Pastel Pointers | 5 Sketching Techniques with Glass and Dry Markers

Before starting a painting, most artists do a series of composition sketches to evaluate design elements. These simple or elaborate sketches provide a road map for the scale and placement of major shapes, values and color masses. Referring back to them as the painting progresses keeps the painting on track, often producing a more solid outcome.

While it’s always useful to have the initial composition sketches at hand for reference while painting, there is another tool that can provide another visual means to painting evaluation—a piece of clear picture framing glass and dry markers. Dry markers are available in a variety of colors and sizes. They work well on clear glass and the marks made are easy to clean off. To keep the glass from touching the pastel painting surface, a quarter-inch framing spacer is adhered to the perimeter. By utilizing standard size drawing boards (my studio is filled with 16×20 and 18×24), glass of the same dimensions can be prepared and ready at the easel. It’s advisable to sand the edges of the glass since they will be exposed during handling. I use medium-sized binder clips, available from an office supply store, to firmly hold the glazing over the painting. With the glazing in place, structural issues can be evaluated and potential changes tested before committing them to the painting. The glazing can also be removed and the marks evaluated over white.


glass attached to a drawing board | sketching tehniques

The "Glass of Creative Possibilities" is attached to an 18x24 drawing board that holds an almost finished pastel. The red marks indicate visual movement and the black marks potential changes to the shape of the treetops.


5 Sketching Techniques with Glass and Dry Markers:

  • Compare the initial composition outline sketch against the painting by redrawing it onto the glass. This makes it easy to see if the painting has strayed from your initial design.
  • Check linear perspective by indicating the eye-level (horizon) line and any necessary vanishing points. Re-establishing these lines can help in determining if the sense of space and presence is correct within the painting.
  • Analyze the placement of the points of interest and visual flow of the painting’s composition. This helps remind us where the “stars” of the painting are positioned and if they have enough emphasis.
  • Indicate major value masses and evaluate them against the initial value composition sketch. It’s easy to lose the basic value structure of a painting once color is introduced. This evaluation can remind us that value does the work and color gets the credit.
  • Alter object shapes or make content additions and subtractions. Seeing the potential benefits of these changes can help in deciding if they’re worthwhile.

As painters, we’ve often thought, “I liked it better before I made that change,” or “I better not do that; it could ruin the painting.” Having glass and dry markers at the ready can help alleviate some of the quandary. It can change conjecture into reality. I like to think of it as the “Glass of Creative Possibilities.”

Richard McKinley ( is a regular columnist for Pastel Journal and the author of Pastel Pointers (North Light Books, 2010).

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2 thoughts on “Pastel Pointers | 5 Sketching Techniques with Glass and Dry Markers

  1. HMA44

    Richard: another option is to photograph your drawing with your iPad then make changes with one of the software programs to see if it is better or not.