Basic Pastel Techniques Part One | Blending, Scumbling, Glazing

Discussing the obscure technique of “dusting” in last week’s blog post got me thinking about some of the other techniques of pastel application frequently used by artists.Due to the nature of pastel as a dry medium applied in a stick form, pastelists have had to learn to marry traditional drawing and wet painting techniques such as blending, scumbling, glazing, hatching, cross-hatching and feathering to facilitate their needs.

Most of these techniques fall under the category of layering, in which one pastel is applied over, or into, another. Workable fixative, wetting techniques, surface tooth and the relative hardness/softness of the pastel stick also play a part in the outcome. It serves anyone who is serious about painting with pastel to be well versed in these basic techniques.

basic pastel techniques | Pastel Pointers

Here's an example of a blended pastel area where two pastels were fused, and an example of scumbling and glazing techniques.

Blending is pretty much self-explanatory. It implies the uniting of two pastels by gentling rubbing them together. Various color and value shifts can be achieved with this technique. This fusion of pigment is one of the most common methods used by pastelists to produce the subtle nuances easily provided to the wet media painter. While the oil or watercolor painter can mix various pigments together wet on a palette to a desired effect in advance of application, the pastelist must accomplish this on the painting’s surface. The dry blending of two or more pastels is best done with pastels of similar consistency (hardness/softness). While it’s possible to blend a softer stick of pastel into a layer of harder pastel on a surface, the opposite isn’t easily accomplished. The harder pastel stick will want to push the softer pastel around, and blending can be more difficult to achieve.

Be careful not to apply the pastel too heavily. The thicker the pastel layer, the touchier it will be to control. Blending can be achieved by gently nudging one pastel stick into the other, often going back and forth. A softer blend can be done by lightly smearing the pastel with your hand or a very soft brush/tool. Note that the more the layers of pastel are smeared, the duller the final outcome may appear.

Scumbling and glazing are closely related to the blending technique just described. They both rely on a thin application of pigment over another to shift not just color but value. To scumble is to tint, or lighten, an area with a thin application of a lighter opaque pigment. To glaze is to shade, or darken, an area with a thin application of a darker transparent pigment. When working with a wet media, this is commonly done by applying very little paint in a dry brushing fashion or by thinning paint with a lot of medium. Over time, the definitions of scumbling and glazing have become associated to their methods of application; i.e. scumbling is done with a dry brush and glazing with medium. This can confuse the pastelist since the entire application is done dry. What’s important to remember is that both depend on a light, tactile, application. The gentle dragging of one pastel over another utilizing the pastel stick’s edge can produce a scumbling or glazing effect depending on the softness or hardness of pastel. It’s useful to experiment with soft over hard and hard over soft pastel techniques, as well as light applications of workable fixative applied between scumbled/glazed layers to better understand the possibilities. The slightly grainy effect produced by this painting technique can be very effective when portraying atmosphere and often heightens the sense of depth in a painting.

In next week’s post, I’ll continue this discussion of basic pastel techniques, covering hatching, cross-hatching and feathering.

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