Higher Ground | Painting the Mountain Landscape in Pastel

Whether it is to paint them, climb them, hike them or simply gaze upon them, people are drawn to the mountain landscape. In the August 2013 issue of Pastel Journal, we looked at artists who regularly turn to mountain scenery for inspiration. Sometimes the mountain itself is the main player in these painting compositions; other times, it plays a supporting role to other elements or themes on which the artist wishes to focus. Here, landscape artist Heather Coen shares her insights on capturing the subject in pastel with a description of her painting process for the pastel, Summit Mountain (below):


Summit Mountain (pastel) by Heather Coen


Coen writes:

When I saw the scene that inspired Summit Mountain (above), I instantly knew it would be one of my paintings. Having traveled and hiked the Rocky Mountains for years and years, I have a repertoire of paintings that have reached my top 10 list.  So little time, so many pastels, and so many scenes that need to be painted.

My Materials: I use heavy grit sanded paper from many sources such as Richeson and Wallis. In the case of Summit Mountain, I chose a large sheet of 24×36-inch paper. With mats and frame, the painting just about takes up one wall of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet’s office in Washington, D.C., who chose the pastel from a large field of Colorado artists’ submissions last year. Almost all of the submissions were done in oils or watercolors with just a few pastels. As for pastels, I’m totally hooked on the softer, creamier pastels put out by manufacturers such as Unison and Terry Ludwig.

Getting Started: Although I learned composition from doing thumbnails early on, I rarely do that step anymore. I may put in a rough drawing, but generally, I find that I can see the painting before the first layer is even applied. In this case, I painted in my studio, working in part from a photo, always keeping in mind that photos don’t provide accurate color information.

Pastel Application: For each area of the landscape, I began by putting down dry pastel colors, wetting and painting them, letting them dry, and then applying another layer. Next, I applied as many as 25 layers of pastel over that surface to get the color and depth needed to create the sense of depth I wanted.

Painting Reflections: The mirror image of the mountains in the lake was particularly hard to render. I once bought a cut-out card at a Hallmark store that helped me understand the mirror image. When expanded, the card made the skyline of San Francisco, but when folded together, it made a block of downtown buildings. I realized that if I took a piece of paper, folded it in half and cut out the silhouette of mountains, when I unfolded the paper, it included an exact replica of the mirror reflection. The key to getting water reflections is to start with a water-based color. I often use a dark gray-blue. Then, as I render the mountains with pastel, I use the same color on the much darker surface color; it will change enough to give life and reality to the reflection. Reflections are never exact or clear, because water is always moving. To capture that fuzziness, I use a soft eraser over the pastels at the very finish and wiggle it across the dried pastels.

Painting Snow: I think of snow on mountains as almost always gray on the light side and blue on the shadowed side. If you use pure white for snow, it tends to look pasted in place. Snow is like an egg; the shells are so many different colors as they pick up the hues of the objects around them. I often use some turquoise and blue for snow on the ground.

Here are a few more examples of Coen’s pastel paintings of the mountain landscape:


Canyon Light (pastel) by Heather Coen


Lake Helene (pastel) by Heather Coen


Red Rocks Along the Poudre (pastel) by Heather Coen





















































Subscribe to Pastel Journal magazine

Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks.

Online seminars for fine artists


You may also like these articles: