Archive For: Soft Pastels

The Red Book

Pastel on paper

Reading The Red Book

I thought I’d share this pastel I painted a few months ago. Every now and then I get a surge of creative energy that simply must transpire into something – and fast. Unfortunately, these manic episodes tend to begin with a few glasses of wine and end in a fit of frustration that only an artist can understand.

Because, really, good art doesn’t just happen like that. At least, not for me anyway.

Discovering and accepting that truth was probably my greatest enlightenment as an artist, but I still have my moments. This picture was born out of one of my little bolts of creative lightening, and surprisingly, she survived. She took me all of two measly hours, and I was quite toasted.

She’s pretty cute though.

Thanks for taking a look!

Inspired by this beautiful photo by Kitty Gallannaugh…

 The Red Book

Pastel Portrait Painting Tips

I’m regularly researching how to make my portraits a good as they can be, and I’m often finding the same ol’ advice. But I just stumbled on this fantastic set of tips from artist Dan Slapo on the Pastel Journal Blog, some of which even I haven’t heard or thought of..

Pastel Portrait PaintingTips | Dan Slapo

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Slapo Painting Pastel Portrait Painting Tips

Study (pastel) by Dan Slapo

Getting Started 

- Use a life-size or larger reference photo, if at all possible. A reference smaller than 2 inches makes it difficult to get the correct proportions.
- Avoid using a flash on your camera when taking a portrait reference photo. The flash eliminates all shadows on the front of the face and cancels out the shadows and mid-tones.

Principles of Drawing

- Learn the principles and techniques of drawing. You can’t create a good portrait if the proportions are incorrect.
-Use vertical and horizontal plumb lines to place the features correctly in relation to one another.
- Use the correct angle of a line. If your angle is incorrect, the distance of a line will change and negatively impact proportions.
- Avoid drawing a pastel preliminary sketch with graphite, because pastel won’t cover graphite. Instead, draw with a pastel pencil or stick with a value that’s darker than the paper on which you’re drawing.


- Place a subject off center to provide more visual interest.
- Avoid allowing the crown of the head to touch the top of the paper. It makes it look like a ceiling is resting atop the head. There should be a space above the top of the head that’s the same height as the forehead.
- Divide the face in half vertically. The half that turns away from the viewer gets narrower.
- Refrain from assuming that both sides of the face are perfectly proportioned.
- Measure the distances between facial features in relation to the center line.
- Work from big shapes and planes first and then add the features.

Drawing Eyes 

- Compare the width of the “wings” of the nose with the width of an eye, including tear ducts, when measuring.
- Compare the outside corner of the eyes with the inside corners. Usually, the outside corner is higher.
- Note that the top and bottom of the iris is slightly covered by the eyelids. This is because the pupil is closer to the top eyelid than to the bottom eyelid.
- Avoid making the value of the iris lighter than the mid-tone average. The highlight on the eye should be half in the pupil and half in the iris—and placed on the same side from which the light source emanates.
- Avoid painting the whites of the eyeballs pure white. Use values that give the whites three dimensions.
- Note that eyelashes are curved in the direction of the sides of the eyes. They’re never vertical or horizontal.


- Paint the background early so you can relate the values of the face to it. You can use the value of the paper surface as a reference.
- Avoid painting the background all the same value and color. Mix some colors, but don’t make the background too exciting because it will detract  from the portrait. When painting the background, the light side of the head should have a darker value behind it, and the dark side of the head should have a lighter value behind it.
- Ensure that the background color touches the hair and face shapes.
- Turn the portrait upside-down when painting the area over the head so that the pastel dust doesn’t fall over the face.

Shadows, Highlights and Details 

- Avoid making shadows too dark on women and children, as it ages them. – Paint what you see. If you can’t see the details, don’t add them.
- Note that reflected light can only be seen in dark areas. It’s always lighter than the value of the shadows on the face.
- Keep in mind that highlights on metal, jewelry, etc., can only be seen if the supported color underneath is dark enough.
- Avoid adding too many details in the ears. You want the viewer’s attention drawn to the face, not the ears.


Pastel on paper

Jack M Watermarked Jack

This is the second in a pair of commissions of two brothers in their acolyte robes (click here to see Sam’s portrait). Such a sweet look on this boy’s face! Again, the candlestick was a lot of fun. After the real “work” of capturing a likeness in the face, the fabric and brass were like a refreshing walk in the park. I used a combination of pastel pencils and soft pastel on Mi Teintes Paper.

Detail photo:

Jack M Detail one Jack

Self Portrait #1

Pastel on paper

Self portrait 1 copy Self Portrait #1
Just playing around one night with my new pastel pencils. I started this one in all red. It actually looked pretty cool without adding other colors. So cool that I contemplated for several days just stopping there! But I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming urge to carve out the shadows with tons of black. So there you go. I like my self portraits to be somewhat dark and mysterious, although I couldn’t be further from that in real life!

A few detail shots:

Self portrait 1 Detail 1 copy 300x233 Self Portrait #1 Self portrait 1 Detail 2 copy 300x144 Self Portrait #1


Pastel on paper

Portrait S Means Lrg copy Sam

Here’s a colorful portrait of a gorgeous, fiery-haired boy in his acolyte robes. It was fun building up the colors of his hair, which include bright oranges, hot pinks, and dark purples. Really! The candlestick was a lot of fun too. Makes me want to do a still life or two soon. My next project is of his brother. Stay tuned… (update: click here to see the finished portrait of Sam’s brother, Jack)

I used a combination of pastel pencils and soft pastel on Mi Teintes Paper.

Detail photo:

Portrait Means Detail 1 copy Sam