Taking Off the Straightjacket

3 Jun 2014

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 straightjacket tendency, and one way I'm doing so is by exploring pastel painting a lot more.

Birth of Venus by Odilon Redon, pastel painting, 1912.
Birth of Venus by Odilon Redon, pastel painting, 1912.
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. This up close and personal aspect of pastel drawing can make you feel comfortable and more fully engaged with your artwork, which is key.

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.  
One new resource that has crossed my path is Pastels Unleashed, and it has been an eye-opener for me in terms of the techniques artist and instructor Margaret Evans uses and the great work she produces working with pastel, showing 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!



Featured Product

Pastels Unleashed

Availability: In Stock
Price: $24.95


Free your spirit and create the pastel painting you always dreamed of. Follow step-by-step demonstrations and techniques to create amazing paintings.


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


KatPaints wrote
on 19 Mar 2012 6:52 AM

I'm reminded of the movie the Truman Show. There was a scene of the wife in the kitchen and she commented to Jim Carey that she loved this new product and what good it was doing for her. Then she turned to camera and said did a commercial. I also had a friend tell me about these great vitamins and how they were positively effecting her health. I was really drawn into the conversation and enthusiastic for her. Then she told me about this Amway product and how much it costs. My heart dropped.

I don't believe your authenticity Courtney. Mixing blogs with advertisements make you look like your doing your job or trying to sell us something. It puts your artistic integrity into question.

Jan Schafir wrote
on 19 Mar 2012 10:01 AM

Hold your art tool at the end of te instrument,use your whole arm, not just your fingers,paint to light airy music. most of all paint with an attitude of joy and freedom..  Don't be afraid to make mistakes.   Jan Schafir

artinmydna wrote
on 19 Mar 2012 4:22 PM

Hi Courtney, although I love oils and want to know it to the point where using it is second nature it does make me feel "hesitant" and I find myself making little dabs instead of bold conquering strokes, and uninteresting color combinations.  Hence, I'm tempted to try pastels, especially panpastels.  I've been taking Johannes Vloothius instructions through Wet Canvas and when he demos pans, it  seems such a dynamic medium.  

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


dafella11 wrote
on 24 Mar 2012 12:38 PM

Been into drawing and oil painting on and off for years. Last year I was in my friends and he gave me and old plastic box with all broken bits of chalk pastels in and said and explained about layering. WOW I could not believe the first pictures that I pulled out. The colours were like nothing I have seen before. I really love my purples and reds and I find that if you use a peices of say like a white hard bit of chalk, you can blend with it by rubbing it. I have put my pastels down for now 4 months and am back drawing heavily, I am just drawing anything old trainers faces anything as long as I have got a pencil in my hand. I want to become a master :O) Cant wait to get the pastels back out, however even though I am itching I will wait till my drawings and eye improve then watch this space. Da Love Tommy

dafella11 wrote
on 24 Mar 2012 12:41 PM

Hey that comment about advertising... everyone has to make a living and the vibe I get from this site is one of positivity.  There is no need for that come on :O)

Terka Vcelka wrote
on 26 Mar 2012 12:32 AM

Hi Courtney,

very nice article, thank you. I like pastel very much too, even I´m not a profi artist :) I love pastels, because I can feel the work, touch. I have pastel all over when I´m finished :) And also, I can some like control what I´m doing. The other way round, I´m still fighting with the aquarel. This is still a mistery for me, but woudl like to get into.

Thank you a sorry for my english, I´m writing from Czech Republic (Europe).


on 26 Mar 2012 12:11 PM

This feedback is great! Thank you!

And as always my goal is to highlight great resources and interesting instruction that might be of use to the Artist Daily community, which includes beginners and more advanced artists. And I've always got an open-door policy, so if you have a resource that deserves attention or an artist that I should know about, don't hesitate to let me know. Thanks!

Hranilovich wrote
on 4 Jun 2014 8:06 AM

When painting, working with a brush that's many times larger than you might think should work will allow you to use the brush differently, and more loosely. You'll get large marks quickly, then can use the edge or a corner to tick in smaller, but looser markes. It adds some spontaneity and fun.


on 4 Jun 2014 11:51 AM


Excellent article. You almost had an old watercolor guy like me ready to take up pastels again.

You are right about pastel being a hands-on medium. I started in advertising art during the days of Mad Men—before the magic marker. All roughs and comps were rendered in pastel—pastel pencil, hard pastel and soft pastel. In those days we came to work dressed in business suits. For years I had pastel on my hands, my face, my shirt cuffs and my favorite ties. Between all the fixative and dust in the air it's a wonder any of us lived very long.

However, pastel is a fun medium—not very demanding and very forgiving. Because of that, I think it is a wonderful medium to learn to work with color and picture composition. Just remember to take a few precautions. We know more now about work safety now than when I started.


on 4 Jun 2014 11:56 AM

I  have to agree with KatPaint about the sales pitch in the blog... It is a bit of a put off.  As a newbie to this blog, Ive often skipped it because I figure it's just a sales pitch with very little info.  However as I love pastels I was drawn into reading this one.  More painterly advice, less sales pitch would be nice ;)

ronbush wrote
on 4 Jun 2014 12:00 PM

Please note: it is NOT "straight" jacket, but "strait" jacket…meaning "narrow" (as in the Straits of Gibralter) or  "restricted".

on 4 Jun 2014 2:46 PM

KatPaints, Leslie and all—

The information in this blog is an honest attempt to interest us in a medium that can offer a new, free way of working. The fact that there is reference to book on pastel painting at the end of the article should not be offensive to anyone.

Kat, Leslie—you make it sound like we are receiving a cheap sales pitches for snake oil.

Artist Daily is a website we enjoy at no cost. It is not a charity. It is part of a large corporation. That means that somebody involved has to make money or there isn't any Artist Daily. If they suggest a book published by North Light—they are suggesting a book by one of the best art publishers in America.

Kat, you question the "artistic integrity" of the editor of Artist Daily because a book is suggested for those interested in learning more about pastel painting. That's sad.


Harry06 wrote
on 4 Jun 2014 10:00 PM

Courtney its through Artists Network that I discovered pastels - having used mainly watercolour up until then. Then through artist Richard McKinley and his wonderful book and dvds - its opened up a whole new love and discovery of painting while using watercolour and pastels together. Even though pastels dirty your hands etc its a wonderful tactile way of painting.

Here 'downunder" I pass on your wonderful website to anyone I can encouage to use the resources available through Artist Daily and Artists Network. I never knew how many great artists there are in the U.S.

Lib D'Arcy

kiwiwiwi wrote
on 7 Jun 2014 2:53 PM

Hi Courtney, I thought when i began this comment I would explain that unleashing for me with pastels began when I created a live model protrait with pastel pencils.  It was super and I never looked back!  And then I read the last comment by KatPaints.  No need to be rude in public, especially when you cannot possibly know the person in question.  Courtney over the years I have left you comments and you have been absolutely sincere and caring with what you have said to me.  It was always appreciated and obviously remembered.  Perhaps this person does not understand the business world and what you have to do.  Ask questions before you assume, you know the old saying, right?  Anyway, I always look forward to all of your messages, Courtney.  Thank you.

nanas cat wrote
on 8 Jun 2014 1:36 PM

Kat, Think of it as if you were having a conversation with a fellow artist who is knowledgeable on the subject. If the subject really interests you, wouldn't you like to know what resources the artist considers to be helpful, rather than having to search through countless books, dvds, etc. and then perhaps being disappointed with your choice. At that point you may perhaps think, ' I wish I had asked this artist which resources they would suggest.'  There is no arm twisting, just suggestions.