1. Choose your surface
There are many wonderful surfaces to choose from for pastels. Some of my favorites are: Canson Mi-Teintes paper, Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel Paper, Ampersand Pastelboard, and Fabriano or Acquerello watercolor paper,. The key is to use an acid-free surface with some tooth to hold the pastel.
2. Prepare your surface
Tone and Texture — Most often, I use Canson (rich array of tones) and Wallis (neutral tones with excellent toothed surface). I also love the sturdiness and texture of watercolor paper, and prefer to tone the stark white with an undercoating of gouache or watercolor. Recently, I’ve also begun experimenting with applying pumice and/or gesso to my surfaces.
Size — Generally, I cut the paper into standard sizes: 5×7, 8×10, 9×12, 11×14, 12×16, 18×24 (inches). As a traveling, en plein air artist, I make sure all of my surfaces fit easily into my knapsack. My size limit for outdoor painting is 9×12.
Support — I tape the paper onto a sturdy support that is comprised of 11×13 foam core, covered with felt cloth. Wrap the felt around all 4 sides of the foam core and glue onto the back side. This combination provides just enough sponginess for the pastel stick to “enter” the surface well. Cut two pieces of foam core to the 10×13 size, so that you can make a “sandwich” with them on the outside and the taped paper on the inside. To protect a painting in progress, cover the surface with either glassine or tissue sheets. The “sandwich” is kept together with 2 large elastics and placed inside a waterproof UPS or FedEx shipping bag.
3. Select your tools
Within the soft pastel world, there is a scale of hardness to softness. The softer brands use less binder, contain more pigment, and are thus more vibrant. It’s a matter of preference as to how artists use the different pastels. I like to begin with a very hard pastel to sketch and block in the scene: Nu-Pastel. I then work my way to softer and softer brands: Winsor Newton, Rembrandt, Grumbacher, Girault, and Sennelier to finish off the piece.
When traveling by plane, I limit my pastel supply to a 24-set of Nu-Pastel, along with a few select colors of the Winsor Newton and Rembrandt. The color selection depends on my destination.
When painting locally, I complement the Nupastels with a few Winsor Newton, and a half set each of Rembrandt, Grumbacher, Girault and Sennelier. These are packed in an ArtBin pastel container as well as the original boxes.
Don’t forget to include masking tape, more paper, glassine/tissue paper, disposable gloves (latex, vinyl, or nitrile), wet cloth (to clean hands), and dry cloth.
4. Pack your tools
I used to carry everything in my knapsack, and still do when traveling by plane. But when painting locally, I pack everything into an ArtComber, which is a large waterproof bag on wheels, with an attached chair.
5. Select your location
Scoping out a location is definitely part of the fun. Be sure you know where the sun rises and where the closest restroom is! If the location is private property, it’s a good idea to talk with the landowners to make sure it’s ok for you to be there.
6. Dress appropriately
Listen to the weather report and dress in layers. Some key things to wear: a hat and windbreaker. Bring sunscreen and insect repellant.
7. Stand vs. sit
For years, I sat on a low-lying beach chair with the foam core surface in my lap. Now I have an easel, so I stand. The easel gives me more flexibility and a better view of what I’m painting. I use an Anderson Swivel Easel, a versatile, lightweight, wooden easel with a swivel painting mast and telescoping legs.
Coffee is a must for me early in the morning. Otherwise, I bring water. Snacks are also good!
People will want to talk with you, particularly if you are in a very public place. They are curious and ask questions. I expect and welcome these interactions. It is an opportunity to share my experience, knowledge, and joy about the natural world. But there are limits I set, because I could get too distracted by conversation and not get any painting done. My physical boundary is set with the positioning of my tools so that I am approachable only on 1 side. I get fully engaged in whatever communication is happening, but if it is prolonged, I gently remind the onlooker that I would like to continue with my painting.
If I am painting with another artist(s), I sometimes get too involved in conversation and need to rein myself inward. This is a practice that I am continually working on. It’s all about balance.
Outdoor painting brings a certain amount of uncertainty in the weather. If it begins to rain, or I get too cold, or the wind becomes too strong, I pack it in and call it a session. It is unusual for me to be able to complete a painting on location in one session. Often, I will finish the painting in my backyard. Although I don’t want my art to be photo-realistic, I might want to take a picture of the location for future reference.
Documentation also involves keeping track of the artwork. Here’s what my database includes for each piece:
art number; art name; description; dimensions; surface; location; © Anne S. Katzeff; year completed