Last month I participated in HowToPastel’s 31-paintings-in-31-days Challenge. Somehow I only missed one day despite the fact that I was travelling two of the four weeks. And what’s more, I only travelled with carry-on luggage! So how could I fit everything plus art supplies? The answer was a small box of pastels and small pieces of paper (and a pared down collection of clothes!).
Through the whole Challenge, I decided to use only Unison Colour pastels as a way to acknowledge the honour of being invited to become a Unison Colour Associate Artist. (They are updating their website but soon I’ll be able to direct you to my page there!)
While in the studio, all work was done with pastels from their classic starter set of 36. But on the road, when every gram and square centimetre count, this was too bulky and heavy!
I looked at taking a small Sennelier set but decided to stick with the Unison Colour theme. I had a small box of pastels – I’m talking small!! It has 16 half-sticks and is extremely light. Here’s a picture of the pastels in the box:
There are some darks, quite a few lights, and a selection of middle values. But I have to tell you, it was some trick using these pastels and only these pastels! But it sure made travelling easier.
The thing about using a small selection of pastels successfully is to focus on getting the values right. There’s no way, with the limitations of the small box of pastels, that you will match the colour you see accurately. So painting with a small box of pastels is usually an exercise of letting go!
So what else did I take? Let’s have a look:
Here’s what’s included along with the small box of pastels:
- A foam core board that just fit in the suitcase. (I packed my shoes and clothes underneath to create a shelf on which to lay the board.) This acted as a drawing board and also a rigid surface to lay the glassine and paper, and also to position the finished work.
- A selection of small pieces of paper. On both trips I took various sizes and grades of UART paper. On my first trip I knew I’d probably have a bit more time so I took trial size pieces of UART and also some Pastel Premier 8 x 10 in trial sheets of different colours. On the second trip, I wondered how I would find the time to do anything! So I only took small off-cuts of UART paper. I also took a pad of Canson Mi-Teintes paper as I knew I’d be attending a life drawing session and would need larger sheets.
- Sheets of glassine, enough to cover the paper I took (but not enough to wrap Canson sheets – they would stay in the pad).
- A black styrofoam tray – the kind I always use at home to keep selected pastels in.
- Small roll of masking tape to attach paper to board while pastelling, and to tape glassine around paintings.
- Small sketchbook to make thumbnail sketches.
- 3H pencil to sketch up image on sanded paper. I’ve always used charcoal to do the initial sketch but on my first trip I forgot to take any. I did have a couple pencils so tried those instead. I liked the hard pencil and may now start using that regularly instead of charcoal.
- Apron – bulky but I felt it was very necessary.
- Viewfinder – it’s so small and you can’t go wrong having it!
- I wouldn’t normally take toilet paper with me as I knew it would be readily available (!) but I had forgotten I had a small roll in the apron. I use this for cleaning pastels.
- I contemplated taking a small package of WetOnes but I knew I would have access to soap and water so in the name of cutting out as much as possible, I left them behind. I think now it would have been great to have had them!
I wrapped everything in a large clear plastic bag to keep them together and also away from my clothes.
So now let me show you all the pieces I did with this small box of pastels during the 31-in-31 Challenge.
The first trip was to Ontario. The occasion was a sad one; Cam’s Mum Janet had passed away. I flew out to spend a week with him and his family and to attend Janet’s memorial gathering. Even so, I wanted to stick with my commitment to a daily painting during October. And I’m happy to say I did. Here are the pieces I did while there. Somehow, they all emerged as work connected to Janet.
This pastel was a view of the long driveway into Janet’s house. It traverses a wood full of light and wonder and is a joy to walk through. This was the beginning of my understanding of how limited my palette was!
You may recognize this from an earlier post I did about working on a series. This was done looking into the backyard at Janet’s house. Despite the change in our lives, there are certain things, like doing the laundry, that remain constant.
These mats were a pale pink but I had no pale pink pastel or anyway to make pale pink so I focused on values and painted what I saw as close to life as I could with the limited colours of a small box of pastels.
It was an overcast day but there was some light streaming in through the large windows. It lit up the chair and I knew I wanted to capture it. Luckily it was a red chair (I was working on reddish paper and had a red pastel) and so that part was not too bad. The rest of the piece I had to push and pull with the available colours, always focusing on the three main values and choosing pastel colours that fit those values.
I loved doing this simple still life of lemons in a bowl. Yup they are lemons despite being rather red. Again, with such a small box of pastels, I had to make colour decisions based on value rather than colour. I did attempt to render what I saw as close to reality as possible but I was restricted to so few colours!
Another tough one to do with regard to colour! I was attracted to all the items lined up near the sink with the view of the woods beyond. But colourwise, the lilies were the palest of pinks, the middle glass was an intense cobalt blue, and there were many variations in the outdoor greens. But I had what I had and so needed to let go of painting a true-to-life colour version. Instead, I concentrated on getting the values right and playing with the pastels I had to create this piece.
So those were from my first trip away. My next trip was to two cities – one for a business conference (that basically went from 8am to 6pm then dinner afterwards with participants so there was very little time). The other was to visit friends. I’d never visited their city of San Francisco before so between sightseeing and visiting, I had little time to paint!
But still I managed a few pieces.
Soooo the wall was beige-white and the sheets were kinda white. The bedcover was dark as was the headboard. This really pushed my colour choices and I just said, to heck with it – focus on values and then pick a colour that matches!! I was rather pleased with the wild colour of this piece slashed down quickly. I did this at about midnight sitting on the bed.
As you can tell from the title, this one was done at midnight as well! I sat on the side of the bathtub and painted this. Again limited colours pushed my creativity with colour. As with all the other paintings, it was about getting the values right despite the limited choice from the small box of pastels.
This was my black leather jacket and pink/red scarf hanging in the open closet against a white wall with only a subtle cast shadow. Well, you can see that I had to improvise! My scarf is now warm red, the wall a crazy yellow colour, and my jacket? well it’s pretty much as is. I was pleased with the way this one turned out!
I had about 10 minutes before my taxi came to take me to the airport so I looked around for the simplest possible subject and saw these hotel buildings across the way. I liked the way the darks and lights played off each other and that’s what I concentrated on. As you can imagine, the colour is greatly exaggerated!!
My first day in San Francisco I was just too darn tired at midnight to paint. So that was the day I missed during the 31-in-31 Challenge. But I did do two 20 minute sketches at the life drawing session 🙂
I used only three pastels and since there was no way I was going to get anywhere near skin colour with the set I had, it was all about value!!!!
Here’s the second one, again with only three pastels from the small box of pastels.
I so enjoyed accompanying Duane Wakeham (a pastel hero of mine!) to draw at Gay Men’s Sketch. It was a small space but the model was on a platform and well lit. And Jason was a superb model, holding poses for 20 minutes that seemed more suited to five! You can see some of Duane’s beautiful work from these sessions in his guest post.
All of the above pastels were done only with colours selected from Unison’s small box of pastels. They are for sale (though some have sold already) and they are at half price during October and November. So grab them at this super deal while you can. Maybe there’s a Christmas present in there somewhere?? Click here to see all the work available and prices.
So yes, you have no excuse not to take your pastels with you even if you are travelling super light!! Grab a few pastels (making sure they cover the value range from light through middle values to dark) and a few scraps of pastel paper and away you go!
Tell me what’s the smallest number of pastels you’ve travelled with and what were your challenges. I’d LOVE to hear from you so please leave a comment.
Until next time (when our next guest blogger appears!),
PS. From my evening at Gay Men’s Sketch!