Making Pastel Palettes More Palatable | Part 2


A few open flat file drawers containing pastels in my studio (emphasis on few!).”]Continuing the conversation I started in a blog post last month on “Making Palettes More Palatable,” I offer some additional thoughts this week and next. Up first: “The Curse of the Studio Pastel Palette”

As a pastel artist friend mentioned the other day, “I don’t need any more pastels, yet I continue to acquire more”. The allure of “more” is a deeply rooted psychological tendency that most of us suffer. We think that somehow painting will become easier if we have more. While it is true that different brands of pastel respond differently to various surfaces and that—due to pastels dry nature—an expanded array of hue and value selections may be required, it is also true that too many pastels can lead to selection paralysis. Even if your studio space were large enough to accommodate the numerous tables that would be required to lay out all the pastels, the time spent making selections would become daunting. This is the crux of the studio palette curse.

With the multitude of pastel brands offered today, it is easy to accumulate thousands of individual sticks. Keeping them organized and readily available takes considerable effort. In my studio system, I store individual pastel brands in flat file drawers. This allows for them to be organized by brand. I typically paint with a one-half to one-third sized piece of a stick. This allows for the remainder to be stored with the manufacturer codes for easy replacement. Since there are many brands in my studio, I have made stackable working palettes that are heavily weighted to one brand. This makes tracking down a replacement stick much easier and keeps the palette at a manageable size. If you wish to co-mingle pastel brands within a working palette, select specific brands for specific techniques. I like to let one brand dominate the softest, another the intermediate hardness, and another the hardest pastel sticks in these mingled palettes.

While the studio palette can definitely be much larger than the small plein air travel palette, they still need to be visually and physically manageable. I accept the fact that I will continue to amass new pastel offerings, even though I have more than I could possibly use in a lifetime, but my working palettes continue to become smaller. Making due with fewer pastels and compromising a little for the sake of efficiency has helped to free me from the studio “curse.” And I feel less overwhelmed by the paralysis of individual pastel choices and more confident. Very often, less is more!


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3 thoughts on “Making Pastel Palettes More Palatable | Part 2

  1. Elsie Hickey Wilson

    Great article, Richard!
    Ah, yes, the pastel addiction…count me in!
    "She/he who dies with the most pastel sticks wins!" LOL!
    Seriously, the drawers are a great idea!
    I have a big shelf that my husband build into my studio, next to my easel. When we were planning it and building it, I thought I would never be able to fill it…WRONG! I’m thinking now that taking your idea and building some drawers into one end of the shelf would be a great way to manage it better, leaving the other end for my most used palette.
    Thanks so much!
    Happy Painting!

  2. Kim Denise

    It was the great title of this blog post that drew me in! Gave me a laugh and then touched on a very real pastelists’ issue. I’m about to move to a new home and set up a new studio, and I am wracking my brain trying to come up with a good storage solution for my pastels….and I don’t even have that many!