Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More About Oils and Pastels - and House for Sale

Mitten Ridge Sketch, 12x9 pastel

Students are often curious why I work in two media.  Well, many professional painters work in more than one medium, just as they may work in more than one genre.   It's like going to a liberal arts college rather than a technical school - a broader education makes you more adaptable.  It also makes life richer.

But, in my case, why specifically oil and pastel?   These two media are peculiar in that one informs the other.  Because every color in pastel is available in several shades or tints, pastel is a great medium for learning how to keep values separate.  This is an important aspect of plein air painting, and oil painters would do well to learn this skill.  The problem with oil is, anytime you add color to a mixture, you change the value whether you meant to or not.  "Value slippage" becomes a common failure among oil painters.

Oil, however, is all about mixing color.  Pastel, not so much.  Because pastels have such a range of colors to choose from - 525, if you have the full set of Senneliers - pastel painters rarely learn the skill of mixing color.  Pastel painters who haven't learned how to mix color get into trouble with a limited set of pastels.  Playing with oil, or any liquid paint, can be a great help to the pastel painter who goes out in the field with a limited set.

For most painters who work in two media, one will be primary and the other, secondary.  I, however, tend to work in each about the same, partly because I get as many students who paint in oil as in pastel.   When I'm painting on my own, I still paint half and half.   I don't let subject dictate the medium; I can paint any subject equally well in either, and I never feel that pastel is more appropriate to a certain subject than oil.  But do I prefer one over the other?  I do, but it's personal.

By the way, Trina and I are in the process of renovating a 1400+ sq ft, 3-bedroom house with a perfect studio space.  This house is in our community, and we'd love to have another artist here!  Two hours from Phoenix and only 10 miles from Sedona make this the perfect summer or winter home.  We'll be pricing it under $100k.  Available soon. For details, visit


Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Hi Michael. Great discussion about using both oil and pastel. They really do inform each other. Each one makes the other better in my opinion.

Wish I could talk Haywood into purchasing another home ... the one you are renovating. That would be wonderful. I love coming out there. Please show some pictures sometime... you never know if we can get rid of the home we have owner-financed in Woodstock, I might could talk him into it.

daniela.. said...

Hi Michael, I use oil or acrylic paints, and oil pastels. I persevere with oil paint because it is so luscious and looks fantastic, but I work best in acrylic paint and most of all I love oil pastels. What you say is interesting about them informing each other. If I could oil paint the way I work in oil pastels I would have the work I want to do, in paint. No one works in oil pastels if they can help it, I find, but I do my best work in them. Do you think I should try a lot of premixed colors with more of palette knives work to arrive at this?

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Marsha; I'll post some pictures as we get a little farther along into the renovations. Hi Daniela - Yes! Try premixing your major colors first. It'll work wonders.

drusilla said...

Love those hot colors on the mitten! Are those the new Terry Ludwig Vibrants? I am slowly getting my oil kit together, it's been years since I painted in oils....maybe it's time! I got the water washable oils this time..not sure if I will like them, but we will see!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Sorry, Dru, but those aren't Terry Ludwigs! They are Mount Vision.