In the early 2000s I would give demonstrations of my new method to small art clubs and organizations in and around Northeast New Jersey. I didn’t think twice about my method and of sharing it. I was just eager to spread the findings of my new technique. The artists at the demonstrations were astounded at this revolutionary approach to the classical medium of pastel. It was so much fun to share it.
One day, at an art show years later, a fellow artist whom had attended several of my demonstrations exclaimed, “Did you see that an art supply company, stole your idea?” It was then she told me about the company’s said pastel product line. This line of pastel and method of painting seemed directly derived from my technique of the Pastel Palette. I was upset and I went on line to explore this company’s product even more.
I was relieved that the pastel line and their method of applying the pastel on the surface was only half correct, incomplete. The most important element of the Pastel Palette Method is the mixing of the pastel pigment before it is applied. Even though I was relieved, I never again demonstrated my technique in public or on line to the public. I felt if I did that, the rest of my method and its discovery would be stolen. Since that day and until now, the Pastel Palette Method has been kept secret by me.
Here is the birth of the idea for the Pastel Palette. When I began to explore the concept of mixing pastel pigments on a palette like an oil painter mixes their oil paints, powdered pigments came to mind. The main issue faced with powdered pigments was that they have no binders and they would not adhere to one another or the surface. I needed pastel pigments that had a binder already in them. The thought of using existing pastel sticks that were already plentiful in my studio came to me. The problem was how to get the pastel sticks into powdered form.
As a pastel painter, over the years, I worked on a variety of surfaces but most of them have a textured surface to some degree. This textured surface has a two-fold purpose. The first is that the pastel has to be able to fill the surface slowly, otherwise the pigments will not stay on the surface but move around on the upper layer. This is why pastels do not work on smooth papers or boards. A well textured surface accepts many layers of pastels to create depth and luminous color. The second reason the pastel surface is needed to have texture is to remove the pastel pigment from the pastel stick. The rougher the texture, the more pastel pigment is released. That was the light bulb needed to come up with the concept of the Pastel Palette. The perfect surface would be a mid-grade sand paper.
I love the idea of the wooden palette and spreading the colors out to see the beautiful spectrum of paint to mix together. What is pastel but a form of dried paint. The colors have the same properties as oils, acrylic or watercolor. The color mixtures follow the same color theories. I already have all the pastel pigments I need in my studio and chances are, you do too.
The Wooden Palette and the Sand Paper
The wooden palette that I decided to use was exactly like the one that I worked with during my years in art school and later in my own studio. It’s a 12×18” palette which is standard. This is what I used as the starting point of my concept. Now how do I apply the sand paper to the surface of the palette so that it does not move around? I decided to cut the sand paper to the size of the mixing area on the palette. This is about 8×10 inches. I use a strong masking tape and this seems to work just fine. This is easily removed and replaced when the sand paper becomes over loaded with pastel or you are beginning a new painting. The grade of sand paper that is best is P80. It has the perfect roughness to scrape the pastel powder off the pastel stick.
The pastel that you use in this method is the same for conventional pastel application. You start with your hardest pastels and as you complete layer upon layer, you progressively use softer pastel. This is what I like to call, economy of surface. Even the best surfaces for pastel have a limit as to how much pastel it can hold.
The Foam Core Triangles, the First Tool
This is the tool that you will use to apply the first layers of pastel pigment on the surface of your painting. I use these little triangles to scumble in the initial washes of color with the hardest pastels that I use.
This is the done with the 1/16” foam core that is used for framing paintings. It usually comes in sheets of 24×36” or 30×40”. They are not very expensive. I think the most I ever paid was $6.00 USD. I cut them down to manageable strips and I start making about 3” triangles. I make about 30 tiangles per painting. I put them in a container next to my palette. I will be needing to utilize these triangles throughout the beginning stages of my painting.
When I want to use these triangles, I carefully peel the outer paper layer of the foam core. What lies underneath is a soft paper surface that will be able to grab the pastel from the Pastel Palette and then apply it to the painting surface. I use these triangles to mix different color pastels and then use them like a paintbrush, much like that of an oil painter would their oil paints.
When one side of the foam core triangle is over saturated with pastel, I like to peel the thin paper from the other side and utilize that. I also like to use a pair of scissors to adjust the point of the triangles to apply the pastel pigment with more precision, such as, painting in the eyes of the portrait.
Remember to always have plenty of these wonderful little triangle brushes on hand. They do the job better than anything that you could purchase in an art supply store. Next, I will discuss the triangles that I use in the later stages of the painting; when I am using softer pastels and needing more vibrancy and detail.