Great Art Blog : November 2014

Great Art Blog : November 2014


Hello and welcome to my new blog for GreatArt!

I’ve noticed how often people lose confidence and give up doing their own Art, because specialist art materials, techniques and equipment can all seem a bit daunting. The idea of this blog is to help make a wide range of these materials and techniques much clearer and more accessible, and give you confidence to have a go!

Each month I’m going to spotlight something different, and over time the archived blogs will form a really useful guide to working effectively and creatively with artists’ materials. There will be loads of ideas, demonstrations and things to try, and at the end of each blog you’ll find a list of all the materials and equipment I’ve used, along with code numbers to make ordering straightforward. ‘Hope you enjoy it, and that you’ll look out for the new one each month on the GreatArt website!

This month: Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels


We’re starting with Jaxell Extra Fine Artists’ Pastels, and if you haven’t used artist quality pastels before you need to know that these really are different; they’re very soft and easy to blend, but above all they are absolutely bursting with colour!

I think it’s also worth saying in this first blog, that when I get my hands on some new materials, or even if I haven’t used them for a while, there are a couple of simple processes I go through. These are common to most artists, and are also brilliant to get you going, build confidence and help you relax….which is so important and really shows through in your work!

So the first thing I do is make a colour chart; and yes I know there is one on the box, BUT this is printed and therefore may have subtle colour variations. I try to make my chart on whatever paper or other support (just the surface you work on), I’m intending to use, and for the best colour reference choose either white or grey paper. I just make some small swatches of each colour and note beside each one the colour reference code-this is important with pastels as once the pastel gets worn down a bit, you will need to tear back the paper wrapper, and might therefore lose the number…

This really does only take a few minutes to do, and also starts to get your hand in with your new materials!

Once I’ve done this, my next job is to do some simple mark making. To do this I work a little larger, than the small colour swatches, and I play with the materials to find out what they will and won’t do- all materials have intrinsic qualities; a scale that suits them, textural qualities whether rough or smooth, are they vibrant in colour or subtle, opaque or translucent etc…

If you haven’t practised mark making before, it’s really worth learning the basic techniques and trying them out…Have a look at the chart below and have a go!



*The chart above shows the Key Mark Making techniques which when combined can be used to depict pretty much anything!

  • Top row-Weighting and unweighting LINE-varying how much pressure you apply.
  • Row 2-Tone-playing with the darkest marks you can make and the lightest, and a range of tones in between.
  • Row 3-Hatching-Lines in one direction which begin to add texture; they can be curvy, straight, broken etc…
  • Row 4-Cross Hatching-Crossed lines build more complex textures-use any kind of lines you like…
  • Row 5-Dots and dabs-large dots close together create dark areas and smaller ones spaced apart light areas-good for grainy textures, and try in colour also.
  • Row 6-Loose flowing marks-great for unstructured textures.

Mark making is one of the main ways that artists use to develop their own visual language, and therefore learn how to make their ideas come to fruition.

It’s an absolutely terrific way of understanding how materials work, and definitely worth practising every time you want to try something new; whether it revolves around drawing, painting or even print making.

Focus on pastel technique: Jaxell Extra Fine Pastels are artist quality soft pastels- Broadly speaking the difference between hard and soft pastels is the ratio of binder (the substance that holds them together) to pigment (the pure colour in powder form). Soft pastels have a much higher quantity of pigment and much less binder. This is a huge advantage as it means that you have wonderful rich, blendable colour at your finger tips, but it also means that they do need fairly careful handling…store them safely in their boxes to prevent damage.

The samples below are some of my first, made using the Jaxell Extra Fine Pastels; I started just by playing with blending colours…You can blend with your finger or with a paper stump (blending stick), which is much more accurate.


In the following images, I’m starting to  make more obvious strokes with my pastel, but note I’m not using my finger to blend, so that the drawing marks show clearly.

For these first test samples I’m just working on normal heavyweight drawing paper, later on we’ll see the difference when using specialist pastel paper…

The samples below show the pastel built up in about 4 or 5 layers, using hatching, cross-hatching, scribbled and dot techniques.



When going through this initial process; which is all about getting to know your material, it’s very important to be as free and experimental with your marks as possible…I keep my test samples in a sketchbook, and make notes so that I can remember how I got various effects or colours. Gradually this builds up into a fantastic resource, which really helps with your art work and is actually a great source of ideas too.

*Pastel pieces are very delicate, and can easily be ruined- to protect these samples I’ve used a very light spray of Gerstaecker Fixative. Apply the fixative with smooth even movements, with the can about 40 cm from the work to be protected. This will help to seal the particles onto the paper and protect from damage. Make sure the spray is really even, to avoid the fixative pooling in one spot. As a general guide, spray lightly to seal your work especially when using normal drawing paper…don’t overdo the amount of spray or the number of times you spray as work can lose its character and texture.

When keeping finished pieces in a sketcbook or drawer, it’s worth covering with a layer of tissue for added protection. If you are framing your piece, use a glazed frame in which the glass does not touch the work itself, as this will ensure that your work stays in excellent condition.

Choice of support is very important when working with pastels, as using the right paper makes a huge difference to the quality of your end result, and also crucially how many layers you can build up. This is explained by the ‘tooth’ or texture of the paper. Pastels need a textured surface, which allows the fine particles to be held in the tiny indentations in the surface of the paper. Standard good quality drawing paper, such as a heavyweight cartridge type is fine to work on, but will not allow so many layers to be built up (please see early tests)-the reason for this is that the indentations in the paper become clogged up and afterwards additional layers just tend to crumble away.

*With pastels unlike paints which physically mix together; you need a reasonable range of colours to start with-I’d recommend starting with a set of about 15, then adding colours that you like to use individually. You can always treat yourself to a bigger set, when you know you really like using them!

FullSizeRender 3For these next samples, I used a Pastelmat sheet in white, which I cut up into small sections. In this one, I’ve blended 6 shades of blue using a broad paper stump.

You’ll see that I’ve applied the pastel thickly; overlaying the different colours to develop more interesting blends. Next I worked into it with a putty eraser; not to rub away the pastel, but to create movement and linear blending marks. Finally I used my Derwent Battery Eraser, to ‘draw’ into the pastel…this is very effective; allowing you to remove colour and create highlights with real precision.


In the piece above you can see an experiment using many layers in which the pastel stays much crisper, and detail and finish are both finer, because of the specialist paper used. Another significant benefit is that you need to use less fixative spray, or even none at all.


Similarly the sample here, using 7 colours demonstrates how well such a heavy load of pastel ‘sticks’  to the specialist paper.web-IMG_0014

Next I tried out the pastel shaper, which allows you to reshape the tip of your pastel, simply by rubbing it gently against the grater…a great bonus is that you can collect the pastel powder in the pot beneath. The resulting powder can be made into a ‘watercolour’ paint with a little clean water. Try sprinkling some of the collected powder onto a clean sheet of paper, and spraying lightly with water…this creates exciting, vibrant textures and patterns which are great to work into…


Another successful idea is to tip out some collected powder onto a palette and add a little water to create tonal washes. Here, I started by working thickly with black, white and grey pastel shades.I collected the powder and on the right hand side played with making soft, grainy washes.


I thought it would also be useful to try out the Jaxell Extra Fine Pastels on a range of different supports or backgrounds, and the first of these was another specialist paper, this time Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, which I tried in Indigo and Cachou; ideal as a very dark and a mid-tone shade respectively. This really is a wonderful surface to work on; with a pronounced but delicate texture and a velvety feel…the surface means that it is excellent for holding the pastel grains, but you can still achieve a detailed result. web-DSCF3824


The Indigo was wonderful with bright and vibrant colours, and I loved the cachou with very subtle shades of cream, yellow, pink and green.


I enjoyed working with the Mi-Teintes paper in Indigo, so much that I went on to make a study of the view from my window…

Here I used a full range of greens, browns, rusts, and blues.I worked in a directional style, trying to keep my marks very vigorous, and using them to emphasise the windy, autumnal weather. I began by establishing the sky and adding lighter blues to the dark base, along with creams, greys and pink. In this area I used my finger to blend the colour. I then worked forward, concentrating first on the distant  trees, then vibrant contrasting grass and finishing with the darker colours in the foreground. To help with the illusion of perspective I used almost no blending in the foreground, leaving the drawing marks clear and therefore suggesting close-up textures.web-DSCF3804

As well as buying specialist papers, it’s a good idea to experiment with preparing your own surfaces to paint on with pastel…this has several advantages in that you can get precisely the colour you want, and also build up texture with both rough and smooth areas, exactly where you want them. I particularly like to use Fine Pumice Gel, which you apply onto a paper or card surface with a coarse brush or a plastic palette knife. It is extremely easy to apply straight from the pot, exellent for both rough and smooth textures and ideal for working into with pastels! IMG_0040

Try some test samples to get the hang of it, and always let the gel dry throughly before starting to add your pastel over the top. You’ll notice that the pastel picks up the underlying texture really well and also adheres brilliantly thanks to the powdered pumice which adds a perfect ‘tooth’ for pastel work.



You can also prepare for painting with pastel by sprinkling some pastel powder on a sheet and rubbing it in to make a soft, diffuse background, using a pad of cotton wool or soft rag. Fix this with a light spray of fixative, to seal it before building up further layers in pastel.

For a coloured background, or one with a graded tonal range you can work in watercolour washes, acrylics or gouache…but whichever you choose, allow the paint layer to dry really thoroughly before proceeding with your pastels.

Here I used some Winsor and Newton Designers’ Gouache in Ivory Black and Permanent White to create this graded tonal ground. Then I made a tonal sketch using a range of greys, white and black pastels. Notice that I left patches of the underlying gouache paint showing through to help delineate the deep lines on the old man’s face.



Gouache is a very high quality water based paint, originally developed for the graphics industry-it has a matt, chalky texture which takes pastel exceptionally well.

My Equipment list:

  • Jaxell Finest Pastels-set of 60   code: 28864
  • PCE Pastel Shaper   code: 23044
  • PCE Spray bottle -for spraying clean water   code: 523722
  • Gerstaecker Fixative   code: 521015
  • Pastelmat sheet in White   code: 512223010
  • Canson Mi-teintes sheets Cachou   code:511397336/ Indigo :511397140
  • Paper blending sticks-pack of 6 assorted   code: 523875
  • Golden Fine Pumice Gel   code: 78743
  • Derwent Battery Eraser -great for drawing into pastel work and adding highlights  code: 30569
  • Maped Kneadable Eraser -here used for blending and also great for cleaning finger marks… code: 23732
  • Winsor and Newton Designers’ Gouache Ivory Black    code: 28854331/ and Permanent White code: 28854512
  • Daler Rowney System 3 set of 3 brushes    code: 77637
  • Reeves Painting Knives    code: 24511

 *  All available from

 Top Tips !

  • You can order Jaxell soft pastels individually to add to your collection and to replace favourite colours.
  •  Clean dirty pastels by placing in a shallow tray of uncooked rice- agitate gently and seconds later, remove lovely restored pastels!
  • Interesting artists to look at for inspiration include; E.Degas, Mary Cassatt, J.F. Millet and contemporary British artists, Nel Whatmore and Sarah Bee.

**I like to keep my test pieces, experiments and samples in a sketchbook so I can refer to them later-It’s really important to make notes at the time, so you don’t forget what you’ve used and how you’ve used it!

Below are some pages made while testing the Jaxell Extra Fine Pastels

samples page from sketchbook-Artists' pastels

samples page from sketchbook-Artists’ pastels

Sketchbook page -testing Jaxell Soft Pastels

Sketchbook page -testing Jaxell Soft Pastels

Sample page from Sketchbook-Artists' Pastels(soft)

Sample page from Sketchbook-Artists’ Pastels(soft)

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