UART Tip #52: “Tips for Mark Making with Pastels” with Karen Margulis

I never would have thought it was possible. How can a chunky stick of pastel make such a variety of marks?  Even more amazing, how can it make such delicate and tiny marks?  I would have thought I needed a finer tool such as a pastel pencil to make detailed marks.  But I have learned that it isn’t the case.

Big pastels can make any kind of mark you want.  It just takes practice and some fine motor coordination!

When I first picked up a pastel stick it felt a little strange and clumsy. What do I do with it? Do I use the tip or rub it on its side? My big question was it possible to get small marks from a fat stick of pigment?

I learned by doing. I painted something every day. They were not always keepers but with each painting I developed more control over the fat stick. I learned just how much I needed to lift it off the paper to get the size mark I wanted. I played with my marks. I tried linear strokes and chunky strokes. I learned how to blend without my fingers using just the pastel.  I watched other artists, but I really learned what worked best for me by painting. I painted a lot!

Now it is second nature to me. I can make any type mark I want with any size pastel stick. My marks come natural to me and are unique to me.  If you are new to pastels, I encourage you to paint often and let your own way of making marks emerge. Embrace it and practice!  And if you are experienced…. go outside of your comfort zone and try another way of making marks for a fun change of pace. You never know what you might come away with.

TRY THIS: Today’s 5×7 painting was a timed 20-minute daily painting study. Painting a small daily study was key for developing my mark making technique. A fun idea for mark making practice is to choose a simple subject and paint 5 variations. Each time change the way you make marks. Try linear marks, side strokes, thick marks, thin marks. With each painting you will gain more control over the fat sticks!

Karen Margulis

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