Monday, February 04, 2013

The Trick for Working with a Limited Pastel Palette

'Winter I'    2.5 x 3.5    pastel    sold
We are magicians!  After all if you are an artist you are creating magic. You can take a flat surface and create the illusion of depth and dimension. We have some tricks to help create this illusion such as how we portray aerial perspective.  But there are also tips and tricks for working with our materials.

I have been addressing the topic of working with a limited palette in my recent posts. Today I'd like to share my trick (actually just a tip but trick sounds more magical!)  for working with a limited pastel palette.

First have a look at these 10 miniature pastel winter landscapes. These were all painted using my Richard McKinley Great American set of pastels. There are 78 pastels in the set but I didn't even use half of them. I probably only used 30 or so colors.

'Winter II'    2.5 x 3.5   pastel         $15

'Winter III'   2.5 x 3.5   pastel   SOLD

'Winter IV'     2.5 x 3.5   pastel    sold

'Winter V'     2.5 x. 3.5     pastel    $15

'Winter VI'     2.5 x 3.5     pastel    $15

'Winter VII'       3.5 x 2.5    pastel sold

'Winter VIII'    3.5 x 2.5      pastel   sold

'Winter IX'     3.5 x 2.5   pastel sold

'Winter X'      3.5 x 2.5   pastel  sold
Thank you for looking!  I love challenging myself with these 2.5 x 3.5 minis.  So what is the trick for making 30 pastels work in a painting?


  • Don't worry about the color of the pastel. Choose the pastel you will use by VALUE not color. That means that you don't have to focus solely on Local Color.  In other words tree trunks don't have to be brown, foliage isn't always green and snow doesn't have to be white.
  • Look instead at how light or dark the thing is. Ask yourself is this clump of bushes light, medium of dark?  Then choose pastels that are the correct value. So a dark clump of bushes could be dark purple or dark blue or red. A light cloud could be pale purple, blue or yellow. Imagine the possibilities when you free yourself of the idea of staying absolutely true to local color!
If you get the Value right the object will read correctly!

  • This tip works only if you have a selection of light, middle value and dark pastels. You don't many of each but you do need to have a range of values.  Many of the general pastel sets tend to be heavy on the middle values so you may have to supplement with a few pastels from open stock. OR you can lighten and darken a color with white or black but this isn't as satisfying or successful as having a good range of values.
These 10 mini original pastels are my first release of monthly minis. They are available for purchase in my Etsy shop for $15 each.  Each month I will be releasing a new series relating to the month. They would make a great collection!

7 comments:

Trisha Lyons Ansert said...

They are so cute...I love these!

Karen said...

Thanks Trisha. They are so much fun to do!

M. J. Joachim said...

That's a magical trick indeed. We don't always see things in true or local colors. Your idea of changing them up is really cool!

Peggy said...

What beautiful little paintings you've created Karen!
I guess I need to get more pastels since I have the Rembrandt 15 half stick set and then about 30 PITT pastel pencils.
How do I tell what value. I know it has something to do with the .# (the number after the decimal) but I can't remember if the higher the number the more intense (ie: lighter) or what? Sorry for the noob questions LOL.

Cate K said...

I'm curious regarding the type of paper you are using for your ACEOs and recommendations for framing or matting.

Catherine said...

the minis are just lovely karen. my faves are #4, 8 and 10. :) Catherine p.s. arm STILL broken!

Karen said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! I am getting caught up today so I apologize if I havent answered your questions. Peggy...I will answer your question in detail in a future post. It isn't a quick answer since manufacturers number their pastels so differently but I do have a trick for you!