We’re fortunate to be painting at a time when there is a wide variety of pastels available. Being able to select from the diverse offerings of many manufacturers allows for considerable flexibility within our individual techniques. Organizing brands for storage and keeping track of our individual sticks within a working palette is when the problems arise. One brand of blue can look very similar to another. Finding an exact replacement when a stick wears down can prove to be very frustrating, leading to many hours of searching—time that could be, and should be, spent at the easel. I’ve implemented a few simple procedures into my pastel workflow, which has made things a little easier.
To begin with, when placing a new stick of pastel into action, break it into a usable size (refer to my September 3rd blog entry) and keep the remaining piece within its wrapper. (See the photo showing drawers of half-stick pastels with their original wrappers.) Most pastels come with a label identifying the pigment by name and by a numeric code. By retaining the other half of the stick, it’s easy to match the little piece in need of replacement. Since some pigments are very similar in appearance, and some sticks come with a slightly off-colored outer-shell (due to the migration of binder to the outer surface during the curing process) it’s helpful to make a mark on a paper surface for a better match. Another strategy is to acquire the printed brochure for the pastel line and mark the ones in use. Spending a few minutes highlighting the pastels in use makes them easier to track down when replacing. Since these printed brochures are rarely accurate, a handmade color chart becomes an even better form of identification. Dakota Art Pastels has done the hard work for us by selling handmade color charts of the major brands (see photo).
Another tip is to heavily weight your pastel palette to one brand. If a palette consists of a full set of one brand, make note of it, then supplement with the other brands to fill in the missing pieces required for your working style. Make note of these extra additions on a piece of paper with the brand, individual stick name, and code information from the label. When you notice a stick wearing down, start the search with the majority brand. If not found there, refer to your extra pastel notes for the others. After working with a specific palette, you’ll find favorites, which you’ll rely on more than others. If a specific pastel becomes a favorite, or you notice that it’s being utilized a lot, it’s wise to buy duplicates. Having a few of these old friends set aside in case manufacturing changes occur will keep your paintings flowing, uninterrupted. I’m not recommending you hoard pastels—although you may want to watch for the yard sale to be held after my demise.