Monday, December 24, 2018

Blue Earth Pastels – Some Tips

Sunset Mesa 8x16 Pastel

Recently, I was invited by Pastel Journal to write a series of articles on color for the pastel painter.  Because this "Color Decoder" column is a new idea, my editors and I had to do some tweaking to get it into its final form, which you can see in the current, February 2019 issue, in which I write about the color yellow.   At first, I thought about showing how different manufacturers handle a particular color, but in the end, we decided to just focus on the color itself.  Still, I felt it would be useful for readers if I used just one particular brand, for consistency's sake.  I decided on Blue Earth Pastels.

Why?  Blue Earth handles color in a scientific, logical way that makes choosing a stick of pastel very easy.  They take a pigment that is rich and pure, and then create a series of seven tints and shades plus a progression of four different intensities.  The pastels are made so that the values and intensities match from pigment to pigment; for example, a stick of orange from the 2nd row and 5th column will match in value and intensity a stick of blue from the 2nd row and 5th column.  One of the biggest problems facing a painter is matching these two properties among different colors.  With Blue Earth Pastels, so long as you keep the sticks in their proper places in the boxes, this problem is eliminated.  I felt that, with this degree of consistency of value and intensity, Blue Earth would be the perfect brand to use for my illustrations.

Of course, to make this system work, you need to buy all the sets.   You can't just supplement your existing menagerie of pastels with a stick of Blue Earth here and there.  Instead, I recommend the reverse:  Make your foundation set Blue Earth, and then supplement it with other brands as needed.   (I have all the Blue Earth pastels except the Quinacridone Red and Cerulean sets.  I hope to remedy this soon.)

I've been posting a few images from the studio as I work with the pastels, and I've been asked a few questions, which I thought I'd answer more fully here.

What paper do you use?  I use Art Spectrum Colourfix paper.  Its tooth isn't as aggressive as that of Wallis and UArt, so it doesn't "chew up" so much of these very soft pastels as other sanded papers do.  Also, I'm not looking for fine detail, so the soft pastels and the coarse tooth works perfectly for my goal.  I also use Canson Mi-Teintes.  For some reason, many pastel painters seem to dislike this paper, but I think it is a very good and inexpensive alternative to sanded papers.  For the Canson paper, I use a light touch—and I also use fixative throughout the painting process.  For the Colourfix, I don't use any fixative except at the very end.

Here are some detail photos of the above painting to show how the paper looks:





How do you manage the pastels?  I keep the pastels in their original boxes, and I arrange them on a side table in chromatic order.  You run the risk of confusing the order if you take out all the sticks to put them in something else.  Also, they're easy enough to remove from the foam as needed in the "heat of the moment."  To keep track of things, after I use a stick, I just rest the stick atop its proper spot in the box but don't push it down fully; it sticks up a bit, so I know it's a pastel currently in use for this particular painting.  (When I paint with other pastels, I pile them up in a little plate by the easel—this becomes my "palette."  I don't do that with Blue Earth pastels.)  You can see how I do this in the photos below.  Once I am completely done with the painting, I push the used sticks down into their pockets.





What about using them en plein air?  I don't.  I use them solely in the studio.  I like them in their boxes as they are.  If I were to take them outdoors, I would want a big box that could hold them all in exactly the same chromatic order as I have on my side table.  Another possibility is to take fewer; rather than seven values, maybe I'd just take four values.  With the four intensities, that would make sixteen sticks per color; then multiply that by the ten colors, and I'd have 160 sticks, a manageable number in the field.  I'd also add a few from the "Nearly Neutral" sets.

I'm looking forward to continuing the series of Color Decoder articles for Pastel Journal using my Blue Earth Pastels.

UPDATE:  I've acquired this box from Dakota Pastels to keep my full set of Blue Earth pastels in.  It makes it much easier to take into the field!



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