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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Secret to Effective Layering with Pastels

'Late Afternoon Walk'          8x10          pastel        ©Karen Margulis  available $145

Do your pastels whisper or shout?  Do they glide across the paper with hardly a sound?  Or do you scrub in the pastels with vigor with a loud 'scratch'?  I am often asked how I get interesting color in my pastel paintings and the answer is layering color with a light touch.  I make sure my pastels whisper. I only let them shout when I want to really emphasize a passage.

There are a few different techniques for layering pastels. You can blend, scumble, glaze, crosshatch and feather.  Richard McKinley wrote an excellent article on layering techniques in a recent Pastel Pointers blog post. I tend to be a scumble and glaze painter. I am more interested in painting with broad strokes of color than a linear approach. I like to use several layers of pastel keeping values consistent in an area but changing color. This way I am able to achieve more complex and interesting areas of color
The secret to making this technique work is the touch.  You want to have a LIGHT touch so that each layer is added gently. This allows that the layers underneath to work together. You want to avoid heavily covering up each layer.

close-up detail of 'Late Aftenoon Walk'

See the close-up of today's painting. I have put down several layers of color on top of one another but I am careful to have a light touch so I can allow the layers to all work together. If you push the pastel in too hard you can cover up the bottom layers and you will fill the tooth of the paper quickly. 

To remind yourself to have a light touch...listen to your pastels. If you hear them scratch loudly as you paint, lighten your touch until they whisper. (the exception for me is Diane Townsend pastels which have pumice...they make a scratchy sound even with a light touch)  When I am putting the finishing touches on a painting I will then press the pastel more firmly in areas where I want to add emphasis. Now they can shout!
'Kiawah Rain'         8x10              pastel


Cindy Haase said...

Great post Karen! I taught a beginner's class last Friday and of all the things they struggled with it was the pressure to apply and layering.

Jo Castillo said...

These paintings are shouting. Just beautiful.

Karen said...

Thanks Cindy! I find the same thing too. It seems to help when I remind them to whisper!

Karen said...

Thank you very much Jo! I love painting marshes!

robertsloan2art said...

Great post and fantastic painting. I don't usually think about the sounds I make while I'm painting, it's more kinesthetic for me - but I know the more I paint with pastels the more control I have of the pressure I'm using. Light layers allow so much more control and variety of colors.

If I'm using non sanded paper, the only way to get multiple layers is with a light touch. I tend to blend out the first layer to tone the paper where I want it toned and then everything else is light until the end. Beautiful detail as well as the full painting.

Karen said...

Thanks Robert! I do the same thing on non sanded paper. I think it is a great technique!