Creative Spark: Pick A Color

None of us seem to use all of the colors of pastel sticks we have before us, however. We have our favorites that we always reach for and some that we use for accents, and then we have those that we almost never touch. If you want to spice up your work, why not pull out those poor, neglected colors?

About a year ago, I was invited to paint an image for the Hot Springs Jazz Festival poster in Arkansas. I had plenty of reference material, but I wanted this painting to jump off the walls. I pulled out a color that I hardly ever use: a bright, golden yellow. I’m not a “yellow” person; I don’t wear yellow, I don’t paint my walls yellow, and I rarely use yellow in my pastels. This was going to be an adventure.

For All That Jazz (pictured, 39×27), I chose a large sheet of off-white Fabriano Morillo paper. I drew the basic composition with a dark ochre pastel, then painted in the large shapes with acrylic. I painted the whole background yellow and the dark areas a deep madder, and left the light-colored paper untouched where I wanted light areas.

First, I built up the yellow background: many layers of pastel strokes of various yellow and gold tones. I also added some light layers of yellow over the background figures to make them less distinct. I lightly blended by tapping my fingertips over the surface. Then, I built up the dark areas with layers of madder and purple, achieving a warm tone that wouldn’t compete with the yellow, and using the same color more softly for the shadows and foreground. I painted the lights primarily with very light yellow ochres.

Finally, I added some accent strokes of bright blue violet, knowing these would “pop,” as purple is yellow’s complement. The final piece was a successful painting and poster thanks to my lonely little yellow.

Try This at Home
Show us one of your pastel paintings (or several) and tell us how you put a neglected color to work. E-mail images to (as a JPG image with a resolution of 72 dpi) by August 29, 2008. (Type “Creative Spark” in the subject line and include your name, e-mail and mailing address.) The “editor’s choice” will receive a 75-piece workshop set of Mount Vision Pastels (a $239 value). Congratulations to Julie Dean, of Gainesville, Ga., for her winning entry in the April challenge. She won $150 worth of PanPastel colors and tools.

And the Winner Is …
Congratulations to Janet Sullivan, of Missoula, Montana, for her winning entry in the August challenge. Her beautiful painting, Midsummer Storm, fit well with the prompt. Here’s the artist’s take on how she put her neglected colors to work:

“My dominant color palette consists of blues, greens and the many other grayed down hues available.

“During one winter here in Missoula, I looked out my window day after day to see a white fog hovering over the ground covered with snow. After days of this dreary gray and white scene, I decided to pull out those neglected colors that pile up and get shoved aside.

“I live on a hill over looking the valley and watch the storms roll in and out of town. Using the sky, trees and river below as a subject, I went to work harmonizing bright colors that work well together.”

Sullivan won a 75-piece workshop set of Mount Vision Pastels. Many thanks to Mount Vision Pastels for their generous donation!

Miss the August deadline? Get on the ball for the October 2008 challenge—the deadline is Sept. 26, 2008!

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Award-winning artist and author Carole Katchen‘s Creative Spark challenges appear in The Pastel Journal. Learn more about her at

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