A Tale of Two Still Lifes | Making Color Choices in Pastel

In the December 2013 issue of Pastel Journal, we asked artists Leslie Lillien Levy and Claudia Seymour to conduct a “still life experiment” in order to see how color choices are central to artistic expression. The two painters chose five objects that they would both use in still-life setups of their own design: a blue-and-white cachepot, a brass jug, a silvered creamer, a copper teapot with blue-and-white handle and knob, and a blue lusterware creamer. Beyond the inclusion of these items, they were otherwise free to arrange the setup as they wished, adding items, choosing a lighting effect, and so on. As you can see here, the resulting paintings are surprisingly distinct and offer a revealing look into the personal approach artists bring to color.

Here, the artists have shared some photos of the specific pastel sticks they selected for their still life paintings. For the full story and painting demonstrations, check out the December issue of the magazine.

Runaway Lemons (16x22)

Runaway Lemons (pastel, 16×22) by Claudia Seymour

Claudia Seymour: Although not immediately apparent, Seymour used violet frequently in her painting, using the color (a complement to yellow) to help pop the lemons as much as she could.

“Much of the quilt’s white areas, therefore, are actually composed of a very light-value lavender pastel,” she says.

“I also used purple pastel in the shadows on the white areas of the quilt; in the darker, shadowed sides of the creamer and blue cachepot; and in the dark background at the edge of the table on which all the objects sit.”

still life set up at easel

Here you can Claudia Seymour’s easel setup and the start of her still life painting.


Here you can see some of the pastels Claudia Seymour used to paint the lemons, including Giraults, Great Americans and Ludwigs.


Here you can see Seymour’s pastels (a mix of Giraults, Great Americans and Terry Ludwigs) separated out for the the quilt area (top left, yellows and grays); the rug (light rusts next to quilt colors); the rug stripes (top center blues and oranges); the copper teapot (lower center siennas, oranges, and pinks); and the lusterware (center blues and rusts).

Checkered Past (36x26) by Leslie Lillien Levy

Checkered Past (36×26) by Leslie Lillien Levy

Leslie Lillien Levy: When selecting her color palette, Levy doesn’t mix different sets of pastels. “Rather, I use each set separately, completing what I call a ‘pass’ over the entire painting. Working from hard to soft, I move on to the next set of pastels.

Like many pastelists, I have numerous sets,” she says. After covering everything with one pass of Nupastel, she moves on to the slightly softer Rembrandts, which then on to softer Unisons, then Giraults (which she finds helpful for blending areas).

She then finishes with Terry Ludwig pastels. “Their softness and variety of color allow me to emphasize the highlights and bring all the elements to a crescendo,” she says.


For her first pass of pastel, Levy uses Nupastels.



For her second pass, she uses Rembrandts.


Her third pass is done with Unison pastels (shown here) and the final pass with Terry Ludwigs.













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