Robert K. Carsten | Representational Still Life Demo

Artist Robert K. Carsten was featured in The Artist’s Magazine (July/August 2011). Keep reading for this free excerpt from the article “Trash Transformed,” by Maureen Bloomfield, in which Carsten gives a step-by-step of his pastel still life painting, Which Way is Up?.

Oriented Every Which Way

by Robert K. Carsten

Robert Carsten, pastel still life painting 1

Which Way is Up? (pastel, 25×19)

Robert K. Carsten’s version of still life encompasses paper bags and bottle caps, where the emphasis is on the spent rather than the fresh, on the man-made rather than the natural. “When I first started this series, I didn’t think of these pictures as still lifes,” he says. “Only after I realized they were still lifes did I think the series was about finding—not deliberately arranging, but painting found objects sometimes in accidental arrangements.” Carsten received his training at the Art Students League in New York City, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Carrara, Italy. Scavenging through recycling plants for the perfect found still life is a compelling adventure for Carsten, “Visually, it’s like going to a toy store.”


Step by Step

reference photograph | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

Reference photograph

compositional sketch | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

Compositional sketch

value sketch | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

Value sketch



outline forms | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

1. Outline General Forms

My objective was to create a representational image that can be hung by any one of its four edges and that uses shallow space to create a trompe l’oeil effect. As I consulted my cropped photo and sketches (above), I drew the outlines of the general forms using a light gray Nupastel.


local color | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

2. Approximate Local Colors

With Nupastels and Art Spectrum pastels, I began blocking in the light shapes with the approximate local colors—paying special attention to the color values. I allowed the dark gray of the Sennelier La Carte pastel paper to represent my darkest darks for the time being.


midtones | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

3. Paint Dark Areas

Having blocked in midtones with mostly warmer, more saturated colors, combining red and yellow oranges, burnt sienna, burnt umber and red violet, I worked on the darkest areas, using either ultramarine blue, red violet, or viridian green Terry Ludwig dark pastels. I also began painting details of arrows, sale dots, lettering and tape, which I regard as essential parts of the overall design.


color value and temperature | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

4. Nuance Values and Temperatures

The lettering on the right was too dominant, so I wiped it out with a dry paper towel and then painted over it, first with harder pastels then with softer ones. I continued adding details, keeping lettering to a minimum and allowing the arrows, colored sale dots, labels and packing tape to aid in creating movement for the eye around the composition. With softer pastels, I made the values and temperatures more nuanced.


midtones | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

5. (Detail) Clarify Edges

After I’d made the transitions more subtle in the light and midtone areas, I painted into the dark sections using burnt umber and red violet, allowing some of the blue to show, especially where the dark transitions toward the light. I painted the details of the corrugated edges with Nupastels and continued clarifying edges of forms and transitions between one color and another.


midtones | pastel still life step-by-step Robert K Carsten art

6. Refine the Details

I removed one of the double arrows on the bottom left so that area would be a little less dominant. I glazed a gossamer layer of warm yellows and oranges over some of the lights and midtones by using Nupastels very lightly over the surface. The work was now complete. In framing it, I attached four separate wires on the back so that Which Way is Up? (pastel, 25×19) can be hung any way the viewer prefers, vertically or horizontally.


Find more on pastel artist Robert K. Carsten in the July/August 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Related Articles

Still Life Demonstration in Pastel by Robert K. Carsten

Robert K. Carsten | Abstract Still Lifes in Pastel

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Click here to watch a free video preview of “Color Mixing with Sue Deighton–Part 1”


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