13 Tips for Better Pastel Paintings

Many artists aspire to a faster, looser style. I’ve learned that the first step to interpretive freedom is to develop your own confidence as a painter, according to award-winning pastelist Tony Allain.

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Marina Reflections (pastel, 10×14) by Tony Allain

He shares his 13 tips for better pastel paintings designed to strengthen your skills and improve your results.

  1. Use the best-quality artist’s pastels. Inferior materials result in inferior paintings.
  2. Carry a sketchbook and make thumbnail sketches.
  3. Stand at your easel, if possible. You’ll have more freedom of movement.
  4. Lay in the underpainting using the side of the pastel and broad, direct, light strokes.
  5. As you look at your subject, squint as much as possible, which allows you to see the shapes rather than the details.
  6. Paint what you see, not what you think you know is there.
  7. Paint “fat over lean,” as you would in oil—that is, heavy over light, or soft over hard.
  8. Paint the highlights last to keep them clean and bright.
  9. Read books, watch DVDs and take workshops with artists you admire. You’ll acquire a lot of knowledge, but follow that with effort. Without a heap of practice, this knowledge will amount to nothing.
  10. Try to put a stroke down and never touch it again.
  11. Use your photo references to explore different ideas. Draw on them with marker pens. Add acrylic in some areas. Crop, cut and move things around until you find inspiration.
  12. Work quickly. It teaches you to think before you make your mark.
  13. Finally, have fun and enjoy the expressive medium of soft pastel.
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Gibbston Valley, New Zealand (pastel, 18×18) by Tony Allain

Pastel Composition Secrets

In addition to following Tony’s expert guidelines above, be sure to check out the video preview below for pastelist Liz Haywood Sullivan’s instructional video, Composition Secrets: How to Plan a Painting. You can learn more about her composition techniques for pastel painting success at northlightshop.com and on ArtistsNetwork.tv.

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