2018 Workshop Schedule. New workshops added! click here for details.
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction

Monday, February 25, 2013

Why I Threw Away My Pastel Color Charts

'Beauty by the Sea'           18x24         pastel      ©Karen Margulis
Keeping track of all of those pastel colors is a challenge. In the past, when I would get a new pastel set,  I would painstakingly make a color chart of each pastel in the box.  I would write down the color number and make a color swatch and file the chart away.

I was also told I should take the wrappers off but I was a bit reluctant. What if I ran out of the color and I didn't know what it was called? 

 Only after my making my careful charts would I tentatively take off the wrappers. Even then if I could break the pastel in half I would save the piece with the wrapper.  A backup of my chart!

You know what happened?  I NEVER consulted a chart to replace a color. Oh sure, in the beginning I had a few favorite colors. I used them all of the time and I panicked when they got down to tiny nubs.  I  remember having a favorite dusty mauve pastel. I used it in EVERY painting. It got so small that I didn't even remember what brand it was.  Right around the same time I attended a workshop and got some advice that changed the way I looked at replacing pastel colors. NO MORE CHARTS!

'South Carolina Dreaming'       8x10       pastel
All blue skies don't have to be the same!
click here to purchase on Etsy $75

Evidently all of my paintings looked the same....after all I was using all of my favorite colors in each one. The instructor advised me to be careful of this tendency.  It is good to have a style but not so good if every painting had the exact same colors. That is boring!  I learned to experiment with other colors and to explore changing my color palettes from time to time.

A collection of Blue pastels. These are all warm blues of a similar value. The blues at the top are a bit cooler but not by much in real life.  I could easily substitute one for another in a painting and it would work. 

No longer do I worry about running out of a favorite color. Instead I try to find a similar replacement color.  This allows me to make slight changes to my palette and keep my work fresh. Here is what I do:

  • When low on a color I look to replace it with something of a similar value and temperature. I don't worry about brands but I do try to find a pastel of a similar softness.  Example: I am low on my favorite blue for skies. Instead of stressing about what the number or brand of the color, I ask myself if is warm or cool, how dark it is and how soft it is.....then I shop for something to fit those criteria.
Throwing out the charts and not making them for new pastel sets had been very Liberating! I don't worry about what color number that little nub is.  I am free to explore new colors and brands which makes painting more fun!


Paula Campbell said...

Great advice, Karen! I needed to hear this right about now. :)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful! And great advice!

barbara leonardi said...

Hi Karen, I NEVER use any of my Terry Ludwig neutral grays!! I am a midtone girl and never really need to gray down. if anything I need to step up my palette a bit. Any ideas for me with these neutrals that everyone talks about and uses! thanks. If and when you have time would you take a look at my website and let me know what you think about my work. Thank you. barbara.sharemyartwork.com.
Barbara Leonardi

Karen said...

Thanks Paula! I'm glad it was timely for you!

Karen said...

Thank you Audrey! I appreciate you visiting my blog and for your comment!

Karen said...

Barbara, thanks for visiting my blog. I had a quick look at your website and your work is lovely. You may not use the TL neutral grays but you do have effective use of neutral colors. Personally I find the TL grays a little gray looking for my taste if that makes sense! I have them but don't use them much either. I enjoyed looking at your work and will try to get back and spend more time!

Suzanne said...

Very timely advice! I was just arriving at the same conclusion. Rather than make a color swatch chart for the most recently arrived set, I was about to use my existing sheets as fire starter.

Another way to keep the palette fresh is to make yourself put all the pastel sticks away in their proper value slots before starting a new painting. It is very tempting to keep an open palette of general purpose greens and browns handy (I have a cornmeal lined tub of each at hand most of the time), but then there is no experimentation...At the end of the current painting, I am going to put them all away and start fresh.

Anonymous said...

This is good information to know.

Kelleewynne said...

I am so glad I found your blog. Your advice has been invaluable and your artwork is beautiful. And this is yet another great tip. (Even though I know I have a few favorites that I use down to the nub and must replace!)

Vanessa said...

Oh this is such great info and I second every word of it! I finally took the papers off of my pastels, took them out of the boxes they came in and put them in my new pastel box sorted by hue. It makes painting SO SO much easier. Because I can see the hues and values better.

I think for many pastel artist the thought of breaking pastel sticks and raping off the paper is a bit much at first especially considering how much we pay for them, but it truly helps to get "down and dirty" lol

Paula B. said...

I buy my replacement pastels online. How can I tell the tone and temperature of a color online?

Karen said...

Hi Paula,
It is difficult to know the exact tone and temp from online photos so I usually just take my chances! It's not a perfect system but if I get a color that I really love and need I record the name and number for future reference.