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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

My Must Have Tool for Harmonious Color

8x 10               pastel                  ©Karen Margulis            sold

Color.  The very thing that draws us to the pastel medium is the thing that can get us into trouble. If you get too many colors going on in a painting it can lead to Color Chaos.  It's so easy to do.  All of the wonderful colors are right there in our boxes. It is just too convenient to pick up color after color with wild abandon. Before you know it you end up with a painting full of unrelated colors.

There is a solution. It takes a little bit of planning and discipline but the resulting color harmony is worth it! 

1.  Have a plan for your color and do some small color thumbnail studies.

2. Work with a limited palette and choose the pastels you will use before you start painting.

For the past 10 years I have gotten into the habit of pre-selecting the colors I will use for a painting and arranging them by value on a butcher tray.  This helps me keep a limited palette and not be distracted by the overwhelming number of pastel in my studio box.

Sometimes I would also do a small color study but like doing value thumbnails I wasn't consistent with them.  But I realize that when I do the value and color studies the resulting paintings tend to be more successful.  It will now be a part of my painting process. I will consider them as a dress rehearsal for the actual painting....the warm up!

Using a limited palette

The problem is what do we use to put these preselected pastels in so they don't roll away and stay accessible? You could use a box lid which works great or maybe some paper towel on your work surface but I have a better solution.........I use butcher tray palettes. I get mine at They are sold in the palette section and are used by artists to mix paints. They are made of enamled porcelain. Why are they great for pastels?
  • They are sturdy and will last forever unlike a cardboard box lid.
  • They are easy to clean! I keep a washcloth in my tray to cushion the pastels but the tray does get dusty after awhile. It is simple to wash it out!
  • The sides of the tray keep the pastels safe from rolling off the table.
  • Keeping the pastels contained in the tray allows easy access. 
  • It conveniently hooks under the adjustment knobs of my Black H Frame easel. 


Mjpete27 said...

I have also been using a box top! I have 2 of these butcher trays, Now I will use one for pastels after I clean it out, Thanks Karen Wonderful Idea!

Unknown said...

I have just started painting with pastels (6 months ago) after finding your vids on youtube I find you so inspiring,I love your work and the way you make it look so simple.I have learnt such a lot from you and hope you continue posting your vids on YouTube. I live in England where pastel painting does not seem so popular as it is in America. I will end by saying a big thank you for getting me inspired again Kind regards. Stuart.