There are many professional pastel portrait artists in the world and I am proud to be one. In fact, I would identify with the title “pastel portrait artist” more than any other title you could give me as an artist.
How I Got Started
I got my first set of pastels in the 80’s and my first successful pastel portrait was of my first born son, Darren. Looking at the portrait from the perspective of my experience today, I see a few mistakes. The one glaring mistake was that it was larger than life sized. That is clearly a no-no in portraiture unless the artist intends to make a poster sized portrait. It was, nonetheless, a nice piece of artwork and it inspired me to count myself worthy to join the ranks of the modern pastel portrait artists of my day.
Why I Prefer Working with Pastels
Pastels are a forgiving medium. By that I mean pastels are easy to correct. They seem to me a lot like working with clay. If you need more, you add more, if you don’t like what you just did, take it off, move it over, change it, or just start over. I guess you could say they are “mold-able”.
What are the tools of the trade for pastel portrait artists?
I discovered what I consider to be the key to rich pastel paintings with that very first portrait when I tried a sanded pastel paper called “Sabretooth” by Holbein. I absolutely loved it! The surface was completely smooth with a “tooth” that could hold layers and layers of pastel building up into a richness that resembled oils. During the first several years of my pastel work all my portraits were on Sabretooth paper. I was so disappointed when I discovered that the Sabretooth paper I loved had morphed into one with a bumpy texture! I wonder how many pastel portrait artists they lost as customers when they changed their paper. So I searched for another source and found “Colorfix“. It was quite comparable to my tried and true Sabretooth and produced in an array of colors. So, for the most part, I use Colorfix now and I love the way it holds the pastel layers.
My first set of pastels was Rembrandt brand and I used them exclusively for many years. I recently purchased a complete set of “Terry Ludwig Pastels” and by complete I mean 520 colors. They are a dream to use. I have a large selection of Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils which are wonderful for detail work and I have a set of harder pastels that are “Faber Castel” that I use for both detail and preliminary drawing. I also have a set of Sennelier pastels that are like “butter” and I commonly only use them for the final touches.
The Down Side of Using Pastels
Pastels can be problematic for some artists because of the dust they create. I have to be very careful not to breathe the dust as some colors are carcinogenic. I usually don’t have much of a cloud of dust to deal with if I don’t give in to the urge to blow it off my drawing. I like to have my paper on a table as opposed to a vertical easel and so from time to time I need to pick it up and tap off the excess pastel particles. I do have dust masks that I can use but honestly I don’t always put one on… a habit I need to form for my own safety. Gloves are also something that I wear occasionally but not often enough.
Almost any medium you choose to use has it’s issues and hurdles and there are definitely some mediums that are safer for the artist than others. I still do my best work in pastel and I am willing to take a little risk in order to keep working in the amazing medium of pastel.
If you’re an artist I’d love to hear what you prefer to use. Please leave me a comment below. If you’re interested in commissioning a work of art please get a hold of me on the contact page.