Artspace2000 Pastel Painting Basic Pastel Techniques

Unlike other media, layers of pastels can not be built up indefinitely because the pigment adheres to the "tooth" or texture of the painting ground. While it is possible to rescue a pastel painting that has been overworked, the key to a successful pastel painting is to build the color in layers -- from light to dark, similar to the building of washes in a watercolor painting. A wide variety of colors will allow you to work without having to "mix" colors on the painting ground.

Using a colored ground:
When the pastel painting is solidly painted and the entire painting surface totally covered, the color of the painting ground is unimportant. However, when the painting is loose and sketchy, leaving areas of the ground uncovered, the ground becomes an
integral part of the painting. Many paintings using this loose style depend on the color of the paper -- white, gray, tan or other color paper becomes part of the painting as shown in this excellent example by Sherry Szmigel a member of artspace2000. Note that when using
a colored ground, white pigment is often used as the brightest highlight.

Variation of stroke:
This painting is also a good example of using a variety of strokes and blending techniques. Notice the delicate blending of the pigments on the face and the smoothness of the facial area strokes. In contrast, the strokes in the hair are short and rough
to portray the hair's texture. Beginners often use the same type of stroke throughout a painting. Try experimenting with the length and shape of your stroke, swirl, dab or crosshatch your strokes to
produce different effects.

Mixing Color:

The only difference between mixing color with pastels versus
other media such as oils is that you are mixing pure pigment
on your painting ground -- instead of on a palette. For
example, a touch of red mixed with black will give the color
added depth in any medium -- simply layer or blend red strokes
into your black.

Vibrant paintings depend on a wide range of tonal values and 
complementary colors

The same color wheel basics apply when painting with pastels although there is an added emphasis by many pastelists on complementary colors. Used either within their compositions or strokes, complementary colors will produce the vibrant effects often associated with this medium. 

One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is in tonal value -- colors which fall mainly in the middle range will produce flat paintings. Again, if you look at the portrait above, there is a full range of tones -- from bright highlights to rich shadows.