View Full Version : Tools for Realism in Softpastels

04-18-2007, 06:56 PM
I am trying to paint some more realistic things with my pastels and I have been doing a lot of research and playing around (Which Is why I haven't been posting my artwork as much as I would like to) trying to find out what I need to be doing. I am finding that the best way to get really realistic results is to either paint larger or to draw in a "map" of all the details. I would like to try the mapping first but this requires a lot of fine lined drawing. This is fine except for the fact that my choice in fine lined drawing is to use a mechanical pencil. The lines are always consistent and they are always as small as I want them w/ out the hassle of constantly resharpening them to a fine fine point. Unfortunately soft pastels and Graphite do not seem to mix, as pastel does not seem to like sticking to graphite. So I am going to have to find another source.

Charcoal is one of the more common drawing tools when pasteling, but It is quite a hassle to get really thin lines with charcoal without it breaking off in the sharpening process. I thought about maybe using a black prismacolor verithin colored pencil.

So Having said all of this, does anyone know if there is a brand that sells charcoal refills for a mechanical pencil? Or if you know of another tool for drawing that will help get in detail?

If you have any tips at all for getting realistic results (with or without mapping) please share! I am very open to any ideas (and maybe this topic could be more about sharing your tips for realism rather than just helping me :P)



04-18-2007, 09:28 PM
Hi Chris,

There's much to be said and many techniques, many of which you'll learn as you move along.
Many times we don't think about it, but sometimes the best way to define the edges of a detail object is not to paint the object's edges themselves, but to define them buy painting the adjacent/negative space i.e. to create a thin line you'll paint the sides of it. That's an example.
Anyway, when you talk about realism, I don't know if you're referring to a photorealism kind of work or not so much.
But one thing is sure, besides knowing the necessary techniques for making details in pastel, to create a realistic work you have to know about colour, like for insteance how a colour is affected by surrounding ones (that's why punch holes are used for), I'm sure that you've noticed that when you look at a stick it looks something and after applying it it's something else.
To paint realistically has alot to do with learning to see and also on how to deceive the viewer - one won't paint all the hairs, but the viewer «sees» them.
Now, many people here who make detailed works use pastel pencils and hard pastels.
I know that this is not really what you were asking for since you want a more practical answer, but I hope to have been of some help.

Take care,


04-18-2007, 11:08 PM
Chris: in a recent thread, Diana Ponting suggested a General's White Charcoal pencil for the drawing. I've tried one (just for one sketch) and was pretty pleased with the results. Although it's called "charcoal" its clearly made of some other material, as the quality is a bit different; it's a little harder and more solid feeling than charcoal.

The white works especially well on colored papers (but not at all on white paper - you can't see it). The pencil seems to sharpen to a reasonably sharp point pretty easily (and without breaking) with a metal sharpener, although I probably wouldn't use an electric sharpener. The finest point you can get on one, though, isn't anywhere near as fine as a mechanical pencil would be. Perhaps working larger would be one solution for you?

That said, I tend to agree with Jose. I'm not sure that one has to put in tons of details for the eye to read what's painted as being realistic. In fact, often, less is more, and the illusion of reality can be created through careful use of values. (I say this while myself often tending to put in too much detail.)

nana b
04-18-2007, 11:23 PM
I would say to use a pastel pencil sharpened to a fine point using a color that shows up on your support but also will blend in with the colors you plan on painting with.

nana b

04-19-2007, 12:55 AM
I agree, there's one concept out there that describes how the eye actually sees (i.e., in our normal vision only a small area is in focus, and the rest is blurred) so our brain is used to filling in the blurry parts. Lately, I've been doing that more with my paintings, and they seem better to me (i.e., I'll paint the face of a lion but just sketch in the surrounding mane).

Also, your eye is drawn to the area of the painting with the most detail and the most contrast, so you can actually control where your viewer will look first through this method. :evil:

-- Linda

04-19-2007, 11:47 AM
The old adage is "there are no lines in nature only edges." I find that I use two pastel pencils at the same time, one for the background and one for the motif in question. I use the background color to define the edge carefully if I want it a sharp, hard edge, and keep working back and forth until I have what I want. If you allow lines to show in your painting it looks like a drawing, not "realistic". That said, a drawing can be very beautiful, of course.

I have also found that I draw much better if I concentrate on getting the shadow shapes right allowing the motif to develop in the negative space, so to speak. By painting the "light" you avoid having schemas slip into the picture. A schema is a long-term visual memory image , for example a tree that has a green lollipop shape. That's how it's interpreted and reduced for long term visual memory storage but it doesn't resemble the actual specific tree you're drawing. You have to use short-term visual memory, or what is called "visual working memory". The problem is the image lasts only a very short time so you have to keep refreshing it. Therefore any technique that gets you to look more frequently at the subject will improve your realism. One such technique is to draw vectors to block in the subject rather than trying to get it in one line. In studies, portrait artists probably have to look three times at a eyebrow to get it right.



Deborah Secor
04-19-2007, 10:34 PM
Chris, I've seen people use a Rapidograph to do a drawing beneath pastels. You can certainly use it to get fine lines that are very consistent in quality. Pastel covers it completely, and it doesn't score the paper. You can't erase it, of course, but you can make a pencil drawing and transfer it to the paper using the Rapidograph. You might try that.


Merethe T
04-20-2007, 06:09 AM
Have you seen this workshop-thread by Ponting? http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=405403

I find when painting realistic this is a great way to transfer your drawing to the paper you're painting on. You can draw out all the detail you want, and use a mechanical pencil for thin lines if you want - and transfer the drawing by chalking the back of the drawing with a pastel-stick - if you use a sharp pencil on the front of the drawing you'll get thin lines. If you read page 3 you'll see how she does it.

I'll use this method when I start a painting to get the basic lines down correctly. But the points made earlier by others are very good ones, often you'll get thin lines by painting the negatives, and I always pay very close attention to values and contrasts when I paint.

For thin lines I use pastel pencils, sharpened to a point with a knife. That'll give me as thin lines as I want. What I've found however is that the thin lines don't make the realism, and often aren't that important to the work...color tones and values, lost and found edges and the negative spaces are by far more important for the finished painting. I use color shapers sometimes for thin lines, but either breaking a hard stick or a pencil will do the job for you.


Di Court
04-20-2007, 07:06 AM
Thank you for that advice Merethe. Watching your cherry painting unfold was certainly a lesson about value.

I strive for realism but tend to get caught up in putting in all the detail. I have yet to learn what is enough - merely suggesting something is one of the most difficult things!

04-22-2007, 12:59 AM
Thank you all for your advice! I am going to try and use as much as I can:evil:

The "White Charcoal" sounds like it should suit me best for now, but I will keep looking for other options. Finding new art supplies if half the fun!

Thank you all!

04-26-2007, 01:18 AM
Besides the original drawing, when it comes to realism, Girault Pastels (full set) have such great colors for realism. They aren't overly bright and very realistic colors. The work I have seen done with them at times looks like a photo. If you use too bright of colors then you loose the realism effect. They are hard enough for lines, but soft enough to do the job. They are truely one of my main tools.