Project: Basic Paint Application – Exercise: Painting with Pastels


Painting with Pastels

Practice making marks and blending with pastels; if you have time, use the techniques you’ve discovered to make a simple picture…

Soft Pastels on Ingres Paper:

Painting with pastels. Mark making and blending with soft pastels.

Painting with pastels.
Mark making and blending with soft pastels.

Having previously explored soft pastels in the Drawing Skills course, I tried to focus on painterly effects, texture, colour mixing and blending.  Using soft pastel on its side for blocks of colour and thin straight lines. By using a shorter piece on its side, I could rotate it round to produce an almost perfect circle.  Different colours can be layered (either by broad side strokes or narrower end ones), alternately hatched or blended with a finger or rag.

Oil Pastels on Mount Board Primed with Gesso:

Painting with pastels. Mark making and blending with oil pastels.

Painting with pastels.
Mark making and blending with oil pastels.

I repeated similar marks to those above, however, the oil pastel was more prone to pick up the texture of the support being used.  This made for some interesting effects when used fairly lightly on their side.  To obtain more solid blocks of colour, I had to use the tip and pressure to work it into the support’s texture.  I actually preferred the blending of the oil pastels as more options were available.  Again I could layer and hatch colour but I also tried using a rag wound round my finger and this softened the oil pastel and produced a subtle, diffused blend of the colours.  I then tried using solvent and brushes, firstly, a hog brush – this had the effect of moving the pigment around a lot more and left  more brush marks visible.  Using the synthetic Mongoose flat, which is much softer, allowed me to fuse the pigment and blend it without it shifting so much.  I also noticed, that with using solvent, the pigment could run and produced lovely drips and pools of colour.

A Simple Picture – Oil Pastels:

After experimenting with the solvent and oil pastels, I was keen to use this to produce a simple painting.  My intention was to let it run and be free with it, in practice it became a little stiff in execution and not as loose as I wanted initially.  I used the solvent in the sky (this is the view outside my window), and combined with a rag it gave a nice base to paint on.  My favourite part is the apple tree and its branches.  By using the oil pastels on their tip and twisting and moving over the support, a pleasing rendition of twiggy branches was created. Doing this on top of the solvent diluted pigment also removed that layer, which worked brilliantly for getting a sharp jagged line, perfect for the branches .  Not a masterpiece but experimental and informative.

Small painting using oil pastels and mark making and blending techniques. Approx A4 on  on canvas board.

Small painting using oil pastels and mark making and blending techniques.
Approx A4 on canvas board.


A Simple Picture – Soft Pastels:

I was keen to try both types of pastel and found a photograph I took last week while walking the dog early evening.  It was a spectacular sunset and I remember thinking that it would be nigh on impossible to reproduce such vivid and luminous colours in a painting.  Never one to back down from a challenge, I thought I’d try, so soft pastels were probably my best chance.  The most part of the picture was made using the soft pastel on its side.  I was determined not to rely just on blending with my finger and to attempt hatching and layering too. In the main, I succeeded, and not just because of the fine sandpaper quality of the support.  Any finger blending was more of a dabbing motion and I used a dry cloth round my finger if the need arose.  Naturally in the sky, there were horizontal streaks of colour and diagonal cloud formations that also absorbed the last of the sun’s rays, so that helped focus me.  The foreground and buildings were mainly in silhouette but I introduced some dark colours to avoid it being too flat. I was right, though, it’s nowhere near as stunning as real life and, unfortunately, the pinks and corals have not photographed as vibrantly as they are either which is a shame.

Small painting using soft pastels and mark making and blending techniques. Approx A4 on pastel board

Small painting using soft pastels and mark making and blending techniques.
Approx A4 on pastel board











Project: Basic Paint Application – Exercise: Applying Paint Without Brushes


Applying Paint Without Brushes

Use palette knives loaded with paint for initial experiments… also try using old plastic credit cards, set squares or protractors, pieces of cardboard, windscreen scrapers and plastic plastering tools.. don’t worry about creating a painting – just enjoy experimenting…

Now try applying paint with sponges, rags, toothbrushes and your fingers…

Using a 20×16″ oil paper sheet, divided into four, I set about having fun.  The first quadrangle, I used just palette knives and straight out of the tube oil paint.  I tried dabbing, scraping and smearing different colours that I had left on my palette from a previous painting.  Putting two toning colours on the knife at the same time and smearing it on the paper gave a nice two-tone effect with a soft diffused merging line between them.  I also liked dragging different colours across each other with produced some water like effects – but I particularly liked the smearing!

In the second section, I used an old business card, and a thinner piece of card, a stick and the handle end of a paint brush.  By using the card, I achieved thick blocks of colour applied with the face side and printed thin straight lines with the edges. Dragging the stick and brush handle through the thick paint added texture and an almost mosaic tile effect on the paper.

Painting without Brushes. Oil on oil paper

Painting without Brushes.
Oil on oil paper

Painting without Brushes. Tools used.

Painting without Brushes.
Tools used.









In the third quarter I had the most messy fun.  Using a small natural sponge dipped in thinners and then the paint, I splodged diluted paint around the space, it was a lot more fluid than I had intended so no real texture of the sponge remained.  I reverted to the palette knives and thicker paint, and was surprised at how similar to water-colour the oil pigment behaved, by dispersing and running, making diffused mixes. I blended a little with a cloth and added daubs of paint with my fingers, then smeared thick white paint that blended with the, still wet with solvent, areas at its edges.

Lastly, I mainly used a rag round my finger to add paint and work it into the surface.  This gave a good thin covering of pigment without using too much solvent.  Finger painting, dragging with the rag, printing with the edge of the card and sponging were employed in this test.

Unfortunately, I did not have anything overly exciting to hand to use, manual toothbrushes have long since been replaced with electric ones – although that would have been very interesting! This helped me understand how oil paint behaves and what can be done with it, without any serious repercussions – clearing up was not so much fun though – plus, the paint may be dry in about a year!

Project: Basic Paint Application – Exercise: Getting to Know your Brushes


Getting to Know your Brushes

Start by exploring the range of marks and shapes that can be made with your brushes. Make marks with brushes of different sizes, using flats, rounds and filberts.

Mark making with flat brushes

Mark making with flat brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Flat brushes are currently my most frequently used due to their versatility.  Many marks and effects can be created with these from flat blocks of colour, swirls, scumbling, thin straight lines (using the flat on its edge), precise marks (using the corner edge) etc.  In my experiments here I have used:
Size 12 Black Hog bristle – softer than the white but still stiff enough to show some brush marks
Size 8 White Hog bristle – stiffer than the black, hard-wearing and forgiving, good for textured brush marks
Size 12 Monarch (synthetic mongoose) – size 12 in this range is significantly smaller than the hog and much softer. It can provide all the same types of marks, however is better used for more subtle brush work.
Size 4 Monarch (synthetic mongoose) – As above and best suited to either smaller images or detail. The Monarch flat brushes are particularly good for “printing” straight lines on their edge, useful for highlights.


Mark making with filbert brushes

Mark making with filbert brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Currently I rarely use filbert brushes so I only have two for oil painting. However, after playing at mark making with them, I have discovered that they are particularly useful for natural subjects or more organic effects.  They are similar to flats except their tip is a rounded shape and I have heard them referred to cat’s tongue brushes I seem to recall.  They can be used similarly to flats except for printing small straight lines with the tip, they can however, be dragged along on their tip to make a fairly convincing straight line. I did notice that when loaded with paint and pulled down a way that the top of the line is curved and where the brush is lifted off of the paper there is a reverse curve imprinted – rather like a long finger nail tip.  They can be loaded with paint and dabbed on the support in different directions and I succeeded in making a fairly convincing fir cone shape.
Brushes used were: Size 8  and 4 both Monarch ( synthetic mongoose).

Mark making with round and fan brushes

Mark making with round and fan brushes – oil on oil paper 20 x 16″

Again, round brushes are rarely used by me, as are fan brushes – therefore I only have two round and one fan brush in my possession.
Round brushes: As well as sweeping and drawing type strokes, my natural inclination was to stipple with these.  They also made nice, regular circles when pivoted in one spot, although the most useful I found was the twisting and turning of the brush as it travelled over the support.  This seemed a natural solution for tree trunks and branches.
I used Size 4 & 6 white hog bristle.

Also on this page, I decided to try out my one and only fan brush, size 4 white hog bristle. People have suggested that I use one for grasses etc, however, I find the result a little too regimented and uniform to use them too much.  I did like the visible brush strokes, however, and using for both curves and straight lines on its edge and then sweeping down as if mountain peeks was interesting.  I also tried using it dry to blend other marks together whilst paint was still wet.

Conclusion: Step out of my comfort zone and think about utilising brushes other than my trusty flats!

From memory, paint a small and simple landscape (about A4). Use large brushes so you won’t be distracted by the urge to include detail: instead, concentrate on the possibilities and patterns made by the brush marks.

Simple imaginary landscape to experiment with mark making using a large brush

Simple imaginary landscape to experiment with mark making using a large brush – oil on mount board approx A4

Used large-sized brushes: 12 flat hog, 6 round hog, 12 monarch flat, 8 monarch filbert and 4 hog fan.
Techniques and marks used:
Scrubbed in basic shapes with 12 flat, and scumbled the sky, making marks in different directions to achieve texture and clouds.
Made directional marks with 8 flat for corn fields and hedgerows.
Stippled with 6 round for near hedgerow.
Straightish lines with 12 monarch flat, printed broken lines with brush edge.
Softened far hills with filbert.
Flicks and drags of paint for foreground corn with stiff hog brush.

Once you’ve experimented, paint a piece of fruit using these techniques, taking care to set the fruit in direct light to help define the form.

A piece of fruit using techniques learnt

A piece of fruit using techniques learnt – oil on mount board approx A4

I managed to employ several techniques learnt in my experiments.  Broad strokes and chiselled marks with the flats, softer edges and blended with the filberts, twisting and turning the round brush to help make the grain on the table which were then softened with the dry fan brush. Of particular use were the softer flats to describe the shadowed edges of the cardboard box.  Very enjoyable exercise.