View Full Version : Pastel Strokes

11-16-2010, 12:36 AM
Hi, all,

I scoured through the article index and can't locate anything on making pastel strokes. I know everyone has their own style, but is there somewhere I can look to learn some basics? Until I got new paper, I was so used to practically grinding the pastel into it, and got lucky with some geometric shapes, but I now have to think soft, with a lighter hand and more detail to achieve the realism I'm after. Are there some basic strokes for trees, bushes, grass, etc? I'm working on something now and the trees are looking very contrived and juvenile. Should I break my pastels into smaller pieces to get shorter strokes? I'm a little reluctant to break my new Unisons:lol: but I will! Any suggestions? :confused:

Phil Bates
11-16-2010, 03:36 AM
I personally like half a Unison. I find shorter edges to be advantageous, giving more options.

Trees, bushes, grass, I don't know of any basic strokes since I use a wide variety of techniques for all these. It's all shapes that can be rendered any number of ways. I admit I like tapping the side of the stick for close up grasses, but in the distance, it becomes another mass, same with trees and bushes. I like "caligraphic" strokes, using the side of the stick, altering the movement constantly as I go, to give a random feel to vegetation, but I hesitate to get too specific for fear of encouraging a formula. The possibilities are endless and I think it is best to think of it that way.

This is why I encourage thinking of shapes rather than things. Sometimes our paintings can look contrived or juvenile because we are trying to render our mind's bias of what grass and trees should look like, rather than letting all of that go and seeing shapes. When it's all about shapes you use the proper stroke to render the shape, not the thing. It can be a huge difference, and actually quite liberating. :)

I like a quote I heard from Richard McKinley, "the novice paints the leaves, the master suggests a tree."

I am sorry I couldn't be more specific but I am afraid I would do you a disservice.


11-16-2010, 03:47 AM
Hi, Phil,

Thanks for the tips! I think you nailed my problem on the head...I am trying to be too literal, rather than just giving the impression of a tree, bush, etc. I've got this realism thing stuck in my head, but yet I see works of others that look real with little detail or just the impression of detail. I can see why seeing shapes would be liberating...thanks again for your help!!

11-16-2010, 12:19 PM
Jackie Simmonds' dvds are great for learning different strokes.

11-16-2010, 06:48 PM
I think the majority of folks use the sides of the sticks (usually broken in half) or smaller pieces for a good part of the painting - especially the beginning of the painting where you are usually laying down larger shapes of color. Even if you use the end of the stick (as I usually do), you might be getting strokes that are at least a 1/4 inch wide if the stick is worn at an angle. In this case, I will usually blend the pastel dust into the larger areas. Virtually every stroke should be light - and as you get more detailed - even lighter. In some cases the pastel barely touches the paper so that the very thinnest lines result. This very light touch is obviously easier to accomplish with the very soft pastels (and with a sanded paper). The only paper that I use any kind of pressure is velour, where you need to get the dust into the fabric.

Hope this helps.


11-16-2010, 10:04 PM
Hey Potoma and Don,

Thanks for the info! I will try your suggestions look into those DVDs. Appreciate it!

11-16-2010, 10:34 PM
Karen....I'm new to pastels myself! :wave: I've pasted the link to all of the resources available in Pastels. (From the regular site it looks like there's only a Soft Pastel Talk and Studio & Gallery...but there really is tons more!!) If you haven't already, there is valuable info in the learning center and the wip's that are posted. A year ago I faithfully followed one of Paula Ford's wip demos and within a few hours I had my first recognizable landscape! A crude landscape...but my husband knew it was a tree & grasses! Jackie Simmonds, Deborah Secor, Charlie from Sweden aka Colorix, Maggie Price (just a few that I thought of off the top of my head) have graciously provided lots of tips in several areas w/in the pastels site at WetCanvas. And it's all free! :clap: Hope this helps. :) I know it's frustrating when you see the finished painting in your mind, but the stick in your hand won't cooperate!

Warm regards, Shea

11-16-2010, 11:40 PM
Hi, Shea,

Thanks for the info! I use Deborah's website a lot, and I often venture into the Learning Center, but there is so much there, I was having trouble singling out what I was looking for. I have great admiration for the masters on this site, and I am always trying to learn from them...as you say, easier said than done. My hubby is a staunch supporter, but occasionally he will ask, "what is that supposed to be?" You have to laugh. :) I appreciate your advice, and maybe I'll spend some time at work tonight scouring through the Learning Center again. I just ordered the Pastel Journal, and I'm hoping to learn some things there, too.

11-17-2010, 08:58 AM

This website is certainly a wealth of information, and if you're just starting in pastels it is almost a double sword. Information overload at times, but fantastic nevertheless. That being said, I have to say that painting from life, and painting often, is the best tool. I've been painting for years, but I do remember when I first started with pastels, and the initial experience was daunting, to say the least. After about a year, I just about quit. My pastel teacher (I now consider him to be one of my closest friends), pretty much had to 'reel me in', and convince me not to quit. Glad I listened :D .

I don't know if you are into still life, but for me I found it to be invaluable in the process. Just about everything I learned while doing them I am able to apply to everything else. You will develop a style and stroke unique to you as you evolve and paint. Reading alone will not do it. I am a big fan of books (have more than I'd like to admit :o ), but there's nothing like "doing it". Try different things to see what's comfortable for you. I paint very differently from my teacher/mentor. I didn't copy his style, I just applied his knowledge to my evolving approach to painting. If you are able to find a pastel instructor to take lessons with that does work you admire, that is a bonus - really helpful. If not, then try to concentrate on one well known artist that you admire (more than that can be confusing, as styles are very different - later on you can branch out and study multiple artists). Study his or her work, try to figure out how they completed a painting, copy paintings from their book(s). These paintings are for your own use, for education, so IMHO it's fine so long as you don't try to sell them.

Phil's advice about painting shapes is an invaluable tidbit of information, especially for landscapes (it applies to everything, but landscapes are so large and vast, it is extremely helpful to apply this approach to them). I think that just about any successful artist approaches a painting with this in mind.

Sorry for my rambling, but I thought I would give you my take on this, as I know how much information is out there, and how overwhelming it can be. I hope this helps.

11-17-2010, 09:27 AM
a practical and inexpensive way to get the feel of
soft(er) pastel is with vine charcoal
round sticks are available from 1/8 to 1/2" dia.
and are soft, medium, and hard

my favorite brand is Grumbacher
especially the 1/2' Medium stick
Windsor & Newtion is also good

some sticks and a 9x12 drawing pad should get you out the door for under $20

if you're not used to moving from your elbow/shoulder,
try it to make large simple shapes -
circles/ovals are easiest, and help to learn a different feel
and/or sense of pressure
one time i had a splint on my forefinger
(couldn't bend the knuckle)
and with some concentration
learned to use more of my arm to draw

hope that helps

:} Ed

11-17-2010, 11:56 PM
Hi, Chris and Ed,

Thank you both for your responses. I think you are onto something, Chris. I think I am taking on too many large projects when I should be starting smaller, like one tree in a meadow (Don's comment from "Struggling with Landscapes" in SPT) or a simple piece of fruit. You are right in saying that I have to figure out my style, which has only reared its head a little so far. I like doing detail work but have yet to combine the technical aspects of pastel painting with that desire, and as you say, I have to do more than just read about it. I find I am so passionate about this that I am giving up sleep to go into my modest studio and do a little work at least every other day. Originally, I was only working on the weekends. Now, I can't wait to get in there and apply what I've learned so far. There are a couple of artists on this site, well more than a couple, but some whose work I think is most like I would like to be. I am going to work on some demos this weekend that they have graciously shared and see how that turns out. I certainly would never consider passing them off as my own, as I know how I would feel. I'm merely grateful that they are freely giving of themselves to help people like me. I once wrote a children's story in the 80s that I submitted to a big publishing house who swiftly rejected it. About two months later, a cartoon aired on a well-known tv channel with a slightly different name (the name I gave the character only shortened) but the same premise. I swear it was my work, but couldn't prove it. It was even copyrighted. My parents were living in CA at the time, and my mom got me an entertainment attorney to consult with, but with no proof, I was out of luck so I know exactly what you are talking about. In my opinion, it was not the sincerest form of flattery. BTW, I like your rambling. You always give great advice!! :)

Ed, I think I have the W & N vine charcoal but have yet to master the stick without it breaking. I'm like the bull in the proverbial china shop...I really have to learn to use a lighter hand, and I appreciate the advice on how to use it!

11-18-2010, 12:33 AM
scout around for that 1/2" charcoal stick
and a pad of Strathmore 400 series paper -
the two together almost lead you by the hand, so to speak :)
:} Ed

11-18-2010, 12:53 AM
Thanks, Ed! I think Michael's has some of those. That's where I got the
W & N from. I already have some S400 so I'll practice on those.

11-18-2010, 01:31 AM
mmm, possibly at Michaels
i did a quick search
and that store seems to feature General
compressed charcoal as a square 'jumbo' stick
... not quite the same thing, but if it's convenient ...

think of it like you're combing the hair on a baby's head
- verrry gentle :)

:} Ed

11-18-2010, 06:24 AM
Yeah, believe it or not! I was surprised too because I needed some charcoal vine, and there it was. W & N extra soft, thin vine charcoal. I saw some others from W & N, not sure if they had the 1/2", but they had others besides the one I bought. I thought I would have to order that from DB or another art supplier. I'll go back and look to see if they have the one you're talking about and let you know. Maybe Michael's is upgrading their artist supplies?

11-18-2010, 10:36 PM
BTW, I like your rambling. You always give great advice!!

You're so nice, thank you. Working every other day is fantastic - more than most do! Things will start happening, it's inevitable if you keep at it. And yes, simple at first works well, it's not so overwhelming. Who needs to be overwhelmed? This is supposed to be fun! :D

11-19-2010, 12:25 AM
I'm glad to hear that because I'm having a blast!