Creative Spark: Mix It Up

As artists, we all have our favorite pastels, paper or board, and our usual method for developing a painting. That’s great. Being familiar with materials and techniques allows artists to produce consistent, competent paintings. There comes a time, however, when comfort and competence aren’t enough.

Who doesn’t want to produce a breathtaking, spectacular, unforgettable painting? Yet, in order to produce brilliant paintings, we have to be open to taking chances—to step beyond the comfortable and familiar.

One technique that’s great for cleaning the cobwebs out of my mind and my eyes is mixing media. My favorite combination is acrylic and pastel on heavy paper or board.

For my first layer of color, I use acrylic in bright colors and thick brushes that force me to be loose and expressive. Sometimes I wait for the acrylic to dry, but sometimes I plow right into the wet paint with pastels. If your wet acrylic is fairly thick and your pastels are moderately hard, you can carve wonderful lines and textures through the paint.

The next layer is pastel—harder or softer, depending on whether I’m more concerned with line or flat areas of color. I love Terry Ludwig’s pastels for laying in wide swaths of brilliant color.

I go back and forth with the two media until I achieve the image I want. Sometimes the acrylic completely covers the pastel; sometimes it blends with it. I never know what’s going to happen for sure. It’s a risk—and risk is where brilliant paintings come from.

Try This at Home
Show us one of your pastel paintings (or several) and tell us how you “mixed it up.” E-mail images to (as a high-resolution 4×6-inch JPG image—a resolution of 300 dpi) by Sept. 26, 2008. (Type “Creative Spark” in the subject line and include your name, e-mail and mailing address.) The “editor’s choice” will receive a package of UART sanded pastel papers worth approximately $140. Congratulations to Janet Sullivan, of Missoula, Montana, for her winning entry in the August challenge. She won a 75-piece workshop set of Mount Vision Pastels. Go to to see her painting.

And the Winner Is …
Congratulations to Virginia Larrea, of Tampa, Fla., for her winning entry. Read on for her most unusual story about her use of mixed media.

Apalachicola Sunset (watercolor and pastel, 9×9)

“I started with a watercolor wash dipped in beer—I was at a restaurant with my husband and I dipped my brush in his beer by mistake. We had a joke going that it was a really fun painting. I wanted to capture the amazing colors of the sky, so I worked the sky almost exclusively in watercolor on a piece of white Wallis paper. The boat came later after the sky had dried— later it actually parked in front of us so I decided to add to it with graphite and pastel. I reworked the pastel with some more water and added just a little touch of pastel to the clouds in the left side.”

Larrea’s painting appears in the December issue of the magazine. Our thanks to UART for their generous donation. Look for the next Creative Spark in the February 2009 issue of The Pastel Journal.

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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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