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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: A Plethora of Possibilities

Yes, I learned the word "plethora" from Three Amigos.  

There is some evidence that the earliest art created by humans was likely painted with an ancient version of pastels (think cave painting).  There is something about gripping that pastel stick in my hand that makes me want to scratch color on all kinds of things.

Pastel allows you to directly make your mark, with no brush getting between you and the color.
"Curiosi-Tea" 7 x 10 Pastel on Cardboard
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I've used pastel on many surfaces: textured pastel paper, watercolor paper, drawing paper, canvas, Canva-paper, and stationery and envelopes to name a few.  I can now add cardboard to the list.  

"Quiet Still Life" 9 x 12 Pastel on Cardboard
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I noticed that the texture of the cardboard itself makes a difference in the pastel's texture.  I also had to use fixative to keep the colors strong (particularly with the slicker cardboard I used for "Curiosi-tea").  I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to pick the cardboard up and carry it around with me (like I would a flat canvas), but definitely felt that there were times that the cardboard created more of a struggle with the application of the pastel.

I'm also becoming fond of Canson Canva-paper as a surface choice for the wet pastel sticks:

"Hummingbird" 12 x 16 Pastel on Paper
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I got a nice photo of a hummingbird that stopped among the flowers at a local school, and I wanted to capture the deep shadows and contrasting colors-- wet pastel sticks are great for getting deep shadows into a painting.

I love the scratchy texture of the Canson Canva-paper and the way it shows under some of the pastel.  It is difficult to get coverage of the white paper, so it takes many layers of water and pastel to fill in some of those whites.  The only real caveat I have for artists who want to try this paper is that I've had trouble getting good photos of the finished products.

If you're interested in the many surfaces available to those willing to experiment with pastel, check out my article on Empty Easel:

If you'd like to see more of my works created with wet pastel sticks, click here:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Easy to Learn!

"Fallbrook Field" 8 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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This is my 200th post.  I was heartbroken to find out that my absolute favorite art teacher (well, next to my grandma of course), David Musser, passed away in December.  You can see David's art here.

I took my first pastel class with David in 2004.  Before then, I didn't even know what soft pastels were, since I'd only used oil pastels.  I struggled at first, and was especially mortified when he pulled a chair up next to mine and said he was going to make me his "special project," and that I'd be able to use pastels with ease in no time.  Fortunately, he was right!

I could fill an entire blog with things I learned in David's classes (I continued with pastel, and also took some basic drawing and watercolor classes with him over the years).  He was one of the most entertaining people I've ever met, and he truly enjoyed helping his students create-- he shared all of his artistic "secrets" openly, casually painting along with us as he told his stories. 

I always smile when I meet someone who looks at my work and says that pastel is a tricky medium.  I think it depends on how you prefer to work-- if you like building layers and using bright punches of color, pastel can be fairly easy to use.  It is messy, and you can't exactly erase it-- you can usually "fix it" and paint over it though, which to me makes pastel a lot easier to work with than watercolor.

"Fallbrook Field" was created with wet chalk pastel sticks on Canson Canva-Paper.  I wanted to see if I could pull off a similar effect to the pastels on flat canvas, and I think it came out pretty close.  I used another reference photo taken at Eli's Farm Stand off Mission Road--I guess with the Avocado Festival coming up, I have agricultural scenes on the brain.

Click here to visit my fine art website!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Number 4 of 10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Push-Pull

"Hippie Flowers"
6 x 9 inch pastel on drawing paper
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December usually isn't the best time for me-- everything seems to hit the fan mid-month, leaving me exhausted (and this time sick) by the time the holidays are over.  These little flowers cheered me up as I worked on them (I called them "Hippie Flowers" because they reminded me of something from the sixties).

In spite of that, I've been working for a while on a few pieces to demonstrate one of my favorite elements of painting with pastel: the delicate push-pull between the soft, blended areas and the bolder, harder lines and strokes.

One of the most relaxing things I can think of to do is to smear a pastel painting. In my first pastel classes, we learned to block in areas of color and smear the painting as a whole to achieve that soft background effect unique to pastel.  After a layer of fixative (if desired), we would then go back over the piece, adding textured strokes and harder edges. 

I can appreciate both the soft, blended look of pastel as well as the broken color or hard line techniques different artists use.  To me, a skillfully done pastel has elements of both, engaging the viewer's eyes in a dance as they move between the softer, undefined areas and the sharper, strongly defined sections of the painting.
"A Walk at Eli's"
9 x 12 inch pastel on paper
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I painted the above piece from a photo I took on my daughter's field trip to Eli's Farm in Fallbrook, California.  It's a local farm that grows organic produce, and might just have the best strawberries I've ever tasted.  They've also got chickens and turkeys; however, being a squeamish vegetarian, I didn't ask what they do with them.

Visit my "Recent Artwork" gallery to see more of my pastels!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Soft Impressions

I believe I've made it to number five of my 10 reasons to love pastel: it's a natural choice for impressionists!
"Balboa Turtle"
9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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If you're a fan of the Impressionist Movement, chances are you've enjoyed a few pieces created with pastel.  Pastel lends itself naturally to the quick strokes and dappled lights and darks of the impressionist style, and it's relatively easy to use in a plein air (outside) or alla prima (all in one session) painting setting.  The soft, smeary nature of dry pastel also makes it an ideal medium for paintings that focus on overall lights and darks without a lot of hard line and detail.

"Balboa Water Lilies"
9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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I was lucky enough to visit Musee D'Orsay as a teenager (thanks to my generous host parents when I was an exchange student), and I couldn't wait to get a close-up view of all the impressionist art.  Being a ballet student and a sucker for all things Degas, I knew I would one day have to give the pastels a try.  I didn't get around to the chalk pastels until I was well out of college and teaching full time, but as soon as I began handling the medium in my first pastel class I felt the connection to those old pastels I'd admired as a teenager.

As you can tell by the piece above, I enjoy painting water scenes using pastels.  I took some great reference photos last year after the lily pond at Balboa Park's Botanical Gardens was replanted, and I particularly enjoyed watching the turtles make their way from one bunch of water lilies to the next.  The water is normally murky, making it difficult to see the turtles-- so, I got as many photos of them as I could that day.

Here are a few more impressionistic pieces I painted with pastels:

"Venetian Duck"
12 x 16 inch Pastel on Flat Canvas
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"Butterfly Jungle"
9 x 12 inch Pastel on Paper
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"Distant Grove"
9 x 12 inch Pastel on Paper
Click here to view prints (original sold)
If you like the style of these works, check out my new Impressionistic Water Scenes gallery!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Lights and Shadows

"Bitter Harvest" 6 x 9 inch Pastel on Paper
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One of the things I tend to mess up when using pastel is that I often lose my lights.  When I remember to be careful and maintain contrast, the outcome is usually much better.

It took me a few years of working with pastel to realize that soft pastels layer in better dark to light.  I now know that it's important to save those lights for the end, and make sure they have plenty of room in my paintings.  Adding lights too early contributes to "mud," when colors blend together in a way that makes them look dull.  I still use up my lighter colored pastels much quicker than my dark ones-- a little dark pastel goes a long way, whereas the lighter colors need a few layers to really stand out.  Using a toothy pastel paper gives the light pastel something to grip, making it stand out even more.
"Bitter Harvest II"
6 x 9 inch pastel on paper
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Fall is my favorite season, and the contrast between light and shadow is always an inspiration in October.  Every year I hope to spend time creating a series of fall paintings, but I usually end up painting one or two in the little bit of spare time I get between mommy duties. 

Here are a few more of my fall-inspired pieces:

"Herbst" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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"Harvest Time" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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"Fallbrook Pumpkins" 9 x 12 China Pencil on Paper
Email if interested in purchasing
Buy a card! Postcards start at $2
Click here to visit my fine art website and read more about painting fall colors, or to see links to free art lessons featuring fall inspiration!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Texture!

Reason #7 to love pastel: You can get great texture effects with it!
"Fishin', Hopin', Prayin"
8 x 12 inch Mixed Media on Paper
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I always enjoy using a palette knife to create heavily textured paintings, but I enjoy the process even more when I finish the piece with a couple of layers of pastel (oil or soft pastel work great, but they each have different effects).

Click here to view a tutorial on Empty Easel featuring the technique I used for this piece!

For the piece above, I started with some photos I had taken on a cold afternoon at a crowded beach.  I wanted to capture the cold feeling of the day, so I used cool tones to create the water, painting in the strokes with a palette knife. 

Once the acrylic dries, it's ready for the pastel, which can be scraped lightly over heavily textured parts or layered in as you would normally use pastel for the smoother areas of the piece. 

Combining acrylic with pastel is a bit of an experiment each time, but I really enjoy seeing the piece come to life once I get the final layers of pastel over the acrylic.  I never know how it's going to look when I combine the raised acrylic texture with the bright strokes of pastel, so it's exciting to see the end result each time I make one of these textured mixed media paintings.

Here are a few more of my pieces in which I combined acrylic palette knife paintings with layers of chalk pastel:
"Harbor Alley"
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"Harbor Reflections"
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"Big Pitcher, Little Pitcher"
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The acrylic/ pastel combination works on both paper and flat canvas, I currently prefer paper as it's easier to frame and photograph.  Whether on canvas or paper, the final painting definitely needs to be framed under glass because of the pastel.

If you like these pieces and want to see more, check out my Textured Mixed Media gallery!

If you teach art, try some of my free lessons on Bright Hub:

Paint with your Senses

Still Life: My History, My Future

Wildlife Art: Create a Friendship Painting

Portraiture: Paint Yourself, Paint a Friend

Thursday, August 22, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Pastel: Color!

"Beach Stroll"
9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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It's a little easy to get drunk on color when using pastels.  When I first took pastel classes, it was difficult for me to stick to values when beginning a painting-- I always jumped into the bright colors (and quickly ended up in trouble).  Even now, if I'm having difficulty getting into painting mode, I can just open a box of brightly colored pastels and feel instantly inspired.

"Mermaid" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
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Pastels come in a wide array of bright colors, and you don't have to do any mixing (although you can blend the colors if you wish).  Pastels hold their strong colors without fading for a long time, and there's no need to worry about cracking or drying out over time as there is with oil or acrylic.

For me, the color sets the mood for a painting.  I know I can always use my trusty pastels to convey whatever mood I'm expressing with a small combination of brilliant colors.

Do you like beach-themed artwork?
Check out my Nautical and Beach gallery!