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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How the Right Pastel Box Can Make You a Better Painter

'The Road to Her Farm' 8x10 pastel ©Karen Margulis sold

Once you start collecting pastels it is time to decide how to store them all. It's a very important decision and the choice you make can have a big impact on your paintings. When I was starting out with pastels I tried every pastel box available. Many systems are great for storage but don't really help make painting easier. I spent a lot of effort and money until I settled on my current system. It has made all the difference in the world to my growth with pastels. It is my mission to help those new to pastels or those without an organized system to see the importance of the right pastel box.

My Current Pastel Boxes .. homemade studio box,Heilman Box, small homemade cigar box

I have found that many artists new to pastels keep their pastels in the original manufacturer's boxes. They paint right from these boxes. There are two challenges with this system.
  • The first is that it is inevitable that you will add to your pastel collection and soon you will be carting around a pile of cardboard boxes that really don't protect your precious cargo very well.
  • The second and critical problem is that you can't paint efficiently when you have to hunt and peck through several unorganized boxes of miscellaneous pastels. The KEY to painting well is to be organized with your supplies and having your pastels arranged so you can easily find the value and color you need. The BEST thing you can do to improve your work (next to painting more often) is to organize all of your pastels by VALUE and COLOR. Maggie Price has written an excellent article on why you should organize pastels by value and color as well as how to do it. When I finally got a box that would allow me to organize pastels by value and color I saw an immediate improvement in my work and painting was just more fun and less exhausting. Believe me, the right box may be costly but it is well worth it!
So what is the right pastel box? Everyone will have a system that works best for them but here is the system that I have found to work for me. I need a box that is sturdy. protects my pastels and that allows me to separate pastels by value. See the photos above for my boxes. I have a wooden studio box made by my Dad that has six padded sections. I have my pastels arranged by color in each section and they go from dark to light. Some artists choose to have each section be a value with colors going from warm to cool. (See Maggie Price's article) This box is not portable so it stays in the studio. I have a Heilman Box for travel and classes. I have the backpack size. This is the gold standard in pastel boxes and is priced accordingly. I love my Heilman Box! The smaller box is a cigar box that I have lined with foam. I make up these boxes for travel. This is my Southwest Plein air box. I can still arrange my pastels by value and color even in this cigar box so it is a great option if you are on a tight budget....and much better than using the cardboard manufacturer's boxes. There is anther option to consider if you want something similar to the Heilman. Many of my students have purchased the new Dakota Traveler boxes by Dakota pastels. (see below) In my opinion the Heilman Box is still the best but this new box is a good less expensive option.

A student box Large Dakota Traveler. Student still has plenty of room to grow into this box

A student box...small Dakota Traveler box filled with Mt Vision and Great American pastels

I want to add that I am an avid collector of pastels so I have many more that don't fit into my boxes. I usually break new ones in half, add it to my box and store the other half. I do also like to keep certain sets such as my Terry Ludwig Arid Landscape set separate. But the majority of my pastels are incorporated into my working studio box.
If you don't arrange your pastels by value and color I encourage you to find a system that allows you to do so. I promise you will not regret it!


Dorothy said...

Hi Karen,

I just wanted to let you know that I look forward to your posts every day and especially enjoy all the helpful hints and tips you have been sharing lately. Your work is beautiful! I love the peaceful world you portray in your paintings. Thank you!

Karen said...

Hi Dorothy,
I appreciate you visiting my blog! I am so glad to hear you are enjoying the painting tips and my work! I truly appreciate your visits! Thank you!

Casey Klahn said...

Well blogged, Karen. Your studio box is well organized, IMHO.

Really love this pastel painting!

Karen said...

Thank you Casey. Much appreciated!

Barbara Smeaton Studio said...

Just ran across your blog on Blog Catalog and have really been enjoying your writing and most especially your beautiful paintings. Thank you for writing about the pastel boxes, I was thinking of organizing my collection by color and value too.

robertsloan2art said...

Wonderful entry! I bought a small Dakota Traveller box and have just about filled it completely. It survived my flight and trip to San Francisco great and keeps most of my pastels in one easy to grab place.

All four of the little rubber feet came off it though, so I might get a Heilman box next time. Just save up for it. I've reached a point where I do need a bigger box.

My only quibble with this is that I like to keep certain types grouped by hardness, so I might never trim down to everything going into one Heilman. When I get more Roche' pastels those may get their own separate case so that I know it when I reach for them. They're so expensive I'd rather not find out I used up an $18 stick and put half of it into my sketchbook because I liked the color. At least not till I can afford unlimited replacement Roche' pastels anyway!

Those that have special effects could be organized in the same way in separate boxes though. I have my 72 Unisons in their original Signature box because I love that clear lid for a studio tray my cat can't get into. If I take out half of each stick, I could add 72 more Unisons in 12 more hues by value to turn it into a 144 color range still that well organized and secure. It's tempting, adding turquoise, oranges, cool and warm violets to the range would be great.

This would also put the other halves of all my Unisons into my main box when I want to use them with others in my full range.

Vanessa said...

Thanks for sharing this Karen! I'm one of those people attempting to paint from the original pastel cardboard boxes and indeed it is rather difficult.

How to you prevent dust building up in your boxes and your pastels from rubbing against each other and becoming muddy?

Karen said...

Thank you Robert for sharing your knowledge! I always enjoy reading what you have to say. You always add so much! I appreciate it .

Karen said...

Thanks Vanessa! I don't have a problem with the pastels rubbing. The foam does a good job of holding them tightly in place. There is always some dust build up after awhile and I do take the pastels out once in awhile for a cleaning but this is minor compared to how much easier it is to paint with them in one box!

Mark Landes said...

Very well done site
great paintings and
lotsa good tips
even for those who don't use pastels

Linda Livingston said...

Thanks Karen, It's always nice to come to your page and find what I'm looking for. I am on the Heilman site trying to decide which box to get. Appreciate your insight :)

Scarlett Redbud said...

That kind of easel is that?

Unknown said...

Thanks, Karen!!! Always enjoy your posts. How do you know which pastels to bring with you? I have a wide variety of pastels and I'm really feeling a bit overwhelmed about how much and what to bring.

Unknown said...

After much researching and deciding what my needs were for my pastels, I purchased the Heilman Double pastel box which is the smallest and is great to travel and I also bought the Dakota small traveler when I would like more storage. I have a drawer system in my studio where I keep my pastels, arranged as you've suggested. It not only makes sense but looks beautiful! Thanks so much for the suggestions!

Kathy Fitzgerald said...

How do you clean your pastels?

Karen said...

I use cornmeal. Check out my YouTube channel. I did a video on cleaning pastels.