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Pastellus: Focus Part 2

June 30, 2017

When it comes to our ability to focus on painting, preparation is the most important thing that we can easily control. Being prepared allows us to quickly get our hands covered in pastel, and can help us create.

‘Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.’ Henri Matisse

Studio preparation:

  • Having a clean, comfortable place to work is essential. Whether you work in your dining room, spare bedroom, or have a separate studio, keep it stocked.  Don't forget paper towels and rags for keeping hands and pastels clean. There isn't’t anything more frustrating than not being able to find a color because it is dis-colored from past uses, or picking up a color that was used on a dark before and scaring the beautiful light area you are working on. 

  • Have good lighting.  Large LED daylight corrected bulbs are becoming more readily available.  They are cost effective, energy efficient, and they do not burn hot. You can buy them in many sizes, and free standing so they can be moved where needed. Also, consider a source of directional lighting for still life work. 

  • As DaVinci advised, consider keeping a mirror in your studio, and face it towards your easel if possible. "Turn your painting to a black glass and it will appear as though another master had done it and you will see its flaws."

  • Don’t forget the music!   Music, or even audio books, and pod casts, can help you loosen up and be more intuitive when you are painting. 

  • When you're done painting, spend a few minutes cleaning, taking inventory,  and creating a work space that feels good.  You will want to return often if you do.


Paper preparation:

Along with having a clean, comfortable space, we need paper, lots of paper. It can be painful to have 30 minutes to paint and spend most of it on the underpainting, or fail at the painting on a nice piece of UArt 400. Have several inexpensive surfaces ready for quick trips to the studio and fast studies. Paper can easily be prepared in advance and ready to go when we are.

  • Consider painting drawing paper with watercolor or acrylic paint, once dried you can cover with Liquitex clear gesso for a sanded surface. You can experiment with the color you choose for a toned underpainting. You can also apply the gesso with varying brush strokes and thicknesses to create texture in your painting. 

  • Or try pastel primer, they come clear or in several colors and can be brushed on any surface including glass. 

  • Pumice can be added to gesso or mixed into a paste with gel and water.  Experimenting with these techniques is inspiring and also freeing and we have created a surface for very little money.  The paper surface used may or may not be wonderful, but anything we do is better than doing nothing!

  • Consider using gator board to create working surfaces. The board will not warp or bow like paper will, it can be primed and prepared and then cut to size, it is available in several thicknesses, and it comes white or black. It holds up well to being left on your easel for long periods and doesn’t require backing,  if framed. (Gator board is not archival, but no one is archiving my paintings - yet!   And we know that pastels painted over a hundred years ago are still in great condition because of the care they have received   Yet, it is a risk to consider.) 


Once we have a few painting surfaces ready to go it’s easy to pull apples out of the refrigerator and set up a still life. No need to brush off or wash the paper off if the painting is terrible, we can just enjoy that we got to be in a creative space and paint a while. 

I would love to hear your feedback on this column, any ideas you have, or things you would like me to research for future columns. mayoumail@sbcglobal.net

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