How and When to Use Pastel Pencils
Pastel pencils are the perfect marriage of drawing and painting in one tool. The precision and familiarity of a pencil is hard to resist. It could be tempting for you to paint your whole picture in pastel pencils. Not so fast! Although they are a very wonderful tool, I feel that the pastel pencil has its rightful place in the painting process.
You do not want to use the pastel pencil in the lay-in stages of your painting. This tool is not well suited for covering larger areas of color. Its small point doesn’t allow for even blends. Although pastel pencils come in a very wide range of colors, they will rarely be the exact color that you need.
When the pastel pencil does shine it’s during the “end game” of your pastel painting. This is when you are painting in the subtle nuances of your portrait. You want that laser focus of these smaller areas and the pastel pencil is up for such a challenge. A few perfect times are the reddish black of a nostril, the crease of the eyelid or the wrinkles in the upper lid. For those moments and many more, you will find that there’s no better tool than the pastel pencil.
Resist the temptation to use the wonderful pastel pencil for larger areas of your painting. If you are working on the smaller and more detailed areas of your pastel painting then the pastel pencil is made exactly for that. The pastel pencil is a “must have” for the pastel painter using my method, especially if you use it correctly.
Check out my YouTube channel where I give free video tutorials in pastel, drawing and airbrush: www.youtube.com/paintedglyphs333
Fixative is No Real Fix
Many people have asked me over the years whether or not I use a fixative on my completed pastel paintings.
In an earlier chapter I had mentioned that I use a workable fixative in emergencies when the painting’s surface becomes overloaded during the painting process. That is as far as I will go when it comes to the use of fixative in my studio. Here are the two reasons why I don’t use fixative to preserve my pastel paintings.
The first reason, is that the fixative will darken all the values of your painting and the pastel loses the vibrancy of the pure pigments. The spray fixative is applied in a wet spray that causes this darkening down of the values even after it dries. You most certainly will need to reintroduce the lights and highlights on your pastel painting for a second time. My feeling is, why paint it twice if you don’t need to?
The second reason, is that the fixative spray creates a uniformed texture to your pastel pigments. The hard work that the artist does to create a variety of textures such as hair or skin, is negated by this uniform texturing of the fixative.
Lastly, if you frame your pastel painting correctly, which I will go over later in this book, your pastel painting will look as vibrant and fresh as the day you painted it. This can always be done without fixative.
You may also check out my YouTube channel where I give free demonstrations and tutorials in a variety of mediums including pastels: www.YouTube.com/paintedglyphs333
Broken Pastels are a Good Thing
Have you ever had your favorite pastel color drop to the floor and shatter into tiny pieces? Some of these pastel sticks are quite expensive and I yelled out a loud “Oh no!” on occasion. There is a very good silver lining to this seemingly disastrous dark cloud scenario.
When I was in Harvey Dinnerstein’s class at the National Academy School of Fine Arts, he wanted me to put the tiniest detail on the pupil of my portrait’s eye. I went in with a pastel pencil and he stopped me. He dropped one of my pastel sticks on the ground and he told me it was on purpose. I was puzzled as he proceeded to pick up one of the shards of shattered pastel between his thumb and index finger. He then with the sharpest point of that pastel shard, rendered that tiny detail perfectly like the focus of a laser beam.
I learned so much about pastels in Harvey’s class. What I discovered that day, was that a piece of broken pastel is perfect for those final details such as the highlights and the dark accents of a portrait.
Next time you drop your favorite pastel stick remember that it’s a good thing and to save those valuable shards of pastel.
You can also check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I demonstrate tips and tricks in pastels, drawing and airbrush: www.youtube.com/paintedglyphs333
Every Painting is Tending to Your Bamboo Seed
We all want to grow as artists and our road of mastering the pastel medium is part of that growth. Our personal growth does not always happen at the same pace as others around us. This can be very disheartening and it’s easy to get discouraged. We have all had our hopes dashed at one time or another. Can we get out of our own way and through the obstacle of discouragement?
Yes! We most certainly can and we will get through it if we work in spite of such emotions and adversity. Each drawing, each painting is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder of our artistic growth. When you want to throw in the towel, buckle down and continue to work. How you feel doesn’t matter because this is a process. If a painting or drawing is giving you a hard time, continue. The painting or drawing is part of the bigger picture that is larger than itself. The bigger picture is your life’s growth as an artist. Remember if you are standing still, you are going backwards.
A friend told me about a story of a farmer and the life of the bamboo plant. This plant begins with a seed and the farmer that is willing to wait. That person will water that seed every day. Years go by and seemingly nothing is happening. There is no evidence of growth at this point. Is all the watering and keeping the ground fertile an act of futility? Others may wonder what in the world is he doing? They may also wonder why he is investing all this time in a seed that is obviously not growing. But one day, after five years, something happens. The plant emerges from the ground. In 5 weeks after this plant emerges, it grows to over 90 feet tall.
That’s you, the farmer and the seed is your growth as an artist. Don’t worry whether or not you can see the growth of your art. Just continue to tend to your seed. Nature rewards this kind of faith that the farmer had and you will be rewarded as well. Work through discouragement and have faith in the process of being an artist.
How Do You Get Someone to Pose?
How do you get someone to pose for your next painting? This is where you find the star of your next pastel. The search must be thorough and they must be able to portray the image and emotions that are perfect for your painting.
I have been painting models for many years and it’s never easy to ask someone to pose for me. It won’t always be a comfortable experience for you either. To do this you need to get out of your comfort zone and be bold.
I like to ask people that I see every day. Perhaps a colleague at work or someone that you may see working at your favorite restaurant. You may even start by asking close friends and family members to pose. Frida Kahlo would often pose herself as did Rembrandt for their own paintings. The main point is that you will either have to pose yourself or someone else to bring your compositions to life. I never condone working from imagination. This will result in a disastrous painting. We are not better than nature and who are we to make things up?
Once you find a model that is perfect for your concept, you may let him or her know the hourly rate you can afford to pay them. I often exchange a portrait drawing of the model as payment for their time. More often than not, they are thrilled with this exchange.
Now that the model has agreed to pose, you will need to protect your work with an artist/model agreement. This one-page form is available on the Internet for free to download and print out. Once filled out and signed by both you and your model, this legal document will assure you that you have all intellectual rights to the photos that you take of the model and the subsequent artwork from those photos. If you do not have this form signed you will have no rights to your images. I am not saying that this would happen but you do want to be covered in the event they do not like the artwork or photos for any reason.
In Conclusion, don’t be shy and ask that person to pose if they are perfect for your next painting. The health of your paintings depends on it.
What Camera Should a Pastel Painter Buy?
I know what you’re thinking and no this is not going to cost you lots of money. You will need to eventually invest into your photography both for model shoots as well as for photographing your artwork. There is no way around this. I will share with you how I have been doing this for years and with limited means.
I thank God, for the advent of digital cameras. I remember the day before digital cameras when there was only 35 mm and its film needed to be developed at a photo lab. This was costly and often discouraging. Today with digital photography, the artist can take as many pictures as possible and see the quality of the photos immediately. The best part is there are no more costly trips to the photo lab.
What type of digital camera?
I feel that a digital SLR (which means single lens reflex) is best because you can change lenses and have total manual control over the exposure of your photos. This means you decide how dark or light your photos look. If you are new to photography, you may shoot in program mode until you get better. This mode does all the decision making for you and the pictures look amazing and professional. The camera I recommend today is the Canon SL2. For the money it takes the best pro photographs. It has the same sensor as the much more expensive cameras by Canon. I also recommend Canon because they have the widest range of lenses to choose from. This camera is by far the best in its class and there is nothing that can touch it in its price range.
Added Bonus, It’s a Movie Camera
The Canon SL2 will also help you to take pro looking high definition video. The SL2 has an external microphone jack for perfect audio and has the Dual Pixel Auto Focus that keeps your subject in focus as you or your subject moves about. You may want to start a YouTube channel down the line and this is a perfect camera for that. The body and a kit lens for the SL2 sells for around $589.00 USD. In my opinion, it’s the perfect studio camera for every pastel painter.
You will absolutely need a good tripod. Since your model or your artwork will be still, it is best to capture as much detail in your photos. The tripod will help you not get blur in your images since our hands will move a bit when we press the shutter. I also like to use the self-timer function on the camera. This prevents the movement of the hand down on the shutter. A good tripod is also adjustable to take pictures looking down at your artwork.
Remember the sharper the image, the better the painting. Our painting can only be as good as our reference. There should never be any corner cutting when acquiring reference for your pastel paintings or photographing your artwork. In the next chapter I will discuss lighting and several options when photographing your model or your artwork. Here is link to the camera I had mentioned:
Best Supporting Background
Timothy John-Luke Smith
Pastel on Masonite
The background of your pastel painting is an extremely crucial element that you can never ignore. I don’t want your backgrounds to be an afterthought. I want you to see the background in your pastel painting as an important supporting actor to your model.
Let’s continue on with the supporting role metaphor. When we watch our favorite actors, they are usually supported by a wonderful cast of co-stars. These actors support the star of the movie with their own skillful acting abilities. An excellent supporting actor will always enhance the work of the star. Likewise, this is how a well thought out and excellent background will support the star of your pastel painting.
One thing I should mention is that the background of your painting does not necessarily need to be elaborate. Even if it is a color field, such as a Rembrandt portrait, the background needs to bring out the attributes of your model. Too often I see a wonderfully painted portrait and the background is just hurried together and the work suffers terribly.
There are some amazing photo manipulation programs out there. I like to use some of the older programs. One of my favorites is Roxio Photosuite 8. This program is intuitive and not difficult as Photoshop can be. You can find used versions of this software on eBay from time to time. In programs such as this you can scan your reference of your model and try different backgrounds for your paintings. This is a great way to see what works or doesn’t work before you begin the painting.
One point to always consider when working out your background, is to never ignore the edges. As any painting that you are working on, be mindful of the edges. This will keep your subject from looking as though they were a paper cut-out pasted on the background. Consider the atmosphere and the surrounding colors of your chosen background. It will, of course, have an effect on your subject.
Even if your pastel painting is only a head and shoulders portrait, you must have a concept that includes the background. Remember to think out the whole of your painting. Let the background enhance the strengths of your subject and not detract from them. This is why there are Oscars given out to “Best Supporting Actor and Actress”.
Soft Edges are Telling Part of the Story.
By Timothy John-Luke Smith
Edges are crucial elements when painting the portrait or any subject in pastel. Pastel is, by nature, very soft. We can’t just let the medium of pastel have its way with us. We need to bend the pastels to our will. How do we bend the materials to do what we want when it comes to edges? We need to look harder and add some practices that are unorthodox to do this.
Variety is the Spice of Life
A painting or drawing will appear flat and uninteresting if all the edges are either hard or soft. When there is no variation in edges, the work does not move about in space. Our eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. What we see in focus is sharp and what we are not concentrating on is usually more blurred.
The sharper edges occur when the eye focuses on a specific area. Ingres stated that each portrait should have an area with the most focus and everything else should be less sharp or detailed. With that being said, in every portrait, one eye should be more in focus than the other.
The blurred and less sharp areas of the portrait need to be reserved for the areas that you would like to recede into the distance. You actually do not need to make this up because edge variation is found in nature. That is not to say that we can’t change the edges of a portrait to accentuate depth and clarity. It helps us a great deal when we look for these edge variations in our subject; Be mindful of the edges and where you want the focus of the viewer to be.
To Blend or Not to Blend Pastels
Timothy John-Luke Smith
Pastel on Masonite
This is a question that is often asked in the world of pastel painting. Some very accomplished pastel painters such as Edgar Degas and my mentor Harvey Dinnerstein almost never blended their pastel strokes on the surface. This is often a look desired by many pastel painters throughout history. I venture to argue for the blending of the pastel.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, an oil painter, stated that we should never see the technique but only the objects that we are painting. I feel the same way. Yes, we may lose some of that vibration of color when we don’t blend the pastel strokes on the surface; However, I feel the accurate rendering of your subject is even more important than such vibrations of color through optical effects.
All things around us has a surface texture. The softest cloth, the hardest of wooden surfaces, to the wispy vapors of a cloud all have texture. How would we be content painting all these objects in the same way? I am not saying this is wrong but what I am saying is that our pastel painting can be more convincing and more evocative of emotion if we did the proper blending of the pastel.
If we search to render the different textures while maintaining a blended surface of pastel, our work will not be attributed to a style of “pastel painting” but to all painting. In conclusion, it is up to you and there isn’t a set answer; Although, for greater realism I side with Ingres. We should only see the painting and not the technique in the end result.
Art History and Your Study of Pastel Painting
Photo by Bara Cross from Pexels
We all enjoy working on our art. It’s the continuity that keeps our work organic and ever growing. This is our quest to improve daily. What is one area of artistic growth that you might have overlooked? It just may be art history.
Since I was 18, I have included the intense study of art history to my personal growth routine as an artist. I have found that art history helps me to find my place within the rich tapestry of artists. I am able to find painters and sculptures who were like-minded as me. These like-minded artists inspire me and let me know that I am not alone. They also had chosen such a life as being an artist.
There are so many movements in art throughout history. The understanding of various art movements will give us perspective into our own time and the movements that are at play in the art world today.
With a strong foundation of art history your work will become richer. You will learn about allegory and themes in art that are as prevalent today as they were hundreds of years ago. When I find a particular artist from the past whose work I admire, I immediately search for a biography of them at my public library. Most times, I find that I can relate to them as an artist but I can also relate to them as a person.
Another great art history resource is video on the Internet. There are wonderful movies and documentaries that are free on YouTube. These documentaries give insight from the most talented and brilliant art historians. Their knowledge of artists throughout history brings the art to life.
We live in the information age and let’s use this wealth of knowledge at our disposal to grow as artists. Through the independent study of art history our inspirations will run deeper as we become part of that tapestry.