Pastel Pointers | New Possibilities for Your Pastel Color Palette

The term “full spectrum palette” is an idea with which most wet media painters are familiar. It indicates that the artists’ pigment selections allow them to represent the complete range of hues, values and intensities (chroma) required to duplicate the phenomenon of light. Hue signifies the individual color family most closely associated to the color wheel; value indicates the tint (lightness) and shade (darkness) of the individual hue; and intensity represents the relative grayness of the individual hue/value.

When arranging individual pigments onto a palette for the purpose of painting, most artists prefer to lay the hues out in a color wheel sequence to better understand their relationships. White is added to the palette for the purpose of lightening a specific mixture or color. Black, or mixtures of dark complementary pigments, is used to darken. Some painters prefer a limited palette made up of fewer pigment choices, believing that a more harmonious color relationship will be produced through the action of mixing to obtain individual tones (read, for example, about oil painter Jane Jones in “Limited Palette: Unlimited Color Harmony”). Others prefer to work with a broad range of pigment selections, believing that the more expansive the palette, the more colorful the outcome.

Another group of painters utilizes what is sometimes referred to as a “chromatic palette.” Just like the chromatic scale in music, it relies on twelve parts, or pitches. This palette takes considerable effort to produce but affords tremendous control. Built around the three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six intermediate colors (made by mixing a primary and secondary), each hue is then tinted and shaded to produce a value scale. Some artists even go to the added effort of toning these hue/value ranges with neutral gray at the proper value. It can be a very labor-intensive palette to produce.

A Spot for Neutral Colors: As pastelists, most of us are encouraged to arrange our pastel sticks with some sort of purpose similar to our wet media comrades. Many segregate by color family, others by value, and some (myself included) utilize a system similar to the chromatic palette, placing colors to represent the color wheel in a value range from light to dark. I make one addition: a section devoted to neutrals (colors that are less intense in appearance).

blue earth pastels

This full set of Blue Earth Pastels (210 sticks) is made up of 10 sets of 21 sticks (as in the box of “blues” in the photo). It took less than an hour to set up this palette and now I am ready to supplement it with the other brands I can’t paint without!

Blue Earth Pastels: Until recently, this would take considerable effort to achieve. But now, there is available a new set of pastels that is organized in a traditional manner—by hue, value and intensity. Blue Earth Pastels—exclusive to Dakota Art Pastels—Blue Earth Pastels are available in 10 boxed sets, each consisting of 21 individual sticks. Six of the boxes represent the warm and cool side of the primary colors and three boxes are devoted to the secondary colors. Each contains the pure color hue represented in six values from light to dark and 12 grayed variations. The tenth box is composed of warm and cool grays, warm and cool whites, and black.

While there hasn’t been a brand of pastels made yet that I haven’t fallen in love with—and my palette will continue to consist of a vast array of brands—Blue Earth Pastels are definitely an addition that I look forward to enjoying.

Artist and workshop teacher Richard  McKinley is a regular columnist for Pastel Journal magazine and the author of the instructional book, Pastel Pointers. Check out the Richard McKinley Special Value Pack with his book and DVD set at!




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