View Full Version : Homemade Pastel Journal

07-19-2010, 03:44 PM
I had the idea for this months ago. After some trial and error resulting in the Goof-Off Book, I bought a Canson Montval watercolor journal with 20 10" x 7" pages of 140lb cold press watercolor paper.

I marked off a 6" x 8" picture area on the first page, taped the edges with low tack artist's tape and primed it with two coats of Raw Sienna Colourfix sanded pastel primer.


This is pretty close to the true color of the primer.

Today I started one of the paintings in the July Pastel Spotlight (landscapes are the theme) with a notan sketch.


Then I began the underpainting in hard pastels, Color Conte ones.


This will actually turn into a good pastel landscape. Here's the photo reference. The gaudy yet ludicrous underpainting winds up making it look good in the end, but it's really weird along the way.


Trippy, isn't it? Yet it works. I love this reference by Colorix and will try to do justice to it in the next three stages.

07-19-2010, 03:48 PM
Interesting start, looking forward to seeing how this will turn out! :)

07-19-2010, 04:50 PM
I'll have to trust you that this will turn out great. Are you using complimentary colors as your under-painting? (under-pastels?)

07-19-2010, 05:01 PM
Yes, some areas did get complementary underpainting. The second stage is starting to make more sense in relation to the reference. In terms of the method, it's Stage 2 with some areas in Stage 3 because I'm breaking them up into smaller areas.


Still using color Conte for this layer. I'm about to switch to other pastels though and do at least one more layer to liven it up, finish stage 3 and add the little bit of stage 4 details.

07-19-2010, 05:03 PM
Ah, I can see it coming together now. Looking forward to the next stage.

07-19-2010, 07:06 PM
Having never used pastels this has totally amazed and thrown me. What an amazing start but can already see how it is coming together. Another one of your journals to learn from and enjoy.

07-19-2010, 07:53 PM
Interesting to watch.... I used to love pastel but put them away years ago and have never gone back to them. Never heard of the sanded primer before, thanks for sharing with us again Robert always learn something looking at your sketchbooks!

07-19-2010, 07:54 PM
Love the WIP, Robert! To a watercolorist, it's amazing to see how you can get from stage 1 to stage 2. I'm looking forward to the finish.

07-19-2010, 08:16 PM
This will be an interesting journal!! Pulling up a chair... :-)

Vivien Maloney
07-19-2010, 11:17 PM
Great demo Robert! I like the Colorfix primer too, and use it a lot as well as using the usual colorfix sheets. Bit hard on the fingers though, for blending. I am waiting with great interest to see how your painting progresses. Love the complementary under-painting. I've never been brave enough to use the orange etc. for under-painting but, I'm sure for you, it will turn out well. Keep on with the Demo it's coming along great.

07-19-2010, 11:58 PM
Nice idea for another journal, Robert! I just finished a 9-day pastels workshop with Richard McKinley. As you probably know, Richard is a big fan of underpainting - using either watercolor, pastels with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, or a diluted oil paint wash. Since I am pretty new to plein air pastels, my field sketches were just pastels, though I did try three underpaintings back in the studio.

My only concern with a pastels journal would be the smudging problem when the journal is opened and closed. Fixative tends to change the look of the pastels, and has to be applied heavily to hold everything in place, and if you don't use it it gets smudged. Interspersing glassine would help, obviously.

Nice work.

07-20-2010, 12:51 AM
Ohhhh, this looks like a fun new journal. I've never done pastels, although I love the way they look sometimes. I love seeing the demo. You never know, you might win me over. (Oh no! not ANOTHER medium to get addicted to!)

Looking forward to seeing more.


07-20-2010, 02:04 AM
Thank you all!

John, the painting already has one of Ari cat's footprints in the sky. It's subtle but it's there. When I finish it, I'm going to tape a piece of glassine to the end of the page so that it flips up and over the painting. In progress it's not as big a deal. Any smudging is easily fixed at this stage which is pretty smudgy.

Thanks for reminding me though, that I need to do that. I do use fixative but I usually go in and brighten up the highlights afterwards, that's my pastels routine. Every page that gets used will have glassine taped to it when the art's done. I need to cut out the glassine sheets tomorrow.

I'll take a photo of how that's put together since it's part of my design of the journal. I suppose if Art Spectrum made them as journals the glassine would just be bound in, but rather than mess with the wire binding I'm just taping it to the outside end.

07-20-2010, 07:44 AM
Robert, this is great - the under painting is fascinating as i wouldn't have done those colours - really looking forward to how it turns out, looking great so far!

07-20-2010, 01:17 PM
Thank you! Here's the finish -- it blew me away when I got up to scan it and stood back from it. That came out a lot better than I thought it would!

Summer Breeze
8" x 6"
Color Conte hard pastels, Art Spectrum and Rembrandt soft pastels
Raw Sienna Colourfix sanded primer on 140lb cold press watercolor paper.
Photo reference by Colorix.

And here's how it looks in my homemade pastel journal:

You can see the sheet of glassine taped to the right edge, opposite the spiral binding. It's flipped behind the painting for the scan and now flipped over it, then tacked down with just a small bit of the same artist's tape.

My experiment for a pastel journal worked!

07-20-2010, 01:24 PM
I'm still looking for Ari's paw print. LOL Great, great finish to this. I've not worked in pastels, tho' hubby has some oil pastels around here somewhere. I've not seen him use them. Hmm...

07-20-2010, 03:10 PM
It's in the sky and very subtle. I left it in, since it's so subtle. Left side of the sky close to the top, angled pointing up. I'm not sure it shows in the scan, but I could see it clearly in person. Laughed my head off -- he added his special touch!

07-20-2010, 03:46 PM
Robert - I love looking at this pastel painting. I was amazed at the shapes you got for the underpainting, you got them so accurately, and now the final surface is so beautiful, with all those wonderful shapes in the trees and grasses, you can really make scribble strokes work. Fantastic. Oh and those wonderful depths of tone, and the variation in the colours that make the whole surface sing. You really brought this picture to life.

07-20-2010, 06:09 PM
Fantastic, Robert! Hard to believe that it started out with that dark underpainting. I especially love that large tree - the texture is just wonderful.

I've dabbled in pastel a tiny bit - not sure that I like it because of the mess - but the part I like best is adding the lights at the end.

I've used pastel paper and Wallis paper. I liked the Wallis paper. The pastel paper not so much. Is there a difference in texture between using the Wallis and preparing a sheet with (is it colorfix???) like you did? Great idea taping the glassine to overlap the painting. I've slipped mine between the sheets of a pad of tracing paper when I didn't know what else to do with them.

07-20-2010, 06:18 PM
Thank you. I've tried Wallis paper too. It's rougher than Colourfix, especially if I try to finger blend. Colourfix is a little easier on my skin, Wallis will draw blood. But Wallis will take a few more layers. I just haven't layered to the point where I filled all the tooth on Colourfix yet, so it hasn't been a problem.

That's a good idea storing your pastels in a tracing paper pad. Inexpensive and effective! I think they come pretty big too, like 18" x 24" if you do large paintings.

I got a comment on the Pastel Spotlight thread with a suggestion from Deborah Secor that really improved the right side of the tree. Such a little change made such a big difference.


It made a huge difference. I love it. That perfected it, what a transformation from fooling with an area maybe all of half an inch square.

I also forgot to mention. It's subtle, but His Hairiness the beautiful Ari cat helped with this painting. He gently smudged the upper left corner of the sky when I was done with the sky yesterday. I kept the cat print because it was subtle and I love him. But here it is outlined in case you have trouble finding it. So now you can see it, Michelle. It's subtle, one reason I didn't work over it was that it's so faint.


07-20-2010, 09:17 PM
Wow what a transformation! This is absolutely beautiful Robert! Love all the colors & depth in it!

07-20-2010, 10:01 PM
I had to flip back to page one to look again at the original tree to see what you did. It is very subtle, but it does look better. And thanks for pointing out Ari's signature. Very cool he left his mark.

Vivien Maloney
07-20-2010, 10:46 PM
Oh Robert, this is superb! Love everything about it - the pastel application, the highlights on the trees, the lovely deep blue shadows and the little bits of the orange under-painting peeking through! If only I could paint pastels as well as you! Thanks so much for posting this demo.

07-21-2010, 12:36 AM
Thank you! Viv, there's a class that helped me more than I can say up in the Pastel Library. "ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way" by Colorix is a very long thread, but there's index posts in it by chapters too. It's almost like a pastel book in a class, it was amazing. That opened my eyes to color in a way I couldn't imagine before I took the class. Here's the link: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=527268 - read through it slowly, maybe stop and do each exercise as you come to it. It was intense taking it as a class and doing all the assignments on time, but doing them at your own pace isn't so bad. Also you may get help and comments if you post some of the assignments in the pastels forum.

It also taught me so much about how to handle pastels and layer them, how to get used to laying down the darks first and underpainting. I got a lot out of Deborah Secor's "ESP: Snow" class too. http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=524278 - I know snow is an unrelated subject, but I learned a lot about handling whites and light colors in it as well as handling light itself.

Between those two classes I went from treating pastels like "Less detailed, looser and coarser version of colored pencils" to handling them as pastels -- I take longer on a good painting now but it's got so much more depth now that I can't believe my older pre-2009 pieces are even by the same person.

I used to be very literal and careful, matching colors with the reference and doing only one or two layers. I still sketch that way sometimes with pastel pencils, where it borders on colored pencils for handling. This technique though, it's something completely different.

It also lets me use all the really bright colors in the box, the ones I always liked best. I hardly ever use earth tones or grays any more, I mix them if they're even in the painting at all using spectrum brights. But once in a while I'll go to using the same techniques with more muted pastels just to use up the earth tones and muted colors I have.

Vivien Maloney
07-21-2010, 03:23 PM
Thanks for the link Robert. I looked at it and see it's a very long thread of 75 pages, so I've added it to my favorites bar to look at it every so often when I had time, as you suggested.

07-21-2010, 06:22 PM
I've added it too, Robert. Thanks for the link.

07-21-2010, 07:29 PM
me too.... and I don't even use, or ever have used pastels lol! BUT i'm sure a lot of it may apply to CP ?

07-21-2010, 09:04 PM
I love seeing the demo. You never know, you might win me over. (Oh no! not ANOTHER medium to get addicted to!)

Yeah I know the feeling :)

07-21-2010, 09:25 PM
It could work in interesting ways with colored pencils. Be aware that CP are translucent rather than transparent, it may take more layers to modify the initial colors using colored pencils. I'd work small trying it in CP until you're used to the method and figure out the adaptation.

Pastels are a joy. One of my favorites are the color Conte hard pastels -- very small and portable, durable boxes, blend well, all the colors are good mixers. I use those more than any other set.

07-21-2010, 10:15 PM
:clap: Great work! I flipped back to see the difference you made and you are so right - very subtle change but what a difference it makes! I am really taken with the rich colours...:thumbsup: