Monday, October 28, 2013

Painting the Autumn Landscape in Pastel

Color Amid the Haze, pastel, 11x14

Autumn Marsh, pastel, 8x10

This past Friday I taught a one-day pastel workshop here in Atlanta. The topic was painting the autumn landscape. Autumn is probably my favorite season. I love the crisp, cooler air, the smell and crunching sound of falling leaves, and of course the beautiful colors.

I have to admit that when I first started painting autumn landscapes years ago, I went a little overboard on the color. I look back at this earlier work and feel like I need sunglasses to view it. I hadn't yet learned how to balance my vibrant autumn colors with the necessary grays and neutrals that make the more vibrant colors "sing." I also hadn't yet purchased the necessary pastels in these duller colors. These crucial grays and neutrals aren't the "pretty" colors that we pastelists normally gravitate toward.

One of the most important aspects of color use that I've learned over the years is that, more often than not, the best color for almost any particular area of a painting is usually duller than I first think to select. Learning this balance of color intensity for the various areas of the landscape is, I believe, one of the most critical concepts for any artist to learn.

For my two demos I painted for this workshop, I selected one cloudy day scene and one sunny day. Notice how there's more of a contrast between color temperature (dull vs. vibrant) in the cloudy scene (top) compared the sunny scene in which the color temperatures are still varied but to a lesser extreme. Often, the color on cloudy day scenes may actually appear more intense because of this more extreme contrast.

If you're having trouble with overly bright, garish looking landscapes, as your budget allows, you may want to invest in some sets of gray (not pure gray, but grayed colors) or neutral pastels. Many pastel brands offer such specific sets.

When I work with beginners who usually have basic starter pastel sets, we run into the challenge of having very few of those crucial dull colors. Yes, you can visually mix colors from a basic set (i.e., mix complimentary colors for a grayed effect"), but the result isn't as clean of a color application as if you apply the precise color you need. I never like having to tell new students that they have to buy more pastels. But thank goodness many of the pastel brands out there today offer the option to purchase single sticks a little at a time for those of us on a budget!


  1. Love it! Your work is awesome! I'm in awe of your wonderful talent.

  2. Hi,
    Good Job. A member of my community did a tutorial on this landscape:
    please have a look at it. Comments are welcome.