Pastel Painting Landscapes — Tips for Success
When I’m hiking or walking in the woods, my attention span is really short. I flit from activity to activity, sight to sight, just trying to take it all in. That’s why pastel painting is a perfect fit for me when I want to create art outdoors. I can work quickly and see results equally fast, creating pastel painting landscapes in a series of sketches in a short span of time. And I’m by no means an expert in pastel drawing, but it is great for painting on the go, and I have a few tips for getting the most out of the medium and the experience if you decide to sketch outside with them too.
Pastel painting is sort of a hybrid, blending methods of drawing and painting. One of the drawing aspects of pastels that I have really glommed on to is using all the available surface edges of the stick, just as if it was charcoal. I start with the broad side, covering the expanse of my surface with broad shapes and adding definition with the sharp edge or blunt tip of the pastel.
When pastel painting landscapes, I want to give myself options when I’m in the midst of working. Techniques, like dusting, are best done with my drawing surface in a horizontal position, so before I plant myself down to work I try to think ahead about how I’ll manage that if I decide I want to do it. Though sometimes dusting is an effort in futility on a breezy day out by the water!
The most important of all the pastel painting lessons I’ve learned or, let’s face it, stumbled upon after much trial and error, is to use a testing strip. What I do to keep values true on any work is to start with a larger piece of paper than I intend to use and mark off an area on one edge to test my pastels before I use them. This is crucial because you don’t use a palette with pastels, so the testing strip is the only place you can play around before putting color and marks down right on your final surface. The rule with the testing strip is to put colors side by side—if there is a distinct edge, you’ve got colors of different value, so try again. It’s a rule of thumb I’ve found has helped me a lot. Later on, I just cut the testing strip away.
Really thinking on it, I realize that I enjoy pastel painting landscapes so much because they combine vivid color and drawing—two of my favorite things when I am feeling the creative urge while in the great outdoors. Pastels will always be what I reach for first, and that’s why I’ve tried so hard to work on my compositional skills and pastel techniques of late. Renowned pastelist Aaron Schuerr’s DVDs — Pastel Painting Master Class: Composition for Landscapes and Pastel Painting Master Class: Color for Landscapes — have really helped me on that road. He reveals so many of his approaches to working with color and form, and breaks down the steps of creating a pastel painting in an understandable, unique way. I’ve learned so much from his instruction that I hope to take a workshop with the artist himself someday. I hope it is the same for you! Enjoy!