10 March, 2007

The Pastel Palette - Part II

Before we get into pastel brands and types, I want to add a little to yesterday's post about the palette box, or tray system for organizing one's pastels. It is typical I think, when starting out, to keep the little gentle gems in their foam cut-out lined boxes, and to place the boxes on a table to the side of one's work. I'd like to suggest some ways to get better organized, and provide some reasons for this.


My large studio tray I had to hand make. Jane Lincoln, a contemporary pastellist whom I admire greatly, used to have a graphic of something just like this on her website. After I saw that, I went straightway to the local cabinet-grade (or plywood) store, and found as many large sheets of wood that were less than or equal to 1/4" thick as I could get my mitts on, and came home and built that bad boy to my own specs. Arrr-uuhrr-ahhr.
Sorry. Power tool work makes me all funny inside.
Get a hold of some 1", or even 3/4" strips of wood, as well. These become the walls of your tray, and the dividers if you want. Fome-Core makes good dividers, also. Keep to the plywoods, and steer clear of the MDFs and manufactured/oriented woods. The lighter weight of the clear or ply wood is the reason.
There you have it. Make it big, and assemble it with glue and clamp it. I made mine with a floor of Fome-Core on top of the wooden bottom, and put the dividers on top of that, and routed little grooves on the vertical walls for the dividers to go into. My tray turned out to be: 18.5" x 34.5" x 1.25".
Anyone out there have a brother-in-law with cabinet making skills and time to burn? Maybe we need to go into business, here.
So, now you have your big tray. Ready for the really fun part? You want to have your pastels as handy as possible, and all in one place, so-to-speak.


Okay, now we're set to organize our palette. Here is where you get a multitude of different theories on how to arrange the little beauties:
  • Arranged by value, or dark to light.
  • Arranged by hue, or color.
  • Arranged by brand ( I don't subscribe to this one, but that's what you are essentially doing when you leave them in their original boxes).
  • Arranged by temperature.
I want you to express yourself by doing it your way.

Progressing from top left to bottom right; dark values through light.

My own method is based upon the way I am going to work. Yesterday's smaller plein air palette (seen above) is arranged by value almost completely. The idea when working outside is to get the values down well, and finish the color work later on in the studio. You must decide how many values you want to work with. Not being very sophisticated, myself, I have essentially a four value system. Add two more for the extremes of dark and light, and that makes six total, or three in the top tray, and three in the bottom one. More on my outdoor kit later.


My big studio tray is organized mainly by hue. One section for reds, the next for oranges, next yellows, etc. all the way down to the violets. The reddish browns are divided into two trays, one redder, the other yellowish browns. Then, these two browns are arbitrarily placed.
Wait a minute, you may say! The photo shows ten sections! I happened to have just that much space, given each section's width of about 1 and a half full length pastel sticks, and given the length of board that I resourced.
It turns out that my choices for each section have been a good working organization for my personal tastes and methods. Red, orange, reddish-browns, yellowish browns, yellows, high-intensity greens, greens, blue-greens, blue-violets, and violets. I later added a floating section for high-intensity blue-violets, as well.


Then, I arranged the middle values in each hue from the center down to darks, and up to lights. Put another way, the pure values, or mid values of each color are found in a horizontal band from the left all the way to the right. The dark values are also arranged in a horizontal path from left to right, if you were to overlook the vertical dividers. Ditto the light values.
As I've already said, some of my sections represent the higher intensities of a given hue. I prize intensity over temperature, and so my palette organization reflects this.
The best way to describe my pastel tray (besides the obvious word that starts with an "A" and ends with an "L"), is that it is arranged by hue, then by value, and with a bias towards specific intensity.
Get the idea? Just do some thinking about how you use your colors, and key the organization to your own personal tastes.
Whoops. I never got to brands! I Guess we'll have to plan on another post for that.
For the abrasive surfaces that we enjoy using our pastels on, have a look at the very detailed descriptions of several popular brands that Katherine Tyrell has given over at Making a Mark.
I wouldn't doubt that she may be planning a similar review of pastel brands. Don't worry about repetition, though. My own review of brands and types of pastels will be more oriented towards my own experiences, rather than the technical specs.

4 comments:

Angela said...

Wooo! That's alot of info. there Casey! Thanks for sharing all that with us! It's kewl to see your studio too!!! I have needed your help with something. Perhaps I should e-mail this to you but I don't have the time. When doing my art I follow what I feel like I should do at the time...some of it's BIG time abstract, some of it's kinda cartoonish. Do you think that I'm just confusing people..and that I should do it differently? Picasso said something about a child being an artist..or something...I don't remember.....Anyhoo....I'm probably wasteing your time..so I'll leave ya alone. GREAT POST! :)

Mary Richmond said...

Whoa! I am wicked jealous of all your lovely pastels....I work in pastel when I can but don't have nearly the array that you have. Jane Lincoln is a wonderful artist and lives here on the Cape. It was fun to see you mention her! I'm enjoying your blog alot!

Casey Klahn said...

Angela, go ahead and e-mail me that question, anytime. I'd be glad to have it as a conversation!
Mary, anytime I get a rise out of an accomplished writer (as well as artist) I feel lucky. Thanks.
Someday Jane Lincoln ( are you listening out there, Jane?) will have a workshop at La Conner, and I will be able to go.
Or, I will sell out my next opening, and get on a plane out to Cape Cod for one of her workshops...

Casey Klahn said...

Wait until I link you over to Daniel Greene, whose pastel table requires a tractor trailer to wheel about in the studio.
I believe there is a choir of angels accompanying any movement of said palette.

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