Tag Archives: pastels

Sketchbook: More abstract pastels

After my creative spurt last week I had a few days of feeling terrified I wouldn’t be able to do that again. Then on Saturday morning in that space between being awake and asleep I started to see – or rather feel – two colours, a kind of orange and purple, and had a strong feeling regarding some shapes and how I could represent on paper the feeling of how safe my husband makes me feel.

I got up and drew the picture below. Again using the A3 Bockingford watercolour paper my dad gave me and the Unison pastels my husband treated me to. I started with the sweeping shape, which to my mind partly was representing a curved spine, then worked the colours around it to represent emotions; the darker colours to the top right my uncertainty and fear, the warmer colours in the foreground the warmth of love and feeling safe.

At this point I paused because it felt like something was missing. I had deliberately created a sense of drawing the eye to the point above the base of the curve as that to me was an important point of intersection, between love and fear. I decided to add the orange dot as the focal point for this juncture for reasons I can’t really explain.

This drawing is not a landscape in the physical sense, although it looks like one. It continues on from my other pastel drawings which are about emotional landscapes, our interior spaces and what inhabits them. I am in love with the result at a very personal level because this very strongly feels ‘me’ and I have conveyed not only what I saw in my head but the incredible depth of emotion I wanted to get ‘out’ and onto paper. I asked my husband what he thought it was about and he said a journey. I suppose it is as our relationship is a journey and his presence is creating new emotional vistas.

on your sures

I have not consciously tried to emulate any artist when drawing these last four pastels pictures. This has been about me trying to draw emotions and exploring the funny new technique I’ve developed for applying pastels. Perhaps I find it so enjoyable as I can be freer, I’m less (almost to the point of not being) critical of myself because there is no ‘right’ in non-figurative work that inhabits the world of the emotion. I really enjoy looking into all of the artists my tutor recommends to me, but more often than not if they are not surrealist artists I don’t feel excited – although I do of course appreciate and admire – their work.

My husband commented there was something a bit Turner-esque about my recent pastel drawings. When I went to look at some of Turner’s paintings again I can kind of see what he means as there are shapes that look a little like clouds. I smiled when I came across this painting which I hadn’t seen before by Turner, Vermillion Towers, as the colours are complementary.



Sketchbook: pastel experiments 

I am always quite nervous of trying new techniques, and prefer to read about how to do them first before dabbling. I treated myself to ‘The Encyclopedia of Pastel Techniques: A Unique A-Z Directory of Pastel Painting Techniques Plus Guidance on How Best to Use Them’ so thought I would spend last night trying a few things out using soft pastels on watercolour paper, which I’m enjoying since my experiments on Saturday with my Venice abstract.

Here is pastel pigment picked up with cotton wool – something I’d never have thought of. I was immediately drawn to this and loved the effect this created as a wash.

Not one of my finest efforts but this is a very quick copy of a sketch from the book where you use pencil over pastel. Again not something I’d have thought of myself – how can someone so interested in creativity but so unadventurous! This has opened up all sorts of possibilities such as using charcoal in combination with pastel and pencil too.

Next was introducing water to pastels. This I don’t understand, aside from the fact in my first attempt at a wash below I just made a muddy mess. I get that pastels are pure pigment, the same pigment paint is made from, but if you want a wash then do a wash with watercolour or acrylic. I need to understand what the benefits are. My ham fisted approach probably didn’t help – a sign I need to practice wet washes more I suspect.

Finally I picked up some pigment dust with a wet brush and swished off a little cat. This idea appeals to me as I can see how you can re-use pigment from your pastel box or desk at the end of a session to create fun little pieces.


Sketchbook: David Blackburn, abstracting and pastels

Last weekend I was looking at a watercolour I had painted of Venice, and decided to have a go at doing it in an abstract way using the Unison pastels my husband had bought me. I didn’t really have a plan, I just decided to pick some colours I thought were complementary and try to emulate using blocks where I could see different colours, brights and darks. Below is my first pass. I hadn’t used a ruler for the horizon and being left handed I seemed to have inadvertently got the blocks sloping downwards which was frustrating. I need to remember to pause and step back more from my work when I become absorbed in it.

I straightened up the lines a little but decided it was too harsh so began to blend the edges between the blocks a little, as well as adding some rounding on the domes of the building to create more interest.

[insert picture here]

I wasn’t sure where to go next with it so decided to pause and research some more pastel techniques. This was quite nerve wracking as the Unison soft pastels go down so quickly and this was working on A3.

I aspire to create the light and warmth that David Blackburn achieves in drawings like the one below, which glow. If I only had £8,000 to buy it! A guide to pastel techniques has just arrived by post so I will experiment further before returning to my drawing.


Useful pastel sites

I am collecting together all the useful pastel resources I find into one place.



Artist review – Lucien Levy-Dhurmer

Going on from my research into David Blackburn I have discovered Lucien Levy-Dhurmer (1865 – 1953), a French symbolist / art nouveau artist. There’s some great high res pictures and details of him as an artist on Michel Koven’s blog.

I am knocked out by the beautiful, ethereal effect he achieves with pastels, particularly when combined with a surprising level of detail in Vision d’Automne. My favourite is Harmonie en bleu and I am looking forward to experimenting with some new Unison pastels I have bought to discover how he achieved this effect and how this might differ from David Blackburn‘s approach of layering and masking.

Through this process I have found also found the following:

  • A good review with other pastel artists to explore from Artists Daily.
  • Ruben Belloso Adorna is a contemporary pastel artist and shares some of his techniques in an interview on Jackson Art Supplies’ site e.g. not using fixative due to colour distortion and when painting on wood he uses a preparation comprising acrylic gesso with pumice powder tinted with acrylic colour as needed. In the technique of pastel, Adorna references Vicente Romero
  • Artists in Pastel lists lots of pastel artists for exploration


Is drawing fine art?

My childhood enjoyment of drawing was primarily with soft pastels. They seemed more accessible and immediate than paint. I loved the texture on my fingers and the process of blending. Despite my enjoyment, for reasons I am not quite sure, I always felt somehow inferior to fellow students who could paint. In my school years there was no internet so I had no wider community of artists to tap into and my local library was not very big.

Now, some 25 or so years later, I have returned to my love of drawing and was interested to see if pastels are indeed viewed as the poor relation in the art world. So, whilst waiting for my Foundation in Drawing course materials to arrive, I devoted some spare time over Christmas 2016 to researching pastelists and how the medium has been regarded across history. In the process I discovered this gorgeous, vibrant piece by Odilon Redon, a whopping 91.44 x 132.08 cm currently held in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. I was stunned by the depth and glow of the colours.


My searching for famous pastelists revealed a plethora of incredible art which I will post about in future. My research then took a turn. I was sad to discover my gut feeling was right. Swathes of art websites state that oil is seen as the most “valuable” and collectible medium because it does not deteriorate, is easy to transport and therefore less likely to damage when pieces are moved to galleries and exhibitions. It seems this view began in the 15th century when the masters viewed drawings as preliminary sketches for paintings rather than works of art in their own right.

It is heartening to see pastelists fighting back and there seems to be many sites saying there is a resurgence of interest in pastels. I particularly enjoy the vim of Bill James who has set about doing research to educate and counter against the prevailing view. He writes on his blog:

“…pastels last longer than oils before you need to refinish them, if they need it. Because of the oil binders that are used to make oil paints, things will happen to any oil painting over time. Paintings will most likely darken with age. Along with that, if you use the wrong procedure in order to apply oils to a surface, there definitely will be problems in the future in the form of cracking. With pastels you do not have that problem because there is a minimal mixing of a binder, which is usually gum arabic or gum tragacanth. The binder will be mixed with colored pigment to form a paste, which is then rolled into sticks of pastel. Also, as with oils, there is no mixing of colors – the mixing is on the surface by applying a layer of pastel over another.

…because of the way pastels are made, they are the most permanent of all the media used to paint works of art. Because there is a lack of oil binders, there will be nothing to degrade the quality of the work itself.”

I hope in my lifetime to see the prevailing view of pastels change but given we have 500 years of history against us I do not plan to hold my breath!