View Full Version : Many pastels needed or are there techniques...?

06-29-2008, 12:57 PM
Apologies if this has been asked a zillion times (and if so please just point me toward the threads)-- but I keep wanting to like pastels <G> because I see so much beautiful work done here. But then I wind up being totally frustrated by rarely being able to find the hue/value/sat stick I want. Now, my collection is small-- probably 50 or so-- but it seems to me you'd really need several hundred at least. Or I would since I'm not much for optical mixing and I do not like the way they mix physically. I can often find a stick with two out of the three-- hue and value OR hue and intensity but not with hue and value and intensity. Obviously, this is my failing-- since so many people here produce such great results-- but I wonder if you all have gobs of pastels or I'm just missing something!

06-29-2008, 06:03 PM
Short answer:

We all have gobs of pastels.

Longer answer:

Even with lots of pastels, you will still probably find the need to do some mixing - frequently finding the need to gray down an intense color or adding just a touch of another pastel to help define the color you want. But in general you might find that you need at least 150 to 200 pastels. My collection is now up to somewhere between 200 and 300 and most pastellists have many more. Mind you, for each particular painting I probably don't use more than 20 to 30 pastels total (often far fewer), but you do want a larger collection to choose from. That's my 2 cents worth.


06-29-2008, 07:11 PM
Here Here Don I agree. I have sometimes I think I have way to many but then I use most of them at some time or another. I have done some paintings using only maybe a dozen or so, but I couldn't do that with out the wide varity of pastels to choose from. for me it is all about the color so I tend to choose Greens, blues, yellows, and reds, the most, then oranges & violets or purples, then of course earth tones.

06-29-2008, 08:49 PM
Hi Rb,
I'm one of those "addicts" who have over 3000 sticks!:eek: and when new ones come out, I gotta have em!!!:D But, that being said, Don and Scott hit it. You only use a good selection, but you never know what you might want to do.
Another possiblity for you to explore are the new PanPastels. there are a total of 60 colors, and they are mixable. Very intense rich color, and a lot of fun.
Check out this thread:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/images/misc/paperclip.gif Having a BALL using Pan Pastels!!! (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=455375)


06-30-2008, 04:27 PM
Thanks folks. I guess my primary problem is lightening a color. Adding white isn't satisfactory-- at least the way I'm doing it-- so I seem to get stuck needing a value and not being able to produce it. Will keep working (or just buy more sticks!). I do have some Panpastels and like them a lot-- thanks!

06-30-2008, 04:58 PM

Lets see if I can answer this without complicating your life and giving a knot on my brain :-)
While with other mediums such as oil, one can add paint to modify a value, with pastels that's more complicated - of course that one could grind a bit, mix a bit of white and rebuild a stick, but that would be losing too much time - so....have you heard about Pointilism ? Yup, that can be a solution in some cases, namely in bigger areas.
Also although an opac medium, pastel layers also influence each other. I often miss a certain blue for a sky and I try working that out with layers.
Another thing is learning with time that sight is one of the worst senses that we have. It can be easily tricked. A grey near a golden yellow can look blue and sometimes even yellow.
The way we see a certain colour will depend upon the one(s) next to it.
Many times when painting green trees I use dark blue and brownish reds, no one complaints.
Well, I hope to have been of some help.

Kind regards,


06-30-2008, 09:17 PM
Thanks folks. I guess my primary problem is lightening a color. Adding white isn't satisfactory-- at least the way I'm doing it-- so I seem to get stuck needing a value and not being able to produce it. Will keep working (or just buy more sticks!). I do have some Panpastels and like them a lot-- thanks!

I find that my lightest colors (almost white) are very important to have. You are correct in stating that adding white isn't satisfactory, in my opinion. Really dark dark are hard to mix, too - you will want individual sticks for those also. See how fast your pastel collection will grow!!


07-01-2008, 02:05 PM

How many pastels do you need?
I find I always need about 25 more than I currently have! :rolleyes:

Shopping in the pastel section of the art catalog or art store is like turning me loose as a kid in a candy store.:lol:

But, seriously: adding a few lovely shadow grays and
then some light values of the colors you use most, is a great way to start.

I started with a small set of Rembrandt and then added some from a few other brands until I found my favorites.
Then my family gave me a gift of a large set of Rembrandts that were for several years my foundation set.

I now have a plan of just which colors and which brands I want to add.
My favorites right now are Great American and Unison. My gray set from Great American was a big step forward.

I'd suggest that you avoid getting a huge set of any one, but work out a plan to expand you "foundation" set.
Happy Painting!:wave:

07-01-2008, 03:16 PM
Let me weigh in on the opposite side: it depends on what you want. I think a small number of pastels is a really good *learning* tool. I'm new to the whole art thing - I started drawing in December and trying to use color about 3 months ago - and while I was bewildered by huge sets of pastel, I found that very small sets forced me to improvise, and to forced me to learn a *lot* about optical mixing. Small sets definitely *aren't* the way to get realistic color - but they do seem good for me for learning about color interaction.

Here's a sample from a 25 minute pose from figure drawing group last night - I was using the standard Nupastel 24 set... it's not anything like the beautiful work you see elsewhere on this forum, but it might show you what a total amateur/student can get with a small pastel set...

Maggie P
07-01-2008, 03:36 PM
I love pastels and want them all. But realistically, you can't start out buying them all, nor should you.

I think the most important thing is to have a good value selection. Generally when people in my classes say they don't have the right color, what really is the case is that they don't have the right value.

A good starting selection is 5-10 VALUES of each of the following:

the primary colors (red, yellow, blue)
the secondary colors (orange, green, violet)
the tertiary colors (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, red-violet, blue-violet)
earth tones (browns, both warm and cool; sand or beige colors)
a selection of neutrals, both warm and cool (gray-blue, gray-violet, gray-green, etc.)

In addition to those, you need a good white and black --you may not use these often, but you may need them once in a while.

Ideally, you'll have some harder and some softer pastels in these colors. But the most important element of this is that you have a good range of values.

As far as getting your highlights lighter, I agree with a previous post that color makes a difference. Sometimes an orange or yellow will actually look lighter and brighter than white. And sometimes, to make an area look lighter, all you really need to do is darken colors around it.

Hope this is helpful!

07-01-2008, 03:50 PM
rorschah, I agree, you can do a lot with a limited range, and great figure study by the way!

I have a lot of sticks, but realistically you don't need them, we just want them.
A good starter set either in Landscape, or Portrait, whatever, and then build on it, is the best way to go. Having the right color or trying to get an exact match of color is not as important as the right value.
As Albert Handell says, "you can pretty much place any color you feel like, as long as it it the correct value..."
A good way to find out what you like is to sample different brands, and Dakota Pastels offers the sampler set of all the brands to check out the softenss, size, feel in your hand, etc...
You might try checking out the thread in Pastel Talk re the new color chart book Marie H. has created. Here is the link.

Pastel Color Chart...Has anyone seen this? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=502902)

07-01-2008, 04:58 PM
I agree with Tressa! The way to think about it that's worked for me is... make sure you have a value spread. It's more important to have a value spread than a hue spread. If you want a light tint of a color you don't have, you can optically mix it from component hues, as long as they're all of the right value. Why don't you like optical mixing, might I ask?

You can, to some extent, mix neutrals on paper. I think some people avoid blending or mixing on the paper because of that "overblended" look - it isn't sharp, and it kills the clarity and intensity of the color. But you don't *want* intense color for the neutral passages. I think when I have neutrals (I didn't have any for that figure study), I make nicer end-products, but when I don't, I'm forced to learn more about color mixing and neutrals.

Most of what I know about optical mixing came from looking very close up at a few Van Goghs, portraits especially. Somebody who knows more than me should jump in here, but I had the impression (and read, I think) that Degas used a *very* small number of pastels... If you look really close, you can see lots and lots of different colors created from very few pigments.

Anyway, that's what I've figured out in the last few months... I'll shut up now.

07-04-2008, 12:43 AM
Right-- as I said-- my primary issue is value range. I absolutely agree you can do fantastic work with limited color ranges-- in fact-- I love monochrome and also love working in just gray, sepia, and white. But when I am trying to be fairly realistic I long for a wide value range AND a wide hue range. Of course, you may only need a small number of colors in one painting-- as has been pointed out-- but it seems to me that you really need (again, for highly realistic work) a large range to choose those colors from or you're stuck. As for why I don't like broken color-- I can't say-- I just don't ;-) Sorry. Alas, I am not Degas! I appreciate the responses. I think for what I am going for the answer is yes-- you need a lot of colors in a lot of values.

Donna A
07-04-2008, 02:09 AM
I have well over 4700 sticks of pastel, but I learned a delicious lesson from an artist with whom I first worked in one of my plein air workshops. Her husband had gone back to school for another degree several years earlier and they were living off of her salary and also paying tuition, etc. so she had a very limited budget for her art materials---hence coming with only a box of 12 pastels. Wow!!! I still remember seeing the final work the first day! She wove colors in such a gorgeous way---yes, out of necessity---but the results were marvelous! When we look at a lot of the Degas and Cassatts, we see that same lovely weaving of color strokes. Of course, there is still the issue of style. Now her style these days, after some years, has shifted. It's lovely now, too---but has certainly changed with her continuous addition of MANY more colors!

But I learned wonderfully from her that there are ways!!!

Now---as others have in some way noted, there is never always THE RIGHT color! I do prefer making strokes more than using the side of the pastel stick, so I weave color within many layers---and I love the action of it! Yes, we do each have to find our own style of working, of expressing---but we can also find ways of expressing within the 'confines' of the colors we have at the moment.

I used to make note of colors I reached for often and did not find. As someone mentioned earlier, we can make new colors out of existing colors. I've often suggested breaking off bits of pastel from several sticks that would add up to the color you are yearning for, grinding them down with the back of a spoon then adding just enough drops of water or rubbing alchohol to make a paste, then roll into a stick and let dry on a paper towel for a day or two or three, depending on the weather, etc. You can make some great colors from things you already have. Be careful of raising a lot of dust. If you wish, you can use a mask while you are working. Be sure to scrub the pigment residue off the back of the spoon carefully and thoroughly if you are going to use it in the kitchen later---or use a spoon or other curved metal tool from a thrift shop, saved exclusively for this purpose!

I don't know that you can ever expect to get completely over the feel of there 'not being the right color!' sometime during a painting---but that seems normal. And there are some colors in nature that just do not exist in light-fast pigment! Light glowing through a stained-glass window just can not be duplicated in a painting, but we can parallel the effect! So that is another way of handling some of the situations where we do not find 'the right color!'

We really do need to find the relationship more than the perfect color.

Now, I know so many say that it does not matter what Hue is used, as long as the Value is right---but---I also notice that those saying that also just happen to usually pick an intensity and other color qualities which work wonderfully well, too! I've seen way toooo many paintings where the value was 'right on' but the intensity or the temperature-within-the-hue was just horrid and ruined the painting. Yes, I think Value is quite important---but I also believe that all the color qualities need to be 'playing nicely together!' Yes, we can make green grass red (or something really different---and make it work) as long as the other qualties of the color contribute to the over all effect!

Best wishes with your continued adventures in pastel! It's a glorious medium! Donna ;-}

07-04-2008, 09:53 AM

Ah, yes...Donna!

Having grown up with a mother/artist, I early caught the color fever!
But, with all Mama's excitement over "THAT COLOR", it was what you do with THAT COLOR that makes the painting. Who plays with that color? what other colors and then: what values, temperature, intensity....you can't separate them!

Balance, yet a delicious qualtiy that you can't resist. :music: :heart:

07-04-2008, 11:29 AM
oooh but, Donna, you have opened a completely different can of worms here,:evil: color harmony...
yea ,we can have red trees or blue grasses, but we better have some pretty darn good happy compliments to back it up!!!:D

07-04-2008, 11:45 AM
<<<Now, I know so many say that it does not matter what Hue is used, as long as the Value is right---but---I also notice that those saying that also just happen to usually pick an intensity and other color qualities which work wonderfully well, too! I've seen way toooo many paintings where the value was 'right on' but the intensity or the temperature-within-the-hue was just horrid and ruined the painting.>>>

Thank you Donna for saying that! That aphorism has always driven me nuts. If the saturation level is wrong you wind up with the dog's breakfast. A dull dark orange is not the same as a bright dark orange. There's a grain of truth to the saying but it is taken way too literally.

I agree red grass may have its place-- but not in every style of painting. Sometimes you do want green grass and you want a pretty specific green, etc. Anyway, it may just be that I'm someone happier with a medium that allows for easier physical mixing of colors. That's okay-- not everyone is meant for every medium. Back to watercolor for a while I think!

07-04-2008, 02:13 PM
[quote=NothingButPencils Anyway, it may just be that I'm someone happier with a medium that allows for easier physical mixing of colors. That's okay-- not everyone is meant for every medium. Back to watercolor for a while I think![/quote]

Oh dear! I'm sorry if we've "lost" you to watercolor or any other medium, but hope you will feel at some point you are ready to try pastel again. I for one don't feel comfortable with watercolor, but I do enjoy what others do with them. You might think about combining watercolor and pastel sometime. I've seen really beautiful work where pastel is worked over pastel, but doesn't entirely cover it.

Donna and Elsie I absolutely agree with you, and am happy to see your contributions to this discussion. Value is important, but so is the right color - or as Tres said, color harmony. There are times when I think if I see another "purple shadow" that is the right value of true violet cast across a true green grass meadow I will scream! :lol: To me, the value must relate to the intensity and temperature of the hues of ever stick of pastel you pick up and place on the painting.

Yup! need more colors, not fewer even if you use only about 20 in any one painting. Art Spectrum or the new Ludwig extra lights are a necessity even though they aren't used but a very little at the end. The same may be said of many different manufacturers' extra dark values....


07-04-2008, 04:18 PM
Thanks Peggy-- I'll get frustrated with watercolor again soon enough and delude myself into thinking pastels are the answer ;-) so I'm sure I'll be back soon.

07-04-2008, 05:06 PM
Someone somewhere said something like (a bit uprecise, I know... :-) ... ok, said that only those who can stand unsurety and frustration for a certain amount of time can become artists. We embark on the adventure of a new painting with a clear image in our minds of what it will be, and very soon we get into the 'ugly' stage, and wonder if we will ever solve it. And after working on, it suddenly and 'magically' emerges -- the painting. (Or not, and then it is another one of those wonderful learning experiences...)

There will never be such a thing as the perfect pastel stick of exactly the right colour and value. I truly think that. (Nor the perfect paper, nor the perfect frame/mat/glass...) So, we approximate.

Ladies, even if the clear purple shadow on the grass is, well, jarring, you still see/interpret it as a shadow on grass if it is of the right value. You don't lose the *meaning*, even if it is, well, ugly. With the wrong value, meaning can be lost. That is how I interpret the 'right value of any colour'.

07-06-2008, 09:21 AM
A simple technique (because I don't have gobs of pastels, just however many it takes to fill my pastel case):

Study the subject. Map out the lights and darks on your paper. Choose a dark, a medium and a light pastel that you think you see. Apply colors loosely to the value plan. Then "weave" some of the medium into the dark, some of the light into the medium, and step back to see what colors to add next. You'll be better able to reserve the light areas and not really need that many sticks. The transition from watercolor to pastel might bother you because of the reversed painting method and I highly recommend experimenting with pastels over a watercolor. Don't abandon pastels, they're too much fun!

07-08-2008, 10:52 PM
Here's the link I was looking for:


This is where Casey Klahn, whose stuff I really dig, lays out a minimal plein air kit. With exactly six pastel sticks. He tells you which colors. And then proceeds to do some plein airs with them. The original post as at the bottom of the page.

07-12-2008, 12:30 AM
I knew my ears were burning for a reason.

I'm Casey Klahn, and I just wanted to make sure I don't get the credit for the six Unison palette. I found it online, suggested by an artist from San Fransisco, whose link and name I unfortunately lost.

The system really works, although I am usually able to take a bigger kit. How is it going, Peggy? Be sure to look me up at the Bellevue fair (garage) this month and say "Hi".:wave:

07-13-2008, 10:33 PM
Donna, I just l-o-v-e color! Just the visual of all those sticks in my local art store give me the "I wants!" To imagine your 4700 sticks, well, your studio would be a sight to behold!:)

07-13-2008, 11:04 PM
also be aware that if you decide to do some watercolor, pastel goes amazingly well over top! those two mediums work fantastic together, and maybe between the 2, you'll find a perfect fit.

and casey, what a fun blog! i love your mini, minimal pastel kit! i think i'll have to try that sometime, thanks!

07-14-2008, 12:19 AM
Thanks for reading my blog, chewie.