View Full Version : kinda in a slump learning pastels

03-11-2011, 10:20 AM
Hi guys! I am rather inexperienced as an "artist" and have been learning through tutorials on the web. I mainly tend to do graphite pencils or pencils period. I tried watercolor not enough yet but, I really loved the pastel pencils I bought so I bought a few soft pastels and pastel supplies, paper, ground, a book and reading every tutorial I find, thinking oh this will be great!
pastels I grabbed up are;
20 1/2 stick sennelier
30 rembrandt
24 extra soft koh-i-noor toison d'or (I understand a cheap brand but they are so nice)
and 2 unison landscape sets

ok so the thing is I am stuck actually putting pastel to paper :(
I keep looking at these for over a month dying to do something. I think I get stuck because I want to approach this like a pencil. I tend to do high detail and find it for me impossible to get that or just not understanding at all how to paint/draw in pastel.
I purchased a book Pastel Painting Techniques was very well done and read a few other things.
I am just freezing up, because I just never see anything that shows you how to do a drawing step by step for a newb like me that I can comprehend.
I normaly do good self teaching many things such as Photoshop, AutoCad, Maya and the current pencil(work since Nov.).
thanks a lot in advance from a lost wander

03-11-2011, 10:33 AM
Hi and welcome,
I like structure, as well, to get myself going. Perhaps you could climb your hurdle in steps. Put down a watercolor underpainting and then accent with pastel. Do another, but add more pastel, and before long, you'll be doing pastels. I think underpaintings are great for focus and motivation.

03-11-2011, 10:39 AM
I've found that the easiest way to learn how to use pastels is to watch videos. Do some searching on Youtube, there are plenty of demos there. Check out the Arnold Lowery post, that one is a pretty good video demo. If you're willing to spend a bit of money I can recommend the video by Richard Mickinley on the Artists's Network.

Also, you need to just dig in and play. Get a pad of Canson Mi Tientes paper since it's cheap, use the smoother side, (few people like the side with heavy texture) and just experiment. Don't be timid. I've found pastels work best for me if I'm a bit aggressive with them, at least for the initial block in and especially with Rembrandts.

Also, think like a painter, not a draftsman. I've had the same issue since my primary medium is graphite as well. Pastels are about color and shape, not about detail. Though detail is possible, for now try to ignore it while you experiment and learn.


03-11-2011, 11:06 AM
Great to meet you here, Tara! Some pastelists do use a detailed realism style. If you look in the Pastel Library here, there's a demo of a candy dish by ponting that is incredible. I think the title has something to do with Licorice Humbugs or just Humbugs. Ponting is Dianne Ponting, an incredible professional realist. She mostly uses pastel pencils.

You have a good beginner setup with three different softnesses. Hard pastels are cheaper and if the Koh-i-Noor ones are about like a Conte crayon in texture then you've got hard, medium and soft with those, Rembrandts and Senneliers. Test each of them and organize them from hardest to softest.

I used to do colored pencil and graphite realism and then shifted over to pastel in 1991 when I started doing street portraits. It's a different process, much more like painting. Layering is a common technique.

Start with the hardest pastels and block in big areas of color to define different masses in the composition. Then on the next layers, break those into the big planes of the shapes and then variations in those planes. In the final layers do the details.

There is a wonderful, systematic method for pastel painting in a class in Pastel Library that changed how I looked at color and handled pastels completely. "Exploring Soft Pastels: Still Life the Colourful Way" by Colorix is a long thread because it was two or three months of lessons. However, you can start at the beginning and just do the exercises as you come to them.

Sometimes Charlie is still around and comments on student work if you post it in the Studio. Even more, lots of people who took the class may comment on your work and help if you do the exercises.

One thing you can do to break the block against using the supplies with a brand new medium is to just create color charts. Yep. Take a sketchbook page and carefully make swatches of every stick with the color name and number written under it.

For one thing, this helps if you peel off the labels to break longer sticks into handy half stick sizes, then use them up so you have a tiny nubbin of an often used color and can't remember what brand it was. You can always compare it to swatches to decide what to reorder.

For another, the charting process gives you the feel of that brand and that color in your hand. You're no longer using something that's pristine and perfect, you're handling a tool you've used at least once before. Color charting is a great way to get over the "I'm not good enough to try this" feeling.

If it persists, turn the page and do some systematic mixing charts. Layer one color over another, then the other way - put a row of colors across the sheet and the same colors down the side. Then systematically put rows of all the left side colors across, covering them with the top row colors. You'll have the combinations of all of them twice, once with either color on top. It makes a difference which color's on top.

Light goes over dark well with pastels, as long as the paper still has tooth.

Go lightly on earlier layers, let some of the paper show through or smudge it in so that it's a thin smooth layer tinting the paper. Then build patterns of color over that going heaviest in the final layers. Try colored papers, that's the other thing Canson mi-Tientes is fun for.

If you're still nervous after doing all those experiments, choose a simple subject - a single object or a still life group of no more than two or three specific relatively uncomplicated things. Set that up and sketch in pastels three times - once on white paper, once on a mid-value paper like gray or tan, once on a dark or black paper. Try it in different ways but always come back to the same vase, box, book, whatever you set up.

My daughter challenged me a few years ago when her husband was courting her. He gave her a huge bunch of roses in an interesting salmon-pink with orange overtones color. She pulled one out, stuck it in a bud vase and put it on my end table. "There's a challenge for you, Da. I think that's a perfect rose. Try drawing the perfect rose."

I sketched it in pencil, colored pencil, watercolor pencil with and without wash, pastels, watercolor. I did it about a dozen times before it finally wilted, getting better every time until the pastel version I did on mat board is still hanging downstairs in our living room. Don't be afraid to do studies or keep doing the same subject until you get it right! A study of one tree may be more useful done several times than drawing a whole landscape in the same time.

There's also a thread here that gets resurrected once in a while. "Tree Studies." It has hundreds of posts because one member did a long series of tree studies and invited everyone else to join in. You could start something like that with any specific subject - rocks, roses, cats, you name it - and invite others to join in.

As soon as you've done even one study of something, you're not the newest beginner to pastels here. Someone else will join who may not even have picked up a pencil yet and got attracted to the colors (why so many of us love this medium!). You'll start finding your way with them.

One thing that may delight you about pastels - they are so fast compared to meticulous pencil drawing or colored pencils rendering. A painting that would've been a week or two of steady work comes out glorious in only an hour or two. I still sometimes get surprised at the point something pops from the "ugly stage" into finished beauty by how short a time it took.

Oh yeah. If you hate what you did, don't bin it without posting it and asking others here. Many times pastel paintings go through an "ugly stage" where the artist hates it but it's just short of finished beauty. It takes friends to hold you back so you don't abort what could be one of your best. See my thread on Desert Cliffs WIP in the Studio forum for a good example of that kind of nerves!

03-11-2011, 12:29 PM
You've got lots of great advice here...My advice, if you like seeing step by steps, is to do a search of WIPS and demos....you'll find plenty of inspiration! Also, check out our learning centre... (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=439)

03-11-2011, 12:57 PM
ok so the thing is I am stuck actually putting pastel to paper :(

One thing about pastels is they are incredibly versitile. You can draw with them; you can paint with them...and everything in between. So, the first thing you can do is just begin using them any way you want to - and feel most comfortable with! Do not feel that there is a right way or wrong way to begin.

As more of a drawing tool, you can use the pastels as if they were pencils, sketching in the basic outlines and then hatching in various other colors/values for shading, etc. This will work best with the harder pastels. The softer pastels will cover more ground and lend themselves more to blocking in shapes of color/value. This would be a more painterly approach. You can combine the two methods, of course! As you do more with the pastels, I think you will find that doing an initial loose sketch followed by blocking in shapes of value/color will become the easiest way to begin.

Have fun exploring pastels and don't worry about the final product at this point! That's my 2 cents!


03-11-2011, 06:57 PM
You have gotten some great advice here. My two cents would be to break some of those pastel sticks, take the wrappers off and play with them on their sides to see what kinds of marks you can make. Get yourself out of the "pencil" mode and into "pastel" mode. And remember, it is only paper!! If you don't like something, so what? Nothing is lost, no great work of art has been damaged, you have only put color on paper! A simple still life sounds like a great place to start (Robert) and blocking in large shapes with either an underpainting or the sides of your pastels is a great idea.

Have fun, and welcome!


Tracy Lang
03-11-2011, 10:03 PM
Loads of great advice here!
Sounds like you have a nice variety of materials to get you going. You already have a head start as an artist, so, maybe try not to think of your pastels as too "precious" to waste. (It was really hard for me at first :) Go ahead and get dirty and dusty by trying something completely different...maybe an exercise or WIP that starts with shapes and values. Most of all, have fun!!!

03-11-2011, 10:16 PM
thanks guys!
As always you are wonderfully supportive and helpful.
I think I will have a go at this and have something in mind.
Who knows what will happen :)

03-11-2011, 10:48 PM
Hi, anyone have a link to where this Dianne Ponting thread can be found? Thanks much!

Tracy Lang
03-11-2011, 11:22 PM
One of many...Dianna is such a gifted, wonderful and generous artist!



03-11-2011, 11:30 PM
Just let the dust fly and have fun. Here is the link to the Dianna Ponting class over in The Drawing and Sketching part of WC. http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=405403

Have fun.


03-12-2011, 02:29 AM
I spent years doing graphite and pen & ink artwork. Every time I tried color, I got rapidly frustrated by the lack of precision of the tools - or by my inexperience using or understanding the tools that I had.

So, my advice would be to put the pastel pencils away - to reserve them only for finishing touches (if that) - and to work with the big, more clumsy sticks and to use larger pieces of paper. Work on a bigger scale with bigger tools and let the color fly. Have fun and gain the experience.

Play with different strokes, different pressures, experiment with blending, layering, and broken color. Pay attention to the values of the colors and it tends to work out in the end.


03-12-2011, 10:29 AM
I just got a PM this morning asking for the link to Charlie's class, so here it is: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=527268 - that's "ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way." It's in the Learning Center. There are lots of good ones in the Learning Center.

Tracy's link is the excellent class with the amazing Licorice Allsorts painting as Dianne Ponting's demo. You paint along with her doing realism in an extremely complex subject. Some new papers have been invented since she did the class, I'm wondering what she thinks of Art Spectrum Colourfix Suede and PastelMat which are similar coated papers but not sanded. They might be good for her techniques since they respond well to hard pastels and medium soft pastels.

03-12-2011, 11:41 AM
I have this ground paste from Gold too that I may apply to large paper.
I did buy a colorfix board and a few pads of pastel papers.
I cant wait till I think I can do something worthy of the colorfix board. :)
I think what may help me is also doing larger scale work so I feel I have the room for now to get in and do tight details that I am "hung up" on, that and get myself some portrait set of pastel colors.
I just need to push my boundaries here instead of getting back into pencil when I get that block w/pastel.
Surprisingly enough there is not much available for classes with pastels in South FL unless you enroll in the collage, that wont happen. Nor is there a good art store near me besides what Micheal's has.
A major metropolitan area and its disappointing. I saw a bit ago some workshop on the west coast I have to hit up.
You guys rock!

03-12-2011, 11:55 PM
Well I tried the color block thread from here;
and this is what I came up with. I did not have the exact colors but most of them and tried my best. I think I am a big blender and wind up making solid colors instead of loosely layering. Was sooo not happy with the shaded cloths and how they turned out.

Then while uploading I found this one attempt I did in a few forms this being the pastels.

errr I hope its ok to posts nudes?

03-13-2011, 07:13 AM
Hi pwp, really well done block study! And it got you over the "blank-paper-syndrome". :-) It is very good you go for bold colour, it is *way* easier to tone down than to punch up colour. If blending is hard to resist, just blend very little, as the sticks will blend 'automatically' as you layer. Especially if you remove wrappers, break off a third (or half) of a stick and use the side of the piece to paint with (like a broad brush). The light blue cloth in sunlight looks very good, good colour choices there! The cast shadow is fine, don't worry. Oh, and remember, it takes time to learn a new medium, like shifting from playing the piano to playing the violin... you know music, but not the instrument.

03-13-2011, 08:45 AM
Hi again Tara! Well done studies...totally agree with Charlie's summation...and of course it's OK to post nudes...but...you ought to use the Butt icon to warn it's there....usually in the first post, but if it's in a later one, like your's, then hit the red triangle (top right of your post) and alert the moderator that you need a Butt Icon , and they will put it in for you. :)

Now that you've started to paint your pastels...go to the Studio to show them, and get C&C if you want it. I'll leave these two though...because they show your breakthrough!:D :thumbsup:

03-13-2011, 12:20 PM
Charlie thanks a lot for taking the time to do that thread for all of us and then even commenting here for me :)
Deidra, you too!
I hit the red triangle thingy to ask for the tush:)
Will do next time I do more pastels... I still have a little hesitation but I am going to grab more large paper then my 11x14 & 12x9's to have room.
Funny thing you cant really see on the block lesson paper I did was, a first test of applying ground on paper.
The paper so warped, duh it wasnt water paper, and had a lot of brush strokes in the ground. That gave kinda a cool effect on the blankets it had texture and movement built in before I painted the pastel!
I will keep that in mind for a future project.

(well you can kinda see it)

03-15-2011, 12:16 PM
Hola friends!
I am restocked on big paper and had a heart attack when I found a proper art supply store in FT. Lauderdale, Pearl.
My jaw hit the floor when I walked down an aisle and there was all these pastels open stock and sets at my finger tips!
Of course I stocked up on some of the Unisons portrait set sticks and just couldnt help but want to touch all of them, laughs.....
Even found huge sheets of pastel papers and boards, I am pleased to have a new jolt under my belt thanks to you!

Donna A
03-17-2011, 07:59 PM
Hi! Glad you are that you are off and running again with new "toys!" It's so much fun to experiment with different materials to find what serves you best! Do try some of the new Colourfix Suede paper, too (a much finer texture of sanded paper)---as well as some regular Colourfix paper, which is much less expensive than the Colourfix board. Colourfix is still my very most favorite and I love all the colors that it comes in!!! 20! And there is also a Colourfix SuperTooth that you might want to try---only in an ivory white. But any of the Colourfix papers can be tinted with a watercolor, acrylic or oil wash, which I've done often over the years. (I've also used Colourfix with oil, acrylic and watercolor mediums. Works lusciously! And is archival!) Do watch out for the papers that are not permanent in nature like the Mi-Teintes, which is only 65% rag. And the mid and deeper colors fade, so that is another problem with that paper! Although some folks do use it anyway. Best to practice with pastels and papers that you would use for your finished works, unless you are just practicing your drawing skills. Otherwise, it's kinda like learning to drive a car using a little push scooter.
There are other good sanded papers---Wallis, Richeson and U-Art. With the Colourfix, you can wash off an unsuccessful image and start all over, though there is a bit of a stain left on the paper. You can do that with the Wallis, too, but it does tend to wrinkle more readily. So be sure to blot the paper dry after your wash it off. I've washed off Colourfix in the shower several times to get rid of an assortment of quick demos from classes or workshops---and then I make sure I get it wet front and back---then press between several layers of newspaper. If you do get paper wet on the back, that's the best thing to do! But then---you have a sheet ready to use again! It's great! Also, I've repainted the Colourfix with the Colourfix Primer, which comes in all 20 colors, also. Have repaired a few "unhappy spots" on a painting with the Primer, too! Sand down the errant spot then touch up with Primer. You can use the Clear for anything! It's one of the colors! And you can also sand down the Colourfix to finer and finer degrees, finally approaching the fine texture of the Colourfix Suede. Sooooo many possiblities! Have fun experimenting! And be bold!!! Best wishes! Donna ;-}

03-17-2011, 08:20 PM
Welcome back Donna A! I've missed you!!:heart: :heart: :heart:


03-17-2011, 08:50 PM
Hi Donna, so glad to see you again! Thanks for explaining about the different sanded papers. I haven't tried all of them yet, but the ones I have are all good in their own way. Thanks for mentioning Colourfix Suede. That and PastelMat rock for detailed realism, they're so smooth and detail friendly.

Tina, if you like the Colourfix board, get the Clear Colourfix Primer. Then your practice surfaces will have the same texture as the good painting on the Colourfix board. I found that if I bought one good sheet of paper or board I'd get too hung up about it to use it, so I wound up buying a Rainbow Pack of the paper before I discovered the primer.

I love colored surfaces so Colourfix was my natural next step after Canson mi-Tientes.

Your block study is wonderful. You understood the exercise and got it right. Good colors on the cloth as Charlie said, and I can see the gradation in the block that makes it look so lively. Keep going with the class!

Your figure study is gorgeous. Great skin tone, I love those soft cool shadows. Good proportions and graceful form.

Enjoy yourself! You've leaped in with intensity and your paintings are already cool. You're nowhere near a beginner, so relax and enjoy the learning curve.

03-17-2011, 09:16 PM
aww thanks guys
I really appreciate the well thought out responses and teachings you offer.
I am currently attempting what I would call a real first pastel painting for me now.
I have been studying my little head off on anything I can read up on and color theory my god :)
I just have to get the understanding of picking underpainting colors down a bit more with choosing complimentary, tones and or value mapping? If I put that last one right. However I can read till my head pops off and doing it just needs to happen for me to learn through experience :)

03-17-2011, 11:32 PM
PlaysWithPencils, this weekend Artists Network TV, http://artistsnetwork.tv is having a free weekend for all the painting DVD's. Richard McKinley has an excellent video on using values and different styles of underpainting. He explains in detail using pastels, watercolor, guache and oil for underpaintings for pastels. Well worth the 2 hour invested in watching.


03-17-2011, 11:55 PM
Sweet John, thanks for the heads up on this!