Organizing Pastels

Unique to the medium of pastel is the need (or is it want?) for more individual pastel sticks. This is due, in part, to the nature of the medium. Wet media painters have the ability to mix paint to achieve subtle value and tonal variations, which allows them the option of working with an extremely limited palette of paints. Conversely, the pastelist has to either choose to forgo nuance, learn subtle layering techniques, or acquire a larger palette of pastels from which to select. Being an artist that has worked in both wet and dry media for well over 40 years, I still experience the frustration of glancing down at my ample pastel palette and not finding what I instinctively know I could mix with paint. This hindrance has led me to acquire more and more pastels over the years, even though I know it is futile. This is where need and want become apparent. It is also curious that the longer I work in pastel, with an ever-growing number of pastels available for use, the smaller my working palette becomes. As the old painting adage goes, less truly is more, but it is also comforting to know I have more pastels waiting should I want them.

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Pastel palettes all in a row awaiting their turn for an artistic trip.

Keeping Track of Your Pastels: The more pastels we acquire the more difficult it can become to keep track of them, especially once they are removed from original packaging and labels have been removed. Initially I tried to keep copious records of which pastels made up various working palettes. When there were only a couple of brands of pastels commercially available this was feasible, but as more brands became available, often in very similar shapes, it became nearly impossible to identify a well used chunk of pastel from my palette for replacement. One of the ways I have dealt with this is to create various palette arrangements that are weighted towards certain brands. There may be a couple of stray sticks from other manufacturers but the majority is based in one or two brands. I generally choose one softer and harder brand of pastels for this purpose. That way, if the stick has been worn to a non-recognizable shape (one that could not be easily associated to its maker) I can use its feel/touch as a guide for replacement. This system has led to multiple palettes weighted toward specific brands and allows for a variety of artistic adventures, or challenges, when painting. It is analogous to choosing a different automobile for the purpose of a trip. Any automobile would be capable of getting you there but the experience will be different depending on the make. You are the driver and the rules of the road still apply, but the automobile’s handling adds to the journey.

As the multitude of happy postings on social media showed, many artists received luscious new sets of pastels for the holidays. Opening the lid is like taking the top of a box of chocolates. They are luscious, but the real pleasure is in “tasting” them. Go ahead, break them in half, put them to work and don’t worry about forgetting which set they came from. There will always be another delicious nugget of pastel awaiting all the good little girl and boy artists.

 

 

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