2014, 06:05 AM
Barrie, have you ever tried my exercises for sorting out the tone of a pastel?
If not, I suggest you do, it will teach you LOADS, and I have no doubt you will "get it".

In the meantime, even if you find it hard to sort out tones, nobody can tell me that they do not know the difference between a blue, a red and a yellow pastel. So instead of worrying overly much about the tones, simply get all your COLOURS sorted out. You must have an understanding of what is light, and what is dark....so simply put all your blues together, get them out of the manufacturer's boxes....and
1. put all the lightest blues into an empty box at the top.
2. Then, put all the darkest ones at the bottom.
3. And then all the others can go in between.

Simples! Then at least you will have all your blues together in light, medium and dark tones. I do not believe that you cannot do this. Hopping from one manufacturers box to another, trying to find the right shade of medium blue, is virtually impossible otherwise.

If you want to try my exercises, to teach yourself more about recognising tone values, here are a few different ones.

1. The easiest I think.
create a horizontal line of, say, 5 greens patches, starting from dark, thro to very light. Under that, create a line of any colour except green - trying to find colours which are similar in tone to the green patch above it.

Photocopy your results in greyscale. See how well you did this.

2. Similar exercise, perhaps a bit harder.
BEGIN WITH A ROW OF GREYS, WORKING FROM LIGHT TO DARK OR VICE VERSA. 7 ideally. (If you do not have seven different greys of the right tones, then begin with a line of greys you have created in soft pencil, pressing harder as you go along the row.) Under that top row, put down any colour you like, but try to match the tones. Not easy, but quite fun and challenging. Ideally mix up the colours, do not just put down a row of dark greens under the darkest grey.

Look at my effort, and then look at the small photocopied version in greyscale. Even I got a few wrong!


3. This one is FUN to do.
Find a page in a magazine which has a large image on it, in colour, with lots of shades, from light to dark. Tear a long strip out of the picture about 5cm widex 20cm tall. Make sure there are lots of different "shapes" in this strip, and tones too, from light to dark. Put this down onto a sheet of white paper, ideally upside down so all you can really see is a load of shapes from top of the strip to bottom.

Then, using only a soft pencil - 4 B perhaps - reproduce that strip, right alongside it, in a range of greys thro from light to dark, trying to make your tones as similar to the tones in the strip as possible.

Then, photocopy your finished sheet in b/w. See how closely you managed to replicate the tones. You will quickly see where you got it wrong, made a colour too light, or too dark a shade of grey.

then, paint the strip again in different colours, trying to match the lightness or darkness of each shape correctly. Photocopy again, in greyscale, see how close you got.

I truly do not believe you cannot do it, you absolutely DO know what is light and what is dark, I can see it in your paintings. Sometimes you get a bit lost when using reds...but reds are notoriously difficult to assess for tone, they are ALWAYS much darker than you think they are. Just look at my chart above, you will see this for yourself. They look positioned quite wrongly, standing well out from the ones above and below- yet when photographed in greyscale, they ARE in the right place, and are therefore much darker than one might initially think.

Practice makes perfect. If you are to make good progress in ANY medium, you need to get this aspect of your development buttoned down.

04-12-2014, 12:14 PM
okay okay okay:lol: :lol:
Hi Jackie I think I love you, however do you see what you have done now instead of getting a few bucks back from selling my pastel collection now I am away shopping for some of the best available pastel boxes.I just hope that the most expensive. Is not the best :lol: on the serious side thank you so much once again you have made me realize the error of my ways. What convinced me that you are perfectly correct is I actually found 1 of your mistakes before I looked at the greyscale model. I am seemingly guilty of negativism.

04-13-2014, 05:18 AM
now, now David...steady on. You do not need to buy expensive pastels boxes.
I used OLD TRAYS, picked up from a junk shop, now sitting on a large, old table. A tray of blues, a tray of greens, a smaller tray of whites and creams and yellows a tray of reds, oranges and browns, a tray of neutrals and greys. I think I might also have a small tray of purples, since I like to keep them separate from the blues. Tho they do move around at night, I think they have legs....

I have separated the tones by gluing balsa wood to create a large "honeycomb" effect in each large tray ..lots of squares, well, at least three down and several across in each tray. Each large square big enough to hold a stack of pastels - so, light pastels in the top one, medium pastels in the middle and then dark pastels in the bottom square. One of my biggest trays has four sections down, and about 5 or 6 across. I picked up the trays in junk shops and car boot sales. I have even used an old picture frame - I put a backing board into the frame, that became the base, and then put in the sections.

Of course, if I have pastels boxes, I do try to use them, and when you buy a whole set in a smart box, you have the box...but if it is a box with individual foams for each pastel, I find it a bore to put pastels away one by one, it is much easier for me to put them into a "section" and when I need to clean them, I clean a whole batch at once.

I tended to use those pastels boxes for keeping stock of pastels that I rarely used...but eventually, as my travelling boxes fell apart, I took out the foam, and used the boxes as travelling ones.

If you have patience, then it is fine, I guess, to use the boxes with foam inserts for individual pastels. Just so time consuming!!!

04-13-2014, 09:54 AM
David, to encourage you, I usually need to sort my pastels at least 3 times before I get them right enough in value. And some of the pesky little things look lighter than they are, that is, the piece of stick looks like one value, but applied on paper it is two values darker...

If the light in the room is from bulbs, the warm colours will look lighter in value. If you sort them using daylight from the sky, the cool colours will look lighter.

And cameras lie about value. Very often blues are too light, and reds get too dark.

Basically, it is nearly impossible to get it perfect. I guess a spectrograph or something might do the trick.

Sarah Rose
04-13-2014, 12:42 PM
Excellent advice as always Jackie. David, it took me several attempts to sort mine, and I should refine them more. I have a tray that my husband made that is about 2X3 feet with a 1 inch lip. I lined this with the rubber shelve liner with the holes in it that you can get just about anywhere these days, then I hot glued some foam board strips into it to make six compartments. When I would get overwhelmed with sorting I would take a pic with my iPad and convert it to black and white to show the more obvious sticks I had put in the wrong places. Unlike lots of people I have never had a problem breaking my sticks and putting them all together in my tray. I keep the other parts of the sticks in the boxes they came in stored away in my closet. I have no problem telling what brand any of the pieces are in my tray, you do get to know them :)

I work in two different mediums, quite different. My professional career is as a sculptor. I have been playing around with pastels since August of 2012, and have found the painting makes me a better sculptor.

04-13-2014, 07:25 PM
Hi Jackie I did check out the threads on boxes and I find that most artists make do with making up some thing of there own design. I do like the idea of foam board for making the partitions. And I can use the wooden boxes that my pastels came in. Thanks for your input
Charlie I will just have to persevere until I get it right. I must admit I never thought to try in day light.must give that a try I do find my work is better
working outside.
Sarah thanks for your comments,I do like the idea of foam core board for dividers. I also have never had a problem breaking my pastels I have a full Monty of great Americans and they are just about all in halves..

04-14-2014, 04:38 AM
Sarah Rose's advice is terrific. If confused, take a photo and then convert to greyscale! Brilliant!
Also, using Foam Board to make compartments is really good too. Probably better than my balsa wood.

if you have one compartment for very light tones, one for darks, and one or maybe two in between for mid-tones, then if you put sticks back in the wrong place, you will certainly be able to see quite quickly and easily.

Have fun!


04-14-2014, 08:37 AM
Don't get too hung up on making your value distributions perfect. I believe the last time I checked, there are 4 or 5 different ways to convert photos into grayscale on your computer - and each will give slightly different results. Some take saturation or chroma into account, I believe. I think there is a tendency in some colors that if they are more intense they look lighter in value. And if we perceive them be lighter, then they are lighter, aren't they? Even if the conversion to grayscale makes them appear different. But I don't really want to get into the philosophical nature of perception....

I'm not sure what this discussion about sorting pastels has to do with the original question of sticking to one medium, but just in case some folks are wondering if everyone sorts their pastels by lumping them all together into a few boxes sorted by value, well, I don't. Since pastels are sold in groups - that are usually one color in a string of values - that's how I keep mine. Perhaps this is because I do work in various mediums where colors need to be mixed. So I keep my "Ultramarine blues" in one group, my "yellow ochres" in another, etc.

That said, it is no doubt a good idea to group pastels in some way and sorting by value is a tried and true method.


04-14-2014, 10:53 AM
I sort my pastels more or less according to the color wheel, kinda like Mickinley does but I don't separate the nuetrals. Maybe I'm odd but I have a natural tendency to reach for the neutrals even when the saturated colors are right next to them. I actually have to force myself to use the "candy". I'm not sure there's really a need to be all that fussy about the values on your palette though. I get mine close and that's good enough, you could spend hours trying to get it perfect, I'd rather be painting and it's in the painting that your values really need to be correct.


04-22-2014, 02:12 PM
Jackie Don and David thanks for your comments. I guess we did get of the original subject Don. While I quite realize that threads are for the good of the whole,I have made up my mind that I am going to continue painting in what ever medium that suits my fancy at the time. To help me keep my studio space to a workable area I will sort my pastels into a palette that will give me enough to do most paintings and store the rest. Acrylics and watercolours are so much easier to store without taking up to much space. I have really enjoyed hearing everyone's ideas on the subject and thanks to all
Best regards