View Full Version : Pastel smearing (unintentionally!)

01-03-2001, 11:42 AM
I've been working on only my second pastel painting (using Rembrandt pastels on Tientes paper rough side).

I blocked in the main shapes (dog "portrait") with black pastel, and have been adding mass and shading with various colors. The problems I'm having is that lighter color pastels are picking up/smearing the darker colors on the paper, so that my "lights" are turning into mud.

Is this a case of putting on too much pastel materials? Or should I be working light to dark, as with watercolor?


01-03-2001, 02:01 PM
Try using a light spray of workable fixative to separate the layers. That should keep the darker underpainting from blending too much with lighter colors on top - maybe not 100%, but it will help. (Sometimes, that blending is a good thing). Don't fix too heavily, though, because it will alter the appearance of the pastels.

Another suggestion is to use a softer brand of pastel to go over harder ones. Rembrandts are fairly hard. Something like a Senellier or a Schminke would be much softer and enable you to work light over dark with no problem.

Personally, I only use very soft pastels (Senellier and Diane Townsend) and work both ways (light over dark and vice-versa) - usually with little or no fixative.

Barry Katz

01-03-2001, 04:18 PM
I try to work light to dark and try not to use black or white and use a medium toned paper as ground.
DFGray(always from life)

01-04-2001, 03:07 PM
Hi Ed,
Welcome to WC!
Everyone works differently, but generally working from dark to light is preferred so as to minimize getting muddy colors and pasty lights. The above suggestion of spraying lightly with fixative is the common solution and works in most situations.

Also check to see if you are painting with your surface horizontal. If working in this position, you risk a large paint buildup which contributes to problems. Here again it is your preference, but working on a vertical surface so the excess pastel can drop away from the painting will also minimize muddiness.

If you use a heavy application of pastel, try using a lighter touch as you build and layer your painting, ending with a stronger pressure of your lightest lights using the softest of pastel sticks.


2001 L. Diane Johnson Plein Air Workshops (http://www.LDianeJohnson.com/workshops)

01-05-2001, 11:25 AM
Thanks for the tips!

I do work standing up, so pastel dust falls on the floor, rather than accumulating on the paper. I suspect the problem is too heavy application of pastels - I'll try the light spray of fixative, and see if that helps.


Katherine J
01-05-2001, 07:55 PM
Thanks for this everyone - I learned something from the question and answers. I too have had a problem, not so much with middiness, as with the tooth of the paper getting 'filled' too quickly. I've read before about spraying between layers, but no one every says why! My paper is vertical too.

01-05-2001, 09:56 PM
When I do animals -- on Canson or Sabretooth (they load with pastel faster) -- I often work dark to light so that I can get that "smear" to work for me instead of against me.

Takes little practice, but if you look carefully at the coat you will see that the hair either goes from dark to light, or light to dark along one hair length. A patch of hair may start out black and change to a light blue or very light reflection further down the shaft.

If you drag your lighter/darker pastel in the right direction, it will pick up the previous color and drag it along with the new color, thus giving a gradual color change. You have to be careful with this tho, or it will get awful muddy. I often leave areas between massive darks and lights for just this purpose.

Here's an example (not a good one tho):

<IMG SRC="http://www.wetcanvas.com/Critiques/User/roan_max_hair.jpg" border=0>

If you look at the area under the eyes where the grey meets the black, then grey, then ochres, all that was "dragged" into each other. There is only one shade of grey there, it looks darker in places because of the black and ultramarine I picked up to drag with it. I also dragged the blacks into the browns and so forth.

I wish I had a better example than this and it works even better on Wallis type papers because you have more control over how many layers you have.

Anyhow, my only point is that if the smear drives you crazy, maybe try using it to your own advantage.

Hope this helps!

<FONT face="Script MT Bold"><FONT COLOR="#AB4835"><FONT size="5">Roan</FONT s></FONT c></FONT f>
<FONT COLOR="#8A1010">Fear faramach, 's e cothromach; ceann is casan math aige; is gun a mhÓthair be˛.</FONT c>
<FONT size="1">A man of energy, and well-to-do; with good head and good legs; and his mother not alive.
(Lochaber saying which describes the qualities best desired in an eligible bachelor.)</FONT s>

RoanStudio.com (http://RoanStudio.com) &lt;-- pastel open stock vendor sources & reviews!

01-06-2001, 02:40 PM
Hi Katherine,

The reason for using fixative is for two reasons:
1. To give the surface a bit of new "tooth" in areas that have been overworked.
2. To cause the pastel particles to adhere or "fix" to the surface better so more pastel can be applied.

Just be sure to test the fixative you purchase. Some dull the surface, some make it look chalky, some darken, and still others will lighten your painting. So spray lightly with your art vertical. If you spray with the painting laying down, sometimes the larger droplets of spray will puddle on your painting. You always spray more layers, but you can't undo when overspray occurs. Let the surface dry completely before repainting. And spray outside if possible.

When the particles are wetted, the pastel changes and is no longer dust-like; it just goes flat.

I only spray when needed, between layers of pastel, and not on the final painting so as not to break the brilliance of the color, the highest highlights, and surface texture of the pastel.

2001 L. Diane Johnson Plein Air Workshops (http://www.LDianeJohnson.com/workshops)