View Full Version : After teaching drawing to high school girls, which medium

02-01-2015, 10:07 PM
do people think is the most natural transition to color work: soft pastel or watercolor?

This past school semester, I've been introducing color to my drawing students with the medium of soft pastel. It has been going well. But recently I discovered a local art school for children and teens. I was very impressed by their philosophy as stated on their website, and I noticed that they recommended a transition to color by using watercolor.

Thank you for your input,
Corkyk:) :wave:

02-01-2015, 11:59 PM
I would definitely say that pastel or colored pencil would be the most natural transition as they can both be used as a drawing or painting medium. Having worked in pastel, oil, acrylic, and watercolor, I would definitely choose pastel to transition from drawing since it is similar to drawing mediums being dry and being hand held (no brushes, no liquid).

However, with pastel you are dealing with pastel dust. How do you handle that in a school setting? While each artist individually can decide what (if any) health and safety procedures they want to use - such as gloves and/or dust mask, how do you make that decision for an entire class. I spent most of my years not doing anything totally not concerned with dust issues- and that was the accepted procedure when I learned pastels in college - but we live in a different world now and I would have to consider the possibility of litigation if some parent decided to sue because you did not provide dust masks or used pastels that contain cadmium or other potentially harmful substances.

Watercolor is probably the easiest painting medium to use in a class setting. I doubt it has much to do with philosophy or being a good transitional medium. It most likely has to do with ease of use and cleanup.

That's my 2 cents - and keep in mind that I have never taught an art class in a school or any other class setting!


02-02-2015, 12:55 AM
I'd go for soft pastel but I'd stick to non toxic brands and types like the Gallery Mungyo range. Or start them off with hard pastels as being less dusty and likely to be non toxic, many brands are. Cretacolor Pastels Carre' are lightfast but non toxic and that makes them great. Colors mix well by blending.

I would also include watercolor and watercolor underpainting so they can get some skill at mixing colors in wet mediums. Limiting the number of pigments in the watercolor would make it easier on the students' budget and make the color mixing lessons become more effective - a good clean primary triad and a strong earth color would be good or a black or Payne's Gray. Or split primaries and Burnt Sienna and Payne's Gray.

Pastels transition better toward painting. You do painterly things with them as well as drawing ,but good drawing can also be done. You can also shade and mix with blending or using water washes, turn pastels into opaque watercolor right on the paper. I'd have them using watercolor pads and tone them with washes, do color mixing exercises as well as paintings in wet media. If you can only get them set up for one, pastels are versatile.

Most of all I am thinking of kids and limited time. Pastels give bold, visible, powerful results and anyone who's even half decent at drawing can produce a good painting with them. Watercolor took me decades to begin to master and I still can't do half of the more physically vigorous things it takes to handle the medium, especially to scale, like stretching paper, tilting, spattering, all those special effects things abled artists do.

Watercolor takes waiting for paint to dry and waiting for it to semi-dry to exactly the right point before doing the next thing.

Pastels are reworkable and opaque, light can go over dark, mistakes can be erased, whole passages scraped back and lightened or darkened. Kids will have something that looks good from across the room when they get it right, not faded-out attempts at painting or screaming frustration at unwanted soft or hard edges or blossoms.

Yet a lot of the lessons done with watercolors for color theory, which are often done with gouache, can be done with pastels or with using water wash over pastels.

I'd just stick to a non toxic variety so the parents don't squall over the dust risks. They're not doing it all day every day for a living after all and you're not exposing them to anything that gets a California Label warning label on it. Teach sensible things like not blowing the dust off, tapping it off upside down over the trash. (This will also show you immediately if you used paper it doesn't adhere well to.)

I am primarily going to be using pastels to teach my granddaughter art. My daughter's considering taking her out of school for homeschool, which she wants very much - she went from a school she loved to one where she's constantly bullied and isn't getting anything out of the socialization. Since it's her idea this will teach her about self organization, self discipline and ultimately a host of life skills kids don't even get in school. Art class with me is a big part of that and I got her a big 60 color set of Mungyo Gallery Soft Rounds as a Christmas present right before I left, plus some student sets and some oil pastels student sets and other things.

Pastels will give your kids something they can film with their phones speed painting and post on YouTube. It will get them engaged. They can make signs and posters and large artworks for friends. They are getting something real out of it with the transition - a medium that has from the moment I first tried selling it proven to be the most cost effective with the least time invested. This isn't something they have the time to devote themselves to full time, but they can and will learn fast with that instant gratification.

And you can introduce principles about other mediums by way of it, because the water washes turn into something like gouache. They can understand pigments and how colors are created as well as color theory and painting techniques. Oil pastels and colored pencils usually take a thinner like turpenoid to dissolve them unless using watercolor pencils.

So I'm all for your getting them started in pastels. I don't know the supply budget you have but I'd suggest 24 color sets or larger, the more tints and shades they have, the better, up to about 60ish. Mungyo Standard half sticks are $10-15 for a 64 color box and the Blick standard large student sticks are about that for 48 big sticks. That'd encourage them to work large.

The speed will encourage them to work lots, to sketch more than to copy exactingly, to get painterly and experiment. If I were running the class and had insufficient budget for better supplies I'd pass the hat in class in a way that the students don't see who put what in, and do so among their parents too, then distribute the resulting goodies.

I will never forget the art teacher who gave me a box of half a dozen Conte crayons with a black, white, gray and three shades of Sanguine. That opened up so much to me and I could not have talked my family into paying $1 each for those tiny little sticks. Thanks to him, I wound up with full time artist as the best occupation I ever had before I became too disabled to work. I still believe in it and know either as hobby or occupation your kids are going to benefit from this class.

If you can afford it, 12 colors of Cretacolor Pastels Carre' or Color Conte would work but I'd still also want them to have a larger range of softer pastels. The Cretacolor and Conte twelve color sets specifically have a lot of really good mixers in them, the hues are just right to get strong clean secondaries if you need them and any kind of muted color you want. They blend out easily. I'm checking the Mungyo Gallery 12 color semi-hard set too, see if that has a good mixing range. It's not bad but the 24 color range is better with more tints and shades, earths and sky colors. Those hues that I never realized were so important in painting are in it - pink, turquoise, purple, yellow ochre!

Get them playing on sandpaper and tell them about grit papers too, maybe get one big bag of pumice and some acrylic gesso to prepare sanded papers as a class project. It'd be fun and once they did they'd find out just how painterly pastels can get when you can layer and layer.

Watercolor is just too crazy hard for a beginner to get good results.

Its main advantage is that pans sets are easy to throw in your pocket, its thinner is water and you can use a water brush with it.

The cool thing about pastels is that even their early exercises can look powerful and attractive enough to be worth snapping a phone photo to post online or doing a speed painting YouTube video. I think it'll be easier for them to integrate into their lives. Those that have an interest in comics art can find out that pastels can even be used for coloring line art and creating special pages, I've seen that in web comics.

I think pastels are good for design too, because it's so easy to make successive tries at the same subject and get good results. Every technique learned produces an immediate, visible, dramatic effect.

Heh, in posting to you I'm already planning my lessons for Sascha, but I know what she has for materials and we may be wandering through different mediums at different times. My high school art teacher was great at introducing us to different mediums and materials and their effects. If they are interested in classical fine art, pastels can actually do it and going from them to oil painting isn't as hard later on. Except for watching paint dry, something I still get frustrated with. lol

The one advantage to watercolor that I can see is that the kids will make less of a mess. Cleanup with pastels is pretty easy but my best technique when I did street art was to take a good sized towel and wet one third to a quarter of it, then keep it handy to wipe my fingers off on the wet end dry on the dry end. That saved a lot of shirts from getting colorful.

02-02-2015, 06:02 AM
I second pastels. Even after all my years of painting, watercolor is still a challenge for me, but pastels, I slipped into with remarkable ease. Honestly, pastel gives you nearly all the properties of oil without the hassle of dry time and worry or technical failure (fat over lean, thick over thin, yellowing, de-lamination etc). For me, watercolor is less forgiving in application and mixing than pastel, and more frustrating overall. You might try watercolor pencils, but I still vote pastels. As for toxicity concerns, I imagine most of your mainstream brands are relatively safe for non-asthmatics. I looked into every color offered by Rembrandt, and all were low toxicity, (with the exception of a purple PV16 manganese violet, which if I remember correctly was merely a lung irritant) With proper studio safety, I'd have little concern. Just make sure they tilt the easel forward, tap and don't blow on the pigment, and offer some nitrile gloves and masks as an option.

02-02-2015, 10:48 AM
Sarah's got a point. The safety precautions are pretty basic and you can make those an option. Getting it on their clothes is another thing, but that's where wearing an apron is popular.

Sorry about repeating the bit about photos to their friends and YouTube videos. It's because every time I go to YouTube searching on pastel tutorials, I find... high school girls doing tutorials in pastels or speed painting video of their pastel landscape or flower or cute dog toy or something. Strange but true. Pastel touches something they're already doing or want to do.

I've also noticed it translates well online.

Barbara WC
02-02-2015, 01:11 PM
Depends what you mean by color work.

If you are going to focus on values in drawing and painting, and color relationships, I think pastels would be easier.

However, if you are going to introduce color theory, and how to mix colors, I think watercolors would be easier for that.

Can you use both? You could start with a few classes on color theory, using just a few colors of watercolor, introduce mixing colors. Then move on to pastels? Just a thought.

02-02-2015, 03:14 PM
Dear DAK, Robert, Schappell, and Barbara WC-
Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers! They are all very useful to me. Thank you for bringing my attention to the safety concerns about pastels. I'd purchased my students a beginners pastel set from Dick Blick, meant for students. I assumed they'd be safe, but as I see, I should not assume anything.

You've confirmed that using pastels is a logical progression from drawing with charcoal. This is what I've already been using with them. If you look at my original post, you will see why I second guessed myself regarding watercolor use INSTEAD of pastel.
Yes, Barbara, in the drawing class I focussed a great deal on values and kept on emphasizing this in the pastel I have taught so far.

Robert, thank you so much for the lengthy and detailed response! I will have to try "watercolor underpainting," myself first. I have not done this.

Thank you again!


02-02-2015, 08:26 PM
Its funny that the school would suggest watercolour as a natural transition to colour. If anything, Id say its one of the least natural transitions. Mix two watercolour paints together & try to make a colour wheel. Its not easy! Watercolour is a wonderful medium (and my 2nd favourite after pastel) but its not 'natural' from a colour standpoint. Something like oil or acrylics where yellow & blue really do make green are probably the most 'true' colour transitions but they come with their own set of problems.

02-02-2015, 08:57 PM

I don't think the main reason they go to watercolor after drawing is because it is a natural transition to color. I think those were my words. ("natural transition.") One reason they give is that watercolor is a good way to move from line, to understanding mass and volume.

I agree with you that with watercolor, the paint can quickly become muddy and one can't really see this while the paint is on the palette. But that is from my limited experience. Thank you for your response!

02-03-2015, 01:36 AM
Watercolour underpainting isn't hard at all, it doesn't have to be a good painting or detailed. It's just a block-in with the paint and can be very sloppy or very tight and hard edged, doesn't matter because it will be painted over and doesn't use up any tooth.

Student pastels that are non toxic I really would not worry about this with kids in a class, they're not getting long term exposure. But then I'm not a worrying parent, the safety habits are pretty basic. Tap not blow helps keep the room clean too. Water washes up.

For a resource on color theory in pastels, go to the Soft Pastel Learning Center and click on "ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way" with Colorix. She covers it beautifully in the first part of the class and goes into using it in ways that blow my mind away, also her exercises are very good. If you get them some plastic balls and blocks in bright colors for block studies they will get very sophisticated with color. That class completely changed how I handled color and gave me all the terms I needed. Not to mention turning my paintings bright, saturated and harmonious instead of "Carefully match the photo reference or what I see" color precision. She also got me working loose to tight, details last, which is a huge change from drawing to painting.