Getting Organized | The Pastel Edition, Part 1

Many pastel artists will awake on Tuesday morning to the thrill of opening presents. If in the past year, Santa Claus has deemed them to be nice not naughty, they will undoubtedly received pastels instead of a lump of coal. While coal may produce some interesting drawing effects, it’s the prospect of adding additional sticks of pastel to one’s palette that thrills most pastelists. No matter how many brands, hues, chromas or values of pastel an artist may have, more is better. As any pastelist knows, the one with the most when they die – wins! Deciding how best to store, assimilate and record the pastels is when the three Ds of pastel organization arise.

Pastel Pointers with Richard McKinley

Assorted pastel boxes and broken pastels sticks.

Sorting Pastels: The first D is the “difficulty” of finding organized storage space in a crowded studio. I keep my pastels segregated by manufacturer. Knowing the brand makes the replacement of individual sticks from a working palette much easier. One of the best ways of doing this is to keep the pastels in the boxes they arrived in. Generally, the manufacturer will have included a schematic of the contents, making identification and replacement easier. If you prefer to remove the sticks from their original containers and store them in drawer cases made for high volume pastel storage, such as manufacturer’s retail display cases, or assorted tool, craft and collectable cases, I would still recommend that they be segregated by brand. Cut the identification information from the container and place it on top of the pastels before disposing of the original box.

Breaking Your Pastel Sticks: The second D is the “daunting” task of breaking large pastel sticks into usable sizes for assimilation into a working palette. Determining the best method to use for breaking a pastel stick depends on the brand’s characteristics. It can take some trial and error to find which procedure is best. One method that commonly works is to hold the full-sized pastel stick firmly in both hands with both thumbs facing each other. Next, gently pull your arms toward your body, applying pressure to the center of the pastel stick. Listen for a snapping sound. It indicates the stick is now in half. If the stick has a label, gently attempt to extract one of the halves by rolling and pulling. If the label is firmly attached, take a sharp single-edged utility razorblade and score the label to approximately the middle of the stick, then peel back only enough of the label to release the pastel stick.

In next week’s blog, I’ll continue the conversation on the three Ds of organization with the third D, the “disheartening” chore of keeping records of our pastels and palettes for eventual replenishment.

I want to personally wish everyone the best of the Holiday Season! Enjoy your time with friends and family and start thinking about how you are going to put those pastels to use. A New Year of painting is coming!


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