The media I have been working in – graphite and watercolor – is starting to feel confining. I’m not getting the results that feel true to me. I dabbled with other mediums (see Inktober, Kendyll Hillegas’s mixed media method). I still wasn’t getting the effect I was after, though.
I had a couple boxes of unused soft pastels in my supply stash that I purchased over 15 years ago. So I did my research online and am following some tutorials. These mission figs are my first exploration using soft pastels (on the left) and hard pastels (on the right).
Substrate: Ingres paper in light blue
- Left Fig – Mystery half-sticks (I suspect they are Sennelier, but I’m not sure) – for the most part they were soft
- Right Fig – Cretacolor sticks
Parts of this exercise were pure frustration and other parts pure joy – so I know I’m learning something valuable!
I used a Conte sepia pencil to lay down a simple line drawing and lightly block in my largest shadow shape. Then I dove right in laying down darkest to lightest colors. Next I added the simplest shadow and light shapes, saving the details until the very last.
Here’s what I learned:
- I like soft pastels much more than hard, because they felt more painterly. It was more straight forward to lay down the broader shapes of color, if that makes any sense. They also gave me the look I was going for – the form melting into the background. They felt yummy to work with.
- I like the hard pastels much more than soft, because it was easier to add details. It felt more familiar to work “tightly” around the stem area. I hope this makes sense… maybe “precisely” is more accurate. However, the hard pastel stick was awkward to hold for this task.
- I found it less expressive, and therefore not as pleasurable, to lay down color and “sculpt” the fig using hard pastel.
- I learned the hard way not to blend the soft pastels too much, if at all. It made it muddy and I quickly lost the form.
- I had to work hard to get the hard pastels to blend and soften on the edges.
- There were some inconsistencies with in the half-sticks – the purple shade was hard and gritty. Is this normal?
- I loved working dark to light (as opposed to light to dark, as with watercolor). It was freeing not to have to “preserve the lights” knowing I could layer my brightest highlights at the very end.
- I loved how freeing it was to adjust light/dark, warmth/coolness of colors, hues, etc., as I worked.
While I really like working with both hard and soft pastels, I enjoyed the soft pastels much more. I was certainly taken out of my comfort zone, and I did fight with them a bit. With watercolor, I’m used to exercising a lot of control – But once I embraced a looser method of working and just opened myself up to experimentation, I really enjoyed myself!
Next I’d like to try using some pastel papers with the soft pastels and use pastel pencils to add details to my piece. This medium feels really natural to me, and I’m looking forward to further experimentation.