View Full Version : Playing with and learning about pastels--class ideas

Deborah Secor
05-19-2008, 05:08 PM
I'm teaching a class called The Playful Landscape and I would love some new ideas.

I'd like to hear about a class that sparked your creativity, or one that made new connections for you, or even something you'd like to try but never have.

Some of my ideas:

Ground Colors- make several different colored grounds to work on to see how the ground color inspires you to try different combinations.

Underpainting-use water or alcohol over pastels and underpaint in complements.

Concoct Your World-rearrange the compositional elements to learn about movement and energy.

Go Wild with Color-saturate and heighten your color by shifting the colors while maintaining the values.

Fast and Furious-paint several small 10-minute color distillations.

Use Your Off Hand-try to paint a small painting entirely with whichever hand is not your dominant one.

I'd love some FRESH NEW FUN ideas to just get folks moving and having fun with pastel. Do you have any ideas to add? HELP!!


05-19-2008, 06:57 PM

I did a rather unusual piece recently that you may want to try with your class -

painted the background with 'Interference Acrylics" and pasteled over - it was a 'red covered bridge' with landcaping on each side - blue sky - only used pastel on the bridge and trees, etc.

when you look at the painting from the side, you see one color but directly forward, you see another color - used gessoed gatorboard -

a little different but you're looking for new ideas!


05-19-2008, 07:49 PM
Something I'd like to try is playing with iridescent pastels. Maybe do an underpainting using only iridescents. I'd love to see how it would look.


05-19-2008, 08:38 PM
Paint the entire image with the compliments to the colours in the reference. You see green, paint with red. You see violet, paint with yellow. etc. That might be interesting.

Deborah Secor
05-19-2008, 09:03 PM
Interesting idea to use interference colors or iridescents! Hmmmmm... thanks. I'll think on it.

Mike, I teach a class on the complement paintings you describe. I've shown it here somewhere in the past. It's a great little class!

I'm racking my brain for continuing ideas. I just want people to be inspired to paint playfully, not getting all tied up in the finished product.

Thanks--still open to ideas!


05-20-2008, 01:09 AM

How about a very simple subject painted monocromatically several times over using blues for one, greens for the next, yellows, reds, ...

Or doing a pastel collage using various papers that are scraps left over, creating the depth of a landscape, or different flowers in a garden, or various shapes in a still life. cut the shapes prior, and spray mount using using a brayer.

The Hubbel telescope has taken some wonderful images of out of this world sights that are blooming in colors and exciting shapes, the images are public domain I would think.

Just some bazarre ideas...


maggie latham
05-20-2008, 01:44 AM
Are you talking being inspired by making marks and techniques, using intuition, mixing in a different medium.......or all?

I always find it fun to tape off my sanded pastel surface into small oblongs or squares (2x3, 3x5 5x5 etc) and to pick out several different limited colour combinations Working intuitively in one section at a time I use one taped off area to finger blend, another to cross hatch, another to scumble, using a different palette in each area. Making abstract compositional elements and noting colour combinations I find really helpful for future paintings. Being able to ‘pull’ together abstract shapes and colours into a minimal composition is also challenging …. sometimes works ….sometimes not.

You can go further with these fun mini studies, and spray lots of fixative on one, and note what happens to the colours, smooth acrylic matt medium over another one with a palette knife….to see what happens….(who cares if it smears.... this is the point of experimenting). Drip water onto another and move the liquid pastel around with a stiff brush, etc.

Pretty basic experimental stuff here:) , but I find this kind of experimenting fun and invigorating….especially when I have to do a hard 'crit' on why certain techniques in my mini studies have either worked or created a hideous mess).

When we stop thinking of paper and pastels as expensive precious items, this in itself frees up one’s ability to experiment and not worry about the outcome.

I have learnt to be as happy about realizing a painting has not worked and enjoy ceremoniously tearing it up:lol: :lol: :lol: , as I am when I paint something that all clicks together. The deeper understanding one gets from playing with the medium (any medium) like this far outweighs (I believe) the expense of materials on a few torn up pieces of work.

Hope you get lots of ideas in this thread, keep us posted on how you approached this subject in your class,


05-20-2008, 07:14 AM
-A 'girl' landscape all in pinks
- (and, of course) a 'boy' landscape all in blues
- choose the 3/5/7 colours you love most, *then* get to know you will do a landscape with them. (And the reverse, the colours you *don't* like)
- make a snowscape of a place where it never snows. (Cactuses sticking out of snow...)
-and the good oldie -- don't use any green at all
- shift all colours one step on the colour wheel (yellow becomes orange, red becomes purple, etc.)
- let the paintings rotate between the artists. Can be done in several manners: one person starts, the other finishes. or, every 15 minutes, hand the painting over to the person on your left. Or any other manner you can think of. That would be fun, and challenging, and get people to think in new ways. Well, IMHO. :-)
- Imagine that the sun has another colour, say green, and how that affects every colour.

Deborah Secor
05-20-2008, 09:15 AM
Again, interesting thoughts...

I'm doing a fairly striaghtforward class now, because I had to write the schedule a while back and had no 'creative' time. I've often thought there must be more creative classes I could teach. Maybe I'll take a few pages from Carole Katchen's books...

Thanks gang!

Dot Hoffman
05-20-2008, 10:59 AM
Deborah, your class sounds like so much fun, I want to be there, but I can't make the first one (not enough time to settle in the apt). Can I join up at the second one?????

Donna T
05-20-2008, 03:35 PM
What if you make this kind of a group project? Provide each person with a reference of a landscape. Give them 10 minutes or so to do a light charcoal sketch. Pass this along to the next person and do some kind of underpainting. Pass it on and work on the sky ... etc. It might be a real challenge to adapt to whatever you are given :evil: but probably kind of fun also. :)


Deborah Secor
05-20-2008, 06:08 PM
Dot, I think we can work that out... there's no reason why missing class one changes anything really. Go to http://harwoodartcenter.org/ss/the-playful-landscape/ and you can e-mail the school from there. They take care of my enrollment.

That sounds like an interesting project idea, Donna. Sort of a 'pass it on' painting. Might be a kind of paint around. Or maybe I could do a class where I have one paitning on the easel and each person takes a turn comin gup to paint on it, withall of us supervising and giving advice! that might be fun, too.


05-21-2008, 02:08 AM
Paint upside down (The painting, not the artist)

Deborah Secor
05-21-2008, 09:13 AM
Yep, TJ, that's a good one! We've done it a lot and it never ceases to amaze people how they can see differently that way.


05-21-2008, 08:04 PM
How about a painting of a landscape, of your students Idea of
GODS paint box. I have a photo that was sent to me of a place in calif. titled GODS paint box it is simply beautiful. I'll have to find it and send it to you. It is probly copy righted and I don't know who the photographer was but it is truly jaw droping. there are several other photos as well if you are interested.

Deborah Secor
05-22-2008, 08:45 AM
Thanks, Scott! I have seen that one. I used to live in Bakersfield, CA, near where that pic was taken. It usually didn't look like that!


05-22-2008, 11:22 AM
Deborah, how about doing a very, very quick sketch using three colours (primaries, values or intensities?) on very wet watercolour or pastel paper? You have to work really fast before the paper dries. Photograph the sketch. When it dries thoroughly, finish the quick sketch with a full palette. Compare and discuss the quick sketch with the finished sketch. Sometimes, the quick sketch looks better!


Deborah Secor
05-22-2008, 06:14 PM
Good idea, Wendell. I assume you've tried this? If so, what paper did you use? Sounds interesting.


05-22-2008, 07:39 PM
Hi Deborah, I did this a few years ago after I got frustrated with watercolours and had a few sheets of 300 lb. cold pressed watercolour paper. It's more fun when the paper is really wet but it's messy. It was before I started doing pastels but had a couple of small sets of Senneliers and Rembrandts. I did some skies, water, and landscapes. On some of them I also used some thinned down white gouache with a large brush. The pastels mix well with the gouache. It really uses up the pastels fast but at that point I didn't care. Some of them were awful and others I reworked when dry. One of them I really liked and have it framed on the wall. You might try it with different papers and the pastel colours that you hardly ever use.

Didn't Degas do something similar by dipping his pastels in fixitive or water and working with them while wet?

Sounds like an interesting class and good luck.


05-22-2008, 08:14 PM
Since it's better to show than to explain here's a small detail of one of them:


Please excuse the photograph but it is dark now and the picture is framed with glass. I had to use a flash. The painting is of water and rocks. The rocks are not too bad but the water isn't great! I think I also used an old toothbrush to spatter on some thinned white gouache in the frenzy. I'm not sure but I might have used a bit of watercolour on this one as well. It was one of those days when you have to get rid of your frustrations with mixed media therapy.

Hope this helps...


Deborah Secor
05-22-2008, 09:54 PM
Thanks, Wendell! I like the COLORS! A very exciting piece, it seems. Glad you shared it.


05-23-2008, 03:25 AM

I think a good exercise from KCAI classes was to visit a museum and try to interpret a painting there - for one oil painting class, we took a Whistler painting, and just used 2 colors - like white and ultramarine blue, and also did drawings of Degas, Chardin, and other's works. Maybe something like that would be fun to add. Hope this helps, too.

Deborah Secor
05-23-2008, 09:22 AM
Having a real museum handy would help! But I suppose we could paint from photos of great work. Maybe there's more to this idea than I think, however. We do have the ABQ Museum, which has more regional works. Hmmmm.... thanks, Paula!


05-26-2008, 10:14 PM
Hi Deborah,

THis is probably too late, but you could paint one painting in the values 1-5 and then do the same image with values 5-10.??