Pastel Painting Techniques

By: Emma Ralph

Pastel Painting Techniques

If you've been using soft pastels for a while, then you're probably familiar with the most often-used pastel techniques. Blending, scumbling, side strokes and hatching are the meat-and-potatoes of the world of pastels, and rightly so - they're very useful and versatile. But what are some of the lesser-known techniques? Here are several.

Using brushes. Brushes are of course a way of applying color to the surface with paints, but with pastels their use is a little different. With pastels, brushes are very handy for working the pigment after you've already applied it to the surface. You can use a brush to smooth and soften colors, or to remove excess pigment from the surface if too much has built up. Try it and see if you like the effect.

Brushes are so useful with soft pastels that Holbein has actually started producing a range of brushes specifically for use with pastels. They're perfect for the task. Said to be for 'applying, blending, smudging and cleansing', they even have an angled point on the handle end for etching and sgraffito.

Washes. Pastels are usually an entirely dry medium, but it can be very effective to incorporate a wet element as well. This is usually done as underpainting - i.e. to achieve a background effect before the detail work begins. The simplest way of doing a wash is to apply pigment liberally to the surface, then to use a brush dipped in water or alcohol to spread it around. Alternatively, the wash can done using watercolor paints. Whichever way it's done, a background wash serves to unify and harmonize the painting.

Glazing. Glazing is not so very different a technique to scumbling, but with a different effect. While scumbling involves roughly dragging the side of a pastel stick across the top of an area of a different color, glazing refers to applying an even, thin, translucent layer of pastel over another. The best use for this is to give an impression of a certain kind of light. For example, you might glaze the color of the sky onto the surface of a large body of water, or glaze the warm color of the late afternoon sun onto a hillside of grass. Or you might glaze yellow over a blue sky where it is closer to the sun.

Feathering. Feathering is done not with a soft pastel, but with an artists' charcoal. The 'extra soft thin vine' -type is a favorite for feathering. Do it by putting down your colors first, working in layers so that there's plenty of pigment on the surface, and then lightly wiping the side of the charcoal across the area. You'll find that the charcoal softens, mutes, and draws together the colors so that they don't stand out so much. This slight graying effect is perfect for unifying something distant in your painting, or for representing something muted, like still pond water. Basically, it's for elements in your painting that you want to deflect attention from.

These are just a few pastel painting techniques that can be added to your arsenal in order to create more variety in your work.

About the Author:
Emma Ralph is an experienced pastel artist. To learn more about the pastel painting techniques visit http://www.paintingwithpastels.com


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