View Full Version : Intimidation

05-28-2008, 10:48 AM
Hi all,

This is my first post, so be gentle. :wink2: I recently began the plunge into Pastels and I think I plunged too much. I am a little intimidated with all that I have now. Here is a little history:

I have a background in drawing with graphite, and color pencil. I have worked with color, so I have basic color theory (primaries, secondaries, value, temperature, etc.) incorporated in my work. I did my first pastel painting about a year ago and it came out great to my standard using Nupastel and pastel pencil. Did a few more with a basic pallete of Senneiler (around 30 colors). I saw the potential, so I bought some pastel books (recently picked up Maggie Price's book 'Painting with Pastels'). I loved them even though I didn't sit down and explore as much as I would have liked. Then my schedule got busy for about a year and my pastels went in the closet.

At the beginning of the month I started breaking my stuff back out and fell in love again. I had a lump sum of money, so I built a huge pastel collection. My wife (being the awesome wife she is) bought me the Unison 72 signature color set. I developed ASAS, or Art Supply Acquisition Syndrome.

I now have a respectable pastel selection, tons of paper, books, and some free time. The problem is that I sit in front of my easel with a subject and I just freeze. I have so much stuff for a beginner that I have analysis paralysis.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to where I should begin? I should say that it will really tick my wife off if I don't use that set she got me. :D

05-28-2008, 11:57 AM
Hello Phil, welcome!

Don't think! Seriously, don't think at all. Put your left brain on sleep mode, activate the right brain and paint a smallish sketch of anything, just to start going. Then choose one single aspect you want to try out (or develop), and do a sketch doing just that, and only that. Eat the elephant one bite at the time. Actually it sounds like you simply need to get going, and it will solve itself.

You can even redo the same subject many times (if you don't get bored), but with different focus: forms (where you don't bother much about colour), or colour (skip accuracy of drawing, even of values). Flat colour, broken colour, etc. Different kinds of colours of paper, different papers. Endless combinations, but just start somewhere. :-)

Or give those gorgeous Unisons to me!... ;-D

Paula Ford
05-28-2008, 12:03 PM
LOL... Hi Phil and Welcome!

Charlie has great advice! Why don't you also join me in the weekly pastel sketch thread where sketches are done under 60 minutes.


K Taylor-Green
05-28-2008, 12:14 PM
Welcome Phil! I understand your pain, as I was there once myself. A wise artist told me to start putting marks on paper. It helps to just get the paper a bit dirty!
And joining Paula's Sketch Thread is just the ticket.

05-28-2008, 12:24 PM
Hi Phil,

First of all - kiss you wife and tell her that when the creative spirit strikes - she may not see much of you so you have to do it now.

Second - accept the fact that you will have this feeling again in the future throughout your painting and creative life. Even the best of us sit and stare and wonder what is next - trust me.

Third - PLAY Nothing has to look like anything. Take the pastels out - feel them, shift them around and fall in love with their color and texture. Just let the fly over the paper and if anyone asks what it is you are painting... tell them you are just becoming familiar with the materials.

We have in our mind a sense of "perfectionism" - let that go!!!

Oh and one more thing I have to share with you from a book that someone gave me ... I love this story... It's from Art and Fear, An Artist's Survival Guide by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

By the way - BUY THIS BOOK!

This one I read periodically and also share with friends....

PERFECTION.... The ceramics teacher tells the class on the first day he is going to divide them into two groups. At the end of the class one group will be judged on Quality the other group will be judged on Quantity.

He'd bring in a scale at the end and depending on weight, the group being judged on quantity were graded by the pound.

The other group only had to get a fine piece of work to receive and "A".

As you can imagine, the students who worked and worked and worked on producing as many pieces as possible had the higher quality of work. The other group spent more time theorizing on what made quality work, thinking about perfection and not throwing the clay.

"If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error."


Phil - perhaps this isn't what is holding you back - but it's one less thing to have to worry about!!!

May the dust be with you!!!


05-28-2008, 12:25 PM
Hmmm...I like the idea of just doing form and colour seperate from anything else repeating the same subject, but experimenting. That might help me slip into the right brained thinking. Thanks much.

Paula, I think I will join in on your thread. Maybe if I start doing something regularly again it will stick. I love the idea of submitting short sketches for others to comment on. I think I might do that tonight.


05-28-2008, 12:33 PM
Thanks Barb. That is a lot of my problem. Jumping into a new medium I sometimes look at my work and say "What is that? You can do better than that" I have this expectation that I should already know how to use any medium. Horrible. I totally feel like the quality group. Excellent story reference.


05-28-2008, 12:35 PM
Welcome Phil

You might think of it this way.
What have you got to loose by starting?

Just pick up one stick of your favorite color and make a dusty mark. You can always start over, but one stroke usually leads to another. You've already stated you have a background in drawing, and drawing is the basis for painting. You have plenty of books to give you some guidelines as to where to start. However, remember those books are only guidelines, and you just may find a method different from what you are reading that works well for you. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to applying pastel to paper. If at first you don't like what you're doing, try a different type of paper because the paper makes a huge difference in final results.

Another question:
Why do you want to paint and for whom are you painting?
If you paint because you have a burning desire to be creative, and paint to satisfy yourself in that desire, then you can't go "wrong" by starting where ever you are at that moment.
As the immortal Harley Brown wrote in his article in issue #61 of the International Artist, "It took my insecure mind a while to discover that it matters not a wit what others think."
Paint for your own pleasure, and the result will take care of itself.

Last question.
What have you to gain my not starting?
An unhappy wife, and no fun for you.... there are plenty of people here on WC that will assist you if you ask. If you aren't comfortable doing so publically, you can always go the pm route. I've given many critiques via private messages, and I think there are others who do so too.

Have fun


05-28-2008, 12:41 PM
Barb it looks as though we were writing almost the same thing at the same time, but in different words! LOL
Love the ceremics story. Thanks for sharing it.


05-28-2008, 01:07 PM
Thanks Peggy. It seems to me that you guys are picking the thoughts right out of my head. I guess artists are predictable right? :rolleyes: Seriously thanks. I want the quality, but I need to produce to get there. I also shouldn't care what everyone thinks...even my wife. The next thing I should hear from her is "You have gone through that pastel set that quick?". :D

I will make it a plan tonight to put the kids to bed, but my headphones on, and just scribble around for a couple hours. One of those hours will be my 60 minute sketch. I just need to dive in.


Lisa Fiore
05-28-2008, 01:28 PM
Have you checked out the reference image library? There are so many incredible photos just begging to be painted--it's hard not to be inspired! (My problem is I have a ton of pictures I want to paint and not enough time...:rolleyes:)

05-28-2008, 02:53 PM
Great, Phil. Forgot to mention one thing -- break sticks in halves or thirds. Now they are 'ruined' anyway, so you might as well paint with them. And you'll need smaller pieces, too. After about 9 months with pastels, I don't even gasp as I break them.

05-28-2008, 02:55 PM
*Gasp*...Break my Unison's...I may need a few drinks first...one step at a time. :)

05-28-2008, 04:28 PM
Hi Phill,

I know that Charlie said not to think.
But you know that for us guys, it's difficult not to think:rolleyes:
I guess that the solution is to paint anything that comes to mind.
This will keep you warmed up for bigger projects.

Kind regards,


Deborah Secor
05-28-2008, 05:22 PM
Break the pastels, man, just break those puppies! I've had strong men shudder as I broke one of their pastels in half in a class, so I know how hard it can be--but the perfect, clean, neat, ordered colors NEED to become sullied, messy, slightly muddled, well-used pastels, and smaller sticks are far more useful. Don't think of just using the tip, drawing the way you do with a crayon. Think of using a chunk turned on its side for a swathe of color across the paper! Tip the chunk on it's end and see how you can vary the size and width of the strokes... Try squiggles and scribbles and dots and have some fun. But start by breaking them.

Oh, by the way, it's part of the cure for Art Supply Acquisition Syndrome. Then you'll need more!


05-28-2008, 05:58 PM
Yes, do break those sticks - but only when you are ready. I tell all students the same thing - BREAK THOSE PASTEL STICKS INTO CHUNKS ABOUT ONE INCH LONG! However, I never force them into it by breaking them myself. Once they see how much more productive and with greater ease others are painting with broken sticks, they all come around to the same conclusion: Broken pastel sticks just work better. You can even save a very small piece along with the wrapper it came in so when you run out of a color you have something to compare it to and get another whole stick - which of course will soon be broken too. LOL


05-28-2008, 07:03 PM
Okay, okay...I broke my Nupastels :rolleyes:. I actually didn't have to break my Senneliers. They were already broken when I unwraped some of them. I will work with them tonight and see how it goes. I need to work into the breaking part slowly. It might involve some sort of meditation ritual. :D

I am just discovering that this site is loaded with info. I just grabbed a toned paper and set up a limited palette to mess with tonight. I will post anything that I manage to come up with that looks interesting. Also on Paula's thread with my timed sketch.


05-28-2008, 08:18 PM
Another good place to start is the Monthly Pastel Strokes. Welcome to WC!

I am frequently unsure of where to start, what to paint, etc. Partly because I have so many ideas running through my head, and mostly because of inexperience, or lack thereof. The majority of the time that all falls away once I start putting marks on the paper and before you know it, the piece is done.
So get your hands dusty and have fun!

05-28-2008, 09:55 PM
How about making a catalog all of your pastels. I broke all of mine in half and kept half in the original boxes, then I made a template for each brand with a bunch of squares that I drew all the colors on and labeled them for future reference. I find I tend to use the same colors and use this reference to help me reorder when I am use up the first half and start on the second half. Some of my work I need to scrumble using the side of the stick, and those nupastels are way too long, so I have even broke them in 1/4s so I can scrumble small sections when my art calls for it. I even saved the dust from breaking them all in half and made a new pastel with it! I used a razor blade to score then snapped them in half.

I would suggest participating in one of the challenges, like the monthly challenge in this forum, or in the landscape or portrait, or still life forums, whatever tripps your fancy. There is a great step by step pastel 102 course in the Drawing and Sketching Classroom forum taught by our own Diana Ponting. I did this and it felt totally rewarding to learn some of her techniques. Took me two intense weeks to get through it on a nightly basis.

Get dusty, and don't forget to share your labors of love with us!


05-28-2008, 10:54 PM
Welcome Phil to the wonderful world of pastels, Time to get dusty. You have gotten alot of great advice from some of the best here at Wet Canvas. I must also say break them sticks in half they will break anyway as you use them. Jusst making some marks on the paper will help try different colors strokes, dashes, dots, lines ect. A artist friend of mine once told me when I was struggleing to just make great starts, don't worry about the finished product Just make great starts the rest will fall in line as you go.

05-28-2008, 11:21 PM
Posted my 45 minute sketch in Paula's thread. 2 yellows and 2 blues. quick value study. This actually felt good after being off for so long. My most willing subject.

WC Lee
05-29-2008, 11:41 AM
the first thing I do before even looking at the subject I am going to paint is pick up a pastel and make a big mark right in the middle of the support :D If I don't do that, I would be sitting in front of it forever ... guess my reasoning is since I already ruined the paper, might as well use it to create something (or try to anyhow).

05-29-2008, 11:49 AM
...I know that Charlie said not to think.
But you know that for us guys, it's difficult not to think:rolleyes:

Ah, Josť, women think, you know. :wink2: We just pretend to be fluffy and cute emptyheads, so you guys won't feel even more intimidated than you already are. :D

Seriously: The logical (left) brain is said to be the one that simplifies images. It makes symbols out of what it sees. So when we try to paint, it is eager to help: "Hey, I know what a tree looks like, lemme show you", and you find your hand drawing a brown straight trunk stuck into a green flat circle. Left brain: "See, that wasn't so difficult!" (Reminds me of how dear Hubby acts, actually.... :lol: bless him. )

While the right brain really looks, and *see* the fascinating twist of the trunk, and the myriad of different greens in the crown, the skyholes, the rhythm of the branches, the... etc. When we 'look' with our right brain, there is way less interference between eyes and hand.

Hence "no thinking".

05-29-2008, 12:17 PM
One of my required reading for college was 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' Definitely understand what you are saying Charlie.

Last night I was able to put on my MP3 player and shut off the left side with some Ambient Electronic music (more commonly known as space music :)) and that gets me going. I tend to like anything that has almost tribal beats to it.

Us hubbies are good at zoning out as well. ;)

05-29-2008, 02:33 PM
Hi Phillgood!
I've been away, but I have read your thread, and checked out your sketch in Paula's weekly. Very good start to just letting yourself go...
and you really need to break those lovely sticks!! They are so much fun, when you can turn them and twist them and scrape across the paper, or touch with a tip, or the side,... ok you get my point:D

05-29-2008, 11:37 PM
Ah, Josť, women think, you know. We just pretend to be fluffy and cute emptyheads, so you guys won't feel even more intimidated than you already are.
:lol: Charlie LMAOROTF that was really funny Good thing I wasn't drinking anything or it would have been up my nose and everywhere else.:D

05-29-2008, 11:39 PM
Have we heard of Pan Pastels>>>????
They are raving about them in this thread. I think this thread must be making history as one of the longest on WC.... Loads of panatics there!!!



05-29-2008, 11:55 PM
Phil, from one newbie to another, thank you for reading my mind and starting this thread! I have laughed at the answers you are receiving and taken them to heart. (Well, sort of......I haven't broken my Faber Castell Polychromos yet!)

My story is so similar! After taking the suggestions of the experienced pastelists here, I returned a box of student grade, went today to a better art supply store, and picked out some warm and cool tones in the aformentioned Faber Castell, an assortment of the Pitt Pencils, and some Rembrandt. Oh they are SO nice and clean and perfect! LOL!

My problem arises with the samples of paper. Accustomed to painting in oils on linen, you can imagine my shock at finding out that Wallis is, well, uhmmmm.... sanded! I love the velour, but have the same paralysis by analysis.

I loved what WC Lee said about making a big ol' mark in the middle of the paper, then figuring I have nothing to lose by following with more!

Tonight is about reading everything I can on this forum and in the morning making marks on paper!

Thanks all!

05-30-2008, 07:07 AM
Hi Applesaucy (really cute username!), welcome to you too! Good you got decent material, it makes such a difference. So much that if you learn with 'student grade' (kindergarten students, IMHO), you'd have to relearn when switching to pro material.

05-30-2008, 09:29 AM
Have we heard of Pan Pastels>>>????
They are raving about them in this thread. I think this thread must be making history as one of the longest on WC.... Loads of panatics there!!!

Hi Carol. I did actually look at those a couple weeks ago. I have such a limited painting background that I didn't consider them seriously. After messing around this week I am coming to find out that painting with a pastel in my hand is more comfortable to me coming from a drawing background. These Pan pastels seem like they might be easier for someone with a painting or makeup artist background. They actually intimidate me more than all my stick pastels to be honest. :lol:

05-30-2008, 09:34 AM
My problem arises with the samples of paper. Accustomed to painting in oils on linen, you can imagine my shock at finding out that Wallis is, well, uhmmmm.... sanded!

Yes. It seems odd to me as well. I have a few sheets, but have not yet tried anything on them. I'm almost scared to make a stroke. I'm afraid to see half my pastel gone.

Wow. I sure seem like a scared wussy. :D

Kathryn Wilson
05-30-2008, 03:12 PM
LOL ... I've been following this thread and know what you are going through. Please know that most of us experienced the same horror at breaking our pastels and then to make a mark on that white, pristine piece of Wallis paper ... eeek!

But we got by that and we are all enjoying a most wonderful medium - we reclaim pastel dust and make new pastels with it and wash off that Wallis paper and use it again, and sometimes more than twice if we are careful.

One other thought - it is said that a white sheet of paper is intimidating - so why not try doing an underpainting? There are many threads and works in progress that utilize this method and I, for one, am glad I found this method as it really uninhibits my painting flow.

Maureen Grantham
05-30-2008, 06:04 PM
Oh Deborah, I can remember that shudder the first time I broke a pastel in half. But yes, just playing with swathes of beautiful colour is a great way to start. I like using black pastel paper for this, the colour looks simply amazing against the black.

Deborah Secor
05-30-2008, 06:13 PM
For the record, I was offering encouragement to break those puppies. I would never force a student to do it, or worse yet just snap one without permission, of course! :D But man, I really have seen grown people shudder... It goes so much against sense. Spend $4 on a stick and then snap it? :eek: BTW, I often use a razor blade to score pastel sticks so they snap cleanly. I hate when one of them crumbles, even a bit!


05-30-2008, 10:34 PM
Oh Deborah, a razor blade and scoring the pastel. Why didn't I think of that? It makes so much sense. I've been frustrated as my pastels don't break where I want them too or into the size I want. Thankyou Thankyou!

Phil, It helps me to remember it's just a bunch of ground up dirt and we are mooshing it around on a bunch of cotton fibers; it's just dirt, fibers and time. Play play play, just like when as kids we played in the mud. Once you get the feel of the sticks of dirt you'll be eagar to push the envelope a bit and work with volumn and shape. Go for it. No one's going to call the art police on ya.

05-30-2008, 10:38 PM
Oh Phil a post script to my post. The darn things do seem expensive and easily chewed up. Keep in mind most of us have pastels that are years old. I'm still using a few sticks that are more than 45 years old. I bought Great Americans 3 years (very soft sticks) and I've only had to buy two replacements to date, Midnight blue and a very dark green. They're not as fragile as they seem. Play time will help you develop the right degree of touch and you'll find it's a pretty light touch.

06-03-2008, 12:38 AM
Helloooo Phil!

Wondering how your attempts with the new medium are going. I have my put my assortment of papers and pastel brands to use trying to see what feels right. No results I care to post at the moment, lol! I actually am not attempting to do a finished work; sometimes I just doodle and "makes tracks on paper" to familiarize myself with the tools I have. I already know that my extremely limited palette needs lots more color. ASW sent me an email with 20% more off their current sale prices which expire tonight, so I at least now know something about the brands I want to buy additional colors in. Off to place that order!

06-04-2008, 12:10 AM
Hi Applesaucy,

It is going well. I have posted a couple things that I have been working on. I just finished my first still life in soft pastel and I like it. Here is the link:


I am going to work on some more sketching and post under this weeks thread. I am also going to work on a portrait of my daughter. I find that I like blending with pastels the best, but I will mess with as many techniques as possible.

Someone said to me that I should work on what I am comfortable with until I am proficient and then try something new. Right now I am going to stick with portraits and still lifes. I am very bad with drawing/painting landscapes and vegetation. That will be for later.