The Freedom of Pastel Painting
I am not a finicky person, so getting my hands dirty to get a job done is totally fine with me. But with painting, I can get so uptight and hesitant that the physical joy of it all goes right out the window. I’m trying to be better about what I’m calling my straitjacket tendency, and one way I’m doing so is by exploring pastel painting a lot more.
Pastel is an incredibly freeing medium. It almost begs you to loosen up and make flowing gestural marks or rub it around with your fingers. In fact, the pastel painting lessons that I’ve learned always emphasize the artist’s hand as the most important tool we have and can lead to so much visual versatility:
1- Work with the tip of your pastel crayon when putting in highlights or when you want sharp detailed lines.
2- Use the side of your crayon when you want broad passages of color that almost look like actual brushstrokes.
3- Blending with your fingertip is like magic. Two hatches of color come together in a soft puff of color. It looks like a cloud formation to me–that’s how highly blended the end result is.
4- Draw lines over passages of blending to create depth and texture.
5- Scumble color over color if you want more texture and visual variance on your surface than you would if you layered them and blended them.
These incredibly physical actions are an aspect of pastel drawing that make me feel comfortable and more fully engaged with my surface and, therefore, my artwork as a whole.
I also appreciate that there are traditional and nontraditional ways of using pastel. Since building up layers isn’t always the easiest thing to do with the medium, you can vary strokes, colors, and ways of blending. You can tone your entire paper and then pull out the light with an eraser or careful blending, or you can use colored paper to instantly create values in a work.
I’ve realized in the last few years that art-making is definitely a journey and not a destination, but the one thing that makes the road easier–or at least allows me to not trip in the same rut time after time–is trustworthy instruction. In pastel painting, the instruction I want is directly from a skilled artist, is easily digestible, and is something I can reference again and again. Desmond O’Hagan’s Pastel Painting With Confidence Collection is all the above. Desmond shows that the real sweet spot for artists is a combination of freedom with the medium and strong technical skills. If you feel like you want to loosen up in your own practice, this resource just might be the one that helps you get there. Enjoy!
And what inspires you to loosen up when you are working? Leave a comment and let me know!