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Monday, April 3, 2017


Pastel is a great medium for beginners. There are no complicated formulas, no brushes to clean, there is no paint to mix, no waiting for paint to dry, and no color changes due to drying. Pastel lends itself to self expression and experimentation. It can be applied in bold wide strokes or thin precise lines.  The method of application and the effects achieved are endless. And it is a very forgiving medium -  so what's not to like? The messy pastel dust in the studio and on hands and clothing, as well as the possible complications of breathing in the dust are all drawbacks. Loose dust can also create problems when framing (more on dust and framing issues in a future post).

The Pastel Medium.
There are two pastel mediums: oil pastel and soft pastel or what is commonly referred to simply as pastel.  This article is about soft pastel, not oil pastel. 

Pastels are made with pure powdered pigments combined with a binder to form a paste.​ The paste is rolled into round or rectangular sticks or shapes that are easily held in the hand. The paste is then allowed to dry.  Pastels are applied in this dry form to a surface such as pastel paper or specially prepared board.

Hard, Soft, and In-Between.
Within the soft pastel medium there are three general categories: soft pastel, hard pastel, and pastel pencils.
​ To further confuse a beginner to the pastel medium, there are many degrees between hard and soft. There is some consistency within brands, for instance Rembrandt pastels are known as semi-hard or medium. While NuPastels are considered hard and Schmincke is known as a very soft pastel. Yet, even within brands there can be some variation in the degree of hardness from stick to stick. Pastel pencils are what their name suggests: pastel within a wood pencil that can be sharpened to a point like a lead pencil. They are useful for fine lines, detail work and for blending.
The website offers a list of pastel brands with the degree of hardness listed. The list also includes the dimensions of the pastel and a picture shows the shape of the pastel. Here is a link that will take you to the chart.​ 

Buying Pastels
When buying pastels for the first time it is advisable to look for a set of half sticks.  Half stick sets offer more colors for the money. It is best to stay away from the very inexpensive student grade sets. The results achieved with this type of set will probably be quite discouraging. Purchase the highest quality you can afford. A set of  48 colors or more will give a good variety. To supplement the basic set, individual sticks can be purchased from most manufacturers. These are called open stock. Though the individual stick price might be more than the price per stick in a boxed set, you will have the freedom to choose the colors you desire, rather than spending money on colors you would rarely if ever use.  Buying a dark, middle, and light value of each color that you are adding to your set will create a well-rounded set. offers a great way to experiment with different brands. They currently offer six different sampler sets of soft pastels and sampler sets of pastel pencils with eight different brands of pastel pencils. This is a great way to experiment with different brands and discover which ones work best for you.

​Keeping Track with an Inventory

When I buy a new pastel I use a single edge razor blade to cut the pastel in half. The half that has the color name and number on the label I put in an inventory box.  I remove the label from the other half of the stick and put it in my working box. This affords me the ability to use the side of the pastel for wide sweeping strokes.

One of my pastel inventory boxes.(You will notice that there are also full sticks in the box, these are extras of colors I use often)

My working pastel box

Another method of keeping track of pastels is to create a color chart. Simply draw a small square of color on a piece of pastel paper and write the color name and number next to it.

Color Chart

When a pastel is getting almost too small to use I can refer to the pastels in the inventory box or the color chart to find the color number and name when I need to reorder.

Future Topics:
  • Tooth, Grit & Texture - Pastel Paper and other grounds
  • Easels, etc
  • Under Painting and other ways to start your painting
  • To Blend or Not to Blend - Does sand paper remove your fingertips?
  • To Fix or Not to Fix (Fixative)
  • Forgive or Forget - Correcting mistakes or tossing it out.
  • Framing
  • Not Your Common Dust Bunny - Dealing with pastel dust
  • Plein Air Equipment
  • My Favorite Art Books
Are there other topics you'd like to know more about? Want to see one of the above topics covered first? Do you have questions?
Comment below or send an email:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Indiana Dunes Lakeshore 18" x 18"

Here is the painting that I worked on during the last three days of my February challenge.
In August 2016 I was selected for the Artist-in-Residency Program at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I spent two weeks painting, hiking, exploring and taking reference photos to paint from. The above painting will become part of the park's Aritst-in-Residency Gallery.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Day 25 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Today I did not complete a painting. Here is a work-in-progress that I worked on today. This is a larger version of the small painting posted on the  23rd. I have put away the reference photo and I am working only from the small painting, in an effort to avoid adding more detail than is necessary in the larger version.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Day 24 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Clouds Over Ice 16.5" x 9.5" Pastel on Canson MiTeintes orchid paper.
Cumulus clouds in an intensely blue winter sky. The vibration created by the contrast of the orchid pink paper and the blue causes the sky to come alive.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Day 23 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Indiana Dunes Lakeshore 6.5" x 6.5" Pastel on Uart paper.
Painted this from a photo and sketches made during  my Artist-in-Residency at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in August of 2016. I am considering doing a larger version of this one.
Available through PayPal

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 22 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Through the Trees 8" x 8" Pastel on UArt paper.
The sun filters through the trees and spills out over the snow, creating patterns of light and shadow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 21 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Twilight 12" x 16" Pastel on Uart paper.
Twilight creates a soft peachy sky which lightly touches the snowy hills and the roofs of the farm buildings nestled in the valley. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 20 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Hillside Farm 6.5" x 10" Pastel on UArt paper.
Today I decided to paint something green. It was a gray day outside and the snow is melting and looking dirty, so I didn't really feel like going outside to paint.This was painted from a photo I took in summer. I don't really know why but my attention is often drawn to rusting metal roofs.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 19 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Long Winter Shadows - En plein Air 8.5 x 10" Pastel on Art Spectrum paper.
It was another unseasonably warm winter day in Wisconsin and a great day for painting outdoors. The sun was bright and the shadows were long. From my view the sun was just kissing the tops of the trees. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Day 18 ~ February Challenge

Cirrus Clouds ~ En Plein Aire 12" x 9" Pastel on Richeson Pastel Paper
It was another unseasonably warm winter day, so I headed out to paint outdoors. I didn't travel far, just to the field behind my house.The sky was intensely blue with high, thin cirrus clouds. It was great to be outside. Working on the  Richeson paper was new to me and I liked the rough texture and deep tooth.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 16 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Country Road 5 x 7" Pastel on Richeson's Pastel Board
Today I tried a surface that was new to me, I liked the suttle texture of this toothy surface. Not sure if it was the small size or the texture of the surface but I was able to achieve a looser style which I was quite happy with.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 14 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

East Shore - Plein Air, 12.5" x 9"
It was another great day to be outdoors painting.Though I would have liked to spend maybe half hour more on this one, but the clouds rolled in very quickly becoming completely overcast and the wind started whipping, so I called it finished and headed inside.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 13 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Winter Lakeshore 10" x 10"
Today was a great day to be painting outdoors. The sun was warm and the temperature around 42. I sat at the end of the dock and painted the long shadows of the trees acroos the snow-covered ice.  The shoreline weeds sticking up above the ice were catching the sun's rays and the sky was deep blue with wispy clouds

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Day 12 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Hills and Clouds 7" x  9" Pastel on Uart 400 grit pastel paper.
On this blustery, winter day I enjoyed working in the sutdio from my reference photos taken when the temperatures were warm and it was a fine day to be outside.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Day 10 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Winter River Light 7 x 9
Here's the revised version of yesterday's painting. I got so involved in this one, that I didn't complete a new painting to post today. Check yesterday's post to see the work-in-progress.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 9 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

 This is a photo of the underpainting for Winter River Light. The underpainitng was sketched with hard Nu-Pastels and then a brush and alcohol was used for the underpainting.
I love using Uart paper because it accepts this wet technique. Not all pastel papers will stand up to getting wet.
Winter River Light 7 x 9" Pastel on Uart paper, is a work-in-progress. I still need to "clean-up" the shapes of the trees and branches, and the sun shapes filtering through the branches. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Day 6 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28 Days

Winter Evening Sky 5.5" x 7.5"
Pastel on Uart paper
My dad used to say "sky blue, pink and purple"  referring to a color that did not exist. I often am reminded of that phrase when I see a sky like the one in this painting.

Purshase Winter Evening Sky

Friday, February 3, 2017

Day 3 ~ February Challenge 28-in-28

Slip Slidin' Away 11" x 14"
Another take on the sun slippin' below the horizon on a winter evening. Yesterday's version was a tiny 4.5" x 5.75". This one was done as a demonstration for the residents at the Heartland House Care Facility. CLICK HERE: TO PURCHASE THIS PAINTING

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Here are the first two days paintings for my self-imposed challenge to paint 28 daily paintings, one for each day in February. My plan is to do small studies and then select some of the best to complete larger works. I am trying to loosen up, working with less detail and working in a small format encourages that. If you care to comment on the ones that you feel would make good larger paintings, I would love your input.

 Snowy Hillside 4.5 X 6.25"
Slippin' Away 4.5 x 5.75"

Monday, January 23, 2017


This original, framed, ready to hang pastel landscape painting will go home with one of this year's Sweetheart Candlelight Event raffle ticket buyers. So, go to the event, have some fun, buy raffle tickets, and you might be the one. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing you helped to financially support the Ice Age Trail and you will have an original work of art to remind you of the trail.

Waushara County Chapter of the Ice Age Scenic Trail
18th Annual Sweetheart Candlelight Event
February 11, 2017 -- 5-9 PM
Caribou Bay Retreat
N795 County Rd. JJ, Coloma, WI

This family event is a fun winter outing for all ages. After hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing on the Wedde Creek Segment, warm yourself by the bonfire. Go inside the Caribou Bay Retreat to enjoy music by the Cody Clauson Trio and refreshments - and be sure to enter the raffle for great prizes.

Here's why I donate art to the Ice Age Scenic Trail's annual Sweetheart Candlelight Event's fundraising raffle:
~ The raffle proceeds go directly to creating, protecting, and supporting the trails in Waushara County.
~ The Waushara County Chapter maintains 20.5 designated miles of trail divided between 6 segments.
~ Access to the trails is free.
~ Giving back to an organization that helps preserve the areas where I hike and paint is simply "the right thing to do."

Monday, January 16, 2017


Many thanks to Keith Linwood Stover for featuring my art on the My art will be featured January 16 and 17th. Keith tirelessly works to promote artists, and I am deeply honored to have been selected by Keith. The image below Winter Sun & Shadows is one of the images Keith selected for the online gallery.Visit the online show soon to see my work on the front page then go back often to view all the great artists he selects.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Happy New Year!
Year after year I've noticed that retailers like to promote organization in January, offering special sales on plastic totes, desk organizers, closet organizers, etc. It appears they hope to take advantage of the many New Year's resolutions that are made by folks hoping to live a more orderly and organized life. I decided I would do a bit of organization in my studio, starting with my pastel tray. (Sorry, retailers, I didn't need to buy anything.) Pastels do need to be cleaned frequently because it does not take long before all the pastels in the tray become a grungy gray. Periodic cleaning brings them back to their original brilliant color. Some artists have a clean-as-you-go philosophy or clean at the end of each painting session. I am not as diligent, and when I entered the studio after some time away for the holidays it was evident that I should take time for cleanup and organization to start the new year off right. Here is a photo of my cleaned pastels and organized tray. The pastels are again in order by color and value (light to dark, with a special section for grays) making it easier for me to find just the right color when I need it. The time off during the holidays has me feeling a bit rusty but my materials are ready and I am eager to paint. Are you making an resolutions, goals or special plans for 2017?