In last week’s blog post, I started the discussion of basic pastel techniques, covering blending, scumbling and glazing. These are techniques often associated with wet painting, which can be easily adapted to pastel. This week I will discuss hatching, cross-hatching and feathering. These techniques rely more on mark-making and are closely associated with drawing. Whether you consider your pastel approach to be more painter or draftsman, being practiced in all the various techniques will ultimately make you a better artist.
One of the most recognized characteristics of pastel painting are broken color strokes. As the French Impressionists, such as Monet, were pushing the limits of representational art in the late 1800s by representing light and color with fractured marks of oil paint, Edgar Degas was experimenting in-kind with pastel. The direct and sensuous quality manifested in these pastel paintings helped to elevate the stature of the medium and introduced future generations to the creative potential pastel had to offer. Another artist and friend of Degas who was highly influenced by his methods was Mary Cassatt. The current popularity of pastel within the United States is due in large part to her passion for the medium, Impressionism in general, and the influence she had in developing many prominent collections. All of these fractured techniques rely on optical mixing, in which the marks of pastel appear to be blended together by the human eye instead of being physically blended on the painting surface.
The outer form of the majority of commercial pastel sticks lends itself to the act of mark-making. When held directly in the hand, the natural motion of the arm and wrist is that of a gentle swipe. The harder the pastel, the easier it is to control the outcome. This is why the majority of pastelists that employ a hatching, cross-hatching, or feathering technique prefer harder pastel brands. Those that rely on more painterly techniques prefer the softer pastel brands. If desired, an application of workable fixative can be used to isolate fractured layers of pastel to heighten the effect.
Hatching involves a series of fine parallel lines. Various colors and values can be applied one over the other as long as all the linear marks run in the same direction. Depending on the volume and spacing of these parallel lines, a variety of effects can be achieved.
Cross-hatching relies on the same linear mark-making as hatching with the exception that each subsequent layer of pastel is done in a slightly different direction, producing a woven effect.
Feathering is very similar to both hatching and cross-hatching with the major difference being that the linear marks are generally shorter. Feathering is capable of encompassing a variety of mark variations and can be easily done with softer or harder pastel brands, while hatching techniques are best done with harder pastel brands.
All of these fractured techniques rely on optical mixing, in which the marks of pastel appear to be blended together by the human eye instead of being physically blended on the painting surface. Just as it did for the Impressionists, this can heighten the illusion of iridescence and light within a painting.
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