To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels, OR Why I Don’t!

Is it really December already? (Someone tell me no, it ain’t true!) Look out for my monthly picks next week. In the meantime, this week I made a video about why I don’t blend pastels.

I frequently get asked the question – Gail do you blend your pastels? OR Gail why don’t you blend pastels? In the video below, I set out to show, with sample swatches, why it is that I prefer to layer rather than blend pastels.

 

To Blend or Not Blend Pastels

Here’s the video:

 

 

Now let’s have a look at the Mount Vision pastels I used in the video. Also, I’ll show you a closer look at each experiment especially on the UArt 400 sanded paper.

One of the things I didn’t mention in my video was that when you blend pastels, you squish all the sparkly crystals of pigment and so dull the whole thing down. Layering retains the radiance and vitality of pastels (in my ever so humble opinion!). My bias doesn’t show tooooo much right?

 

To Blend or not to Blend Pastels: Mount Vision pastels used in all the swatches. They are lined up in order of usage.

Mount Vision pastels used in all the swatches. They are lined up in order of usage.

 

To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels: These are the swatches on the Canson Mi-teintes paper. I rarely use this paper except for teaching and exercises but thought it was a good idea to show the experiment on a non-sanded paper. It's much easier to blend pastels on this paper!

These are the swatches on the Canson Mi-teintes paper. I rarely use this paper except for teaching and exercises but thought it was a good idea to show the experiment on a non-sanded paper. It’s much easier to blend pastels on this paper!

 

To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels: Here is the swatch with three colours of same value used. On the sanded paper, some of the individual colours are seen in the blended version but the mark-making is less visible.

Here is the swatch with three colours of the same value used. On the UArt 400 sanded paper, some of the individual colours are seen in the blended version but the mark-making is less visible.

To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels: This is the dark green over the red. The blended version to me resembles the proverbial mud. I realize this may be a great dark to use as an underpainting but as I say in the video, I am partial to seeing all the individual colours sparkling through!

This is the dark green over the red. The blended version to me resembles the proverbial mud. I realize this may be a great dark to use as an underpainting but as I say in the video, I am partial to seeing all the individual colours sparkling through!

To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels: This is the experiment where I lightened a middle-value blue. You can see in the blended pastels have a darker look than the layered one. You'd have to add more of the light pastel to achieve the same effect as the layered version.

This is the experiment where I lightened a middle-value blue. You can see in the blended pastels have a darker look than the layered one. You’d have to add more of the light pastel in the blended swatch to achieve the same effect as the layered version.

To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels: Interestingly, in this experiment, the blended version retains more brightness than the layered one, and there's pretty much no sign of the dulling colour.

Interestingly, in this experiment, the blended version retains more brightness than the layered one, and there’s pretty much no sign of the dulling colour.

 

What are your thoughts? Can you see why I prefer to layer rather than blend pastels? Which is your preference? I’d love to hear so please leave a comment.

 

When you blend pastels, you squish all the sparkly crystals and so dull the whole thing down. Click To Tweet

 

Pastel Artists Canada Signature Designation!

I’m pleased as punch that two of my shoe paintings (done in the 31 paintings in 31 days challenge) were accepted into the PAC online show – see the exhibition here.

AND through that acceptance, I received my Pastel Artists Canada (PAC) Signature status! Nice to add it to my Pastel Society of America (PSA) one 🙂

 

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Christmas is coming! You might want to give yourself or someone you love my online accessible-day-or-night online course, Pastel Painting En Plein Air. In it, you’ll see very clearly how I layer my pastels (as well as many other things!). It’s also helpful if you do any kind of landscape painting whether en plein air or in studio. Remember, there’s a 15 day money-back guarantee. You can’t go wrong! Click here for all the details on the course!

 

And that’s it until next week. Happy Friday!!

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

PS. In the future, look out for a pastel painting using that UArt test sheet!  Maybe I’ll do a video! You can see the idea of using a piece of paper with random marks on it in my previous blog post where I paint a bathtub plug in 20 mins.

 

28 thoughts on “To Blend Or Not To Blend Pastels, OR Why I Don’t!

  1. Cliff Riviere

    Blending is an individual choice. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It all depends on the subject being painted; I usually blend skies in the initial stages, for example, and finish with selected layering.

    Reply
  2. Dana Barunas

    I don’t blend except sometimes when I am working on skies, clouds or water.
    I, too, like to see the layers of colors, especially when I put down my own ground with a brush, leaving brush marks and texture. Then I usually do an underpainting and wash it in with water or alcohol to fill in the low parts of the texture. When I paint on top of that, I get to see the underpainting in the low parts and the other color on the high areas of the ground.
    Thanks for the video.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Dana, love your sharing of your process with us! I can see needing to fill in low areas of a heavily textured surface – especially one created yourself – with an underpainting.

      Reply
  3. Jose Maria Gama

    Thanks for your demo! I’m a begginer im pastels so my opinion is not very important but here it goes:
    One thing I love in pastels is that you are painting with your fingers almost like the pigments leave directly from them.
    Blending or not, for me is a matter of your objective: Like a bold gestual painting? Don’t blend. Like a soft more relaxing painting? Blend.
    The comparison, with the making of a soup, you mention in your video is fabulous! But in coulinary terms a “velouté” is a a tasty wonderful soup as well as a not blended “gaspacho”.
    Cheers
    JM

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thank you for your wonderful addition to this conversation JM! The versatility of pastels allows you to do all the things you mention. Sometimes beginners offer the wisest words!
      And thanks for clearing up the culinary terms 🙂 Now I’m getting hungry!!

      Reply
  4. Pan

    I treat pastels just like any other medium in painting – I draw and paint with them. I draw with pastels just like I do it in charcoal pencils and I paint in pastels just like I do it in acrylics, oils and watercolors ( but using my fingers as my brush). And so I blend.

    Because for me, to blend is to mix pastel colors in order to get the desired result. And i also not blend in some cases like highlights, lines or to put textures. For me, I use blending, hatching, pointillism, and any other possibilities the pastels will offer. That’s why they are versatile!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      You are so right about the versatility of pastels Pan!! And I’m delighted you have shared how you use them with us. I love that you use them in many ways 🙂

      Reply
  5. Betty Smith

    I think that blending has it’s place, for sure, but not so much in the foreground. I’ll sometimes blend the background trees in a landscape or the edges of a painting with the midground edges blended, but not the center…. I usually don’t blend the foreground at all. I like the true colors that come from painting without blending, but only in certain places. I want to save as much of that for the focal areas as possible, for instance. I have been rather confused by the responses of professional artists from all over the globe. The artists from Britain blend quite a bit, the ones from the US are not as inclined to do so. I guess there’s no right answer as long as you achieve the results you want in your painting???

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Betty, you are correct – there are no right answers, just right results 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      When I teach a workshop (as many of my students will attest!), I am pretty adamant about them not using blending (and I’m talking about finger blending not scumbling). It’s not that I’m against blending per se but I sometimes think there’s too much reliance on it especially when participants say they want to loosen up or work more boldly. I think when you’re exposed to all methods, you have a huge tool kit at your command – you can use what you need when you need it.

      Reply
  6. Janet Byrnes

    For me, blending is one of the great joys of pastel art. It adds tremendously to areas of the art. Not always, but at times, when subtle effects are called for.

    Reply
  7. Nelvia

    I used to blend exclusively as I didn’t like to see the strokes. It looked unfinished and rough to my eye. I think it came because when I first learned to paint with watercolor and acrylics I learned to layer/glaze so I applied that to pastel and came up with that smooth look.
    As I have worked more with pastel I wish I could get those looser strokes and keep the vibrant colors you lose when you blend. So I guess I have compromised and now tend to blend using colors on top of colors, but still don’t have the big stokes. My style tends toward details and after all these years I am giving in and going with it, so I guess it works for me!
    Starting to work with pan pastels now and you get more of a smooth look with them.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts Nelvia. And yes, I can see how coming from the smooth glazed look of watercolours would have affected the way you came to pastels. I like that you have found a compromise and certainly Pan Pastels will work beautifully for you.
      Someday, if you still feel like loosening up, you can put on some fun staccato music and paint along, promising yourself to make a mess!! And just see what happens. Use a scrap piece or an old work you don’t like, one you would have discarded anyway, and play! You can always then dump it in the garbage. But you may be surprised!!

      Reply
  8. Rae Smith

    I tend to blend skin tones in portraits, and sometimes blend or underpaint with alcohol if I want an area covered up, but usually like to see the strokes in the sky and landscapes and especially seascapes.

    Reply
  9. Ruth Burley

    Great video, Gail! I tend to agree. I use blending scantily when it just seems to call for it. In class, I have been discouraged from blending and I definitely like the effect of layering better. Have to be careful about blending with fingers on uart sanded paper…Ouch! This is off the subject of blending, but can you do a video or is there an existing video on the theory of color in underpainting? It’s just one of the things I’m confused about. It seems to me that underpainting really improves the depth of the painting, but I’m not confident about my color choices. Thanks so much Gail!!!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the video Ruth! And yes, tricky stuff blending on sanded paper!!
      Great idea for a video Ruth. If you are putting in big value shapes (the way I do), you might think of cool under warm and vice versa – that’s a great place to start! Ruth you can always arrange a free 15 min call with me and we can chat about this: http://www.howtopastel.com/schedule-a-call/

      Reply
  10. Mary P

    Hi! I’m really enjoying your videos and blog. I just discovered your work recently and am now going through your previous posts (slowly, as time allows, but also relishing). I used to do some soft pastel work a long time ago (high school/college art classes mostly). I’ve just invested in some nice sets and hope to get into it more in the new year (one commitment is ending so I’m hoping to have time finally!). I look at “to blend or not to blend” as just a couple more tools to use as well as personal preference. Blending can give paintings the soft polished look (for lack of a better term) such as in works from old masters, whereas not blending can offer a more raw look such as that in impressionist works. I love both.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Mary, delighted you have found your way back to soft pastels! And thank you for taking time to go through my blog posts.
      Yes, the blending post and video is to explain why I have the preference I do but certainly, as I said, there are some artists who do amazing things with blending!! And you too will find your way and your own artistic expression.

      Reply
  11. dominique

    Hello Gail,

    Thank you for your blog, your smile and useful tips! I just watched your video about blending, As a beginner I tend to blend, if only because I’m not confident about my work, but I have a great teacher who always tells me “don’t blend, let the colours breathe”. I must say I’m much happier with my pastels since I’ve tried to follow that tip. It also gives this “impressioniste” touch the French are supposed to love!

    all the best from Lyon,

    Dominique

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Dominique, merci beaucoup for your lovely response. It’s interesting that you have made the connection between blending and your lack of confidence with the medium. I think this is true of a lot of students as it is easier to blend rather than layer which takes some risk with colour, value, and mark-making. I love the words of your teacher! Glad you are taking them to heart and already seen the difference in your work. You will find your own way as you work. The main thing is to keep learning AND keep painting!! All the best from Victoria, Canada!!

      Reply
  12. Wendy Prest

    I actually like the blended look! However, I am doing more pictures with areas that are not blended. I like to blend the sky and sometimes water seems to need it. For a long time I thought it was not a good thing to see the strokes, but I am beginning to appreciate marks that are left alone and I definitely like layering. There’s a place for it all in my work.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Wendy, yes, there is a place for it all! I think the important thing is to know about different techniques and then experiment with them. That way, ones style evolves and grows – it doesn’t get stuck. Sometimes a new technique will take one from frustration and questioning to a flow and happiness with pastels again!

      Reply
  13. Mary Aslin

    Actually pastels can’t truly blend….what you see is the degree of granularity and the limits of our vision to see very tiny prismatic particles. And finished “untouched” larger marks on top of the “greyed” small particles can yield a beautiful effect.

    I love extreme rough marks, whisper soft particles and everything in between when I admire the work of other artists. The beauty of pastels is that because the medium doesn’t “dissolve” in a liquid, those physical particles–large or small–refract light in such a beautiful way!

    Great blog!!

    Reply

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