Friday, December 6, 2013

The Grays of Winter - pastel

Along the Corn Field, pastel, 8x10

I had students tackle winter grays once again, this time with pastel for today's class. (Yesterday's class was the same topic but with an oil demo.)

Again, the discussion centered on scrutinizing the subject matter to determine the warm grays from the cool grays in both the darks of the trees and the lights of the snow. For the corn field, it was a balancing act of the warms with the cools as well, realizing that the color choices made for this area needed to be much more subdued that you would initially think, since it's within the context of very grayed colors surrounding it.

The value shifts that were needed to capture the small amount of light streaming from the right side were subtle, but important to show accurately.

Below is the underpainting I used to get things started:

For anyone who's worked in both pastel and oil, you quickly realize the pros and cons for each medium. Big upside for oil: you can mix lots of grays with only a few tubes of paint. With pastel, if you don't have many grays and neutrals in your supply of pastels, they're difficult to achieve by graying down brighter colors. (This is certainly possible to do by visually mixing compliments, but more difficult to keep clean color in the painting using this method.)

New students (or students who don't yet have a good range of colors and values in their supply of pastels) often experience frustration when they realize they're missing these key color options. I've wondered if I need to stick with class exercises that steer clear of these colors that don't usually come in basic sets. However, I think it's important to still include this topic because it helps students realize how critical the use of grays and neutrals are to a successful painting, and also helps them to know what they'll eventually need to add to their supply when their budget allows.

Next month in my studio classes, we'll explore the sunnier side of snow!


  1. I have several sets of pastels, but have not started into using them so this observation is very valuable to me.
    Thank you for showing the possible pitfall

  2. I don't have enough grays. My last purchase was a 30 set Intense Darks 1. I'm thinking of perhaps purchasing Maggie Price's Grays, set of 30. Terri Ludwig has a 20% off sale now I believe. I'm also thinking of trying oils. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy reading it very much, and your art is beautiful.

  3. Thank you, Sue and Cheri, for the nice feedback. The Maggie Price Grays set that Terry Ludwig sells is an excellent set to have!