Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Love Affair With Pastels

I had used pastel pencils for charcoal work but had no idea of the scope of materials in this genre available to me. I noticed a white pastel pencil was Conte (Paris, France) brand and found the consistency perfect for getting details and the rich pigment I needed for highlights.

Off I went to my favorite art store where I asked for the smoothest and richest pastels they had in the store. One of their staff, who is always so helpful pointed me towards Unison Pastels, but warned especially if I was messy with them, to wear a face mask and gloves, because one of the pastel artists who frequented their store ended up needing a blood transfusion due to cadmium poisoning possibly from breathing in the pastels. I am truly grateful for this information and keep an air purifier right next to me as I work. The Unisons, handcrafted in England, are known to be some of the best in the world, and for good reason. Their consistency is unparalleled for truly smooth, buttery applications, but what I do notice is that it creates quite a lot of dust. Big amounts of dust (in my opinion) have a tendency to 'fog' the rest of the piece with a thin layer of tiny lighter particles, which seems to dampen the saturation of the brighter or darker colors ever so slightly. To counteract this, I firmly press especially thick, rich layers into the paper and then spray the non-toxic casein-based Spectrafix Degas Pastel Fixative about 8 inches away to 'affix' those particles to wherever I put them.

'Josie' 2012 Pastel on Paper
My first large pastel piece was completed in 2012 and was a portrait of my grandma, aptly named, 'Josie.'

I used pink-toned Canson pastel paper which I felt would complement the warm, yellow tones I had an affinity for. I also used the grid method for this piece which I had learned in high school (Mr. D'Avino would be proud).

In 2011 I became a member of the Connecticut Portrait Society and was honored to exhibit this piece in 'Faces of Winter' 2012 at UCONN.

After this, I practiced on Canson papers and did some almost surrealist portraits, trying to seek out my style.

CSOPA Faces of Winter 2012
I also bought Rembrandt Half Pastel Box Set and noticed the texture of the Rembrandts creates much less dust and has an almost crayon-like feel, yet very blendable. Rembrandt products allow you to keep the colors vibrant and true to what they look like, with less dust than Unisons. I use Rembrandts for my darkest darks as well as areas I need more 'pop.'

Last but not least are Conte pastel pencils which I order online. They are hard to find in store because they have to be ordered from France. I find their texture to be the softest and highest pigment for a pastel pencil I've ever found. I order them by specific colors I use most.

I am not afraid to use Winsor & Newton Designers' Gouache once the piece is mostly done for the tiniest details. I discovered this trick by accident when I realized from trying some painting with gouache, that it dries to a similar consistency to soft pastels. I use a 00 size brush and usually use gouache for things like highlights on the pupils of the eyes or strong highlights which cannot be created due to overworking with pastel.

Hopefully this post gives you some tips and ideas you can try for your own work! Until we meet again...

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