View Full Version : Getting Started in Pastels?

09-01-2001, 03:30 AM
I would like to know the best way to get started in pastels? I have been drawing with graphite and colored pencils up till now. Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks a million

09-01-2001, 12:28 PM
Hi Earlene,
Since you've been using drawing mediums you should do well in pastels. I would recommend you start with a Rembrandt pastel, which is neither soft or hard, and thus easier to control than say a Nupastel or Carre hard pastel vs. a soft pastel like Sennelier. If you have hard pastels you can use them to block in your painting using light pressure and careful not to fill up the tooth of the paper. Hard pastels will not fill in the tooth of the paper as soft pastels would. Once you fill in the tooth of the paper, subsequent layers will not grab. You will work from dark to light, as if you were painting in oils. Rembrandt pastels are not that pricey, but still have a large assortment of colors. I would start with an assorted set of maybe 60. Sets are available in Portrait, Landscape and Assorted, so you can decide which would best fit your personal subject matter.
As for grounds, I would suggest an assorted color pad of Canson paper. This gives you a middle value to work your lights and darks off of. Each side of the paper has a slightly different surface, one being smoother than the other. Another option would be a pad of gray paper. There are blending stumps or tortillions available for blending and fixative sprays, workable and final, the workable allowing you to build more layers if you loose the tooth and final fixative when you have finished your work. Fixatives can dull the pastel, especially if overused, so I would put off trying it for a while.
Hope this helps. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

09-02-2001, 05:40 PM
Bonnie gave you excellent advice, not much I could add to it.
I agree with everything she said, ... except for the Carre brand for earth tones. The earth tone hard square sticks are tiny like a graphite stick and they're non-messy in your hand yet are velvety on paper. I havent' tried their soft ones or their colorful ones, though, because I'm tickled pink with the Rembrandts and don't want to change my main love.
In short, I would invest in mostly Rembrandts too.
Art Spectrums are nice, but fall to the soft side.. kind of in between a Rembrandt and Sennilier. Your tooth will fill faster with Art Spectrums and they cover a Rembrandt but not a Sennilier..
Senniliers are ultra soft with tremendous covering power... which is great until you realize you've obliverated your underlayers if you're not careful. Senniliers are mostly great for finishing touches of ultra darks, ultra lights and ultra pizzazz of your local color in the focal point (like Bonnie said). Most of the stores have them on sale right now.. 80 set of 1/2 sticks for 40 or 50 bucks.
You might want to try pastels over watercolors on watercolor paper. For instance, Arches blocks are sandpaper rough and will hold a bit of pastels. Even the cheap Bienfang works (which is what I've been MOSTLY using for experimental works, cuz I'm cheap lol). Try out the cold press and the rough press of most brands until you find the one you like. The best part of pastels over w/c is washing off the first layers of pastel in the sink. They don't all come off but instead leave a very interesting abstract pattern mixed with the w/c. Let dry, then continue with your new design. (stretch your paper first or it'll buckle bad.. unless you prefer the buckles which some artists do).

Hope this helps.

09-04-2001, 04:10 AM
Thank you so very much Bonnie and Sandi for all of your wonderful and kind suggestions. I have learned a great deal as to what I should buy. This will make it much easier at the time of my purchase. I can't thank the two of you enough.

09-04-2001, 08:19 AM
You've been given some advice on what type of pastels to start with. Now about applying the pastel to the paper -- don't use the sticks like a pencil. Break your pastels in half, remove the paper from one of the halves. Leave the half with the number on the paper for later use when you decide the colors you use the most - this will give you the number so you can purchase another stick of the same color.

I teach pastel classes and the first thing I tell a student is the following. Apply the pastel to the paper, or whatever surface, by holding the ends between your thumb and forefinger, or hold by its side -- this is so you have a broad surface to lay down a block of color rather than a line. Block in your painting as if you were using a wide brush. You can then decide later that you may need lines from the ends of your pastel sticks. But a key thing when teaching someone who has been drawing - get them to think in terms of painting rather than drawing when laying in the initial block-in of a painting. Put down your darks (not necessarily your darkest darks), in blocks, and stand back to see if you have them in an interesting pattern. Do the same thing with your middle value and your light value. You should then have a 3-value representation of your painting. You should assess the overall composition at this time of the basic shapes in your painting.

Have you painted in other mediums? If so, you can then see where you need to go from here. Most people unfamiliar with pastel think you use the drawing end of the stick. More success will come faster if you learn to use the broad side of the pastel.

Good luck. Let us know what you think.

Marsha --
Marsha Hamby Savage Art (http://marshasavage.artistnation.com)

09-07-2001, 10:02 PM
Thank you so very much Marsha for all the wonderful advice. I will follow all of your great suggestions. I just can't thank you enough. It is so kind of you to take time out of your day to help me.

09-22-2001, 02:08 PM
Just wanted to add my thanks for this thread.

I am anxiously awaiting my 48 set of SMI (yeah, student grade, but ya gotta start somewhere) soft pastels to arrive so I can start my adventure in pastels. I've done a couple of portraits and love that buttery feeling from the softest pastels.

It's kind of scary to start in a new medium, but also liberating. I've been painting in watercolour for the past 5 years, and so working from dark to light in pastel will be a BIG change. I'll have to try combining the mediums, too, like Sandi mentioned.

Has anyone else read "Pastels for the Serious Beginner" by Larry Blovits? Any comments?

How long does it take you to complete a landscape? I'm accustomed to working fast in watercolour, and I don't know what to expect that way from pastel. I have a short attention span!! :)

09-24-2001, 08:08 AM

It's good to try new mediums. Each new one attempted seems to teach you something that you can use in all the others.

I visited your website. Nice work in those watercolors. You seem to like a loose look - that will help you in your pastels. Especially with the speed of finishing a piece. Pastel is such an immediate response medium, you will find you can complete a small (5x7 - 8x10) loose painting in probably under 1/2 hour. That is, of course, if you have done your preliminary work - you know - the composition, thumbnail sketches, etc.

One hour from start to finish on a simple, mid-size painting (12x16) is about normal for me. I then sit it aside to keep an eye on it for a couple of days - then I correct anything needed or just add some finishing touches. I will spend an entire day doing a larger work (16x20 and up). And of course, several days if there is something I have to work out after starting the painting. But it is a very fast medium.

Good luck and glad to have a convert to pastels!

Marsha --
Marsha Hamby Savage Art (http://marshasavage.artistnation.com)

09-24-2001, 08:16 AM
Angela - forgot to mention the Larry Blovits book. I have it and have used it often. When I get stuck on something, it is a good book to open for inspiration and some key insights. He does a good job of talking about various aspects of the pastel medium in a short-book format. It is a good book to read from cover to cover -- especially the sections on "Getting started" and "Working from Simple to Complex".

Marsha --
Marsha Hamby Savage Art (http://marshasavage.artistnation.com)

09-28-2001, 02:35 PM
I also have been thinking about pastels. Recently went to an equine art show and there were some of the most wonderful pastel paintings there. Actually seemed to be the "medium of the day" besides oils. My absolute best accomplishment for years was a "chalk" picture I did, about 40 years ago :), done while visiting my grandmother. She gave me some chalk and some newsprint for something to do. I did a wonderful painting of a little girl from a magazine. My mother had it on her wall forever, but the newsprint finally gave out (fell over and ripped).

I'm a graphite lover, but I must find a color medium, besides oils, but I love "detail!" Think I'll give the Rembrandt's a whirl.