Once you start collecting pastels it is time to decide how to store them all. It's a very important decision and the choice you make can have a big impact on your paintings. When I was starting out with pastels I tried every pastel box available. Many systems are great for storage but don't really help make painting easier. I spent a lot of effort and money until I settled on my current system. It has made all the difference in the world to my growth with pastels. It is my mission to help those new to pastels or those without an organized system to see the importance of the right pastel box.
I have found that many artists new to pastels keep their pastels in the original manufacturer's boxes. They paint right from these boxes. There are two challenges with this system.
- The first is that it is inevitable that you will add to your pastel collection and soon you will be carting around a pile of cardboard boxes that really don't protect your precious cargo very well.
- The second and critical problem is that you can't paint efficiently when you have to hunt and peck through several unorganized boxes of miscellaneous pastels. The KEY to painting well is to be organized with your supplies and having your pastels arranged so you can easily find the value and color you need. The BEST thing you can do to improve your work (next to painting more often) is to organize all of your pastels by VALUE and COLOR. Maggie Price has written an excellent article on why you should organize pastels by value and color as well as how to do it. When I finally got a box that would allow me to organize pastels by value and color I saw an immediate improvement in my work and painting was just more fun and less exhausting. Believe me, the right box may be costly but it is well worth it!
So what is the right pastel box? Everyone will have a system that works best for them but here is the system that I have found to work for me. I need a box that is sturdy. protects my pastels and that allows me to separate pastels by value. See the photos above for my boxes. I have a wooden studio box made by my Dad that has six padded sections. I have my pastels arranged by color in each section and they go from dark to light. Some artists choose to have each section be a value with colors going from warm to cool. (See Maggie Price's article) This box is not portable so it stays in the studio. I have a Heilman Box for travel and classes. I have the backpack size. This is the gold standard in pastel boxes and is priced accordingly. I love my Heilman Box! The smaller box is a cigar box that I have lined with foam. I make up these boxes for travel. This is my Southwest Plein air box. I can still arrange my pastels by value and color even in this cigar box so it is a great option if you are on a tight budget....and much better than using the cardboard manufacturer's boxes. There is anther option to consider if you want something similar to the Heilman. Many of my students have purchased the new Dakota Traveler boxes by Dakota pastels. (see below) In my opinion the Heilman Box is still the best but this new box is a good less expensive option.
I want to add that I am an avid collector of pastels so I have many more that don't fit into my boxes. I usually break new ones in half, add it to my box and store the other half. I do also like to keep certain sets such as my Terry Ludwig Arid Landscape set separate. But the majority of my pastels are incorporated into my working studio box.
If you don't arrange your pastels by value and color I encourage you to find a system that allows you to do so. I promise you will not regret it!