I have been drawing and painting about two years now so, for me, everything is still new and exciting. When I try a new medium, I’m like the proverbial kid in the candy shop; mouth open, eyes glazed over, head spinning. Pastels hit me that way. Who wouldn’t love a big new box of colored chalks, right? First, let me say that I would not be nearly so excited if I hadn’t had some fabulous teachers the past couple of years. I’ve studied online with Pam Carriker, Sharon Tomlinson, Misty Mawn, Kate Thompson, Judy Wise and Gillian Cox and have loved every single lesson from these incredible teachers. The challenge of each new exercise is what gets me excited and feeds my soul.
I have avoided pastels for a long time because…well, I simply didn’t know what these teachers were talking about when they used the word “pastel”. Was it the chalky kind, the hard but water soluble kind, the oil-based kind? I had no idea and was afraid to ask. If I used the wrong one, would I be able to remove it or paint over it? These are the things I feel certain come with a formal art education, but I didn’t have that to fall back on. So I just kept avoiding the dreaded “P” word.
In my most recent online workshop with Gillian Cox, I was determined to overcome this fear and attempt to achieve the “moodiness” that Gillian so beautifully captures in her work. Watching her videos gave me the answers that I needed as she spoke of breaking the pastels into smaller pieces in order to use them on their sides for broad strokes. Her advice about the resulting “dust” and whether or not to seal the work provided even more information and gave me the courage to jump in with all ten soon-to-be-very-dirty fingers.
So, last night was my very first attempt with pastels and I must say that I am smitten. I found an old piece of paper that I think is 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper (it came to me from someone else), cut it in half and smeared on a layer of clear gesso to give it some tooth. I spread the gesso with an old credit card to avoid brush strokes, but I did end up with a somewhat uneven layer. As a result, I had a beautiful (unplanned) texture that I probably couldn’t have done any other way. Then came the fun part! Working with a photo of an old Tibetan woman, I began to map out her beautiful face. Ten minutes later, I was covered with pastel dust and washed my hands. Thirty minutes later, I was just about head to toe in pastel dust but no longer cared. I was having the time of my life! I am quite happy with the results and now know that this will not be my last work in pastel.
If you are looking for help with your art, or wanting to learn from the beginning as I did, do not hesitate to sign up for the wonderful workshops offered by the teachers I have listed here. They are amazingly gifted and so very generous with the sharing of their skills and their time. The investment is so small when compared to what you will gain as an artist. Oh, and don’t forget to give those dusty, dirty pastel chalks a try!