UART Tip #37: “Creating Edge Variety Through Thick and Thin” with Barbara Jaenicke

“Bright Winter Morning”, 8×10, pastel on mounted UART. Besides the strong light and shadow pattern, the “thicks” and “thins” of the mark making are part of the overall visual appeal that I pursued in this painting.

Just as with music, art would be rather mundane without a variety of rhythms. In fact, many aspects of painting deal with variety…shapes, values, colors, etc. But the focus of my pastel tip here is on variety of edges and marks in a pastel painting. In an earlier UART pastel tip, I discussed general mark-making considerations. Here, I’ll talk further on how variety enhances all that.

By increasing the contrasts with edges (hard/soft) and mark making (thick/thin) in a pastel painting, I can create visual appeal that goes beyond the beauty of the subject itself. When I can find key areas for placing these contrasts, I can use those areas as “eye catchers” to move the viewer’s eye more effectively throughout the painting. For the landscape artist, these contrasts are especially effective for trees and other landscape vegetation. (Interestingly, the phrase “through thick and thin” is actually derived from a reference to traveling through trees.)

Learning to create these varied marks in a painting requires focused practice. It involves learning to hold the pastel in various positions and applying various amounts of pressure in order to create the desired mark on the painting surface. I find that beginner pastel artists often make the same type of marks throughout a painting. This is common for a beginner, since the artist is trying to put into practice so many other painting concepts, and consequently the mark-making abilities tend to get squeezed out of the mix during these earlier learning stages.

For example, laying a pastel flat on its side while dragging it across the surface, and then gradually—in that same stroke—raising up one end of the pastel so just a small portion of the pastel’s edge is touching the surface will create a more unique and varied mark than if the pastel was applied the same way throughout the same mark. Add varied pressure to that same stroke, and you can vary the mark even more. For the pastel landscape artist, varied marks created in this way (and other similar methods) can capture a more genuine sense of the natural movement in landscape subject matter.

Of course, it’s not necessary to vary every single stroke in this way. Beginning stages of a painting often use lots of broad strokes with loosely defined edges, usually on the flat side of the pastel, possibly with some narrowed strokes to capture some initial shape variety.

In later stages, you can cut into the larger, broader shapes of stroke application with a variety of smaller marks. Typically, I find that in order to create a strong painting, I must vary the appearance of landscape elements even more so than Mother Nature. But this approach for mark-making in general also lends itself to most any painting genre.

A sanded surface such as UART tends to be ideal for creating an exaggerated contrast between gradually faded, soft edges, and hard, crisp edges, which is why I typically work on such a surface.

“Lakeside on a Warm Summer Day”, 8×10, pastel on mounted UART

I used smaller, more distinct marks in key areas of the painting, and broader marks in more subordinate areas. Notice the few very thin marks catch your eye because of their size contrast against the thicker marks.

“Clustered”, 11×14, pastel on mounted UART

Where the tree foliage is thinned along the outer edges of the tree mass, I allowed marks to fade gradually. In the “sky holes” within the tree mass, I used both hard and soft edges. For the limited amount of defined tree branches, I used thin, crisp, hard edges that contrast against the softer edges and broader masses.

“The Edge of Dusk (study)”, 8×10, pastel on mounted UART

For the delicate winter vegetation in this landscape, I used broad strokes with faded edges to contrast against the select few thin, crisp, hard edges. This was a rare time that I used a pastel pencil to create just a few very skinny, linear marks for additional mark-making contrast against the thicker, broader marks.

With the variety of marks that can be created with pastel on a sanded surface (or any textured surface), an artist can make the painting’s appearance as much about the beauty of the marks and edges as it is the beauty of the subject matter itself!


Barbara Jaenicke

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