View Full Version : Broken Colour technique demo

09-13-2002, 05:04 AM
I have noticed that quite a few beginners to this lovely medium are a little nervous of experimenting with techniques, and they tend to stick to blending. Here is a very simple demo and exercise to try - not at all scary, and good fun.

"The method of working with “broken colour” will produce lively pastel effects in a picture, and it makes an interesting visual statement – arguably more interesting than a flat area of a single colour/hue.

You need to be careful not to use too many different light and dark tones within an area of broken colour, and also don’t use too many colours together in a slapdash way, as this may result in a general effect of muddiness when viewed from a distance.

Close tones, of a similar colour, will blend together visually. Even the paper can be allowed to play a part, providing an element of either colour harmony, or contrast, depending on the tone and colour of the paper.

Many contemporary painters use broken colour in their work, as did the Masters – for inspiration and ideas, do look at Degas’ paintings, and the work of Toulouse Lautrec.

Using the SIDES of the pastels, make small vertical strokes, to produce an area of broken colour. Also try varying the direction of your strokes, for a lively effect

Now, using the bottom of , say, a wineglass as a template (drink the wine, and then whatever you produce will look great!!), make random circles on pastel paper, with a black fibre-tip pen by running it around the circular base of the glass. TShen using short side strokes, fill in the shapes, working over the black circles in places. It is interesting to notice that because the circular shapes of the design go off the edge, they give the impression of being part of a larger image. Notice how the colour grades from dark to light, and is only "spotty" where the very bright yellow is put against the green. The dark blues and dark purples blend together beautifully. Watch out for this as you work.

If you dont have a wineglass, any "shape" will do. You could, for instance, cut out shapes from card, and draw around them - you could use a leaf as a template, for instance. Or you could draw freehand shapes - it is fun to experiment.

Here is a painting where I have used broken colour extensively:
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/13-Sep-2002/Grand_Canal,_Evening_Light.jpg You should be able to recognise the technique if you look carefully.

Hope you blenders find this useful!



do visit my ebay page and auctions (http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/jackie4art/.)

visit my website which has a “troubleshooter” page of helpful pastel tips and hints (http://www.jackiesimmonds.co.uk)

Also see my posts in The Artists Marketplace here at WC!

09-13-2002, 06:27 AM
Thanks for the demo Jackie. This is very informative and I am going to try this for sure--every time I tried painting like this before it came out looking random and/or muddy. I guess much more thought has to go into keeping the values consistent, limiting the number of colors and keeping them harmonious.


09-13-2002, 06:35 AM
Thank you Jackie for that excellent demo. I will give it a try (I am a blender+++++) I printed it out and will do it tomorrow.

I want to do that for the background of this picture but have been stalling not knowing what colors would look best. I want it dark so the baby and the TP stand out. What colors should I use - ones that are in the ski tones?
(ps: I see that I have the resolution way off here but don't really know how to fix this without just taking another digital pic of it.)


09-13-2002, 07:55 AM
Arizona -
There are two ways to go which should be successful. Either you echo the skin tones, or you use complementary colours. Have a look at this one, which uses complements (orange/pink skin tones, blue/green shadows and background) which is a beautiful picture by Mary Cassat, painted in pastels in 1910, and it still looks modern:
Now look at this one, by Berthe Morisot, it's an oil, but a lovely example of repeating the cool skin tones in the background:
Both artists have used broken colour extensively.

Olga - one reason for getting "muddy" mixtures visually, is often the use of complementaries unthinkingly. If you have, for instance, half green and half red in the mix, visually this will read as a neutral "grey", strange though it may seem. If you put your greens over your reds, or vice versa, you end up with something resembling yukky brown. Sometimes this is a useful "tool" to employ - when you want to reduce the impact of a colour for instance - but if you didn't mean it to turn out quietened-down, or yukky, you have only yourself to blame!! You are right, you do have to think about the colours you use, always, and also the tones.

I'm glad you found the idea of the exercise inspiring! It IS fun to do.

do visit my ebay page and auctions (http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/jackie4art/.)

visit my website which has a “troubleshooter” page of helpful pastel tips and hints (http://www.jackiesimmonds.co.uk)

Also see my posts in The Artists Marketplace here at WC!

09-13-2002, 08:08 AM
Thanks Jackie, this really makes good sense! Can't wait to try this.

09-13-2002, 08:17 AM
very exciting! i think i'm gonna blow the dust of my pastel pencils and try this... but can i ask? do you not blend at all, is it more of a one color NEXT to another thing?


09-13-2002, 08:53 AM
Thanks Jackie for an other great demo. I still have to learn so much and this will help along.


09-13-2002, 09:07 AM
this is so helpful ! I notice on the "circles" that the shapes look so much more solid, dimensional and richer than if they had been blended. Even with the paper showing through this looks so much more "alive" and real. And the paper showing through pulls it all together.

I think my brain is ready to finally "get it" ...glass of wine may help though:)


09-13-2002, 09:56 AM
Thanks Jackie, I am going to try this!!! I'll post to this thread eventually so you can see how it turns out.


Colleen :D

09-13-2002, 12:02 PM
Originally posted by baquitania
very exciting! i think i'm gonna blow the dust of my pastel pencils and try this... but can i ask? do you not blend at all, is it more of a one color NEXT to another thing?


If you look hard at the little demo pictures, you won't see any blending going on at all. You can actually see the colour of the paper through each mark. And it is not only one colour next to another, it is also one colour overlapping another.

HAVING SAID THAT - there is nothing to stop you from blending if you wish, and fixing the blended area, and then working over the top with broken colour. I do this quite often, for a couple of reasons
1) if I want to "kill" the colour of the paper showing through for any reason . I might find it difficult, for instance, to work a very light sky over dark paper, because I don't want dark dots everywhere, so I might blend the first layer of sky marks

2) if I want a specific colour UNDERNEATH my broken colour marks.
A good example is foliage. I sometimes begin with a passage of broken strokes of red, or rich brown, or maybe even navy blue, - or even all three - which I then blend a bit, usually with a tissue so that I have an interesting multi-coloured "stain" on the paper rather than a single paper colour. Then I fix it. Then I work my foliage over the top, allowing hints of the red, or brown, or blue, to show through. The foliage colours will overpower the underneath colours in quantity, and they won't be "muddied" because I have fixed the first layer - and what I get is just hints of the underneath colours peeping through and adding tiny little sparkles of interest.

Usually, my paintings are a mixture of techniques - broken colour, line work, cross-hatched areas, blended bits here and there. It all "comes together" as the painting reaches a conclusion, and I try to make sure there is a unity in the look of the picture, despite all the different techniques used.

All I had hoped to do was encourage those of you who thought pastels HAD to be blended, to try other techniques too.
Oh yes, and incidentally - it's not easy to do this technique with pastel pencils - in fact it isn't really possible to do much with pastel pencils except linear marks, and then blending. You need a chunky SHORT piece of pastel, to use the SIDE of the pastel, for this technique.

09-13-2002, 12:20 PM
Thank you, Jackie, for your demos and for all the helpful comments you're making on the threads. Your "eye" is enviable and I learn much from your comments.

I love your painting of the Venice canal. This technique just makes it shimmer with light. Lovely.

09-15-2002, 05:29 PM
Your demos are much appreciated!! They help to take away a lot of the fear of trying a new medium . Thanks :D

10-18-2003, 04:01 PM
I'm a newbie with pastels and I need to learn all I can. This is a fascinating idea...broken colors. I just ordered a big box of "broken sticks" of pastel, using them to learn "broken colors" seems just right! Thank you! Lily

05-28-2007, 01:02 PM
Jackie - another series of very interesting and informative articles, with a good dose of "food for thought" thrown in. I must say, you have a wonderful way of making a point, but doing it in a very enjoyable way, and a way in which people can se almost instant results, which is such a good thing for this day and age. Righlty or wrongly, most people are all about "instant" things, and these articles get the balance right; you have to work at it, but the end product is there if you want it.
I have sat a read a few of your articles now, and they are very good indeed, helping me and no doubt very many others to achieve more and to get that little bit more satisfaction out of their work. Thank you!

06-07-2007, 05:20 PM
Thanks, Jackie. May just have to try your example. I use Pastel pencils mostly because I work on paper smaller than 5 x 7 and it's a bit hard to use my Rembrandts with any type of detail that small. But your sample looks like it would work okay on paper that small. I'm not much one for abstract drawings/paintings.