Pastel Pointers | At Work in Multiple Media

When artists first decide to paint, a decision is made as to what medium to use. Just like elementary school band class, a student is often encouraged to start with an instrument that will prove less intimidating, allowing for advancement as confidence is gained. For many aspiring painters, their first “instrument” is watercolor. Its ease of storage, cleanup and ability to be applied to inexpensive paper make watercolor paint a great starting point. Some find watercolor painting fulfilling and never venture into another medium. Others eagerly move on to acrylic, oil, pastel and various other forms of expression until they find their personal favorite. Just like picking a subject major in college, it is good to experiment a little before settling down. No matter which medium you start with, there is something to be learned form the others. Even mature painters who are content with their chosen medium should still allow room for media experimentation. The nuances and techniques gained from the experience will ultimately improve their abilities and encourage discovery.
An oil painting, Last Light Ojai, by Richard McKinley

An oil painting, Last Light Ojai, by Richard McKinley

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As an artist, I have experimented with many diverse media throughout my personal journey. Pastel and oil continue to be the constants making up the bulk of my gallery work. Early in my career, I worked seriously with watercolor and often employ it today for underpainting techniques. What I have observed by working with these media is that each has strengthened my abilities with the other. Watercolor has taught me to identify negative space. In keeping it transparent, I’ve learned to work from light to dark, the opposite of most opaque media like oil and pastel. This awareness has made me more sensitive to the power of the spaces that surround many areas of interest. It’s a reverse way of seeing in that you paint what is around something to make it appear strong.

Painting with oils has taught me the power of the application stroke. Working wet, from dark to light, provides the ability to get thicker paint applications as the painting progresses. The heavier, bravura strokes add an artistic flare and excitement. Both watercolor and oil can also utilize thin transparent paint applications referred to as glazes. These glazes shift color and value, providing a method to make subtle changes without repainting.

My time working in other media has strengthened my abilities with pastel. I now find myself often starting a pastel painting with intent to focus on negative space. I enjoy the process of working from thin to thick, finishing with bold, extra soft, pastel stick applications. It’s as if the best qualities of each medium have come together in my pastel work. Likewise, my time with pastel has greatly improved my oils by making me more tactile and immediate.

Our paintings are like children. No matter the flaws, we love them forever. The medium we choose to use to express ourselves is more like a friend. We are either attracted to its personality or not. Some may become best friends; others, only brief acquaintances. But there is something gained from every interaction. Each has played an intricate part in forming who we are and how we paint.


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