Tips & Tricks


When painting from photo reference, or even en plein air, don't get locked into what is in front of you. Change things up - move a tree, leave a tree out, change the slant of the horizon, lose all those rocks.  I showed my students how to do this in thumbnails in my recent "Discover Pastels" workshop . . .



In the past, I haven't been too concerned about fumes or dust in my studio, mainly because I worked in the studio only a limited number of hours each week. But now, since I am only working part-time in my day job, I find myself in the studio more often and for longer periods of time.  And because I am a pastel artist, I am a bit concerned with the pastel dust floating around and into my nostrils. So I am trying an air filter. We'll see if it works (i.e. if the filter gets dirty) or if I have to resort to a larger unit.  This is quite small and sits easily on the counter right next to my easel. We should all take precautions since we work with substances that are known to cause cancer.


Because I see this happening with many artists, I was happy to run across a paragraph in one of my favorite art books, Alla Prima, by Richard Schmid. Under the chapter, Values, he says, "Watch out for highlights! They are rarely as bright as you think they are. Choose not to paint them at all unless you think they are necessary. (Especially in portraits). If you must paint them, find out what color they are, don't just use white alone... the highlight in one eye always predominates over the other, and neither are as bright as they first appear. Don't just make them white, make them a color (usually it is cool). Squint at them and see!

The same is true for the whites of eyes. They are never white! Usually they are similar in color to surrounding flesh tones, but slightly lighter and less warm (and quite cooler in children's eyes). Also the whites of both eyes in a subject, or the whites on either side of a pupil, are rarely equal in value, and their edges, as all edges in eyes, are always soft. Painting things too light or too dark always happens when you don't accept what you see when you squint, or when you open your eyes to see more clearly. Isn't this great to know?"



When you are done painting for the day, tuck your pastels in for the night. I have always done this . . . my reasoning is so they don't "dry out" which causes people to look at me and say, "Dry out? Aren't they already dry?"  Well, sort of. They do contain a binder though, and if you have seen old pastels that have been sitting around for years, you'll
understand why I cover mine up. I just use an old bath towel, or an old pillow case works too.



Here is an easy way to catch any fall dust off your painting and it also catches your pastel when you accidentally drop it. Take a piece of foam core an inch or two on all sides larger than your normal working size, but on the "bottom leave a couple more inches. Then measure two inches from bottom and slice through half the thickness of the foam core - allowing you to bend it up - reinforce it with artist's tape vertically and along the place where it bends up. Voila!



All artists would rather be in the studio or out plein air painting than sitting in front of a computer, but do yourself a favor and begin now to keep good records of everything from a list of your paintings, when it was painted, size, medium, framed, sold, etc.; of your fan list - those people who love your work; your client list - those people who have purchased work and what they purchased when and for how much; a list of where your paintings are; list of art exhibit-show prospectuses and the deadlines, accepted? award? sale? pick-up date. The list goes on. You will be glad you did!


One of the most common mistakes beginners make when painting grapes is to paint each grape individually... and painting it "perfectly".... next time you do a still life set-up, try painting the grapes as a "group" and just indicate a few of them with a lighter or darker pastel and a broad stroke, then punch in a few highlights, but be careful the highlights aren't too bright... 



It's the little things sometimes that make our job as artists a little easier...
When teaching workshops I always get two or three people commenting on the fact that I hold a towel across my left wrist while painting (I am right-handed) so I can wipe each pastel stick clean before making a stroke. 



Unless you're creating huge pastel paintings...youll want to break your new sticks - yes, break them. Whenever I purchase new pastels the first thing I do is to remove the wrapper (no I don't keep track of their names, I do wish I had the time because I do have favorites and it's sometimes hard to find them again) and break the stick so that you end up with a piece 2/3rds and a piece 1/3rd ... This gives you a variety of sizes to paint with.




Unknown said...

Great tips especially keeping a record of titles, sizes, pricing, etc., You think you'd remember these things but as time goes by, the details escape you. Lovely work and colors are fabulous!
Mary Firtl

Unknown said...

Great ideas and especially like the one on keeping track and documenting the titles, sizes, prices, etc. You often forget these details. Loved the towel tip too! Thanks for sharing these and your lovely work! Such vibrant, exciting color!