Limiting Pastels | Lean and Mean Painting

The propensity for wanting more, as I discussed in a recent blog, is something most humans struggle with. In that posting, I discussed how “wanting more” encourages artists to keep adding things into a painting well after it’s done. The proclivity for wanting more can also get artists into trouble when it comes to their art supplies. How often do we think, “If I had a better easel, a better color, a better surface, I would be able to paint better”?

While it may be true that well-made, quality products can facilitate a better painting experience, it’s also true that too many product choices can lead to a lack of familiarity, making painting awkward. It’s akin to handing renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma a different cello before every performance. He can play them, but until he comes acclimated to them, not to their full potential.

Limiting the number of art supplies we use might be a noble endeavor—who really needs more than one or two easels to paint well? But when it comes to our palette choices, that’s another matter. This is especially true for the pastelist. A pastel palette, by nature, needs more individual sticks to represent the full spectrum of color and value easily produced by four or five tubes of paint. Since most brands of pastel offer hundreds of individual choices, and every brand has its own individual personality (some are harder, others softer), it’s easy to amass thousands of pastel sticks from which to choose. This overwhelming number of choices can become daunting at times, not to mention impossible to transport for painting en plein air.

To remedy the need for a huge palette for myself, I made note of which sticks I tended to use most frequently and began the process of downsizing my working pastel palettes, both in studio and on location. Typically, I don’t segregate pastel sticks as I use them, preferring instead to place them back in the palette where I initially found them, but I decided to give it a try. I used a Heilman clip-on plastic palette tray attached to my wooden pastel palette, but a simple shallow cardboard box set near the palette would work, too. By separating my “working” pastels, I became aware of how few I really used and was able to let go of the desire for every pastel stick I owned to be available. The palette became smaller, economical and familiar, making it easier for me to focus on the painting instead of getting lost in the clutter of my pastel board.

Many pastelists joke that the one with the most pastels when he dies wins! While I plan on winning and haven’t yet met a pastel stick I didn’t want to own, I’ve also learned that I can get by successfully with fewer sticks. Now, hopefully, my studio won’t be featured on the television show “Hoarders”!

Segregating the pastels I'm using on a current painting in a Heilman clip-on palette tray enables me to work in a more focused way.

Segregating the pastels I’m using on a current painting in a Heilman clip-on palette tray enables me to work in a more focused way.

















• Look for Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers column on pastel palettes in the new August 2013 issue of Pastel Journal!

• Check out our new special Liz Haywood-Sullivan collection that includes 3 great pastel resources for one great price!

• The Maggie Price Essential Pastel Painting Set is now available at North Light Shop with a collection of resources for learning pastel techniques!

• Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

• Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks

• Online seminars for fine artists


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