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

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Choosing the Right Pastels 101

'North Garden in the Winter'          8x10           pastel       ©Karen Margulis
contact me for availability

 Fear not the Lights.   I am talking about light value pastels. Stan Sperlak tell us not to be afraid of the darks and that is good advice. I want to add my vote for the Lights.  I often help students evaluate their pastel collection to see what is needed.  There is usually a need for more darks but just as often there is a need for better (or more) light value pastels.

This is because many of the starter pastel sets are heavy in the middle value range. They may have a few dark colors and a few light colors and always a black and a white. When it comes time to add to the collection, students will add darks but the lights are often overlooked.

 I need my lights!  You can't paint clouds or Queen Annes Lace or Snow without very light value pastels. And white is not an option for me. I rarely use a pure white pastel in my paintings. So what should you look for in a light pastel?

The selection of Light Value Pastels used in this painting (this isn't my whole light collection)
My collection includes a very light value (almost white but not quite) of red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple. These sticks will look white until you make a mark or hold it up to a pure white stick....that's how light I want.  I call them my 'Super Lights'. I also like to have one of each of these colors in a step darker as well.

The subtle touch of color in these lights makes a huge difference in a painting. Pure white is a cool light and sometimes a bit of warmth is need in light areas of a painting.  I will occasionally use a bit of pure white but always in conjunction with a more colorful light.

detail showing the variety of lights
Sometimes we are afraid to use very light value pastels. Maybe it will be chalky or pasty looking?  So we don't go quite light enough. A colorful light used in the right spot can make the painting. 

 If you have trouble choosing light enough lights when painting try this tip:
Pick up a pure white pastel and hold it over your pastels as you look through them looking for the correct light. Use this white to compare how light your choices are. You can also squint as you look at your pastels and the Super Lights should jump right out at you. 

My favorite Light value pastels are both Terry Ludwigs and Diane Townsend Soft form pastels. I usually just order them open stock. I don't have any particular number, I just look online and order what I think might work.

About today's painting:  This painting is done on a home made surface which is Gator foam with a pumice surface tinted red-purple. This is the texture you see.  If you want to paint snow and haven't given my Winter demo a try, check it out in my Etsy shop, link on the right.


robertsloan2art said...

THank you! I've got some lights in my full collection but in some brands I just don't have very many. IT's especially hard to get a full spectrum of lights in hard pastels and I like hard pastels for their texture, especially for sketching.

But some brands that have great super lights include Art Spectrum. They have a couple of six packs of just the super lights and they also have other light value collections in the six packs sets. I always found those very convenient if there's a gap in the middle texture range, you can get just what you need - lights, darks, blues, whatever's missing.

Some brands I'd have to choose by open stock and that's a bit tricky doing it online. Easier in brick and mortar stores I think, where I could wave a pure white stick over the ones I'm interested in to judge value. But Terry Ludwig, Unison and many brands have got "lights" sets that are convenient.

I love talking about materials, it's a personal quirk that comes with the pastel addiction. There's a reason why some folks wind up with thousands of them and it's the way the same hue handles different in all these different brands. Some find their best texture and perfect personal palette though. I think it's sort of each your own. I know I go through the rotation and use different pastels all the time, none of them are really wasted.

Anonymous said...

Karen, thanks that you take time to share your insights with us via this blog. I'm glad I've stumbled upon it.

I've started doing (soft) pastel paintings only a year or so ago, switching from 10 years of experience with watercolors.

Tried ordering pastels online, but most often I'll get something completely different from the hue I've been promised. And lights usually are mids... Therefore I have almost every hue available in my local stores, brand usually happens to be Mungyo.

Sometimes if I don't have the lights I want, I just mix white into whatever I have. Not the smartest idea, I believe.