Sunday, February 03, 2013

How to Avoid Color Chaos in Your Paintings

'Morning Study.Winter'       5x7        pastel    ©Karen Margulis
available by Daily Paintworks auction this week bid here
 I love my pastel collection. I have boxes everywhere filled with pastels. Studio box, travel boxes, misc palette boxes. And I still want more!  It is an addiction. If you are new to pastels and only have a small collection, don't worry you will want to get more.  But don't fret if you only have a small number of sticks.  It is when you have too many pastels that you can get in trouble with a painting!

It's true, having a huge number of pastels won't make you a better painter. It is knowing how to use what you have that will help you make better paintings. The mistake many of us make is to think of our entire box/collection of pastels as our palette for a paintings. We end up using too many colors and our paintings have no color harmony.  I have two suggestions to help you avoid color chaos.


  • Decide on your color palette before each painting.  That means thinking about the colors you will use and physically pulling them out of the box an putting them in a separate tray. I use a butcher tray but anything that holds the pastels and keeps them from rolling off the table will work. I start by choosing a few colors in a dark, medium and light value and then add any other color I think I might need for a specific element in the painting.  Doing this has saved me form wanting to use every color in my entire box! I wrote a detailed post about my method here:http://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2012/03/great-studio-tool-for-better-color.html

Great American Pastels Richard McKinley set

  • Try working with a limited palette chosen by another artist.  There are 2 ways to do this. If you decide to purchase a set of pastels that were chosen by an artist such as the Richard McKinley set or my other favorite, Terry Ludwig's Arid Landscape set ...keep these pastels separate. I put mine in cigar boxes and label them. Challenge yourself to do some paintings using only these colors.  When I am feeling blocked, I will take out one of these boxes for a challenge.  If you don't have a big selection of pastels you will probably want to put them into your working box of pastels but at least try the limited palette challenge before you break up the set.
  • Another way to do this limited palette challenge is to look at the work of an artist you admire and pull some pastels to make up their palette. Now paint with these colors.
Today's painting is a quick study done with the Richard McKinley set. I plan on doing more. I love this palette!

8 comments:

Bennett Hock said...

Love this study and the information about color palettes...good advice!

Karen said...

Thank you Bennett. I appreciate you stopping by!

Eusebio Sanchez Alvarez said...

Estupendo el tratamiento de la profundidad.
El tema precioso y muy bien realizado.
Felicitaciones.

Vanessa said...

Such a good point Karen, I have ruined quite a few paintings by not "planning" ahed of time. Taking a few moments just to think your painting through, get a feel for what palette you will be using etc. really makes the world of a difference.

Beena said...

I keep all my different boxes stacked on the generous shelves of a cart that fits and can easily be wheeled into a closet. Even though I can get to all of them, I am SO reminded by reading your post that I need to update and reorganize. I've been looking for some shallow boxes that are both attractive and functional to that end. I have even considered buying some of those silverware drawer inserts with the long narrow divided compartments. I hope I find something soon!

Love the subtle colors in the snow in your pretty painting!

Catherine said...

hi karen i broke my right arm + cannot do any painting! has this ever happened to u? any advice on how to use the time wisely? (for pursuit of learning pastel art?) i am a watercolour woman initially. i love your blog + have read everythinh i think! Catherine

Karen said...

Hi Catherine, I'm so sorry to hear about your broken arm! I haven't done that (knock on wood) but I did once have a bad case of tennis elbow in my painting arm. I still kept painting even though it hurt. I am stubborn that way.
Great question though. If it were me I would try to paint with my other hand. If anything you would have nice loose color studies! I would also read and study and watch dvd s One good exercise it to make an art journal fille with ideas for future paintings, tear out art ideas, colors etc from magazines and put them in it. These are just a couple of ideas off the top of my head. I would love to post a blog topic and see what others have to say! Stay tuned. And thank you for following my blog!

Catherine said...

thanks Karen. Great advice and would be interesting to see what has worked for others! i like the "ideas list" - that is one i had not thought of before. have u ever tried a pastel using your 'other' hand?