Pastels Day 1

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Note:  This lesson is for chalk pastels and not oil pastels.

When working with chalk pastels, it is VERY important to have a large variety of colors to choose from.  A set of 12 simply isn’t going to cut it.  Shoot for at least a couple variations of each color family.  For example, you will want a warm and a cool red.  You might add to that a neutral pink and a saturated pink.  You get the idea.

It is also important to have plenty of white on hand as this will be in high demand and will get used up quickly.

I always encourage students to stay away from using black.  It flattens the image and takes the luster out of any color it is mixed with.  Instead, I encourage them to use darker and cooler colors like deep blues and purples for shadows.

The first day is all about skill building and building confidence.  To achieve this, we do some guided practice with Artist Marla Bagetta.  First, I show them this image of her 100 variations on a landscape, and we talk about all sorts of things... impressionism and gestural mark making, cool and warm, complementary color pairs, color value, the process of making the same image over and over... why?  what is gained?

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At this point, I distribute materials.  I have one full set of pastels for every two students.  I also have cups and cups of "loner" pieces that have collected over the years.  I have them sorted by color families (reds with reds, etc).  Each student is given a paper bowl and they are encouraged to supplement their pastel set with some of the orphans from the cups.

It is also at this point that I have them write their names on the back of their sandpaper.  Trust me.  Do it now.

Then, the students watch me demo the process that Marla shows in this video.  I have a camera that can project what I am drawing on the overhead, but you could just as easily work on an easel if you don't have that technology available to you.  I have them work along with me.  I print out some copies of the image above for them to reference.  Each copy is shared between 2-3 students, and I remind them it is not there for them to "copy" but rather to "study".  (Don't forget to collect the copies at the end of class and reuse them next time!)

Students will want to "blow" or "dump" the powder produced by the pastel chalk.  I do not allow them to do either until about 15 minutes into the drawing, and then I walk around with my trashcan (on wheels) to allow students to shake their drawings into the can.  (Its kind of like when you're at the dentist office, and you have to hold your spit until the dentist gives the say so).  I do this to prevent the inevitable obsessive clearing of the chalk powder that students get drawn into, and to make it clear that the only place for the powder is in the trash (not the air, the floor, or brushed onto their neighbor's work).

I like this as a skill building exercise because the sandpaper prevents students from getting drawn into too much detail or from trying to obsessively over-blend.  They are forced to let go, and respond to the color and the mark making.  Solid win.

We work for approximately 40-45 minutes, and then I have them spray their work in groups.  I don't have a great spray booth, so I lay them on the kiln room floor, turn on the exhaust, and have students go in to spray 2 or 3 at a time.

We spend the rest of the class cleaning up.  I have them wipe off placemats and tables with a wet sponge.  I project this image and they have to put their original pastel set back together something like this: Color families grouped, warms on top, and cools on bottom.  "Orphaned" pieces go back in the correct color family cup.  

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Honestly, I don't get alot of masterpieces from this exercise, but it stretches the students just enough to get them thinking about pastels how I want them to think about it.  They are forced out of the comfort zone of strict representation and control, and find themselves reacting and responding instead to what is unfolding on the "canvas" in front of them.  On Day 2, we will continue to work on skill building, saving the "big project" for Days 4-7.