View Full Version : Mental block is keeping me from painting maturely...

08-09-2005, 05:45 AM
Hey, all! I have some background in oils (but haven't touched 'em in quite a few years now), and recently acrylics and watercolors. But seeing works done in pastels and oil pastels has really made me want to take up one or both of these media. So I've tinkered around with it a bit. I picked up a box of 32 Mungyo half-sticks, and I also found a small box of Pentel OP's that somebody gave me years ago that never got used. Now, I know that I'd probably be a lot happier with my beginning results if I were using materials of some quality. But I really don't think that's what troubling me.

My big problem is that I've got a huge subconscoius block in that I see a lot of wonderful paintings in pastels and OP's, but years of "painting" with brushes vs. "drawing" with charcoal, crayons, etc., have me locked into viewing pastels as a drawing medium. And to be honest, that's what my work is looking like. I feel like I'd get similar results with kid's sidewalk chalk. The OP's are not quite as uncomfortable, but there's still a strong suggestion of "wax crayon" in my attempts. I just can't seem to "think" the approach the right way. I want to produce "paintings" but I end up with something reminiscent of a childhood scribble with various Crayola products.

Probably some better materials and some lessons would help, but at this stage the problem seems so subconscious that I'd rather try to get my brain into the right mode than throw more money at a problem that may not go away. I just know that there have to be some people here that experienced this same situation that might have a way to break the block.

Thanks in advance!

Kathryn Wilson
08-09-2005, 10:18 AM
Okay, my first advice is to drop one or the other medium for now. Pick either soft pastel or oil pastel and work on getting proficient with just one - the techniques for these mediums are totally different (in my opinion) and will confuse you switching back and forth.

If you want to use oil pastels, try using turpenoid and a brush which I think will be more comfortable for you coming from a painting world. You can either pick the color off the stick with a brush and turpenoid, or lay your color down on the paper and blend with turpenoid and a brush. I personally use my fingers alot in using oil pastels - using my finger to blend and layer colors. It works for me - but might not for you.

If using soft pastels, try not to draw with the edge of the stick, but use the side of the pastel and layering colors over each other very lightly.

This is just a start - but might give you an idea that there are many way to achieve a painterly look with both mediums.

K Taylor-Green
08-09-2005, 10:52 AM
Hi! Welcome to the Pastel Forum! I, too, paint with the sides of my sticks, layering color as I go. Your paper makes a big difference in how your finished piece looks. What kind are you using? Sanded paper, such as Wallis, will hold more pastel and you can layer to your heart's content. Other papers are smoother. Or try your pastels over a watercolor
underpainting. The options are limitless. Just let yourself go, and have fun!

08-09-2005, 11:04 AM
Easy to see how you're having trouble switching gears- a brush is a wonderful tool to learn to use, and a difficult skill to give up.

In addition to Kat's advice to pick one or the other, if you choose soft pastels, you may want to try a few things at once: First, pick a gound which is more conducive to the results you want- which appears to be something rich and "thick"- covered, without noticeable "sketchiness", mass rather than line, etc. This would be a sanded surface rather than a laid surface (I've seen laid surfaces used to great advantage in the manner you seem to wish, but it's a whole lot easier to do on a sanded surface). One of the best is, of course, Wallis Sanded- pm Kitty Wallis and she'll send a sample.

It's pricey stuff at first glance, but given that you can use it over and over, and apply such a wide variety of technique to stunning effect- not to mention layers- it ends up being a bargain. I am wondering if the "sketchiness" you are seeing in your work to be because you are working on "bare-paper"? When you do that, in order to get the "painting" idea going, you have to cover every single bit of paper- whch is quite daunting. This is why some folks use an underpainting- and others "recover" failed watercolours this way. Perhaps you could try that, too.

Secondly, as Kat indicated, start using the pastels in a more "mass-friendly" manner. Breaking the sticks into half or thirds to come up with a piece which is no more than an inch or so long, and then applying them by using the side rather than the tip will help a great deal. You'll soon shift from feeling "brushless" to "intimately connected". If you had an inch-wide brush, it would be natural to apply inch-wide strokes barely overlapping each other to achieve mass, right? Same thing with pastels.

Third, try a very simple idea or set-up to get started. If I had little to no experience with a brush-applied medium, I'd not start out by trying to paint Luncheon of the Boating Party. Try a vase with single flower, or a few apples or tomatoes- a box with its top ajar- something like that.

***Fourth: Wrap your mind around the concept pastels are opaque, and are NOT mixed upon a palette. The colour you have in hand is the colour which will be applied to the ground- what you do to it once it is on the ground, is what will influence it one way or another.*** <--Important concept!!

I've used Mungyos- they are quite soft- surprisingly so, since most of the slender, squared sticks are firmer. They are also brilliantly coloured- quite dense. But a half-stick set is going to be eaten right up very quickly- especially on Wallis- so consider investing in another if you can, before you get too involved. You might wish to try a larger (but still relatively inexpensive) set of NuPastels- there are quite hard (firm), but are very useful, and good for detail work. Also, sets of Rembrandts go fairly cheaply on E-Bay- as do some price-ier brands sometimes, but Rembrandts are a good starting place for a sturdier, longer-lasting pastel.

Kathryn Wilson
08-09-2005, 11:14 AM
I also wanted to add that we might be able to help if you posted some of your work - don't be shy! I think if we can see what the "problem" is - that way we can help further.

Think of pastels as pure color in a form that can be applied directly to the paper in many different ways -

08-09-2005, 01:51 PM
You might also close your eyes and envision the stick in your hand as the side of an oil BRUSH tip....convince yourself that you're still using a brush...just without a handle, ferrule, etc....just the bristles with the pigment itself. Sounds weird, but it might help.

08-09-2005, 02:03 PM
Thanks, folks! I'm gonna be doing a bit of "soul-searching" to determine which I'd like to invest my time in first. Then I'm going to spend a lot of time "making marks" before I try to paint any "thing". I feel like I know how to approach a new medium technically (as in crawl before I walk sort of stuff), it's just that the lack of brushes seems a bit crippling right now.

As for supports, I plan to try out the Wallis papers as soon as possible. Unfortunately, any more purchases will have to wait until school starts back up and I start receiving my stipend (I'm a graduate assistant in music). For the time being I'm finding myself in pretty pitiful financial shape! In the meantime, I don't have many great options. I have some Rowney acrylic paper, which doesn't hold the pastel very well at all. But I also have some charcoal paper, the rough side of which is giving me fits, but the wrong side might be ok for just hacking out some marks. I'll try that with some of the middle gray tone sheets.

Thanks again!

08-09-2005, 05:18 PM

Being new to pastels and not having any arts formal education, don't pay much attention to what I'll type :-)
I've chosen pastels since I thought these were be the most easy to use and more practical. Besides the works can resemble to an oil paint. Just check the works of Sonya Fairbanks and Nicora Gangi, for insteance.
Now, altough not having a formal education, I believe that a person with experience will work ok in almost any medium; better of course in a certain one or two.
I've read several times that a student of classical painting won't paint on a regular basis untill knowing well how to draw. And when I say well I mean WELL.
Whatever theories and excuses one may present, to me, knowing how to draw well is en essential base for a good painter.
So, if you know how to draw and already have a good experience with oils, I'm sure that you'll work your way easily.
Why don't you post some of your pastel works ?
Maybe you're being too demanding with yourself ?

Best regards,


08-09-2005, 05:53 PM
Some additional thoughts: pastels are almost pure pigment with little binder while moist paints use the same pigments in a moist binder such as oil or acrylic. If you can try a bit of finger painting with some of the moist paints you have that would be a 1/2 step shift from paints to pastels--still using paints but eliminating the middle man of a brush. Make a bit of pastel dust by grinding on a nail file, then use a soft brush to apply the dry pigment, then use your fingers to apply the dry pigment, and finally use the side of the stick to apply to paper. Definitely practice making different kinds of marks using all surfaces of a broken pastel, also try out some pastel pencils. Practicing marks will show you the wide range of textural effects achievable with pastels just as there is with a brush. Blend with your finger or with a finger cot on your finger, or more brush like, with a tortillion. a soft fan brush is effective for some blending effects as well. Mostly, like the ads say: Just do it. The more you do the more you will become comfortable.