View Full Version : Broken Color question

12-29-2007, 08:51 PM

I'm Martina and I've been working with OP for a few months now. I really like the broken color look that is typically associated with pastels, and I'm wondering as to how to accomplish this with OPs. If I try to layer colors, it seems that they tend to blend, being the nature of the oil in the pastels. I read somewhere that you can layer colors better for a "broken" look if you spray fixative in between layers and let that dry before applying the next color layer. I hope my question makes sense, so does anyone have experience with this?

Thanks, and Happy New Year to all.....!

12-29-2007, 10:08 PM
Hi Martina, I just wanted welcome you to Wetcanvas and the OP forum. I don't know what you mean by broken color, but if you want to layer without blending, you can try letting a layer of a harder brand (like Caran D'Ache) set up overnight before putting a softer brand (like Sennelier) on top and use a light hand to do it.

Personally, I don't use fixative on OPs. I haven't heard of one that truly works, though I hear the Sennelier brand comes closest.

12-29-2007, 10:08 PM
The only experience I had was trying to copy pastel techniques in painting deciduous trees. I was attempting a repeated diagonal line application and I just couldn't really get the same effect. The OPs were just too soft. I would recommend trying cheaper waxy OPs which don't blend well and see if that works. If you are going to use a fixative, you should use one designed for OPs like the Sennelier d'Artigny spray fixative for OPs. Jane

Pat Isaac
12-30-2007, 11:24 AM
Hi Martina and welcome to the OP forum. I know what you mean about the broken color technique and spraying fix between layers probably refers to soft pastels. A harder OP brand might work better and then as Julie suggests let it set up overnight.


12-30-2007, 01:44 PM
Hi Martina and welcome to the OP Forum! :wave:

You didn't mention the OPs and surface you're using but both can make a big difference in your results. A surface with a lot of tooth and texture will make it easier for you to layer your color to achieve the results you desire. I've had a lot of success using Art Spectrum Colorfix Primer (painted on various papers and boards). You can leave brushstrokes showing when you paint on the primer, and these raised striations in the surface become places that sort of grab later layers of OP color.

Many people, when starting out with pastels (both OPs and soft pastels), use Canson paper. A big mistake, imho. If you're using Canson that may explain the difficulty you're experiencing, as it is very hard to achieve any layering on Canson.

I've used Sennelier spray fixative for OPs to sort of isolate various layers (to achieve even more layering) in a couple of paintings, but the problem with it is that it's very, very glossy. Letting the OP set up overnight, as others have suggested is often very helpful. I happen to think that it may be easier to achieve broken color with a very soft OP, such as Sennelier. That's been my experience, at least. Starting out with harder OPs as the first layers though, is a good approach.

What brand of OP and what surface are you using, Martina?

12-30-2007, 04:10 PM
Hi all, thanks for the welcome!

Annie, I'm using the Art Spectrum paper and a few months ago I bought the set of 96 Caran d'Aches.

I have a book from the library on pastels and it shows, in the OP section no less, pictures with the broken color look. You're right, apparently those are accomplished by brush strokes and other methods to produce more tooth. So I'm going to try that.

Thanks everyone for the input! As soon as I figure out how to post pictures here I want to upload a few of my pieces to obtain some critiques.

I'm really glad to have found this forum as I learn tons of things here. I took some drawing classes last spring (first things first) so that's no longer an issue but now I need to learn techniques, techniques, techniques.

Happy New Year, all!

Pat Isaac
12-30-2007, 04:29 PM
If you go to the top of the forum and click on the Quick links in the blue menu bar and then click on image uploader it will tell you how to upload the image.
Here is a link to an OP artist who works a little in that manner that you describe.


12-30-2007, 06:44 PM
What is a broken colour look? Can somebody please give a link to a painting like that?

12-31-2007, 06:09 PM

I went googling for you for a "broken color" link and here is an interesting website that you might take a look at: http://brendaboylan.blogspot.com/

I guess the broken color look is accomplished by having an underpainting and then layering colors over it. Brenda uses for her work soft pastels. I think with oil pastels the best way to do that is to let the layers dry inbetween as much as possible. I tried it out last night on my current painting and it seems to work pretty good.


12-31-2007, 06:21 PM
Martina, thank you for the link!!! LOoks fab! Reminds me of Van Gough. I believe it's very possible to create this with OPs. However on this blog I couldn't find any mentioning of the media she used, maybe soft pastels? Love it anyway and I will probably try it too soon:)

12-31-2007, 06:49 PM
Tanya: I've looked on the web for a good definition, but there doesn't seem to be a great one. I did find this:
broken color - Broken color was first used by Manet and the Impressionists in 19th century French painting, where color was applied in small "dabs," as opposed to the traditional method of smoothly blending colors and values (lights and darks) together. This method results in more of a "patchwork" effect, where the dabs render the facets of light on forms, and/or the planes of the forms' volume, by means of color and value. Broken color has continued to be used in much modern and contemporary painting. (http://www.ndoylefineart.com/glossary.html)

But I also thought that generally broken color refers to optical, rather than physical mixing. So, for instance, using broken color, an area of tree vegetation might be painted with daubs of blue and yellow, which the eye would perceive as green (rather than painting the vegetation as a flat, consistent area of just one green hue). I guess the above definition really says the same thing, just in different words.

Painting with daubs of color that the eye will later mix is one approach to broken color that can be used by OP artists; loosely scumbling an OP color over another color underneath (allowing part of the underneath color to show through the upper layer) to create third and different color would be another. I suppose cross-hatching might be considered another technique to achieve broken color.

It's been several decades since I've taken any art history, but I think this is the definition I was taught all those years ago.

Martina: ...a picture is worth a thousand words, eh? The Dusty Fingers images really do show what one kind of broken color is all about. She does lovely work.

12-31-2007, 07:00 PM
Martina, great site. It makes it clear what you're after. I think you will do OK as long as you work on a large enough surface to provide space for separate strokes. Jane PS Tanya, the site is called Dusty Fingers and she says right beside her photo at the start "Dusty Fingers is a pastel painting blog".

12-31-2007, 08:44 PM

I did this a couple of years ago waiting for a hurricane to come inland. I use the broken color technique most of the time. Whether you use an underpainting or not, as the name implies, you break up the colors while you layer them so that each layer shows thru. Much of this piece was done with cross-hatching each color.

Since I usually begin with a harder consistency of oil pastels, Craypas Specialist, it's easier to layer the softer brands over the top. This piece was done on Stonehenge paper, but I recommend a sanded surface if you want a lot of texture in your broken color. I'm working on Pastelbord with my oilies now too, and really like the smoothness of the ground and the way it holds a lot of color.


12-31-2007, 08:54 PM
Carly, beautiful painting and a great example. Thanks for posting and explaining your method. Jane

01-01-2008, 02:25 PM
Hi Carly, very nice job on the broken color! Also, great shading!

01-01-2008, 02:26 PM
By the way, Annie, that link you posted holds a lot of very good information....!

01-01-2008, 09:28 PM
Well, I heard someone was talkin' about me and my blog, and found out this discussion on WC! "Broken Color", as you all have defined, is just that, broken. I'm not that savvy with Oilies and I've tried them when I was a tot, but I bet there is a way you can paint a thin underpainting with a compliment color and terpentine and let it dry? That way you can create great broken color work. Let the undercolors peek through which causes the rods and cones in your eyes to vibrate! Do oil pastels work on Wallis? If so, try that surface. Exciting things happen with compliment underpaintings. Your ideas of using blue and yellow to make the eyes mix green IS broken color too! As so would be any other mix to make another color like a pink and light blue to make a soft violet.
Thanks for the compliments~ aka Van Gogh...NOT!:cool:

01-06-2008, 02:55 PM
I do a lot of scumbling with o.p.s, which results in broken colour. I find it works best on a textured surface- sanded especially. Bottom layers can be blended into the tooth and other colours will scumble over them, as with soft pastels.
I don't know if it shows very well, but here's one example:

Pat Isaac
01-06-2008, 03:20 PM
Beautiful landscape, Wendy. Not sure I saw this one.
One artist that I always think of as having a broken color technique is Carole Katchen. She works in pastels. http://carolekatchen.com/


01-06-2008, 04:32 PM
Wow Sundiver! Now THAT is broken color! Gotta love that mountain in the background with the reds and blues! Yummy!
Oh, and Carol Katchen's work looks familiar. Nice to see the Chef's! Very fun subjects, too.

01-06-2008, 04:38 PM
Terrific painting, Wendy. I really love this one.

01-06-2008, 06:11 PM
Lovely PEI atmosphere in this painting, Wendy, with the lupins, the red clay road and, I too, love the mountain.