To Blend or Not to Blend Pastels? Expert Advice on When and Why

There’s some debate in the pastel world as to whether pastels should be blended, left unblended or be some combination of both.

Renowned pastelist William Schneider has found using a combination of blended and unblended pastel strokes gives his work greater variety, softer edges and more unified areas of light and shadow.

Pastel: Perfect for Portraits and Figures

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Other than highlights around the nose, Them’s Fightin’ Words (20×16) features clearly unblended strokes.

 

One of the greatest benefits of pastel is that it mimics the nature of flesh itself. Skin is translucent, so we see into it.

The ivory bone close to the surface in the forehead or the bridge of the nose shows through. In some skin tones, we see the pinkish color of the capillaries in the nose and cheeks; we see the subtle cool violet caused by the veins near the surface below the eyes.

If you overmix these complementary colors in oil paint, you’re likely to get a grayish mud. However, blending those same colors in pastel leaves microscopic particles of pigment lying next to each other on the painting surface.

The resulting vibrations enhance the illusion of light on skin. In addition, when you place the highlights as unblended strokes, they read as light reflecting off the surface of the skin.

Another positive is that blending pulls together large areas of light and shadow. This simplifies and unifies the painting.

An added benefit of blending is that the few untouched strokes stand out when contrasted with the softly blended areas behind them. This visual variety adds impact.

 

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In Mandella (20×16), the sharp highlights make the eyes appear in focus even though the edges are very soft.

 

Schneider shares a portrait demonstration, below, in which he uses both blended and unblended pastels to achieve a sultry image defined by light and shadow. Enjoy!

Demonstrating the Magic of Pastel Blending in Portraiture, Step-by-Step

Step 1: I placed broad strokes of the colors I observed in the model and blended them on the face.

 

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Step 1

 

Step 2: I blended the rest of the tones, drew the model using vine charcoal and placed marks to indicate the extremes: lightest light, darkest dark, sharpest edge and most intense color.

 

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Step 2

 

Step 3: Next, I covered the rest of the support with broad areas of color and began to render the shadow pattern.

 

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Step 3

 

Step 4: I refined the painting, still blending most strokes to create soft transitions. Note the unblended highlights on the lips and jewelry.

 

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Step 4

 

Final Step: I completed Reckless Abandon by adding key strokes that I left unblended. These include highlights on the dress, details on the scarf around the hips, and highlights on the eyelids and lips.

 

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Reckless Abandon (pastel, 24×18) by William Schneider

 

For more of Schneider’s thoughts on blending, as well as the tool(s) he finds work best for getting the job done, be sure to check out the October 2017 issue of Pastel Journal. And, discover how this artist paints eyes using pastels with this free download.

Bonus Tip: Preparing Your Surface

The right surface makes all the difference for your pastel strokes. Watch this quick tutorial to see how artist Christine Ivers prepares her painting surface.

You can find more of Ivers’ pastel tips and techniques by streaming her video workshops on ArtistsNetwork.tv.

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