Hands-on Pastels

Dave Gavine pastel portrait
Dave Gavine pastel portrait using a mirror

After working in pencil, then charcoal and Conte crayon the next logical step was to expand the range of colours … and that meant discovering pastels! In all my school years of art lessons I had never been introduced to pastels, and it was such a revelation! Love at first sight .. well touch!
In practical terms for me it was still a dry medium, and easier to use while confined to bed, though in fact I did need to work somewhere where I could create a dusty environment. I bought my first box of pastels and I was in colour heaven! I painted everything I could get my hands on – everyday things around me.

5 pastels of everyday things
5 pastels of everyday things

What is unique about pastel painting?
With pencil, oils and watercolours you start with a white canvas – and either prime the canvas with a background colour, or work from light to dark colours and tones. But with pastel the ideal way is to use a paper with a mid tone, and work towards the lightest and darkest tones using the mid-tone ground as an integral part of the image.
Pastel paper is thicker than that used in drawing/sketching – and most crucially it has a rougher surface, so the dry pigments can stick and hold to the surface.
And the most difficult thing for most painters is that you can’t mix colours. You need a large range of colours in your pastel box. Mixing colours on the painting usually leads to a muddy result – and pastel painting is all about bright, delightful colours!

Learning from Degas
Yes, I soon went looking for a ‘teacher’ whose work I could study and learn from. And Degas was/is an undoubted master of the art of pastel painting. He was also a consummate draughtsman, and drew possibly more than he painted. I rarely like the ‘male gaze’ in art past or present. Feminism taught me a lot that explained my dislike, as it critically dissected the ‘male gaze’. So I was surprised that I enjoyed the Degas female nudes I saw. He managed to draw and paint in a more detached way, with figures looking away from the viewer – and I found myself copying some of his bedroom bathing and toilette studies.

5 studies of Deags nudes
5 studies of Degas nudes

On to Watercolours
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