Pastel Pointers | Fall Paintings in Pastel

As the foliage of Southern Oregon, my home, begins to peek with its beautiful palette of red, orange, and yellow, I am again reminded of just how difficult the season can be to paint without appearing artificial and garish. While the topic has been frequently discussed over the last five years of the Pastel Pointers blog, it is still one of the most difficult for many pastelists to deal with. By better understanding the underlying issues of color harmony involved in the season, and with a little finesse of the pastel medium, the vibrant interplay of color temperature, the warm and cool that make the season so appealing can be portrayed with confidence.

pastel pointers richard mckinley

A fall en plein air pastel painting by Richard McKinley.

Color Harmony in Autumn Paintings: The first and most important thing to remember is that a painting is a mere representation of reality, not reality itself. When we observe nature we see reflected light. The pastels we choose represent that phenomenon. Since light is made up of all color, it is imperative that all color be represented, even if subtly. One way of doing this is to echo warm and cool colors throughout a painting. A little reflected cool in the warm foliage and a little warm intermixed into the cool sky can make a big difference. Another means of subtly representing all color is with gray. When primary colors are mixed, a grayed tone is produced. A slight introduction of gray near an intense warm or cool tone in a fall scene can often be all that is required to harmonize the opposing color temperatures.

Consider Color Temperature: A fall landscape can also be composed of extreme differences in color temperature that are often very intense in color saturation (chroma), such as saturated yellow, orange, or red leaves amongst green foliage against a bright blue sky. To avoid a visual conflict, it is imperative that something dominates both in space and intensity. In other words, don’t have an equal balance of warm and cool colors in the painting, and don’t make the warm and cool colors equally intense in chroma.

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Factor In Simultaneous Contrast: Remember the lesson of simultaneous contrast (nothing is what it is until it has a relationship) when choosing warm and cool pastels for a fall scene.  A yellow ochre pastel stick will appear more warm and intense when placed next to a bright blue/violet, and a blue gray pastel stick will appear more cool and intense when placed next to a bright yellow/orange. The visual vibrancy created between these tones can often better represent fall than relying solely on the brightest pigment choices in our palettes.

It seems that each of the seasons has its charms: spring its promise of renewal punctuated with intense chartreuse, summer its stillness accentuated with warmth, fall its melancholy ornamented in a final blaze of warm and cool hues, and soon winter with its introspection cloaked in cold undertones. The seasonal life of a landscape painter!

pastel by marla baggettaLearn more about color, style, value, texture and overall composition in a new online class with pastel artist Marla Baggetta! Click here to find out more information about the artist, the course, and registration at Artists Network University!Sign up now; the course starts November 6! (Note: Baggetta offered her tips for using value sketches and color studies in the February 2011 issue of Pastel Journal. See an excerpt here.

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