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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Three Easy Steps to Choosing Pastels for Plein Air

'Along the Rio Grande'              5x7              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
Make it Work. That is my motto when it comes to downsizing my pastels for plein air. It's Tim Gunn's catchphrase for his fashion designers but it applies nicely to painting.  Once I realized I didn't need every pastel in my box for a plein air trip it literally lifted a huge load off my shoulders. I can take just enough pastels to fit in whatever travel box I am using. If I don't have the "right" pastel I will just have to make it work!

I do have a method I follow when packing for a plein air trip. It helps ensure that I have a good selection of pastels. It's as easy as 1-2-3. Follow along as I pack for my next great adventure...a painting trip next week with artist friends in Phoenix AZ.

making a list and checking it twice...step 2
Step 1:  Choose your Box.  I have a backpack size Heilman box which I love. I only bring it to longer workshops and classes. Usually when  I travel with pastels I prefer a smaller set up. My favorite box is Stan Sperlak's Gogh Box (see my review here)  This is a small box that holds everything you need to paint and mounts on a tripod.  There is room for a small box of pastels, paper, backing board.  For this trip I am bringing my Great American Plein Air half stick set. The box is very sturdy and fits in the Gogh Box perfectly.

 I usually cram my pastels into a cardboard box but I tripped over my tripod with  Gogh Box while it was closed and the box along with the cardboard box of pastels crashed to the floor shattering the box of pastels. I am going to test out this Great American box on this trip.

I rigged the Gogh Box to hold a small box of extras plus a working palette tray
'Come to the Desert'            5x7             pastel     $45 

STEP 2:  Choose Your Pastels. The formula is to have a dark, middle and light value of each color. You don't need a full stick of each. Smaller pieces are fine. I won't paint larger than 8x10 so small pieces of pastels will work.  I make a chart as I go through my pastels and mark off when I find the right color and value. I make sure I have a nice rich dark...My Terry Ludwig eggplant and a beautiful light value cloud pastel. I also consider the painting location and gear my color choices to the subjects I will paint.  This step takes time!

STEP 3: Test out Your Selections. Once I have my choices in the box I find a reference for the location I will visit and try a sample painting. I pulled a few of my Arizona and New Mexico photos to try out my color choices. The more quick studies you can do the more you will be able to tweak your choices. So far I am happy with my choices. I did the two paintings in this post with my selection. I will try a few more and then.....if I don't have it I will remind myself to Make it Work!

More plein air and packing tips coming this week!  Top painting is on Pastelmat paper and the bottom painting is on Uart that I toned warm gray.


joanne willoughby said...

Thanks! I was just thinking about setting up a plein air selection, and figured I would need a light, medium and ark of each color, and the Gogh box sounds fab. I already have a 5x7 guerilla oil paint box so now to pare down my pastels for travel.

Sandi Graham said...

Just bought a small Sienna Pochade box with pastel insert.i have set it up on a nice sturdy tripod..since I am new at this I am wondering how to stop the swivel of the tripod so it stays more stable .
I can wait to try but still feel it's wobbly ...any tips.
Tripod has an easy release.
I'm a blogger too.


Gorgeous! I love following you even though I am an oil painter living very close to the Rio Grande.

Karen said...

Thanks Joanne! It's a great little box!

Sandi, mine does that sometimes too. Other than tightening it as hard as you can I am not sure. If anyone has any tips or thought please comment!!!