Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Problem with Pastels

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Mount Vision

I love painting in pastel. Pick up a pastel stick, and you've got immediate color. Paint with it, and it calls up all the pleasure you had as a kid finger-painting. Pastel is also how I got back into painting, so it has a very special place in my heart.

But here's my problem with pastel. It's not easy to restock your pastel box.

I keep my pastels sorted in two ways in my Heilman Pastel Box. First, by hue: Green, blue, violet, red, orange and yellow. (I also have a couple of spots where I stash a few browns and greys.) Second, by value, with dark at the top and light the bottom. If I've recently restocked the box, painting is a real pleasure.

But over time, such as when I'm travelling cross-country teaching workshops, sticks I use frequently get worn down to nubs. Sometimes I even run out of a color. By the time I'm ready to restock, I have to pull out each nub with tweezers and try to match it against my color chart. (See my color charts, above.) For the colors I exhausted while en route, I have to take a long, hard look at my box to see what's missing. Sometimes I don't see what's missing until I need that particular color again.

Restocking the box is, in my mind, a project on the level of doing my annual taxes. And, I have to admit, I restock the box about as frequently as I do my taxes.

I know there are many systems out there for restocking your pastel box. As any of you who've taken my workshops know, I'm a pretty organized guy. I have a good system, so long as I keep on top of it. That's the way with any system - you have to keep on top of it.

My system for restocking my oil painting box is far easier. I have eight tubes of paint. If one tube looks low, I grab a backup. I always keep at least one backup of each color in stock. Keeping track of eight oil colors is a snap compared to keeping track of several hundred pastel sticks.

All that said, I love pastel. If you want to grab color and go, there's nothing like it.

Next time: The Problem with Oils.


Karen said...

I agree! It is tax time and pastel box restocking time. I put it off for as long as I can. I dread it but it is so nice to have a nice clean box without any nubs! Thanks for the needed nudge!

Doug Runyan said...

Restocking the box is difficult -- but pastel is worth the trouble! I like to think that running out of a stick gives me an opportunity to experiment. I have resisted making a color chart so that I will be forced to buy a replacement without knowing if it's exactly the same color I had. I judge only by looking at the manufacturer's color chart online. I figure that even with the guesswork I'll be able to find something close enough to be a good replacement and I might just discover a color I had previously overlooked and keep my palette fresh by introducing new colors.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

My pleasure, Karen! Doug, that's a great idea!

Helen Opie said...

I have pieces of card stock or foam board (or used to, haven't pasteled since moving to the Valley in 03) on which I make a mark with a colour I'm running out of. I have a separate card for each medium, of course. I'll note its name/brand & then can, when I get around to restocking, refer to this. But sometimes I don't get something noted, and I'm just as much without it after my order arrives! The card is labeled Pastels/Oils/Oil Sticks/WC (&c) to get more of, one per medium. It helped, even if it wasn't the perfect solution. And you are so right, having fewer colours makes re-ordering - and having backups on hand - much easier! But I am not giving up on my wide array of colours; I love colours in general and find each has its own best uses.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Helen!