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Monday, August 17, 2015

A Tour of my Pastel Palette

'Amber Waves'              7x11              pastel            ©Karen Margulis
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I like to keep things simple. My pastels may look messy and unorganized but I do have a system. Yesterday I did a quick demo on Periscope. (thanks to the great response! I'll try to do a new scope everyday so follow me @karenmargulis)  I got a great question from a reader that has prompted today's post. She asked for a tour of my palette....my favorite pastels, why I chose what I chose, etc. Thanks Charlotte for the question!

To answer the question I used the same palette from yesterday's painting on today's painting. This is always a good exercise to see how well a palette works. I like this palette. How did I choose the pastels for these paintings?

It begins with my big box. This is my studio box. It used to be organized by color and value. It never looked as good as Richard McKinley's box but it was neater than it is now! It really doesn't matter though because the pastels in this box are in a holding pen. I choose new and limited palette from this box for every painting. I never work out of this box directly.

My big box of pastels
The big box is a mix of all brands. I do keep my harder pastels such as Nupastels in their own box. I also keep a few special sets such as my Terry Ludwig greens in their original box. Otherwise the wrappers come off and in they go!

My palette after the painting is finished...not so organized!

When I first choose the palette for a new painting I arrange them neatly in a butcher tray. I choose them by value and color NOT by brand. If the color and value are correct I don't really have a preference to the brand. Keep in mind I only use my favorite brands...Terry Ludwig, Unison, great American, Girault, Diane Townsend, Sennelier, Mount Vision. 

I arrange the pastels in the try by section. Each element of the painting has it's own section....sky colors, cloud colors, grass colors, dirt colors etc.  As I use them in the painting I don't keep them organized. I tend to get in the zone and organization goes out the window! I often will make myself use the same palette for another painting. I keep them messy as a challenge!

Below I took the pastels I used and organized them by brand so you can get a better idea of what I used. Here are a few general observations:

  •  Terry Ludwig pastels make up the majority. They are my favorite and I could paint only with them if I had to. They start out square but take on new shapes as they are worn down.
  • I tend to use Diane Townsend soft form pastels for the lights...I love them for clouds.
  • I don't have many Unison pastels but I do enjoy them. I like the hard edge I can get with the rounded top edge. I used them for grasses.
  • I like the creaminess of Great American pastels. I chose these for the color and value though and not the feel.
  • A couple of Giraults made it into this palette. I usually have these in my plein air box.
  • I used a few NuPastels in this painting. I did the initial drawing with the blue pastel and used the others for the linear grass marks.
  • Mystery pastels....sometimes they get so worn down that I can no longer be sure of the brand. I don't stress though. If it is a well loved color/value I do my best to find something close. I don't worry about color numbers or even brands.

 So that is a quick tour of the palette I used for two paintings. I will now put these pastels back into the big box and start fresh for the next painting.


robertsloan2art said...

Wow! Thank you for a glimpse into your methods of choosing colors and a view of your working pastels. That blows me away.

LOL "never as perfect as Richard McKinley's but more organized." Yeah, his are so beautiful. Yours still have some general organization though. Small bits wind up toward the top and larger pieces in the middle and bottom.

What I see in that is how well used all of them are. There's a churn between new pieces that you can still see what they are and worn down mystery shapes, always by color. I see the results of your prolific daily painting! I also remember how you'll pack up the smaller bits in small boxes for your plein air kits, getting a larger palette into a smaller box.

Mine looks as organized as Richard McKinley's except when they get so dusty it's hard to tell what color they are. When I clean them I reorganize them. So even if they got mixed up they tend to return to that order. Now I'm embarrassed about how organized mine are.

I rotate which sets I use, stack the set boxes by texture and keep half of them in their slotted foam set boxes. My wonderful Unisons 120 half sticks is the most organized box because of how it was laid out in the first place with lights at the edges and darks down the middle. It's also got the most distinct values of anything but the Dakota Traveller assortment - which is much smaller than your big holding pen.

It's interesting that you combine so many textures and focus more on color. I guess with enough practice even a mystery stick gets familiar in your hand and you adjust how much pressure to get the mark to each stick. Might not even be conscious. I still get frustrated with Senneliers in my mixed collection because I can't tell them separately and sometimes use them too early by their being the right color.

I can also see why you don't clean off the holding pen pieces that often, it's a lot of sticks and they'll just get a bit dusty again fast. It looks well loved and well used. I can see evolving to the point that I have a lot of random bits that when shaken in corn meal make sense by color and value, but are harder to identify once worn.

C. Woodard said...

Once again thank you for your generosity of sharing your knowledge and experience. So valuable for novice pastel artists. The selection of pastels and paper can be overwhelming for the beginner. Your blog encourages a just "do it" approach. The demos are vital for those living in areas where pastel instruction is non-existent. Look forward to future "scopes".

Rose said...

Thank you Karen. Little by little I'm getting my toes wet to see if this is a medium I wish to work in. I'm not crazy about getting my hands dirty every time I paint and I worry about breathing the dust in (I don't have a studio), but the effects you are able to get in pastel far outweighs all the negatives. I am currently working in oil pastel, but there is no way I can get the luminance and depth you are able to achieve in soft pastels. Love how you show every step, it's very inspiring and like C. Woodward said, you give such great information to those (like me) who don't have teachers locally! God bless!