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Saturday, February 02, 2013

What to do With a New Box of Pastels

'On a Winter's Day'           8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis  $145 Etsy shop
painted with the Richard McKinley Great American pastel set
Imagine just got a brand new box of pastels. They are gorgeous. The colors are amazing and they sit in pristine condition all nestled in foam in a pretty box. You drool. You show them off to your pastel friends. They drool.  Now what do you do?

My set of Richard McKinley Great American pastels
You DON'T do what I did with this beautiful set of Great American pastels.  I have kept them pristine and unused in their box for three years!  I would take them out to show students what they looked like. I highly recommend this set by the way.  The palette Richard McKinley has put together is wonderful.
This actually is my second set and I was still using the first which is why I didn't use them.

But the time came yesterday to get these pastels out of the original box and get them ready to paint with rather than stare at!  We all face this issue. We get a new box of pastels and we aren't' sure of the best way to store them.  Here are a few of my tips:

  • The absolute best way to paint is to have all of your colors in one box such as a Heilman or Dakota box, organized by color and value. See my post here on organizing your box.  Even if you make a box it is much better to have them all in the same box rather than having to cart around several boxes and hunt and peck for the right pastel color/value. So no matter how pretty they look in their box...take them out and introduce them to your other pastels!
  • Next you have to do some pastel surgery. You need to break them into smaller pieces without the wrapper. Some pastels come in small enough manageable shapes. For example I don't break Terry Ludwig or Diane Townsend pastels. I like to have smaller pieces because I like to make larger swaths of color. 
  • Take the wrappers off or break off a piece. With the wrappers on and full size, I tend to want to draw with them rather than paint.  For these Great Americans, I was able to snap off about 1/3 and pull it from the wrapper. The wrapper and the rest of the pastel stays in the original box and the piece goes into my working box.

After preparing the pastels to use (and not to just drool over)

  • Next take your unwrapped piece of pastel and put it into your working box. (organized by color and value is best)  I usually put all new pastels into my big box. Occasionally I will get a special set such as this McKinley set that I want to keep separate.  I like to challenge myself and use a particular palette for a painting.  I keep some cigar boxes on hand that I line with foam for these separate sets. I have a Stan Sperlak set, Terry Ludwig Arid landscape, Jimmy Wright Great American set that I like to keep separate.
  • Do you mix hard and soft pastels together?  Yes and no.  I like to keep my Nupastels in a separate box all mixed together since I really only use them for underpaintings. I keep Giraults separate since the are so small. Other than that I mix them all together. If you are brand new and don;t have a big selection I would but them all together until you build up your collection. Than you can put the very hard sticks in a separate box.
Today's painting was done using only my newly prepared Richard McKinley set. I just love these pastels!


Donna T said...

I've been eyeing that set for years, Karen! I have another set of GA's but am down to small nubs. Thanks for the review!

Sarah Bachhuber Peroutka said...

What are your views on making color charts with different manufacturers' pastel sets so, if you like a color a lot, you can look up its name and number and reorder?

Karen said...

Sarah, great question. I used to make a color chart for every color or set I bought but I found I NEVER referred back to a chart to reorder a color. What I tend to do instead is to find a color that is similar in color and value to my used up favorite. I find this way my color palette won;t always be the exact same. It is a good way to keep from having all my paintings look the exact same. So now I never bother with making charts, When I run low on a color I just try to match it as best I can and don't fret if it isn't the exact color.

Karen said...

Your welcome Donna! You can't go wrong with the set!!

Vanessa said...

Hi Karen, I noted that you keep your nupastels in a different box. What do you use the hard pastels for? I began with them but once I became comfortable wit the soft pastels I never went back to them. Do you use them for underpaintings?

Karen said...

Vanessa, I do use the Nupastels for underpaintings especially if I plan to use alcohol to set it. I also sometimes use them for fine detail such as grasses. so I do keep them handy. Oh and I also use them to sketch in my initial drawing.