Monday, January 31, 2011

When to Do Pastel, When to Do Oil

"Templeton Trail" 12x18, pastel - $700  (unframed)

"Oak Creek Chasm" - 9x9, pastel - $500 (unframed)

People always ask, When is pastel the best medium for a particular subject?  They're surprised when I tell them that my choice of medium has nothing to do with my choice of subject.  I am as likely to use oil as pastel whether my subject is a barn, creek, meadow or mountain.   Some painters may say they use oil for water subjects because the medium is more fluid and lends itself to surface effects; or they may say they use pastel for fields because that medium lends itself to drawing grasses and little bushes.  Maybe, but if you're skilled enough, it doesn't really matter.

For me, my choice of medium has to do with my attitude.  If I want a truly freeing experience and don't want any hassles, I'll take into the field a small box of pastels with a single mounted sheet of paper.   I may not even take my easel and work in my lap instead.   You can do this with oil, of course, but you'll still be somewhat encumbered by a jar of OMS, brushes and something like a pochade box so you can mix the paint and not get it everywhere.  You still don't need the easel necessarily; the Guerrilla Painter 5x7 Thumbox is perfect for this, since you can hold it in one hand or balance it on a picnic table or in our lap.  But pastel still would be my personal choice, since I don't need the thinner, brushes or palette.

Otherwise, if I'm feeling strong and ready to wrestle a bit, I'll probably go with the oils.  I personally like to push paint around, and if I'm going to take out the gear, most times I'll take the oil paints.   Of course, I do take pastel, but that's more likely if I have students working in pastel or if I want to do a large pastel for a show.  I enjoy the immediacy of pastel, but I also enjoy the challenge of oil.

I spent the last week doing some plein air mentoring in pastels, and rather than drag the pastels out over a long time, I thought I'd just include them in one post.  If you're interested in a purchase, I've also put pricing.  Contact me directly at

These next two were done on PastelMat, and I really liked
 the soft texture and how my hard pastels worked with it. 

Sail Rock Sketch - 6x8, pastel - $70  (unframed)

Uptown Trail Sketch - 6x8, pastel - $70 (unframed)

Thunder Mountain Sketch - 3x9, pastel - $50

Jordan Apple Barn Sketch - 6x8, pastel - $70  (unframed)

PS My survey regarding workshops is still open, if you haven't taken it yet:

And I still have a space left in my Grand Canyon April 26-29 plein air painting workshop!


Casey Klahn said...


Cindy Michaud said...

Oh I love your answer, and I was going to be devastated if there was any other answer as to when pastel and when oil. Mood and attitude...can't put my finger on it, I just know! thanks, I'm learning lots!

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

I appreciate hearing the thoughts behind the decisions about oil or pastel. Love your blog!

Jo Castillo said...

These are wonderful. I like the last little barn, but I just love barns. You capture the scenery so well there.

I choose my medium for convenience. I favor pastel, but like you say, I enjoy smushing a brush around, too.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Casey, Cindy, Katherine and Jo!

hmuxo said...

Incredible work! Wonderful post..