Color is the first and last part of my pastel paintings. It?s their most important element?sometimes I feel as though I?ve got the colors of a painting coursing through my veins. My goal is to take this feeling and get it onto the paper, and I want my viewers to have an emotional response to my paintings that matches my own. To make this kind of connection you have to create the right mood, and the key to getting the right mood is to take control of your colors.
Constant, close observation of the variety and nuance of the colors in nature is the first step in finding exciting color relationships. When I find a scene I want to paint, I take plenty of photos, usually 10-20. That way, I can use only those that have the aspects of color and dimension that I?m interested in. For the first layer of colors I use pastel pencils, pressing lightly with open strokes and working from dark to middle values.
Once I?m off to a good start, I?ll brush Turpenoid over the pastel strokes to tone the white paper and make a transparent underpainting. To get more variation of color at this stage I like to play with the wet surface. You can blot the colors with a tissue to make them lighter or to add texture, and you can use drips of Turpenoid to add interest.
Next I start painting the darkest values at my center of interest with soft pastel, still pressing lightly, and work my way around the paper, dark values first. I gradually intensify and vary the colors as I work my way toward completion, with the thicker layers usually at the center of interest and the secondary focal points. At the end I?ll do whatever is necessary to get the look I want.
In a painting, the mood you create is essentially the result of your colors—from their hues, values and intensities to their contrasts, relationships, and the positive and negative shapes they create. If the color you see doesn?t spark the mood you want, change it, or create a new environment for it, and you?ll be able to send your viewers whatever message you choose.
A professional artist for more than 30 years, Carole Katchen has been awarded the Master Pastellist designation by the Pastel Society of America. Her pastels and other paintings have been honored in galleries and museums throughout the United States and in South America. She?s written 16 books of which 1 million copies have been sold?most recently 200 Painting Ideas for Artists, from which this piece was excerpted. She lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas.