View Full Version : Fine Detail

Phil Bates
10-01-2009, 07:47 PM
Hi everyone,

There has been discussion lately in the forum regarding painting details, using pastel pencils, etc.

I thought I would weigh in on my own experience. I find that soft pastels work great for fine detail (even ultra soft Ludwigs and Schminkes). Granted, I don't do a lot of detail work, (I admit my opinion that paintings don't need a lot of fine detail to read well) but I certainly could using this method.

In the example below, I rolled a soft pastel to make the vertical lines on the bark. It is an 18 x 18 painting, so I had to blow it up quite a bit to illustrate:
Two Alders, soft pastel, UArt sanded paper, watercolor underpainting.

On the ultra close up below, you can see the thin marks are at least 1/32 and maybe 1/64th inch thick, like a pencil line. Again, this is using very soft sticks.


As I said earlier, I rolled the edge of the stick to get these marks, but there are many other ways, like pressing the edge or lightly drag a sharpened chisel tip. I also like to roll square edge sticks for jagged, or broken lines. Plus, when using soft sticks, the pastel lays on top of multiple layers without disturbing or blending with the pigment underneath.

This works great for making the area of interest: When fine details are used sparingly, they can draw the eye like a magnet. When looking at this painting in real-life, the eye is drawn immediately to this spot, making it the area of interest, or focal point.


Donna T
10-01-2009, 07:58 PM
Gorgeous painting Phil! Thanks so much for the detail shots. I notice that the leaves near the outer edges are not really leaves but green masses. Those areas combined with your textured bark really make for an interesting painting. I've been resisting using the super soft pastels but for the detail technique you've shown I might have to give them a chance!

Deborah Secor
10-01-2009, 09:53 PM
Excellent example of how softies make for tight details, Phil. I couldn't agree more! I find the extra-soft pastels stick like glue over the top of layers of pastel.

I'm rating the thread *****so our Mods can find it an put it in the library later on.

And this is a drop-dead GORGEOUS painting!


10-01-2009, 10:31 PM
Phil, Thanks for sharing your techinque. As someone new to pastels, I've found the detail work to be most challenging---trying to balance when to and when not to blend and learning when "stronger" lines / marks actually enhance rather distract from the effect I am attempting to achieve. While there is some "correctability" with pastels they're not as forgiving as acrylics or oils. Thanks again,

10-01-2009, 11:09 PM
Thank you SO MUCH! I am never shy to ask!
I really appreciate your input, and actually I never thought about the importance of the consistency of the stick (soft or hard) to determine how much impact it would had on the detail.
I have learned that I do not like making the detail with the pastel pencils. I bought a set, but I find them too hard for my taste.
And I agree is such a beautiful painting!

10-02-2009, 06:36 AM
Phil, gorgeous painting. I've tried the method too, and it works wonderfully for 'painterly' lines.

One bonus with these supersofties is that they, yes, 'glue' on top of the other layers, in thick impasto. Now, that means they do have a certain 3 D effect, like a ridge, and will catch light from all direction, a bit like Rembrandt used thick crusty highlights of lead white to add sparkle to gold.

Phil, what greens are you using? They're so wonderful! What brand(s)?


Kathryn Wilson
10-02-2009, 08:49 AM
For details, I do use a square pastel set on edge - press, lift, press, lift as I go down the line that I want to make. It sure makes a straight line for me. I don't drag the pastel stick - just press, rub a slight bit, then lift quickly.

Phil Bates
10-02-2009, 09:20 AM
Donna T: Thank you, yes, I would encourage you to give those soft sticks a chance!
Deborah: Thanks for the rating. I was curious to see what you would think and I am glad you liked the painting! :)
Dee: Good to see someone new joining the discussion. :) Stronger marks are a great way to control where the eye goes, but they can be a distraction if you're not careful. You're right that it's a balancing act.
SunFace: I agree that the pastel pencils seem too hard. I am sure they are fine on a bare surface, but at the end of the painting when you are making those important accent marks, they dig into the layers rather than laying on top.
Charlie: Thanks for the good word on this painting! Greens: Mostly Schminke, with Unison, Ludwig and Girault thrown into the mix.
Kathryn: I like the square edge sticks too. I find the straight lines they make are more predictable than using rounds.

Thanks again everyone for your comments!


Paula Ford
10-02-2009, 09:34 AM
5-Star thread! Thanks Phil!

Gorgeous piece, by the way!

Phil Bates
10-02-2009, 09:46 AM
Thanks Paula!

10-02-2009, 12:42 PM
hrmmmm <starts making notes like crazy>


Gerri Mc
10-02-2009, 01:17 PM
Printing out and keeping! if that's ok?


Phil Bates
10-02-2009, 01:52 PM
Printing out and keeping! if that's ok?


Yes, that's perfectly fine. :)


10-02-2009, 04:28 PM
Thanks, Phil, I realize it is *how* you use the greens that is so wonderful. As I have Scmincke and Unison greens, probably the very same colours -- they do seem familiar...


10-03-2009, 04:49 AM
Thank you so much for explaining your techniques. The painting is stunning! I've just received a full set of Schminckes so I'm hoping that from now on my paintings will look very much like yours! Lol!

Phil Bates
10-03-2009, 12:44 PM
Julie, thank you. Wow, a full set of Schminckes! That's a great way to start, I wish you the best.

Charlie, after putting the Schminckes in my box, I had extra room so I went back to my Unisons and compared greens. There were quite a lot of deeper/richer greens in the Unisons that complemented the Schminckes well.

It was easy to make this painting with greens that were too cool. It got off to a bad start so I had to re-do much of it with warmer green tones.

The brightest leaves in sunlight are actually yellow instead of green, that is my own personal "technique" for turning the light on.


10-03-2009, 12:59 PM
In there is all details what is needed and tells something i must practice more (i dont really need i think pastel pencils but more pratice) and i need more pastels what i currently have and this number is very small. even 40 hues is big selection when compared this.:)
ps. if all goes well test someday Schincke pastels but first W&N stuff becouse i can get them much easier. Actually Rembrands are easily available (so its koh-i-noor) but some how i like more w&n and schincke hues when i look colour chart.

10-04-2009, 03:40 PM
I just want to toss in my thanks too, Phil! I haven't been in my pastel box for a few years and just came over here to visit from oil painting. I sure learned a lot!

10-04-2009, 03:56 PM
Phil, you give great advice! When it doesn't work, take it out and re-do.

Senneliers have a yellow that is olivy-browny, very good to use too, a bit yellower than the Unison one.

Pure yellows for leaves in sunlight is what I use too, as brightening and warming green inevitably takes one into the yellows.

So may greens are too cool, or too grayed, to look like sunlight is hitting leaves.


David Patterson
10-04-2009, 04:57 PM
Thanks for the info Phil...beautiful painting!

10-04-2009, 07:40 PM
Beautiful work!!!!!

Phil Bates
10-06-2009, 10:42 AM
Thanks David and Julia! :)


Adriana Meiss
10-07-2009, 12:57 AM
Thank you for showing us the close ups of your beautiful painting. I'm still amazed at the many colors you have in just and inch square!
Painting believable sparse foliage its not easy, but you seem to have mastered it. I'll be studying this piece for a while...

10-07-2009, 03:57 PM
Hi Phil,

Awesome work.
Many times, be it to achieve small details or other objectives, having some imagination can do wonders and sometimes we don't "see" the most simple things.
Let me give you an example : to draw a straight line without placing a ruler over the pastel (or another medium) painting.
If the line doesn't need to be REALLY accurate, one can place the ruler "on the air" and slide ones hand through it do draw a line.

Best regards,


10-08-2009, 10:51 AM
phil this is incredible. the color and detail. i love your art! thank you for the close up. i need to get some softies!!!! ginger.

10-08-2009, 02:04 PM
This work is extrafine example why i interested soft pastels.

10-10-2009, 08:52 PM

Thank you so much for posting this. You are really such an inspiration. I often go into Art and Soul just to look at your paintings. I appreciate everything you post here.

Phil Bates
10-12-2009, 09:37 AM
Thanks Shari! You are always an encouragement! :)

Dot Hoffman
10-14-2009, 09:38 AM
Great info and gorgeous painting! Thanks Phil:thumbsup:

Phil Bates
10-20-2009, 07:44 PM
I thought I would add a link to Richard's blog about edges. It's really pertinent to this discussion and very helpful!