Thursday, September 04, 2014

A Foolproof Way to Make Changes to a Pastel without Making Mud


'Sunrise Through the Pines'        10x14           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
painting available on Etsy $150
It is the quickest way to make mud. Making changes and corrections to a pastel painting has to be done with care. Sure it is easiest enough to go over an offending area or brush out and repaint. But the more we go back and add and change and add some more the more we risk destroying the freshness of our colors and marks. We can end up filling the tooth of the paper or mixing too many colors together. The results can be frustrating.

The problem occurs because we often try new solutions on top of existing passages of our painting. We are just testing.....but all this testing adds up to too much pastel.

What if we THINK we want to make a change but we aren't sure how it will look? We don't want to overwork and make mud either.  I have a solution! Make a test paper!

 I came up with this idea when I was asked if I would add more of the golden color grass in my Sunrise painting.  I usually don't mind making changes or honoring special requests if the painting is a commission but in this case I wasn't sure if the lighter grasses would make sense in the painting. I was afraid it would spoil the mysterious feeling of the sunrise peeking through the trees.

But what if I wasn't sure and wanted to see for myself without touching the painting? A test strip is the answer. Watch how it works below:



  • You need to have a scrap piece of paper that is the same type and color as your painting. Cut the trial paper to fit over the area you want to change.

close up view of the test paper placed over the section I might change

  •  Now make your changes on the test paper. Try to match the colors you want to keep as I did on the bottom edge. I then added more of the golden grasses all around the trees.


  •  Now you can look at the painting and see the changes in the context of the whole scene. The changes are easy to see and judge how they effect the whole scene. I decide that my initial thought about the lighter grasses was correct. They are too light and bright for this shadowed section of the scene. It looks incongruous.


  • I remove the test paper to reveal the original painting. If I had tested the light grasses on top of this dark foreground....then decided it didn't work and try to change it back I would surely have made mud and ruined the freshness of my marks!
painting notes: this painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes paper with my usual variety of Terry Ludwig pastels.

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