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Why Pastel is the Best Medium for Capturing Light Effects

Every medium has its strength and weaknesses. If you have experimented with different mediums (most of us do and accumulate closets full of art supplies in the process!) then you know that some mediums are better for some subjects than others. For example:

*Watercolor is great for capturing transparent shadows and light; things you can paint then wash over with a thin glaze of color. Like this example by watercolorist Tony Conner:

notice the thin glazes of Payne's Grey over the chartreuse grass.
Tony Conner's watercolor

*Oil is a great medium for capturing shapes and composition. If you are a painterly painter; loose, Impressionistic, active, then oil is for you, like this painting by Kari Ganoung Ruiz:

notice the larges shapes and how she combines them to make an interesting composition
kari ganoung ruiz oil

*Pastel is a great medium for layering color. If you are trying to capture light or light effects like mist, sunrise, sunbursts or ephemeral subjects like fire and flames or clouds. Like this painting I did of a sunrise and early morning mist:

notice the lighter mist and light overlapping dark
"Morning Mist" (Schroon Lake) Shawn Dell Joyce Pastel

Although you can capture light with any medium to good effect, pastel has a distinct advantage. With liquid paints like oils, watercolors and acrylics, the pigments are combined and suspended in a medium. Pastels are pure pigment with very little binder. When you layer colors in pastel the pigments fill the tooth of the board (or paper) and lay on top of each other, unmixed, so you get an optical mixing effect. This effect is much the same as Pointillism, in that you still see the parent colors, but looking through them you also see the colors combine optically.

This means that you can layer a light color over a dark color, much like a sunrise illuminating a dark cloud (as in the above painting). You can do the opposite as well and layer a dark over a light, such as the tractor emerging from the morning mist (above). The pigments don't combine unless you force them to by blending with your fingers, or scumbling with the pastel stick on top of the other color.

Light consists of particles. When you watch a sunset, you see the light of the sun refracting through water droplets in the atmosphere. This allows small bits of yellow light to streak across a blue sky without making green. Both parent colors are pure. There are also places where you will see the parent colors combining and making interesting violets, and greens and oranges in the sky.

Capturing light effects requires a light touch, and a discerning eye. There will be some places you want to blend the colors and some where you want the colors to be clean and pigment particles unbroken and unblended. Here's an example of light with some areas blended and some unblended.

notice in the lower left how the light glazes over the water and the dark clouds overlap the light as well as being punctured by it.
"Fleeting Moment" Pastel by Shawn Dell Joyce

Now if you want to see how to do this live, join me for my September online class is painting pastels from photos. In this class, we will work from atmospheric photos and incorporate light effects like mist, fog, rain, and lighting. I'll demonstrate the effect then you get a chance to do the same effect live with me through Zoom. After class, you can apply this technique on your favorite photos for yourself. Each class (3) starts off with homework critique so you can share your work and get feedback from your peers.

Check it out under "online classes" above. I'd love to see what you do! Make sure to post it below!

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I read and reread your blogs because I learn (or can absorb) more precious bits of wisdom every time. Thank you for taking the time to share.

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