- Lesson details
Have you ever wanted to learn how to master the beautiful medium of pastels but you weren’t sure where to begin? Or perhaps you’ve been working with pastels but would to get guidance from a master of the medium? After many requests world-leader in pastel painting Ellen Eagle has graciously offered to give us all an introduction to pastel materials and techniques. If you don’t know, Ellen wrote the book on pastels: literally! She also shows her pastel paintings in some of the world’s top art galleries. In this video lesson world-renowned pastel painter Ellen Eagle gives us a fun and comprehensive introduction to the pastel medium. Ellen gives you a thorough tour of the necessary materials including pastel types and brand pros and cons. Ellen also teaches you about the best techniques for pastel application gives crucial warnings to save new artists from ruining their hard work. After watching this video lesson you’ll be ready to get started experimenting with this wonderful but tricky medium, and have fun doing it!
- Sennelier Soft Pastels
- Schminke Extra Soft Pastels
- Rembrandt Soft Pastels
- Henri Roché Soft Pastels
- Ampersand Museum Series Pastel Board
- Crescent Cold Press Illustration Board No. 300 or 310 (for Homemade Boards)
- Single Edges Razor Blades
- Prismacolor NuPastel Color Sticks
- Cretacolor Carre Pastels
- Jack Richeson Semi-Hard Square Pastels
- PanPastel Soft Tools, Knives and Covers
- Fabriano Tiziano Paper
- Canson Mi-Tientes Paper
- Canson Mi-Tientes Touch
- Sennelier La Carte Paper
- UArt Paper
- Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper
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of pastel if you’re not already familiar with it. I’d like to demonstrate to you
the qualities of the medium itself and various papers so that you can decide if you are interested
in pursuing pastel in your artistic endeavor. I began working in pastel about 20 years ago.
Many artists, including potentially you, have worked with oil. When I tried oil I did not
care for the stickiness of it, and I did not care to mix my colors prior to applying them
to the picture. So when I picked up a pastel stick and I realized that what I had to do
was place it directly in the picture and mix my colors in the painting itself I was elated
because I could jump right into my color considerations. At the same time, my paintings develop slowly
through a series of many sittings, and my technique of layering is very adaptable to
extended sessions because I layer slowly, build color very slowly, and pastel is also
very adaptable to lifting and making corrections unlike its reputations suggests. So pastel
is adaptable to so many temperaments, mine and yours, I’m sure.
I started college actually as a piano major, very quickly switched to art and never looked
back. I am now a teacher at the Art Student’s League. I teach the only class devoted exclusively
to pastel at the Art Student's League. My work is represented by Forum Gallery New York,
and I have a studio in my home in which I work in natural northeast light.
Portraiture is my most treasured subject.
And a little bit about what pastel actually is. Many people confuse pastel with chalk.
Chalk is a naturally occurring substance that can be lifted from the earth and used as is.
You can actually dig up a chunk of chalk and work directly with it. It does not have to be altered in any manner.
Manufacturers alter it to make consistent shapes, but it is not necessary to do in order to manipulate them
and create artwork. But with pastel they have to be fabricated. Pastel is make from pigments,
the same pigments that oil paint, wash, and watercolor are made of. The difference in
the materials is the binder. Oil is an oil-based binder, watercolor of course is a water-based
binder, and pastel is also a water-based binder such as methyl cellulose. You’ll see that
in your experience if you work with pastel you will all be very familiar with the fact
that you want 1000 pastels because each tint and shade is made so that each one can be
applied to the surface to interact with the others.
Soft pastel allows the artist to use a very painterly approach. The tiny, hard pastels
allow a linear approach, and many of the manufacturers work back and forth, back and forth. For example,
I work with Rembrandt and NuPastels very consistently. Rembrandt is the hardest of the soft pastels
that I am aware of, and I use them back and forth from the beginning to the end of the
painting because they are perfect partners. The softer pastels such as Sennelier and Schmincke
I would tend to use later on in the pastel. Of course, equally important as your pastel
is your support. Certain pastels marry perfectly with certain supports. Not all of them work
perfectly together. So it’s a wonderful afternoon, rainy afternoon to gather some
individual sticks from various manufacturers and different papers and just practice making
marks and see what happens when you mix texture and texture, paper and pastel.
In this lesson I’d like to do some experimenting with basic pastel supplies. I have the very
soft and very purely pigmented Sennelier, the French manufacturer, I believe they make
1500 colors. They are almost pure pigment, hardly any binder. They’re extremely, extremely
soft. Schmincke is also a very, very fine pastel. Some artists believe that the Schmincke
is even softer than the Sennelier, but in my experience there are degrees of hardness
and softness within individual manufactures because the pigments themselves have their
own qualities. Some are harder. Some are softer. The binders that are used, no matter how minute
amounts, they also have their degrees of hard and soft. So Sennelier will not be softer
across the board than Schmincke, nor vice versa.
Rembrandt is the hardest of the soft pastels. They’re a wonderful company. I have three
sets of the Rembrandts, and they wear down but not that rapidly. The soft ones wear down
very rapidly because they deposit their pigment more readily than the hard. This is the Sennelier.
Gorgeous. You can see the buildup of extra dust. That’s because they are so soft, so
it’s a good idea when you’re working with Sennelier you want to tap the back of the
picture to dislodge the loose dust that is generated by the stroke.
The Schmincke—see how rich the colors are. Again, more dust. That’s how you can tell
how soft they are. The excess.
Again, beautiful dust.
See, nowhere near as much excess falling off.
Unless you’re going to be doing a painting purely with Sennelier or Schmincke, I recommend
that you do not use them in the beginning stages of the painting because you will be
using an awful lot of pastel because they’re being abraded by the board or paper. Much
better to layer these very soft sticks on top of harder sticks.
Now, these are the Henri Roche La Maison du Pastel. They’ve been making pastels since
I believe it was 1720. These are quite soft as well.
Look at that color.
I brought a darker board because I wanted to compare.
See how differently color will register on
a lighter tone than on a much darker tone. It becomes so brilliant on the darker tone.
So this is this, and this is this.
And then the Sennelier—Sennelier makes a beautiful paper called La Carte, and it works beautifully
with their pastel. The La Carte really grabs the color. That’s amazing how brilliant
the color is. This is why people love pastels so much. In addition to its portability, the
fact that it doesn’t have an odor. You see the color as it is the day you do it as it
will be seen centuries from now. The color doesn’t change. You don’t have to wait
for it to dry. It doesn’t have to be varnished. This is unbelievable.
So this is an example that I make, and this is pastel matte by Ampersand. It has a little
bit of a grit. It’s really very nice. Let’s see how it works with the hard pastel.
Before I do that I want to show you how I sharpen my hard pastels.
I hold the stick towards me, and I am using a downward motion only.
I love creating the point because I feel I’m doing archery when I’m working on my picture.
I can go right to the point that I need.
Not that I’ve ever done archery.
This was a Cretacolor. This is a NuPastel.
They are quite similar in texture.
I use Cretacolor, NuPastel, and Jack Richeson hard pastels.
Together, altogether I would say probably between I have 300 hard pastels, and there
is not one color that is duplicated between the manufacturers.
See what they sound like.
Sometimes if sticks are very similar I listen to the sound.
This feels a little—this sounds a little softer.
This one is a little scratchier. This one is a little velvety.
Let's see how they register. Nice.
This grainy surface wears down the point rather quickly, more quickly
than my homemade board, which is not necessarily a problem. It depends on what
you’re after. For example, this wore down the pastel more quickly, but the line registered
more thickly, so if you want a thicker line you might want to use a rougher surface.
Or, a more grainy surface.
Beautiful. They’re all beautiful. Move this off screen.
And then fairly new to the market is the PanPastel.
They come in a range of colors, and they really revolutionized the concept of pastel.
At the end of the 18th century when pastel was being derided pastel was denounced
as being like a women’s cosmetic, and now the pastel are being lauded.
This company is being lauded for creating pastels that can smooth on for this. This is particularly
useful for landscape painting. It’s beautiful.
I pressed a little too hard, and I abraded the pad.
This holder and pad is also sold by the same company, of course. These are
called the soft knives and covers. The covers come in a variety of shapes, and I believe
the holders also have a variety of shapes to allow the different kind of movement.
Look at what you can do.
You can do all sorts of decorative effects if that is what you’re interested in.
I showed a few of these in my book. This is fun.
I am going to change the cover so as to keep the colors isolated.
I just created a little bird.
Then let’s see how they mix. Do they mix? They do. So unlike putting individual
strokes of colors into your painting in which they blend visually the pads actually mix the colors.
This is reminding me of the palette of an oil painter or a watercolor painter, only it is still
dry and you’re still mixing right on the surface.
I brought a cup of water in. Pastel is a dry medium,
but it does not have to be used dry.
It can be dipped into water, and it becomes like a gouache...
...if you want to lay it on really thick.
I'm pressing a little hard so I’m generating some pieces that are separating out. Another option is to go
into the painting with either your finger. You can create a nice underpainting
this way, or you can use a brush.
I’d be careful not to use a fine watercolor brush if you’re
priming your painting surface with a water-based pastel because
you could destroy the fibers of the brush itself.
Then you could pick up another color and mix right into it...
...and go back in with the red.
Of course, this is not at all the way that I work, but the point here is that so much
can be done with pastel. Here we dip the stick in the water first, and then here we added
water to a dry application of the pastel. And then pastel is easily lifted by chamois
At least the way I work. Let’s see what happens here. You can also make effects with
your pastel with the chamois. It’s kind of nice. You can make abstract designs with your fingers.
A lot of questions are raised about fixative so I did a little experiment. I’m not sure
how it turned out. This is a Fabriano Tiziano paper, which is similar to the Canson paper.
We’ll compare the textures. They both have a smooth side and a textured side, although
the fabriano is less smooth than the smooth side of the Canson. I sprayed some workable
fixative on half of a color sample. I believe this was Rembrandt red. Let’s see what happens.
So this was this before I sprayed the workable fixative. Obviously, you can see that the
workable fixative considerably darkens your color and also impacts the paper. This is
the color of the paper. So all of this is impacted by the fixative. Did it work? Yes.
It holds the color beautifully. Some artists will use a workable fixative to purposefully
darken the color, and then they can go over the color with something lighter. Now manufacturers
are making more darks, but in the past pastel has tended to have a fairly light chroma.
In order to darken an area. Let’s say an artist is having difficulty getting a black
enough black. They can spray into the black with the fixative, thereby darkening it, and
then work some subtle nuances of tones, range of values on top of the black. I wonder what
this would look like on top. So you get a tremendous amount of contrast using the same
two sticks but fixing the bottom.
So to the left we have the Fabriano Tiziano. This is the Canson Mi-Tientes, which is a
very nice paper readily available. Comes in a tremendous number of colors. And this is
their new product. I want to get the name, but it doesn’t work. It’s the Canson Mi-Tientes
Touch. I love this color. Incidentally, I selected all medium tone colors, medium value.
I like to work on medium value so that the dark colors register as dark, and the light
colors register as light. If I were to work on white every color would register darker
than the surface, and it would make it very difficult to make judgments about my values
if everything was darker than the white surface until the entire surface was covered with
color. So the medium values intrude the least into your color decisions.
So in the Fabriano there is a little bit of texture showing through. You see kind of some
holes. A little bit, not too bad. This is the Canson. This is the smooth side, very
smooth. I used this paper for years very successfully. But now I just like making my own boards.
I can make the color I want, the size I want. I like the rigidity of it. The board makes
for a crisper line because it does not give the way soft paper does. This is the Canson
Touch. It’s a little smoother, but it does have a texture. You can see it’s a little
bit of a pebbliness. If you rub it the texture disappears so that’s nice to know. Then
if you don’t like the rubbed look you can always work your lines on top of it. In the
meantime, you’ve pretty much eliminated that pebbliness.
Okay, here this red is the Sennelier, very soft. Rub it.
Again, the texture disappears.
The color doesn’t remain quite as rich as it does on the touch. Then on the Tiziano...
...very nice also. Then let’s see I you can work in line on top. Yep.
So whereas here you have some texture if you’re working just linearly on the Fabriano.
If you rub it in you lose the texture.
Some papers can take water. Others cannot. You should experiment with that as well.
Very important to know. The Sennelier La Carte paper, which is beautiful, is not meant for
water. A lot of people are in love with the Wallis paper, and Wallis can take water.
I've been working on UArt of late, which is a nice paper, but it did not work too well with the water.
But as long as you know what your plans are the fact that a paper can’t take water
is not a problem unless you want to use water. So then you just use one that’s designed
to except water. Then I am curious rubbing. Now, the pastel matte by—what is it called again?
It’s pastel board by Ampersand. I’m sorry. I like this. It does not rub. It does
not smooth out. If you want to have a mass then you want to use the PanPastels with
brush on the pastel matte.
And how about in mine. This is an illustration board, a cold press illustration board. Crescent,
I like. This is a heavy weight. It comes in a thin and heavy, or it might be called medium
and heavy. I always use the heavy weight which is a little thicker. It comes white.
This is the board itself, and this is the acrylic gesso pumice, the gray area application, and
I have that recipe in the book. And I can rub,
everything rubs in very nicely on the gesso pumice surface.
Let’s see with a Rembrandt. I rub Rembrandt a lot on this surface.
It's pretty. See, this is a combination of this yellowy color and this purply color. That’s
the purple. That’s the yellowy, and that’s them together.
So this is, I think, a little more textured side of the Fabriano Tiziano.
Okay, so you can see the texture, but you can rub the texture out
on both sides of the Fabriano Tiziano. We used the smoother side of the Canson before.
This side is highly textured, and this is not the side I would use for portraiture because
the little wells in the paper will always intrude upon your stroke. You will be applying
less pigment than you intended, and it’s fairly impossible to get a smooth nuanced
progression of value. It could be useful for certain kinds of landscape, I would think.
And even if you rub it you still have the frustrating value coming through it. And I’m
saying frustrating only in terms of my intentions for portraiture. It may be just you need for
a particular painting. That’s why it’s great to experiment.
So hard or soft, the paper rules.
Your paper, the support that you select, remember is as
important as the pastel itself.
Let’s do a little bit more work with water. Let’s
see what would happen if I dipped a very soft Sennelier into the water. I don’t know anybody
who would actually do this. It becomes kind of a paste.
Of course this paper is not meant for water,
so we’ll go back to the board.
So it becomes pasty and not too easy to control.
Let’s see if it can be smoothed out by rubbing.
Well, it doesn’t actually smooth out. Perhaps if you use
a large brush, maybe a foam brush, but I don’t think so.
I think Sennelier are really meant to be used dry.
This is great the chamois really picks up the work, the pastel.
So if you’re worried about pastel being unforgiving. It’s really not the case. As long as you know the paper
and the pastel you’re working with and you marry them well. If a company makes pastels
and they also make paper, you can rest assured that their paper is manufactured to be a partner
to the pastel itself. That’s a pretty good lift, and you can rework your area.
I buy packets of 100 razor blades.
They wear down very quickly. I probably can only sharpen 3 to 4 pastels
with a single razor blade depending upon the degree of hardness.
Some of my students do sharpen their Rembrandts, by the way. I don’t but it is possible.
Why don’t I sharpen one here.
Okay, so what kind of mark…
So these were some marks that I made with the rounded--
now with this, and I made this little bird in two movements.
Oh wow, you can do a really quick turn.
Guess it’s like different shaped oil brushes and watercolor brushes.
You can combine them.
It looks to me like you could make a lot of animal forms and natural forms.
I think it would be fun to experiment with the different tips and do a landscape.
Probably do some interesting trees and stuff.
But for me, my work is basic, straightforward, apply lines of color, smudge where necessary,
build nuances of color very gradually, stepping back to check the values,
coming closer to check the color, stepping back to check the proportions,
working closely in the details, working with the hard pastels for the details,
constantly re-sharpening the pastels as I’m working.
I wanted to sharpen the Rembrandt, which I don’t do.
I did once. I want to show you how that works. You don’t get quite as sharp a point. I have Girault
at home, beautiful, and I have sharpened those. They’re pretty hard. I mean they’re hard-soft.
I think the proportions. They’re slender. Incidentally, there are also a lot of very
chunky pastels for very large work. You have to be careful sharpening the Rembrandts.
They’re soft enough to crack off because they don’t have that much binder.
So maybe some colors are easier to sharpen
in Rembrandt than others because of the nature of the pigment and the binder.
Also, I will break the side of Rembrandt to mass in.
Not every area of a painting needs to be built
up line by line. If you have a huge background you don’t want to spend five days laying
in lines of tone. Also, boldness is good.
Large painting you want boldness. You don’t
want a huge painting with a huge background that has a spindly feeling because it’s
thin line by thin line. That’s delicious, I think.
Pretty much the sky is the limit with pastel. I haven’t done too much experimentation
today with the Roche’s, with the La Maison du Pastel because they’re, as many of you
know, or if you don’t know yet, these are—each one is handmade, hand labeled, hand numbered.
Very labor intensive. Colors are amazing.
Please, get yourself some paper. This is a tiny sampling of the papers that are made
for pastel. More and more papers are being made. More and more pastels are being introduced.
When you read about the papers look for acid-free papers, and when you look for pastels look
for the strongest pigments. Each manufacturer will tell you the degree. Well, I shouldn’t
say each. Maybe some don’t, but many manufacturers tell you the degree of lightfastness in their colors.
That’s very important. You want as lightfast as possible. They have different
ways of symbolizing. You can look on their websites. Rembrandt has I believe a series
of pluses, let’s say, and they put them on the stick itself. This is a plus-plus-plus,
this Caput Mortuum red. That means it’s highly lightfast.
I should mention that there hasn’t been a lot of information made public to the consumer regarding
the lightfastness and the ingredients, but that is slowly changing as there is an organization
investigating the constituents of the pastels, and
manufacturers are showing I think a good deal of responsibility in responding.
So there you go. Enjoy.
In 2013 I had the joy of publishing “Pastel Painting Atelier,” published by Watson-Guptill Publishers.
I discuss many aspects of pastel; its history,
the constituents, the manufacturers, making your own pastels, making your own surface,
working in the studio, setting up your studio, your personal space. It is also a discussion
of landscape, still life, figure painting, self-portraiture, examples of my work and
historical works, and the works of additional contemporary artists. There are also examples
of my paintings step-by-step from conception to completion. I hope very much that my book
will be of value to you. I wrote it for you, and if even if you’re not interested in
pastel, it was my intent to cover issues that are important to artists of all media.
Thank you so much.
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2. Important things to know and testing various pastel types14m 42s
3. Trying out different supports and papers16m 33s
4. Testing pastels on different supports, things to remember, and a look at Ellen's book11m 14s