View Full Version : pre-mature frustration?

08-04-2014, 03:01 PM
Hi guys; I'm excited to find this community! I'm Ken and I have been an artist for 40+ years. I have a small gallery in the small town I live in Oregon, USA.
My mediums are oil,acrylic, watercolor, and some digital, as well as making my own custom frames using natural materials. HOWEVER....this is the first time I have tried oil or soft pastels. You see I came across an artist named Zaria Foreman on the internet; and found that she uses soft pastels for her photorealistic work. Absolutely incredible! But here is my dilemma .......I bought oil and soft pastels to try and see if this might be a new direction in my painting. But to get right to the point... it reminds me of using children's crayons. (No insult intended.) Just the way the flow breaks over the tooth of the watercolor paper I'm experimenting with. It feels like they dont want to blend together and become "choppy" very easily. It seems impossible that I cannot put light over dark values to save my life. Well; I must admit....maybe I bought the cheap product; and should have picked up very good quality sticks. But I didn't know if I was going to take to them or not. Most of my paintings have water in them; and seems like this technique is not very friendly to my kind of interests. However.... the artist I mentioned makes water look more photo realistic than just about any medium I have seen. Soft pastels logically seems like it should be a good fit for me. I really hope that this would be the right medium for me; and maybe I'm just expecting too much out of myself. Does anyone have some encouraging words that will help me find this awesome technique and medium? Thanks in advance!:wave:

08-04-2014, 04:22 PM
Definitely get some good quality pastels of both types! Cheap ones don't handle the same. An experienced pastelist can make them perform well, but the problem with cheap student products is that they're not as effective.

Broken color is what you're describing with the crayon-like choppy effect. It's a useful technique to create texture, it does not need to be there. I do it deliberately and sometimes sketch with it. You can get light over dark with soft pastels. One way is to try many different brands and have more than one type of stick. Sennelier half sticks are relatively inexpensive artist grade and happen to be among the softest. A Sennelier white or a few tints can give very strong light over dark effects on more firm medium soft or "hard" pastels.

"Hard" pastels are the least expensive and act more like sketching materials. They are the same formula as the cores of pastel pencils. Many realist and photo realist pastelists use pastel pencils or hard pastels for their effects.

Medium soft brands like Rembrandt are versatile, offering almost as much control as the hard pastels and a variety of textures. Entire paintings can be done in any of these types.

Hand rolled are fluffy, lighter, go on easily and tend toward loose expressions. Getting detail means breaking the stick and using its sharp freshly broken edge for fine lines and details. It's possible also to narrow a line or harden an edge by working back up to it after blending out a little beyond the line.

Super soft pastels like Terry Ludwig, Schminke and Sennelier are going to wear down fastest, leave bold marks and great for scumbling, broken color over many other layers without disturbing them. Or laying light over dark final accents.

A huge tip, possible even with the pastels you have, is blending out to get a smooth flat area of color or a smooth gradient or soft edge. However, working with fresh strokes gives more intensity to the color and value, a sparkle that isn't there in any other medium. Blending can be very useful for preliminary layers since you can put fresh marks over blended areas without mixing in the color under them. Most pastels are reasonably opaque. A blended underpainting can tone the paper and let you work darker and lighter from a muted or bright medium tone.

I'd suggest given your interest in realism that you get some sample pastel pencils and test their textures, then get a ful range set in the brand of your choice. A lot of realism in pastels also involves large passages that are done with bolder strokes but the strokes are close in value or texture and don't jump out as dramatically as those first strokes of broken color on a white surface. They just become textures.

Try painting with a red on a bright orange paper with broken color, or with any combination of paper and pastel that are close to hue and value. Give it that broken color stroke. Then try using light and bright colors on black paper. There's a particular zing that comes from black flecks showing thrugh light colors that makes them vibrant and seem even lighter.

Having an assortment of different pastel types allows a wider range of ways to get the same effects.

Colour Shapers can also help create fine detail and blend pastels without breaking down the crystals as much, though the best way to blend is by using an intermediate color stick. That'll keep the whole surface fresh and sparkling.

What pastels have going for them is instant gratification and a vibrance matched by no other medium. It's pigment with an absolute minimum of binder. If you're skilled at painting realism in wet mediums, you might take to Pan Pastels. They come in 2 1/2" round compacts like a lady's makeup compact and are applied with special Sofft tool micropore sponges that last longer and hold much more color than women's makeup applicators. A good starter set is the 10 Painters Colors which includes some tools, the 20 Painters Colors set has a wider range of tools and all their pigments. It can also be built up to the full range easily by adding the other 20 color sets.

I use 10 Painters as a plein air set, it has primaries, earths, black white and a couple of secondaries. A good range of hues if I were putting together 10 oil, acrylic or watercolor tubes. The tools handle like brushes and the sharp corners of the wedge sponge are very good for details, even more than the knives with soft covers.

They handle the most like paint, blend like paint, go over each other well especially on PastelMat coated pastel paper. It takes several layers before they blend at all on PastelMat, which also works well with stick pastels. An absolutely minimal set is the 5 Painters, just primaries, white and black. I found it limiting without the earths and secondaries and I do like the convenience colors, tints and darks and deep darks. But I was able to get decent results even with the 5 painters if your budget's tight.

So there are the different pastel types. All of them last a lot longer than I expected when I started out. They handle differently on different types of paper too. Sanded papers hold more layering and allow more complex effects, the more fine grit ones still allow as much detail as a plain paper but have much more tooth. Ampersand Pastelbord has a lot of tooth and very fine grit.

Last, in terms of getting detail, just working larger helps. I went from colored pencil realism with meticulous accuracy to pastels and discovered a different kind of realism, resting less on minute detail and more on accuracy of light, intensity of light and textural effects. One problem with photorealism is focus - there's a tendency to overdetail peripheral areas and draw attention away from the main subject. It will sometimes flatten out photorealist paintings and some painters do that deliberately, many also become expert photographers in the process of overcoming that. Or started out as photographers and became artists. The camera becomes a type of sketchbook with its effects part of the artist's overall tool kit.

Without seeing your work, I don't know as much about what you're looking for in pastels. They need to be glazed but they have a remarkable archival quality, pastels contemporary with oil paintings will still shine bright as the day they were created while the oils have yellowed, cracked and suffered with time.

So try different artist grade brands. A good workhorse starter set in one of the medium soft brands can help a lot. Pan Pastels handle like paint so you don't need all the colors, the small sets are enough to try them. Pastel pencils are very good for detail and much softer than colored pencils, it helps to work a little larger than for colored pencils realism but they do about that and a large range helps with those.

Half stick sets are a good bargain to increase the range of colors for less money. They don't wear down evenly. I thought that most weren't wearing down because they didn't get used much, but found instead that there are a few colors that wear fast by being used in large areas while most of the rest of the essentials are sometimes only essential for small areas and final touches, so a big range really helps.

There's free book on pastel painting by Deborah Secor online, Landscape Painting in Pastels. (http://landscapesinpastel.blogspot.com/) Her Materials chapter is a good guide to what you'll need to start and what's good to have later on. My own experience and many beginners I taught, it helps to have as large a range as possible to start. Going from a large palette to a small one takes some skill, but you're not a beginner artist so you may already have that skill. With a big palette what you have are convenience colors that save you trouble mixing and layering. Something can be stated in two sticks that might take me five or six layers to get that hue with a limited palette.

I hope that helps. You've mastered so many other mediums already that I think you'll enjoy pastels and get something different with them.

I'm also active on the Oil Pastels forums and the same thing applies with oil pastels - artist grade are much smoother in quality, softness varies with brand, and artist grade ones are much more lightfast. Some student grade brands though fugitive can handle well in sketchbooks and where the digitized art or prints are the final form. Try different brands and techniques. Some of the ways to get detail are similar, others not. Where oil pastels would use solvents, soft pastels use blending.

08-04-2014, 04:26 PM
Oil pastels and soft pastels are two very different mediums. Personally, I think the oil pastels are very difficult to use and are somewhat crayon-like. I wouldn't try working with both on the same painting. Soft pastels, on the other hand, are a very versatile medium and are often used much like oil paints in that they can be layered and/or blended and one can paint light over dark. I would put away the oil pastels for now and see what you can do with the soft pastels.

One drawback for any beginner in soft pastels is that there are too many different brands of pastels and papers, so it is difficult to experiment with them and see all that they can do. What brand of soft pastels do you have? What paper? I would strongly recommend papers that are made specifically for pastel, but even then there are many choices starting with smoother papers such as Canson Mi-Tientes and moving into sanded papers such as Uart. The sanded papers are considerably more expensive, but you can get an idea of what they are like by experimenting with regular hardware store sandpaper.

Personally, I have done a few paintings with water and water reflections and I do find that pastels work very well for this type of subject as you can use the pastel sticks on their sides (often breaking new sticks in half so they are not too large to work on their sides) and lay down water and reflection colors fairly easily.

Hope this helps! And welcome to the pastel forum!


P.S. There is also a separate oil pastel forum - they should be able to answer your oil pastel questions there!

08-04-2014, 05:42 PM
Robert and Dak; thank you both so much for the advice and time put in to explaining the process and materials. I forgot to add an image of the kind of art I like to do; so i will in this post. I really dont paint photo realistically; but am inspired by others work in this field. I guess my style lies more toward illustration and surrealism. When i started out back in the 70s; I used an airbrush and painted ocean scenes (surf art). Then went on to oils; and found that blending was an absolute joy for me. But drying time was almost impossible with a dog and a toddler running around! Then I found acrylics and loved them right away! I was a house painter and was already getting used to acrylic paint (even though it was house paint) But then even acrylic had its limitations. Oils were great for sea scapes; and acrylics were good for landscapes. But when I saw Zaria's art; I found a new inspiration and was dead set on learning pastels. So I purchased a 24 set of "Reeves" soft pastels and a 50 set of "Pentel" oil pastels. I already had a few tablets of canson and strathmore cold press acid free watercolor paper. I haven't tried sanded paper yet but absolutely will soon, Again thanks so much for the info. This seems like a great forum and I'm looking forward to getting to know some of you! :clap:

08-04-2014, 05:44 PM

"Invitation" Acrylic on 16X20 canvas board

08-04-2014, 06:23 PM
Oh wow! Thanks for the image and more about your previous mediums. Pastels will be so effective for what you like doing. I can see why your big concern is hard edges - pastels do blend and create those smooth transitions you love and you're used to working big with something that creates soft gradients. Happily it's possible to use templates with heavily blended soft pastel work if you want a cutout hard edge like you'd get with airbrush work and a gradient falling away from it.

Unfortunately you may have picked one of the worst sorts of soft pastels. Reeves soft pastels are for children, Reeves brand is the children's mediums company associated with Winsor & Newton. However, don't throw them away!

You're used to house painting. You work really big. Reeves pastels and Alphacolor and Loew-Cornell, all the student brands are good for pavement painting. If you want to paint on sidewalks and asphalt streets with them, they're non toxic, safe and cheap enough to do that. They're fugitive but if the photos of the work are its permanent record, have at! So they're not useless. When you use them up, Blick's house brand student grade are good ones for the purpose and cheap.

Look up brands at Dakota Pastels for their relative softness and plenty of information about them. Also Dick Blick online has a lot of information in all their pastel listings, so I surf both sites a lot before ordering any. Jerry's Artarama posts some information on them and has some free video lessons on using soft pastels. Visit all three sites before buying so you can educate yourself and read the materials threads here in the forum.

There are two massive long threads about Pan Pastels currently going here, the more recent has the previous one listed on the first post. Those threads are almost a complete course in using them, also the Pan Pastels website has videos on techniques and some great lessons videos including a stormy sky scene by Deborah Secor.

Having a BALL with Pan Pastels (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=455375) is the first thread started in 2007 when they were new. It got so long and heavy it was straining the servers and contains almost a complete course in them if you take the time to read the whole thing, with many beautiful paintings by master painters.

Pan Pastel Show & Tell (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=13900330#post13900330) is the new thread and probably only a few pages back now, I like to post in it whenever I do something with them to keep the continuous record of Pans experiments going.

Here's a link to a great Deborah Secor Video (http://vimeo.com/7336736) on Vimeo.

So that helps for Pans. Pan Pastel (http://www.panpastel.com/) has a company site full of information as mentioned. To work as large as you used to with some of your mediums, you might want the really big sponges and a big range of them, also large paper or boards. Full scale mat board may work as a good surface for Pan Pastel murals.

The other huge paper alternative would be rolls of watercolor paper, hot or cold press, and a sanded pastel ground like Golden Pumice Gel or Art Spectrum Multimedia Primer. I started with the Art Spectrum product as it's the same as my favorite Colourfix sanded pastel paper and boards, comes in the same 20 colors and comes with clear primer so I can underpaint with watercolor or tone the paper with it. Art Spectrum Supertooth only comes in Clear but has a harsh deep tooth more like Wallis and I like having those two grits in Clear, that's what I use currently. It comes in pint jars, black, white and clear come in one liter cans. If you work huge, the liter can would be cost effective.

All pastels need to be glazed though. Large ones probably should have lighter weight acrylic glazing and may need some bracing on the frames. If I could remember the name of the thread I'd link to it, some years ago someone posted about an enormous pastel mural project that got framed behind curved glass in a Las Vegas lobby, it was an enormous commission that cost them a fortune and her a good long time painting.

Every effect you got in that painting can be achieved in pastels, including those smooth gradients. Stick blending will give you smooth gradients without the broken color effect, that just takes practice. Highlights over color already there takes using a softer pastel and can be blended out to soft edges. Also here's one more tip. Workable fixative between layers can help partially isolate them and the marks laid later move the color under them less and don't blend as much. That's a very common, basic technique using fixative between layers.

Spectrafix casein based fixative comes in a non aerosol misting bottle or a concentrate to mix with drinking alcohol - vodka, everclear or any white high proof alcohol and a small misting bottle produced separately. It's safer for the environment and doesn't darken the colors as much as Krylon workable spray fixative or any aerosol brands. Hair spray is not workable fixative and yellows fast. It's intended to last for a day or two, not the lifetime of a painting, even if some street painters used it as such. You get what you pay for, there are archival fixatives with much less yellowing over time, but fixative can't be removed like varnish.

Generally paintings on sanded paper don't seem to need it while painting on a non sanded paper like Canson Mi-Tientes will get more layers and better protection if fixed. Some artists don't use it at all even on non sanded paper. Some do. I did during my street painting years and now only do on non sanded paper, the sanded papers hold the pigment better.

This rocks. I think you'll really enjoy pastels. One look at your previous works and you'll have a great time.

08-04-2014, 06:56 PM
Wow....thanks Robert! I've got a good direction now. I was kinda bummed out that I didn't take to it right to it off the bat. You had mentioned the word "Mural"....heh heh.......nobody gets away without seeing my mural that I just finished in May. Oh and I promise from this point forward: I'll make sure to stay on topic from now on. The mural is house grade acrylic. It's 8 X 10 feet on the wall in the gallery. Titled "Two pools" :)

08-04-2014, 07:53 PM
When you get more used to WetCanvas you'll find the Acrylic Forum (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=9)where you can post your acrylic paintings. Then, when you want to show them elsewhere, all you have to do is copy the url in that forum, and paste it into the forum you wish to show it to. Saves space in the forum that way.:D

08-05-2014, 09:57 AM
Very cool paintings, particularly "Two Pools". You'll love pastels.