UART Tip #18: Blending and Softening Effects with Sanded Paper with Robert Palmerton

Blending Effects

One of the charms of UART sanded pastel paper is its ability to enable the pastel artist to blend several pastel layers into a uniform hue, and to build atmospheric effects (such as fog or streaks of sunlight), by applying successive layers of harder pastel onto a layer of soft pastel.

I find that blending techniques are best applied to the sky. My painting “Frost Rising,” introduced the perfect opportunity to achieve a uniform, blended impact by painting the clear, early morning sky on an icy February morning in Michigan.

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I start with the telltale warm pink-orange-yellow hue near the horizon, and work my way toward the sky’s deep blue zenith. At the horizon, I use the lightest color pastels of my palette.  As seen in the photo, I apply strokes of light pink soft pastel, then cross-hatch over the light pink with pale yellow.




pic 2Next, I introduce a light blue pastel and similarly apply it in cross-hatch fashion.  As I move higher above the horizon, I add some broad brushes of darker blue.

My plan is to blend and merge the darker blue with the lighter colors below, where the “dividing line” between the oranges and the blues is blended smoothly to convey a continuous stretch of sky.



pic 3Now the fun begins.  I take a fine cotton cloth and blend the pastel, pushing it into the tooth of the sanded paper.  You can see the grains of pastel sitting on the surface of the pastel paper.




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When I am done blending, I push the pastel into the grit of the sanded paper using my fingers.  The grit of the UART sanded paper enables me to spread and blend the colors together while keeping the pastel from falling off the paper.   The tooth of the paper holds the colors in place to create the uniform, blended hue that I desire.




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Below is the final version of “Frost Rising.”




Softening Effects

Conveying distance in a painting can be successfully portrayed by cooling or subduing color.  Softening edges is key to building that “distance” look.

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In this example, I deploy one of my favorite edge softening tools, the pastel pencil, to create a soft glow from the early morning sun across the tree tops.  I use a yellow pastel pencil, as the intensity of sunlight enabled the local color to shine through, even though the trees were a bit of a distance away.

The pencil strokes downward into the tree help to blend the pastel and convey an airy mood.  The sanded paper effectively holds the upper layer of the yellow pastel pencil strokes to give it that hazy, atmospheric feel.


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One approach to muting and blending edges, especially with regards to distant vegetation, is to softly apply a blue or gray pastel pencil as a new pastel layer atop the subject to be softened.

In this example, I apply a light gray pastel pencil to the area of the tree that faced away from the sun, dulling the distant green of the leaves.  In addition to using a pastel pencil for these techniques, a hard pastel can create similar impacts.



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Here is the final version of “Early Morning Soybeans.”





Bob Palmerton is based out of Saline, Michigan.  His website, gallery and blog featuring pastel painting techniques can be found at