Blooming Pastel Color Palettes
Everyone loves flowers for their beautiful shapes and color, but confronting all that colorful splendor can be daunting. Below, artist Jude Tolar shows how to make color decoding easy with these five pastel color palettes for five floral favorites.
And when you are ready to discover all the tips and tricks of painting flowers, remember you are just a click away with the Essentials of Painting Flowers — a video course that covers beautiful blooms in all manner of media, from pastel to watercolor to oils.
Colorful Considerations for Flourishing Florals
Flowers are some of my favorite painting subjects. To me, they are miracles of nature. The assortment of color and shape, the various petals and their beautiful translucency continually inspire me to fetch my pastels.
Although the color of flowers may seem complex, color selections can be simplified using three main considerations: local color, value and color temperature.
Local color is important to the lyrical realism of my style. I want my red poinsettias, for example, to look red in my painting. Local color is usually easiest to pick up somewhere in the lighted area of a flower. A poinsettia is never just red, however.
Every flower is more than one single color. Local color changes in value and temperature as petal shapes move into or away from the light. The local color also varies because of reflected light, texture and other factors. Each of my floral palettes includes additional colors that work with the local color to capture these color variations.
Value is vital. I use strong lighting on my floral models: sunlight when working en plein air and spotlight or window light for indoor paintings. Strong light provides drama and a wide range of values from light to dark. Not all of the value choices I make for the palette replicate the local color, however. As long as the values are correct, color choices can go beyond local color, and these other selections enhance the local color to create visual poetry.
Temperature — the warmth or coolness of a color — is the third main consideration for my pastel color palettes. Warm sunlight, for instance, makes a flower’s lighted areas warmer in color (as well as lighter in value). The areas in shadow are cooler in color (as well as darker in value). So, I want to be sure to have pastels that convey these differences in color temperature.
These three considerations are behind the pastel color palettes I made for the floral paintings shared below.
I painted Purple Fancy Pants en plein air on Wallis sanded paper. Dark flowers are challenging, because they lack value contrast. I compensate for this by using really strong colors (in correct values) in both shaded and lighted areas of the flower.
The local color of this iris is a dark purple. My palette for the flower included dark to very dark values: magenta, pink and warm purples for areas of warm light; and cool purples and blues for the cool shadows.
I painted Poinsettia Warmth from life on an aubergine sheet of ColourFix sanded paper. Red flowers benefit from using a range of warm colors and values in the light, and a range of cool colors and values in the shadows.
Very little color in this painting is actually the local color, which is an intense red, but becomes hot pink where the velvety petal texture washes out the local color. My palette of most-used sticks includes medium to dark values of red, red-orange, red-violet and hot pink (for areas of warm light); cool purple, maroon and blue (for cool shadows on the petals).
Quick tip: Keep in mind that one pastel stick can render several values and color effects. A gentle scumble with the side of a stick, for instance, allows underlying colors to show through, while a heavier application with the corner of a stick produces an intense spot of opaque color. Each pastel stick can make an area look lighter or darker, warmer or cooler, depending on how it’s applied.
I painted Sweet Ice Follies en plein air on a sheet of aubergine ColourFix sanded paper. The local colors of these pale daffodils are white (petals) and yellow (trumpets). Although they’re mainly high in value, all of the values have color.
The light values are warm colors, not whites. The darker values are cool colors, but not grays. My color palette consists of light to medium values of cream, yellow and gold (in the warm light); and green, blue and cool purple (in the cool shadows).
Quick tip: I find that a bit of blue-green, blue-violet, olive-green and dark purple (Terry Ludwig V100) almost always show up somewhere in my pastel florals. These colors enhance other colors, crisp up edges and generate a sense of light in the scene.
I painted Coneflower Fancy Pants en plein air on a sheet of aubergine ColourFix sanded paper. Hot-color flowers need cool areas to balance and intensify the warmth. Note that newly-opened flowers are often a different value, and either paler or brighter in hue.
In this case, the local color is magenta, but the newly opened flower is more pale. My coneflower palette includes mostly medium values, with some darker values for the centers. I used magenta, pinks and oranges (in the areas of warm light); and cool red-violets and cool purple in the shadows.
I painted Sunflower Power en plein air on a sheet of aubergine ColourFix sanded paper. Sunflowers look golden only where the light shines on or behind the petals. Elsewhere they’re a mix of darker and cooler colors. Purple in the shadow areas can enhance the gold. The local color of the flower petals is a yellow-orange, but is a more lemon-yellow where the flower is washed out by light.
My sunflower palette includes values that are light to medium for the petals and dark for the center. I selected yellows and oranges (for the areas of warm light); cool red-violets, cool purple, golds and browns (for the cool shadows); intense orange (for back-lit glow); a cool gold (for the outer-shaded parts of the petals); and a dark red-brown (for the flower centers and crisp edges).
About the Artist
Oklahoma artist Jude Tolar picked up pastels as a way to study color and work easily en plein air, and immediately loved the results. Her painterly pastels have been juried into a number of national and international exhibitions and competitions, including the Pastel Society of America (PSA) and the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS).
Her work also has appeared in many art publications, including PleinAir Magazine, Pratique des Arts Magazine and a previous article in Pastel Journal. A signature member of PSA and an IAPS Master Circle artist, Tolar demonstrates her pastel techniques to art groups and teaches pastel workshops on various subjects. Learn more about Tolar and her work by visiting her website.
This article by Jude Tolar on pastel color palettes for creating florals first appeared in Pastel Journal. Subscribe here to never miss out on the latest issue.
And to discover all the tips and tricks of painting flowers, you are just a click away with the Essentials of Painting Flowers — a video course that covers beautiful blooms in all manner of media, from pastel to watercolor to oils.