Pastel: Step by Step: Drawing With A Powdered Pastel 'Wash'

A noted artist and instructor demonstrates how he lays down a wash, then adds darks and lifts out lights to reveal an expressive drawing.

by Robert T. Barrett

In the Studio by Robert Barrett, 2006, pastel on paper, 22 x 28.

In the process of developing my ability to see values correctly, I became aware that very few things in reality are white or close to white in value. Thus, toning the drawing surface with a “wash” of pastel reduces its value to something more neutral or natural. The halftones and highlights can then be “lifted out” of the wash, and darker darks can be added on top of the wash. I find that working with broad tones is also more expressive, and the process of lifting out tone helps me think more in terms of shape than line. This way of thinking is a bit closer to painting and allows me to establish a full-value drawing very efficiently.


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Step 1
Using Nupastel pastels on Strathmore 400 series paper, I began with an initial lay-in, or gesture drawing. In this step, I tried to get the placement and energy established for what would follow. I was also careful to get the general proportions correct.

Step 2
I added a little more detail and some sense of value next. I continued to look at relationships and the way the big shapes related to one another.

Step 3
With powdered pastel, I then covered the initial gesture drawing with a “wash” or tone. This tone is very transitory and can easily be altered or adjusted. I tried to keep the energy of the initial drawing—maybe enhancing it a bit with some directional strokes.

Step 4
Next, I added a little more tone and a few more strokes of pastel to enhance the sense of movement.
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Step 5
I began to lift out the lighter values with a kneaded eraser in this step. The kneaded eraser is a great tool that can be adjusted to various shapes and points. By applying different degrees of pressure, I can lift out more or less of the pastel, creating various shades of value.

Step 6
At this point, I continued developing the drawing by adding more detail and more attention to edges. By rubbing and blending the pastel with a stump, my finger, or a paper towel, I created soft edges.

Step 7
The drawing was nearing completion, with smaller and smaller shapes receiving attention. Note that I tried to keep the whole drawing moving along simultaneously, not allowing any one part to be completed at the expense of the rest. If I had decided to stop at this point, there would have been a consistency within the individual parts and the drawing as a whole.

Step 8
The completed drawing. My hope in every case is that the final drawing will carry with it the initial energy established in the gesture drawing, as well as a sense of form, texture, and value.    

In the Studio
2006, pastel on paper, 22 x 28. Collection the artist.


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3 thoughts on “Pastel: Step by Step: Drawing With A Powdered Pastel 'Wash'

  1. very unusual process——–and interesting. I may try something like this. I am used to working with oils and working from dark to light——–so this will be a challenge.
    Ruth Shapiro
    Boynton Beach, FL