I don’t know about you but if you are anything like me when I first started pastelling (painting with pastels) I could never get the colour right. I’d always be picking up the wrong colours and ending up with a mess that would end up turning a shade of brown!

You’re in really good company and it’s perfectly normal not to be able to do this. Mostly everyone who is a beginner has this issue.

Seeing Colours

The reason you can’t do it straight away is because you need to learn something else first.  You need to be able to learn to ‘SEE’ colours

Artists who’ve been practicing their art learn to see colours better. Especially if they’ve had tuition.  To be honest, when I first started teaching my art class members, some thought I was a bit mad when I said I could see purples in the shadows. And fair enough, because when I started that’s exactly what I thought when my tutor started saying there were more colours than I could see!!!

A 2 Part Process
Choosing your colours is a 2 part process, firstly ‘seeing’ the right colours and secondly choosing the right colours from your pastel selection.

Seeing will come with practice and you can practice everyday. Look at shadows in real life, see what colours you can see. Look in magazines, seek out all the colours, you’ll be training your eyes to see more. I know this works because after I taught my students this they started seeing colours all over the place!!  They were looking at the world around them with fresh eyes!

Look at this image below.  It was taken on the beach yesterday whilst I was homeschooling my son.  Look at the shadows.  What colours do you see?  I can see purples of many different shades and even blues.

 

colors in shadows

The image below is a screenshot of an App I use sometimes.  It helps me when I’m struggling with choosing a colour.  You put the cursor over the area of colour and it gives you the exact colour.  You do have to be a bit careful with itas it is only reading the tiny pixel you have your cursor on.  There are many colour variations within an area so you have to bare that in mind.  Using it as a guide rather than an absolute.  This is a free App called Color Picker on Android. I believe there are other similar Apps for Apple.

 

color picker app

Choosing Colours for a Painting

Secondly choosing the right colours can be a struggle especially if you don’t have many soft pastels.  But the beauty of pastels is that you can mix and blend them very easily.

  • My process for choosing a tricky colour is very simple.  I ask myself a series of questions like this…
    • Is it a little bit pink..?
    • Is it a little bit blue..? etc
    • Is it dark/er or light/er pink / blue etc?

You can then test these colours over the top of each other to mix the colour you need.  Test your colours side by side or even on the photo reference, by wiping the pastel on the photo to check.  Recently we painted a butterfly in the online pastel classes and I had to mix black with purple and burgandy on top to get the right colour.  I deliberately limited my palette to show my class how the above method works. 

Testing and checking before you apply pastel to paper is good practice and keeps your work fresh.  I used to end up lifting the paper fibres when I was using Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper because I was testing the pastels on the paper rather than using a scrap of paper.  Now that I use Pastelmat and Velour paper, I don’t have that issue but i still test on a scrap of paper first to keep my work fresh.

 

If you’d like to join my online pastel classes you can email me here or phone 07740 282399. Classes are on Wednesday afternoons.

GDPR: All images used with permission

Subscribe to my newsletter

* indicates required
Email Format

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Sue Kerrigan-Harris

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.