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Pastel Dust for Water Foam

This is my first blog for Unison Colour as an Associate Artist and I’m very excited to be sharing some of my pastel painting techniques and inspiration behind my work with you! I’ve decided to write a few shorter blogs, describing only one (major) technique at a time applied on one particular piece. Today’s topic: Pastel dust for watery foams. My first application of this technique happened as a pure accident when I was working on “Immersion”.

Elena's pastel selection.

“Immersion” is one of my large wave “portraits” – the series I began working on in 2018. Through this work, I discovered that, although all waves have a similar anatomy, they also have very distinctive individual features and each of them is unique. I use my own plein air sketches and reference photographs which I take with a special lens enabling me to get closeup images. However, a photograph is a starting point only and I never aim to create a copy of it.

My attitude towards the sea was ebbing between awe and fear at that time, due to a childhood accident when I almost drowned. Having moved to the island of Malta in 2017, I found myself surrounded by the omnipresent sea. I would become close to a panic attack as soon as I could no longer touch the sea bed when swimming or while watching my children snorkel. At some point, I became so anxious that I had to deal with the issue. I decided to paint those waves which both horrified and mesmerised me. At first, I had that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach while painting. However, with each line and pastel stroke, with every new wave I created, I felt my fear slowly dissipate until one day I could actually swim in the open seas again, even knowing the water underneath was five to seven meters deep. “Immersion” is very much an exploration and reflection of this turbulent process.

Elena selecting one of her deep blue pastel sticks.

I painted it on UART sanded pastel paper, 400 grit, neutral colour, mostly using Unison Colour soft pastels as I love their texture, neither too creamy nor too powdery, the brightness of pigments and variety of colour nuances, perfect for seascapes. I started “Immersion” with a very rough drawing of the intricate wave pattern using Faber Castell hard pastel in blue and went on with Unison Colour soft pastels. First, I painted the background sea at the top of the painting, then blocked in larger areas of the wave using sides of pastel sticks but also began adding some detail in the most intriguing middle part inside the wave. To keep the composition and colour palette balanced out, I worked on the whole wave simultaneously, as I usually do, adding energetic marks to express its untamed power. I hardly did any blending here but lots of layering to achieve final colour nuances. I just blocked in the first layers in the foamy part of the breaking wave, turned to reach for a pastel stick and hit the easel! My Sennelier giant white pastel fell on the stone floor tuning into … dust!! In shock (I guess), I collected the precious dust and literally threw it onto the painting, spreading it down with the palm of my hand, following the movement of the wave! This is how the foam was created! I’ve been using this method ever since. I can also say now that working on this piece was a complete immersion indeed!

Partially painting wave painting.
Partially painting wave painting.
Elena with her wave painting.
Elena's completed wave painting entitled Emmersion.
“Immersion”, pastel, 21×27″

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks Elena for sharing your process, experience and undoubted skills. The energy and power of the waves is so successful I think because of a limited use of the photograph (a single lens and static) with your emphasis on plein air and observation. I can also feel your awe and respect for the sea that comes from your past experience. I can relate to you over coming that phobia of water and swimming by processing it through your art. When I worked in a war zone my only way of coping was reminding myself I would be using the adrenaline ultimately as part of my palette!! Somehow it was empowering. Beautiful work and very useful tips ensuring that not a precious spec of pastel dust ever gets wasted!

  2. (Translated)Fantastic job!
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    Greetings from Santiago de Chile.

    (Original)Fantástico trabajo!
    Gracias por compartir su conocimiento.
    Un saludo desde Santiago de Chile.

  3. Great descriptions, Elena. You chose a subject which definitely will challenge you – in many ways. I am enjoying your painting very much. Thanks for telling about your work process.


  4. Great story and demonstrated result. I live in Snowy Mountains, Australia shall be trialling your procedure next winter in the snow, also down at our wonderful beaches this coming summer.

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