Hybrid Method of Painting and Drawing

11 Dec 2014

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 a pastel landscape painting in a short span of time. And I'm by no means an expert in pastel drawing, but it is great for painting outdoors, 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.

Magnificent Malibu by Gerald Rahm, 2005, pastel painting, 16 x 20.
Magnificent Malibu by Gerald Rahm, 2005, pastel painting, 16 x 20.

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 making a pastel drawing, 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!

Hazy Sunset by Peter Adams, pastel painting, 12 x 16.
Hazy Sunset by Peter Adams, pastel painting, 12 x 16.
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 pastels so much because they combine vivid color and drawing—two of my favorite things when I am creating art outdoors. They 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. Alain Picard's pastel landscape DVD has really helped me on that road. He shows so many examples of beautiful work and breaks down the steps of pastel in a really easy, understandable 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!


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Capturing Light and Color: Landscape in Pastel with Alain Picard

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Paint landscapes in pastel with Alain Picard.


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artbyeh wrote
on 11 Oct 2011 5:09 AM

Much appreciated hint about the test strip. Thank you so much Courtney. You rock!