How to Select Colors for Pastel Painting
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How do I choose pastel colors?
Ready-to-use pastel starter sets
The quickest and easiest way to get a selection of cakes is to buy a ready-made set. All quality cake makers from leading artists perform decorations. These range in size from as small as six sticks, to large wooden boxes that span their entire gamut.
If you just want to taste the cakes and feel them, get as small a set as possible. Or, better yet, consider purchasing multiple bars, each from a different manufacturer, so you can experience the range of pastel soft / hard available.
If you want to try a serious pastel painting, you will need a set of 30 to 40 pastels. If you already know that you intend to do primarily portraits or landscapes, you can further refine that choice by purchasing a specific selection of pastels (starting with 10 mid-tone colors.
Why you should limit your choice of pastel colors
Among the skills and techniques you need to acquire for pastel painting are a sense of how pastel will behave on paper, an understanding of how different shades work, and most importantly, an innate understanding of color.
The most common mistake people make when starting out with cakes is buying too many bars and too many different colors. What you need to do is limit your selection to a range of warm and cool colors of each of the primary and secondary colors, plus a few browns (earth colors), a black, and a white.
Better to put together your own selection than to buy a set of ready-made cakes, because this way you only buy what you need. Take a look at what's available at your local art store or online art supply store, and let your subconscious select an example from each of the major and minor. (See Assembling Your Own Pastel Color Set for suggested colors.)
You will also need some light and dark versions of these colors to give you a range of paint shades. Ideally, you should have three different shades in the colors (light, medium, and dark), but some, like yellow, are really only available in the light and medium shades.
Identify shades of pastel colors, from light to dark.
The first step in creating your own pastel color set is to select one of the following options: warm red, cool red, orange, cool yellow, warm green, cool green, cool blue, warm blue, cool purple, and warm purple. But faced with so many options, how do you choose?
Well, pastels come in a variety of shades. Most cake makers produce a base shade and then a range of lighter and darker shades. These can be identified by the code number on the cake. Start by selecting the second or third darkest shade of all the colors, from the colors listed above. This will provide you with a set of 10 midtone pastels.
The exceptions to this rule are Unison and Sennelier: Unison created harmonious pastel sets directly from pigments and grouped them into sets. A general rule of thumb for unison is that as the number increases, the cake becomes lighter, for example, Turquoise 1 is the darkest, Turquoise 6 is the lightest. For your initial selection, choose the second or third darkest cake in a group. Likewise, Sennelier is usually presented in groups of five to eight tones; Go back to the second or third darkest.
Schmincke identifies his "pure" colors with a D at the end of the code, for example Cobalt Turquoise is 650D. Rembrandt uses a ".5" at the end of the code to identify the "pure" color, for example Turquoise 522.5. The pure Daler-Rowney color is usually shade n. 6 and shade no. 4 by Winsor and Newton (out of 5).
If you're not sure exactly what colors and shades to get, here are my suggestions.
Start with halftones
Your first 10 pastels will provide you with a set of midtones (warm red, cool red, orange, cool yellow, warm green, cool green, cool blue, warm blue, cool purple, and warm purple). Remember that you want a relatively harmonious and representative selection of the subjects you are going to paint.
It's best if you make the decision yourself, but if you're not sure, here are my suggestions:
- Warm Red: Lake Scarlet, Permanent Red, or Poppy Red
- Cold Red: Carmine, Crimson Alizarin, or Madder Lake
- Orange: medium orange or permanent orange
- Cold yellow: lemon yellow
- Warm green: permanent green or phthalo green
- Cool green: teal or turquoise (especially if you intend to do seascapes)
- Cold blue: cerulean blue
- Warm Blue: French Ultramarine or Deep Ultramarine
- Cool purple: ultramarine purple or blue purple
- Warm purple: red violet or quinacrindone violet
Once you have these 10 basic pastels, you will have your collection of halftones. Now you need to expand the set to include light and dark tones.
Add light and dark tones
Cake makers generally create lighter shades by adding kaolin (porcelain clay) or chalk to the pigment mix; Darker shades are created by adding "black" pigments such as PBk6 (carbon black). You can get a light and dark shade to complement each of the 10 you've selected for your midtone set, but some aren't absolutely necessary.
Don't bother with the darker versions of cool yellow and orange (dark yellows tend to be a dark green-black) and the orange midtone is probably as intense as you'll need it right now. For the dark shade, take the darkest pastel from the same group as the medium shade. For the light, choose the lightest or second lightest in the group.
This is what I recommend:
- Warm red: dark and light
- Cold red: dark and light
- Orange: only clear
- Cool yellow: only clear
- Warm green: dark and light
- Cool green: dark and light
- Cold blue: dark and light
- Warm blue: dark and light
- Cool purple: dark and light
- Warm purple: dark and light
You should now have 28 cake sticks. So you have to get earth colors.
Essential colors of the earth
At a minimum, you need a warm and cool earthy brown, as well as a lighter and darker shade. My suggestion would be a yellow or gold ocher and a burnt sienna. If you want a slightly wider range of earthy colors, consider also a raw amber and a Caput Moruum, an Indian red or a March purple.
Now you just have to consider black and white.
In black and white
You probably don't use pastel black very often, as it is a very intense, almost selfish color, but in cases where the dark hue is not intense enough, a black will give it that finishing touch. Several manufacturers offer a "deep" or "serious" black that is ideal.
White will be more useful, especially if you've chosen the second lighter shades of mid-colors for your ensemble. If you plan to use white primarily for highlights, consider purchasing one from Unison, Sennelier, or better yet, Schmincke. These tend to be softer and easier to apply over a nearly finished pastel painting.
Lastly, grab some gray cake sticks. Instead of going for a neutral gray, choose a warm (Davy gray or mouse gray) and cool (Payne gray or blue gray) color.
The latest set of pastel colors.
The photo above shows the complete set of pastel colors selected by the method explained in this step by step. The next thing you need to do is paint with them! (See Basic Cake Techniques.)
Enjoy The Video Tutorial about Choosing your pastels
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