Making Pastel Palettes More Palatable | Part 3


Continuing the conversation on pastel palettes, I’d like to talk next about where a palette is positioned in relation to the body.

The position of a working palette for either studio or fieldwork is crucial to the rhythm of every painter’s process. Its relationship to your body and the artwork allows you to respond without hesitation. The most common palette placement is between the artist and the painting. This allows the painter to glance up and down, and to one side at the subject, with minimal effort. When placed in this position, the depth of the palette, arm reach, and your posture need to be considered. Continuously reaching over a deep palette can lead to fatigue and discomfort, often producing long-term musculoskeletal issues. Personally, this is my palette preference and I have arranged my pastels accordingly. To alleviate some of the discomfort associated with this position, I use a narrower pastel palette. Dakota Art Pastels makes a couple of very nice narrow boxes in their “Travel” and “Deluxe Traveler” line.

Artists that prefer a palette to one side, typically place it on their dominant side, a right-handed painter on the right and a left-handed painter on the left. Constantly reaching across your body to make a selection can prove cumbersome when the palette is opposite your dominant hand. Another consideration when palettes are placed to one side versus in front of the painter is the arrangement of color and value. Since western cultures are trained to naturally scan from left to right (it’s how we read written text), attention should be give to the pastels layout. I rely heavily on a selection of neutral (grayed) tones in my palette, so it is very important that they be positioned near my dominant hand. Being right-handed with my palette in front of me places them at the far right-hand side of the palette. If I were to work with my palette off to the right side, I would reverse my palette layout, placing the neutrals on the left-hand side and reverse the order of the color families. When we decide on a pastel arrangement for our palettes, this is often overlooked.

Much consideration may go into the arrangement but where the palette will be positioned plays a big part in how effectively it will be utilized. It’s all about having the most frequently used sticks the closest at hand. Painting is hard enough without having to awkwardly fumble with our palettes. By setting yourself up to work comfortably, you can stay better focused on the painting without distraction. It alleviates one less thing that can be blamed when a painting goes bad.


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One thought on “Making Pastel Palettes More Palatable | Part 3

  1. Lee McVey

    Richard, the placement makes good sense and I remember you talking about this in one of your workshops. I haven’t been doing that placement in my studio. I’m left handed and I have my studio pastels on tables on both sides of me–but the main pastels I use most often are on my right, and I’ve done it this way for years. I’m so used to it that I think I have compensated well enough. I wonder what it would do to change that placement at this stage? In the field, my pastels are in front of me and I do prefer that, but it doesn’t work well in my studio.

    Maybe it’s all the years of needing to compensate for a right handed world that it doesn’t seem a problem for me. I can’t use left handed scissors now!