The Pastels in My Life

I was first introduced to pastel painting by a friend about 10 years ago when I admired what I thought was an oil painting. She produced the Unison Landscape set and I was hooked. After being shown the basics I was on my own and the proud owner of my own set. This was tricky as they were so beautiful I didn’t want to touch them. However, my friend snapped some of them in half and so, after horrified screams, I was off. I have never looked back and here are some of the reasons why.

They layer both manually and optically.​

With manual blending (lower illustration) the colours are layered and then blended with fingers or pipe foam etc. which produces a layer of colour which is fairly solid but still beautiful.

With optical blending (upper illustration) applications of thin colour, one on top of the other results in layers of translucent colours all showing through each other, dancing and creating beautiful and lively results. Imagine storm clouds, they have so many colours and, by using optical layering, all the colours will shine through creating thunderous clouds which appear to move and shift.

The Pastels in My Life 1

Unison pastels are also incredibly versatile when blocking in my work.

Black and white sketch work
I can put down my darkest values and rub them in with a piece of pipe insulation or…,
Black and white sketch work
I can blend the values by using a brush soaked in surgical spirit.

Decisions can be changed by gently brushing away areas to be altered with a stiff brush. The paper I use most often is UART 400 grit which accepts water. If you are unhappy with the whole piece you can put it under the tap and scrub it away with a nail brush leaving a faint veil of colour as a medium value for your next effort. To dry it, lay it flat and weight it down at the edges.

Pastel can be used in thin glazes or thickly to produce an effect very like an oil painting. The term ‘fat over lean’ is particularly  applicable to my pastel work as I tend to put down thin layers of colour initially and then finish with thick juicy marks. This is where Unison come into their own as they are firm enough to make thin marks but soft enough to layer and apply really thickly.

The Pastels in My Life 2

”Peonies”, above, is an example of ‘fat over lean’.

There are an infinite number of marks that can be made, from thin detail lines to thicker more expressive marks and so the soft quality of Unison pastels makes them very suitable for impressionist, abstract as well as photo realistic work.

Soft pastels, Unison in particular, are highly pigmented and so are capable of a huge range of colour effects from subtle colour changes to the vivid slashes of a brilliant hue that can bring a quiet work to life.

The Pastels in My Life 3
Autumn Tarn
The Pastels in My Life 4
This painting, “The Road Home”, shows how easy it is to layer these beautiful soft pastels.
The Pastels in My Life 5
“Blencathra” shows how careful pastel application can show form just as in oil painting.

Last but not least is the easy way pastels can be transported and used outside.

3 full boxes of used pastels
These are my plein air and teaching boxes. Constantly in use.

Along with my sticks all I need are pastel paper, a small towel and baby wipes for my fingers. They are easy to transport and a total joy to work with. Of course, I don’t need all these sticks but choosing which to take and which to leave behind is hard, like friends you hate to leave behind.

My next task is to make all the pastel dust I have collected into some delicious greys, I just need a few more hours in my day.

These are a very few of the things I love about painting with my soft pastels. Every day is an adventure with colour.

Lyn Evans

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