09 March, 2007

The Pastel Palette

Since the Diana Ponting lessons are going fast and furious over at Wet Canvas, I thought I might add some pastel trivia and tips, history and information to keep the enthusiasm up for pastels.
Many of my blog chums around the net have taken up the subject af pastel this month, and I think quite spontaneously.
Yesterday, we looked at the Pastel General, Edgar Degas. I intend to also have a look at a few other luminaries from the past and also the present who work with pastel. If all goes well, we'll peek in on a few of my pastel chums.
This post will be in two parts: 1. (Today) A simple palette box system, 2. (Tomorrow) A brief and simple look at pastel brands and types. I may add a third on how to get outside with them, as that seems to be a big area of 0f interest.

Since I am not in my big studio during my remodel, I am working in the house with my plein air kit. I make my kits from shallow cigar boxes. This one is a PADRON (Nicaraguan, Hand Made) cigar box: 6.5" x 11.25" x 1.75". The shallow depth allows for security of the sticks, and I find that wood's gentle touch is the kindest to my pastels. I notice that few cigar shops actually sell their empty cigar boxes, but those kind ones that do, get my return business. Cardboard is also gentle; plastic transfers too much shock, IMO. For extended trips (air travel), I add a sheet of thin foam bought at an upholstery shop, or scrounged from other places.
Further, I have constructed a tray out of foam core, with foam core dividers glued in place with Elmer's (children's) glue. A ribbon allows me to get the top tray out. When I do go (rarely) out the door, I put a couple of extra long rubber bands around the box.
The little wooden trays are gathered from second hand stores where one may find dried fruit trays, and from tobacconists. They become my working palette.
It is important to get the pastel sticks out of their original boxes, where they seem to be organized randomly, and into something that you can organize and work with. Don't worry about breaking them. They will all be broken eventually. I will show you how to fix that later.
It is a great help to take the paper off, as well. Some artists, like the venerable Daniel Greene, I think, carefully break each one of their multi-thousand dollar full set of Senellier pastels in two. They dutifully store away the halves to use one for painting, and the other for a reference from which they may match the little stub and then be able to re-order individual sticks.
Now, I will gladly do anything that DG does, as he is THE MAN, and a master of pastels. If he enters the studio from the right, I will enter the studio from the right.
But, you are blessed, dear reader, with the fact that you are beginning your pastel life in the digital era. Take a picture of your beautiful new box of expensive pastels. Then, take it apart, and organize it in with the others. Your $250 box of 100 pastels will be absorbed into the vast whole of your palette, and you will be left in shock at how few they actually appear to be. You will shed a tear.
Also, be aware that most art stores have a few color charts relating to the brands of pastels that they sell. And, for the picky, like me, one can get hand made charts (true representations, not ink!) for most brands from Dakota Pastels.


Robyn Sinclair said...

You must be a very wealthy man, Casey. You could be mugged for that amount of pastels! I've just been exploring your links - drooling. I'm going to stick with what I have at present but know if I ever get to heaven there will be a 300+ set waiting for me. Oh, and I have tossed the surgical gloves. Of course I am prepare to weep when I break my first pastel.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Casey, I learned a good trick from a friend once-she used rice in her boxes. Very handy as cushioning when moving the boxes around if you paint outside or whatever. I find the rice is also just enough abrasion to "clean" off the pastels, but doesn't wear them down. All of my pastels are stored in rice. Uncooked of course:)

Casey Klahn said...

Yes, Tracy, I tried the corn meal trick (similar trick to rice) but it felt too messy. Now I keep a small tub of corn meal off to the side to "bathe" the dirty ones. I also wipe them off with a tissue when needed.
I actually like dirty pastels, as the random bits of color sometimes offer something good. Whatever floats the boat, eh?
Robyn, I am just happy when my links work!
The business of collecting pastels is a lifetime thing. After a few years, one can have quite a few! I also don't think that they "use up" that fast. Even though I work boldly, and on sand paper!
Wait, you don't know the fun of making your own pastels! It does take some edge off of the costs.
Save those tailings (dust dropped into a trough at the bottom of one's painting, or on the tray of your easel). Of course, if you work flat, there will be no saved tailings. I also think the opportunity for gestural marks is lessened when working flat.

Lindsay said...

This is an interesting post. I'm trying to figure out if I should get one of those fancy expensive boxes to work outside. But they are all so HEAVEY. I don't want to work on an easel either...my lap is fine when I'm out and about. I've ended up using my original Holbine cardboard box minus the plastic boxes as my pastel box. It actually seems to be a very good solution. I jsut need one of those wooden trays now to be a pallet! Thanks for showing us your kit.PS: I use dirty pastels too. Sometimes it creates happy accidents.

Casey Klahn said...

The League of Dirty Pastel Users.
I may post soon about my Guerrilla Pochade Box. Judon's Plein Air Outfitters, GeurrillaPainter.com, I think.
I use the Thumbox, which is very light and small. It is so well made, you will pass it down through generations of your family. See a picture of me using it, with their tripod, at the bottom of my blog page.

Making A Mark said...

Nice post Casey - I can see I'm going to have to link to it and the next one!

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism