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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tips for Painting Large Pastels

'Surrounded'                18x24                   pastel                  ©Karen Margulis
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 It's fun to be the teacher. I get to ask my students to do things they might not otherwise do. I remember that one of my  college professors did this. The class was children's literature. He assigned us a project that involved interviewing our family and writing a family history. He admitted it had nothing to do with the course but he knew we would value the results. I cherish the interviews I did with my grandparents and I cherish my book! I am grateful to that professor.

So I hoped my class wouldn't be too mad at me for assigning a day to paint large! I was also hopeful that they would value this exercise! I was excited to see everyone come to class with their 18x24 paper attached to big pieces of foamcore. This was going to be fun!

2.5 x 3.5  quick color study
I have a very talented group of artists and I had faith in them. I knew that they would do well with a larger scale painting. Some had never painted larger than 8x10. I was right. Midway through the class the paintings were taking shape and looking great.  And within an hour and a half, most were just about finished. The paintings were awesome and I think I have some big painting converts!  Here are some of the tips we discussed:


  • Planning is the key! Don’t begin painting without a plan: concept and black & white thumbnail, then color choices.
  • Choose your palette in advance. 
  • Do a small color study to test your palette
  • Start with an underpainting to get a head start and use less pastel. I like Mount Vision pastels for large painting block-in.
  • START BIG: paint the big shapes first. Keep things big and simple for as long as possible.
  • Save the details (decoration) for the end
  • MOVE! Allow your arm and whole body to get into the painting. Think Big bold strokes.

Permission to stop after about 20 minutes

Evaluating the painting and writing down the changes to make

I have not addressed the mechanics of painting large pastel paintings.....what kind of support? To mount or not to mount? How to frame?  I am compiling information for a future post so I'd love to hear from you large scale pastelists! Please share your tips if you'd like!

A hard working and talented group of artists!


Maggie said...

Hi Karen,
Do you mean that you use Mount Visions for the underpainting? With alcohol? I love Mount Visions but use Nupastels or Rembrandts for the underpainting.
Maggie Smith

robertsloan2art said...

I wish I could paint large like that again. I remember in the early 90s doing a series of big cats on full sheet pieces of velour board, and other large pastels on full sheets of Canson Mi-Tientes. I loved working that large. No longer possible for space and health considerations, I might do that again someday depending on situation and weather.

The family history exercise sounds like it was a hit. Though you were lucky if none of your students were estranged from their families. Sometimes, especially for GBLT students, that kind of assignment is impossible.