Wednesday, 9 May 2012

learning to strip....!

If you work with pastels, then I am sure you are aware that pastels are often "clothed" in paper wrappers.  This helps, obviously, to identify the colour and shade you have purchased.  However, what it also does, for many who begin to work with pastels, is act as a kind of INHIBITOR.  There is a fear of stripping off that wrapper  - maybe it is a kind of security blanket!

Here is a pic I found a while ago - I do not know whose pic it is, so I hope I wont offend the person who owns these pastels, if he or she ever finds this blog!  They are nicely organised......and all with their "clothes" still on:

There is a very good reason for stripping off the wrappers, which I will mention below.....but I heartily recommend that before you do so, you do this:

  1. GET A LARGE SHEET OF NEUTRAL, LIGHT- COLOURED PASTEL PAPER.  A light pearl grey will do fine.  Almost any neutral colour will do, even white, just not a dark, strong colour. 
  2. MAKE A MARK WITH YOUR PRISTINE PASTEL ON THE SHEET, and next to the mark, make a note of the make, colour, and shade.
  3. KEEP THIS SHEET IN A SAFE PLACE - a large drawer, flat, is ideal.  If you have no room for a large sheet, you can do this on smaller sheets, but keep the colours separate - all yellows on a sheet, all oranges, etc. Cover each sheet, large or small,  with glassine paper.  You could even use a ring binder with the colours beautifully organised if you are that way inclined....- just make sure you protect each sheet in some way.  
Here are a few of my Schminke colours, noted down - just in case you prefer pictures to words!

What you are doing, is creating your own hand-made colour reference charts - not necessarily for use while painting, but for colour RECOGNITION AND REPLACEMENT .   

Your colour reference sheet will prove absolutely invaluable when it is time to replace that pastel.  You will know exactly which colour it is, by making a tiny mark on a similar colour paper, with the little nub of precious pastel you have left...and you can compare it to your chart.  

You can look at manufacturer's charts of course - here is Schmincke's chart - and you could print these and tick the colours you buy
but you have to remember that mostly, these charts are printed, and therefore, you are not looking at true colours.  It is always best to have a hand-made sheet.  Anyway, it is pretty depressing looking at all the colours you DON'T have....and probably cannot afford....


Without their wrappers, you can use both the point and the SIDE of the pastel, which will extend your mark-making capabilities enormously.  It is really important, when working with pastels,  to understand the full range of the capabilities of a stick of pastel, and yet so many people I have watched, seem to stick with just the "end" of the pastel, and then they might blend here or there with fingers or tissues.  However, using the side of the pastel will give you very different marks, and when you learn, further, to control the weight of your strokes, even more techniques are open to you.

If you use just the point of the pastel, you can achieve linear marks like those at the top of this sheet.  Using the SIDE of the pastel, you can sweep colour across the surface, and can make fat choppy marks like those here:


Some people really get frustrated when their pastels break when they strip off the answer to this is - don't.  Don't get frustrated, that is.  Half a pastel stick is plenty big enough to work with, and if you find that the other half fell into loads of small bits, (sadly, this happens with some manufacturer's pastels, often, when you buy on line and the pastels bounce around in transit) you can crush them down with pestle and mortar, and reconstitute the pastel with a few drops of distilled water, making a thick paste with the ground-down pieces and a little water, ideally the consistency of, say, pastry;  roll, cut into sections and leave out to dry. (if you overdo the water, scrape the resulting pastel "cream" onto a sheet of kitchen paper to dry again.)You can use up lots of tiny unworkable pieces this way, mixing colours too for interesting greys.    New pastels instead of crumbs!  Without the cost, too!  

So, folks, get stripping!


  1. I am new in pastels so this is my pastels well organized and covered with their wrappers

    My work and my pastels

    I admit I have not yet overcome the fear of losing the numbers of the pastel sticks...

    It is my third piece called: La vie-Life

  2. All sage advice, but I expect no less from you! My trouble is I have too many ways to track my sticks! But, my favorite way is with the hand made charts for a given brand.

  3. I've never heard they could be reconstituted. What a great tip! I take it your ballerina picture is pastel. Do you spray your pictures with fixative? (I only know enough about pastels to know they are very messy)! What if someone buys the ballerina picture - you are sending it rolled up - won't it get messy while being framed? I also wonder if you've tried the new Pan Pastels and what do you think of them?


please feel free to leave me a message