View Full Version : Henry Hensche Method/ Color Mixing?

01-16-2016, 10:15 AM

I've been doing pastel portraits for years now but decided to try to push my skills further by taking an intermediate portraiture class. The class seems focuses on oils, but the instructor specifically identified pastels as an alternative medium. She seems to want us to use the Henry Hensche method, which means, apparently, apply large areas of very bright color and then tone it down with subsequent layers of compliments and white. There should be no browns or blacks. Can this method be applied to pastels? If so, how? Are there any exercises that you could point me to? I have always focused more on values than on colors for portraits. I've relied on umbers and ochres and siennas.


01-16-2016, 01:13 PM
This is often referred to as the "colorist" method and has its roots in impressionists such as Monet. Charles Hawthorne was a key contributor (and wrote a book) to this method and there are a few books that discuss this method (all a bit different as each artist has their own interpretation) by Susan Sarbeck and Lois Griffel among others. Most of these artists do landscapes and still lifes, as far as I can remember.

One artist that I discovered on the internet a few years ago that seems to use this method is John Ebersberger, who does portraits as well as other types of paintings, and his website is here:


Our very own Charlie (Colorix) did a "Exploring Soft Pastels" class a few years ago about the colorist method that goes into the fundamentals of the approach in depth (its a huge thread):


Not sure if there are any portraits in that thread, but Charlie did do a self portrait here:


Hope this helps and gives some ideas!


01-16-2016, 01:23 PM
Yes, you can! I've used this method sometimes, not recently, I must try again. I also learnt a lot from Charlie about this sort of method. This was my adaptation, it works brilliantly and is fun!




01-16-2016, 02:57 PM
Oh YES! You have a good instructor. That method can change everything about how you handle color and perceive color. I took Charlie's class and it allowed me to work with more limited palettes effectively, paint well, get away from literal color when I wanted to and achieve accurate realist color when I want it. The method is empowering.

When I don't use all the steps, understanding it helps me handle color better. Definitely enjoy your class and I'd seriously suggest going through Charlie's class too. Read all of it, and do the exercises. They are very useful. You won't need as many pastels either if you follow her suggested palette, with about 48 pastels you can render anything anywhere anytime. I tend to add a few earth tones to extend the yellow and orange range without losing their identity since shades (mixed with black) of those colors come out a useful olive green. So I have both shades and "dark yellows/orange" browns in my preferred palette.

You're going to learn something tremendously useful in pastels and it applies easily to other mediums too. It can be done with paint but oils take forever to dry, pastels are instant gratification.

Charlie (Colorix) also has pastels demos on youtube including a six part Iceland landscape done with the Method and a demo on "Pastel Brands Matter" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQgXuMI1eKY) about paper and pastels textures using it on a very simple subject. Try that little tomato with whatever pastels paper you have and those colors, it will come out bright and lovely and your background look interesting. I mention that because her physical techniques for layering with both softer pastels and firmer "hard" pastels on different papers will help when you're in the class learning the Hensche method.

Beginner pastelists often draw with the tip of the stick but if you break the sticks and use the side, then vary pressure or roll the stick and so on, you can layer more easily. Pressing hard with the tip often fills the paper tooth and makes layering harder. One way to deal with that is blend early layers with your fingers leaving last layers unblended. It's more effective to blend with the following sticks, she has demos up on her account that help.

01-18-2016, 12:33 AM
Don -- Thanks! It's good to correspond after quite a while. I've looked at Charlie's thread; it's very useful. I'm going to try to track her exercises.

Ruthi -- WOW! I'm stunned. Blown away. There's a leap between the second drawing and the third. That's where all the magic happens. Presumably it comes from overlaying. I need to figure out what combinations turn the overly intense colors into realistic flesh tones.

Robert -- Thanks so much for the guidance. Let's see how the class goes. The instructor is adamantly opposed to blending with fingertips (or blending at all, I believe). But I'll keep in touch on this forum. It would be great to know how to obtain any color from 48 pastels.

01-18-2016, 09:39 AM
Bongo, if you look at the forehead in the 2nd pic you'll see it doesn't change much from there to the finish. Once I have the bright colours down (and I do see those colours, I just exaggerate what I see) I use Rembrandt Mars Violet, umber, ochre and sienna shades to lightly scumble over the top. I adjust the colour gradually by layering, occasionally bringing back a little bright colour. I find I need to use harder pastels, like the Rembrandts for this method. I suppose they are not so opaque as the real softies so the base colour can shine through. I do have a full WIP of this one if you'd like to see it. Not sure if looking at pics would make you any the wiser though!
This is not entirely the colourist method I learned from Charlie. With that one uses cool colours for shadows and warm for light areas. The values are built in later, as I remember. Me, I've adapted the method to suit myself!

01-18-2016, 09:56 AM
You CAN also achieve this using complementary colours. Red is dulled down by applying green for example. A few very lightly applied layers can bring a bright red down to a believable hue for a person's red cheeks. I have to say I don't worry too much about getting the exact skintones in a portrait. the value range is more important, afterall skin colour changes (in a painting and in reality) depending on the colour of the light source.

01-20-2016, 08:27 AM
Ruthie, the values are built in from the beginning in Charlie's Hensche method. You choose the pure saturated version of the color in its correct value for the mass, then refine values along with hues as a quality of color in later layers. If there's a strong dark in shadow that'd be a cool color shade but a pure hue, maybe even all the way as dark as Terry Ludwig V100 but not black. A strong light would be a pink or lavender or yellow tint, something the right value with a clear distinct hue.

Then hues get muted as they're refined. I remember this because it made so much sense to me and was part of what made the gaudy start make sense on so many subjects. Value shifts within the areas like highlights on clouds are what I meant by refining, but they are all in a range. Say the sky is value 1-3, your value mass flat color might be 2 or 2 1/2 by what color you chose for the whole (warm because the entire sky is a light area, so pink or peach maybe) and then start putting blues over it but lightening cloud highlights with pale gold going up towards white with just one little white accent if any.

I don't recall if it was her class or Johannes but it's good to have only one actual white accent on a painting, or two if that's eye highlights. But those work so well in pale tints anyway, easier to unify with the rest of the painting.

04-19-2016, 05:49 PM
Wanted to comment to 'correct' what seems to me misunderstandings re. the color study method developed by Henry Hensche. The info. the teacher has given you is incorrect, at least partially. There is quite a lot of incorrect and misunderstood info out now about the approach Hensche developed and taught over his long career. His actual method for study has been changed and revised in different ways with the intent of it getting lost. Hensche felt that painters had to learn how to see color in outdoor light keys where the atmosphere changes the characteristics of colors, and he developed his method of study specifically for that purpose, ie., learning how to see color. It required practice in order for the students' vision to grow, and it had a specific sequence of lessons for doing that. Most of the revised versions do not have the sequence or progressive lessons, and often confuse the sequences, turning it into a "how to paint with colors" method. The statements made above are incorrect and nor relevant to the Henry Hensche idea and the way we studied it. It has nothing to do with conventional color theories about compliments, cool/warm, values, etc.