Still Life Demonstration in Pastel by Robert K. Carsten

It's All About the Light (pastel, 18 3/4x 24 1/2) by Robert K. Carsten


“When I was very young, two significant events took place: I received an oil painting set and lessons at a local art league, and I saw Michelangelo’s Pieta at the 1964 World’s Fair, “ says Robert K. Carsten, whose work has appeared in Pure Color: the Best of Pastel and will appear in the upcoming Strokes of Genius: the Best of Drawing 3 (both published by North Light Books). A sought-after workshop instructor and juror, he 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. “Having taught art for 37 years,” Carsten says, “I have this advice for artists at all levels: Make time to draw. Even just five minutes a day. Draw anything and everything.” To learn more, visit his website at


Step by Step Demonstration for It’s All About the Light (pastel, 18 3/4×24 ½)

Surface: Light blue grey Sennelier La Carte pastel paper
Soft Pastels: Art Spectrum Pastels, Unison pastels, Sennelier pastels, Terry Ludwig dark pastels
Hard Pastels: NuPastels


Step One: The Set Up
Working from life, I set up a still life of CFL light bulbs in a cardboard box on the floor beside my easel. My objective was to create a painting that is about light and the effects of light, so light would be both the subject and the content of my painting.



Step Two: The Drawing
Studying the set up, I draw the outlines of the general shapes first with a burnt umber Nupastel and then redraw, correcting the shapes, using a different color (yellow ochre).



Step Three: Blocking In
Using Nupastels and Art Spectrum pastels, I block in general colors, accentuating the warm areas with yellows and oranges; the cooler areas, with blues and greens.



Step Four: Dark and Mid-Tones
I paint into the dark and mid-tones with softer pastels, getting closer to the colors I desire and defining the forms of the floor of the box.



Step Five: Pushing the Color
Using a combination of hard and soft pastels, I start to refine the light bulbs and the interior of the box (above, left). I push the warm colors toward yellows, oranges, pink and burnt sienna wherever I desire, and the cool colors towards blues, violets, greens and raw umber (above, right).



Step Six: Softening Transitions
I work into the light areas, softening the color transitions and continue nuancing the colors and values of the light bulbs, interior and outer flaps of the box, and spaces—mostly with Unison and Sennelier pastels. Lastly, using Nupastels, I accentuate selected edges throughout the It’s All About the Light (pastel, 18 ¾ x 24 ½).



Robert Carsten meanders around recycling plants to find the subjects of his lustrous still lifes in pastel. To learn more about Carsten’s work, read “Trash Transformed” by Maureen Bloomfield in the July/August 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

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