Blue Ribbon

Writing and freely publishing this book has been a blessing in so many ways, and trust me, it's a gift to you but it also gives to me. None of us is selfishly giving, and that in itself is the reason it's so good.

This  morning I awoke early, blearily opened my email and saw a message from Katherine Tyrrell marked, 'you've won The Best Book by an Art Blogger Blue Ribbon (Making A Mark Awards 2010).' How nice, I thought. I hadn't had my coffee or spent time in the Bible, as I do every morning, and I was pleased. But it wasn't until I visited Making a Mark that I was absolutely bowled over by this generous recognition!

Please take a moment to go over to her blog and read the stunning company listed on that page, in order to understand how I feel right now. I must tell you that I have never considered myself and what I've written here as coming close to ranking alongside Richard McKinley or Deborah Paris. Their books are amazing! They're each consummate professionals, recognized widely and very authoritative. I respect each of them immensely and have had the pleasure of a certain amount of interaction with each of them at various times.

I think the thing that pleases me most is that it was the giving that tipped the balance. That wasn't me. That was the Lord. Some may not understand, while others no doubt do, but suffice it to say that I gave the book away as a gift to honor Jesus.

All the thanks I've received from people all over the world, and now this lovely Blue Ribbon, are His.


Blogger Stumbles into Assange Media Scrum

By chance, I found myself in the middle of the international press scrum surrounding the first court appearance of Julian Assange at the Westminster Magistrates' Court today. I'm not sure what this has to do with the project described in this blog, but the incident occurred after spending a lot of time in Westminster observing the general increase in police activities.
Fall trends for back to school - fashion advice
It's that time of year again. Summer is fading fast, and most American kids are back in school. And with the coming of a new school year come the fall trends in fashion. How can your little diva look cool at school? By wearing the hottest new back-to-school fashions, of course! Below is some fashion advice for dressing your princess in fall trends she'll love. With these great fall trends, she'll be more than ready to go back to school!

Fashion tips - color

This year, it's all about color - wild, neon colors, including bright purples, lime greens, hot pinks, and shocking blue. Have fun mixing and matching these colors with black for a fun, free-spirited look. Black and white, in mini-stripes, checks, and plaids are also "way cool"!

The fall trends often mix bright colors with neutral or muted earth tones. You'll see lots of buffalo checks and plaids that mix bright or neon colors with brown, khaki, and black.

Fall fashion advice - shorts

I don't know about where you live, but here it's still warm when school starts. In fact, it's warm enough through September and into October for girls to wear shorts. Fall trends for shorts include solids, prints, and patterns. Perhaps the most popular fall fashion for shorts is the madras plaid.

Pair these with tees or tanks - especially those sporting beadwork, stones, and studs.

Fahion advice - leggings

Leggings are still in! Solid colors, stripes, patterns, and wild, zany leggings look great worn under a tunic or skirt. Tuck them in a low boot, or wear them with sneakers or low-healed pumps. Tights are still hot fashion items, too. Closed-toe tights and ankle tights will be worn just like the leggings as part of fall fashion. And don't forget the socks! Crazy socks are the order of the day. Choose bold stripes, bright colors, and wild patterns.

Fall trends - skirts and skorts

Popular skirt styles range from fitted to pleated to full and ruffly. Simple black tailored skirts will be worn with all kinds of tops this fall. One of the most popular skirt fashion will be the layered-ruffle skirt. These have three to four layers of loose rufles, from top to bottom.

Fashion tips - tunics

These longer tops come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Most are very "girlie," with cap sleeves, ruffles, ribbons, and bows. Others are more tailored, but they're still a big part of fall fashion.

You're in the army now!

One of the newest fall trends is the military look. You'll see this in pants, capris, and jackets. Olive drab slacks and cargo pants, aviator and bomber jackets, and tailored cropped jackets with a military cut will be hot!

Fashion advice on patterns

Plaids are hot this year: plaid skirts, plaid blouses, plaid tunics. Big checks are in, too. Think black checks with bold-colored checks in lime green, bright purple, neon blue, and hot pink. You'll even see checks on shoes, especially on the high-top sneakers and ballet flats.

Fashion tips - high-topped sneakers

Just like the old Converse sneaks from the sixties! Popular solids include black, hot pink, and lime green. Wild, funky patterns are in, too. The shiny patten-looking high tops are fashionable now, also. Take out the laces and replace them with satin ribbon.

More fashion tips for sneakers

Laceless sneakers: These are ultra comfy and look great with jeans and skirts. Cool sneakers with laces are another fall fashion that will be hot. These fall trends include the low-cut sneaks like Converse. They'll be worn with jeans, shorts, and skirts.

Fashion advice - Boots

Just-above-the-ankle boots are on the shelves now, in a wide range of colors, including bright neons. Wear them over tights or leggings, or with jeans. Slouch boots in suede and leather will also be a hot commodity. And rain boots - don't overlook these adorable additions! Check out the links below!

Fall fashion -Skinny jeans

They're back! These skinny jeans are everywhere, especially in blue and black denim. Wear them under your short boots or with ballet flats for a sizzling look. For a fun look, wear the skinnies with a pair of low-top sneaks.

Fall trends - Shrugs and scarves

Wear a simple black shrug over a long tunic. A great look is a white or black-and-white tunic with a black shrug.

Brightly colored scarves will be worn with almost everything this fall. Even short-sleeve blouses will often don a scarf. Most of the scarves will be tied low and allowed to fall midway on the chest.

Fashion tips - Shoes

Flat is where it's at! Ballet shoes, Flat-heeled pumps, mary janes, slippers, and athletic shoes will be covering the cool feet this year. Ballet shoes will be seen in solid colors, patterns, and animal prints.

Fall fashion - Hoodies and jackets

Yep, they're still in, especially ones with stripes or zany patterns. Girls' hoodies are looking more feminine this year, however. Many will be in velvet, with rhinestones and other girly embellishments.

Guess what else is back? Bomber jackets! They've emerged from their long hibernation and will be a sizzling fall fashion this year. Fashion-savvy girls will be wearing cropped bomber jackets and longer bomber jackets with jeans, khakis, and more. To see bomber jackets for kids, check out the links below!

Fashion advice for tees

Choose tees with humorous sayings, logos, graphics, or rock bands. Tees in wild colors are cool, too. T-shirts are super comfortable and easy to care for, and they're generally inexpensive. Some are embellished with rhinestones, appliques, or silver studs.

Fall trends - Ties

They're not just for guys anymore. Bowties, regular neck ties, and jeweled ties are all the rage. They can be used to dress an outfit up or down and can add some pizzaz to practically any ensemble. You'll see lots of fall fashion accompanied by a tie.

Fashion advice on Layering

Once again, layering will be part of the fall trends. Layer tees under plaid shirts, sweaters, or hoodies. not only is this a good look for girls, it's also very practical. Fall weather is unpredictable. Mornings can be chilly, but by afternoon the weather might be warm. Your little diva can "unlayer" as the day gets hotter. Plus, she'll be wearing a great fall fashion!

Vintage fashion

Retro and vintage fashion is more popular than ever! Just about anything retro is way cool: faded embellished jeans, peace signs, leather fringed vests, love beads, hats, and rock tees. You'll see lots of fall trends displaying peace signs and "Love" in psychadelic colors.

Another vintage fashion that has made its way back is tie dye. You'll find lots of tie-dyed tees on the racks. Buy a couple, or make your own! You'll be in real fall fashion mode.

Be sure to check out the pics below the clothes!

Now...go shopping! And have lots of fun!

baby clothes and children's clothing bath, shower, and spa treatments and products body art, tattoos and piercing bridal fashion cosmetic surgery costumes and uniforms dental care and hygiene ear care eye care fashion accessories fashion designers fashion models hairstyles, cool cuts, how to style your hair hand bags and purses history of fashion jewelry makeup and cosmetics men's fashion and clothing styles men's hygiene and grooming perfume and fragrances shaving and hair removal shoes and stockings for legs and feet skin care vegan fashion and beauty women's fashion and clothing styles women's hygiene


I just wanted to post my gratitude for the many well wishes and thanks I've received for the book. 

It was a "labor of love", first from the standpoint of one who loves this vibrant and lively medium, and loves teaching others a few of the things I've learned about how to paint the landscape, but mostly out of love for Christ, who gave me a modicum of talent and provided me with the opportunities to explore and enjoy using pastels. It was His example that showed me so clearly that I wasn't to hold out, hold back or expect to gain income from the book, but that in giving it away I would gain more than I could ever expect otherwise. The truth of that is difficult to prove, but it's real nonetheless. Your thanks are truly appreciated.

Although due to family needs I have few chances to spend time in my pastel studio, I continue to teach classes once a week with a devoted group of students, and I pursue painting in gouache on my little dining room table. My mind roves over the landscape and technical areas I haven't yet explored in this book, and as a result I have several additional chapters brewing. I sincerely hope to write them and post them here as an appendix, of sorts.

If you have a question or idea you would like answered, or would like to propose an additional area of study in the landscape as its painted in pastels, I welcome your thoughts. Please understand that for the present I'm not in the process of writing, but as I teach and post on Today's Art Class blog, much of what I hope to write is beginning to coalesce.

And in the nearer future, I hope to begin offering online workshops in the landscape in pastel. Look for that to come to fruition in 2011 sometime. I'll post opportunities here as they arise, but if it's something you're interested in doing and you have a particular subject you'd like to explore (i.e. sunsets, reflections, snow, night, etc.) send an email to me at d.d.secor(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll add you to my mailing list.

If this is your first visit here, please page through the Table of Contents Links in the sidebar. If you're new to pastels, you might want to start at the beginning and explore the possibilities in order. Perhaps you're struggling with a particular subject and stumbled upon the information using an Internet search. Either way, I hope what you find here is of help and interest to you.  

Every student is a blessing to me. Teaching is a delight, and freely sharing even more so.

See below for details of the theatrical release of Robinson in Ruins, Patrick Keiller’s much anticipated follow-up to London and Robinson in Space.

BFI Southbank – NFT1 - 17.20 – 20 November 2010 – film & panel discussion

Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in Ruins, released on 19 November, is one of several outcomes of a three-year, AHRC-funded research collaboration between Keiller, Doreen Massey, Patrick Wright and Matthew Flintham.

Following a screening of the film, the co-researchers will present their project as a political intervention. Through its study of a landscape, the project challenges commonly-held assumptions about the current economic and ecological crises: about market forces, commodification, and the terms of belonging in an age supposedly characterised by mobility and displacement.

In summary, the SDSR outlines 8% cuts to the British defence budget with
the Royal Navy reduced by around 5,000 personnel, the British Army by 7,000, the RAF by around 5,000 and civilians reduced by around 25,000. Even the Telegraph admits that the MoD got off lightly in this months round of public sector cuts. RAF Kinloss in Scotland will close and Tornado fighters at Lossiemouth will transfer to the UK in a somewhat half-hearted bid to centralise and consolidate the strategic distribution of airbases around the UK. Other RAF bases may be 'repurposed' for use by the other armed services, and the massive MoD training site proposed for St Athan, Wales, is on permanent hold. All of which means that there will be very little difference to the overall size of the defence estate

Gouache Paintings in Small Scale--launching a new medium

Although I have not and do not plan to print or sell the book "Landscape Painting in Pastels", I have designed a modest little book containing some of my gouache landscapes, which I want to share with you.

It's quite a nice little softcover book. Most of the work shown is landscapes, although I included some of my still life and floral paintings. There are 68 paintings and three step-by-step demonstrations (all landscapes), as well as the text of the article that was in Watercolor Artist magazine in February, called Emergency Inspiration Kit. I've had a lot of paintings shown in magazines, due to my association as a writer for The Pastel Journal, The Artist's Magazine, and Watercolor Artist over the last 12 years, so I was a bit skeptical about the quality that an online publisher such as Blurb could produce. I worked hard to lay it out so that the paintings are life-sized. The book itself is only 7" x 7" in size. The intimacy of this scale is well suited to showcasing these 2.5" x 3.5" paintings.

So let me reiterate that although this is not a big, impressive book, it is a very nice little collection of photographs that pretty accurately represents my paintings, and I'm most pleased with it. I'm quite happy to offer it for sale to anyone who is interested. I kept the price modest, of course, and you can preview every page, so you'll know what you're getting.

I'm so pleased with the quality of this small book that I plan to design one devoted to a retrospective of my pastel landscapes in the near future, but I hope you'll enjoy seeing my most current work in gouache.

I hope you enjoy it.

The End

Now that the book is concluded I want to acknowledge the help and support of my family and friends.

My husband Dan has been of immeasurable assistance to me every step of the way. He helps me to keep my priorities straight, guiding me gently and lovingly to see the Lord's will in my life. I can't tell you how many times he has taken a question into consideration, prayed and then come back to me with wonderful Scriptural support. We discussed at length publishing this book free of any charge, giving it away to all, something many people would have viewed as merely an opportunity for income. Dan saw the bigger spiritual picture first and urged me to live what I believe. Thank you, my love.

I also want to mention the ways my son, Chris, has been of service. He's one of my finest critics and most supportive fans. He's honestly looked at my work, asked some good questions, occasionally attended classes I taught, and has always reminded me that I'm an artist, in addition to being a child of God, wife, mom and daughter. Thank you, kiddo. Sometimes I need to remember that.

Each week as I've posted these chapters I've also relied on the expertise of Phil van Hulle. We met online at WetCanvas, where he volunteered his considerable experience and expertise in editing the chapters. Anyone who writes knows the value of excellent editing. At first I reviewed all the changes one by one, but in a very short time I recognized that each change clarified what I was saying and was very respectful of the content. Soon I simply clicked on the 'accept all changes' button quite confidently. Phil, thank you so much.

And I want to thank all of the readers up to now and yet to come. I've received so many wonderful messages from people telling me they are learning and trying new things. I'm delighted to know how these chapters help the beginner get started or the more experienced artist move forward. I've even heard form a couple of seasoned pros that they're enjoying the exploration of some subjects.Your encouragement means a lot to me. Thank you to each and every one of you.

I've said it for years to my students. Now let me say it to all of you:

It's looking good. Keep going!

Deborah Secor
October 15, 2010


 Portfolio--present all one genre (remove the portrait.)

The long-planned day has arrived. Today is the day you approach your first gallery. You’ve painted those six excellent pieces, had your mentor critique them, and have them nicely framed. You’ve shopped the galleries to find the top four in your target market and found the one you most want to show in, as well as determining how it reviews work. You have business cards, a brochure with some details about you and your art, a résumé listing the few shows you’ve been in, and an artist’s statement, all organized in your portfolio alongside excellent photos of your artwork. Now all you need to do is show the work and pray like crazy it’s accepted.

If some of these suggestions seem daunting, I suggest you take some time to study information devoted to marketing your work. There are some excellent resources in print and online explaining the ins and outs of making cards, brochures, portfolios and prints, not to mention articles in arts magazines with handy tips and cost-cutting information. Be sure that whatever you do fits your personality and artwork. Try to think things through from the point of view of the gallery owner or director before entering the door.

I suggest framing five paintings in three sizes, two small, two medium and one large. Show paintings that have a cohesive look, presenting a nice show hanging together on a wall.

  • Choose paintings that show consistent style. (Yes, you do have a style, even if you can’t identify it. Ask someone else to help you select the work if you can’t be objective yourself).
  • Select work that overlaps certain colors or themes, but isn’t all identical (not six sunset paintings). Even if it’s your favorite painting ever and won a prize at the fair, if it sticks out as being too different it won’t complement the showing.
  • Stick with one genre: all figures in the landscape, all still life, all portraits. This gives the gallery an identifier they can use to sell your work. Later you may add other subject matter.
  • Be sure that your paintings are framed in a style that suits the area. Look around at what’s selling before you frame your work and take mat color and style of frame into consideration. Frame all of the work in similar frames and mat colors. You want a consistent, professional look, not a garage sale look. 
  • Have reasonable prices in mind for each piece, taking into consideration the 50 percent commission fee you’ll likely give the gallery. Once accepted, don’t hesitate to ask the gallery director or owner whether these prices are in line with what she expects to get, or whether they want you to go higher or lower. Be flexible -- you’re getting valuable advice from a professional you plan to do business with, so such questions show you respect them.
Contact the gallery via e-mail, or call on a weekday morning, to ask about their policy for viewing new artwork. Some galleries schedule a review day; others are more flexible. You will most likely hear that they are not seeking new artists at this time. Don’t let that discourage you.


If you are given a review date, ask what to prepare and arrive on time with everything they request. If you decide to walk in and discuss the possibility of showing with a gallery director, qualify the galleries you’ve chosen before going there. Make sure it’s the right place, or at least in your top four choices.

Prepare to go into the gallery at a very quiet time of day, with a relatively small portfolio. Dress professionally, relative to the market you’re entering. Don’t go in your paint spattered, ripped jeans or lug in a large framed painting. You should be able to carry your portfolio in one hand or on a strap over your shoulder. The sales clerk or director will spot you as an artist a mile off, so don’t try to pretend to be a shopper. Ask if it’s possible to speak to the director or owner. As soon as she approaches, tell her your name and identify yourself as an artist looking for representation. Smile, look her in the eye and be prepared to hear that they are not accepting work at this time. Ask when and how she reviews work. Have a business card ready to hand her with a smile, and offer to leave photographs, if she seems interested. Prepare a small photograph album containing your ten best paintings in a cohesive style, labeled with title, size, and medium. List your contact information inside and offer to leave it with the director if she isn’t open to reviewing work.

If she’s open to discussion, take the time to talk. Ask questions about the work or the gallery. A little schmoozing is acceptable as long as it doesn’t take too much time and doesn’t draw the director away from clients. Ask if you can show the photos of your work, but have a small framed painting inside your portfolio, too. When you open the zipper to retrieve your photo album, make sure your painting is visible. If she is interested in seeing your artwork, do not spread paintings around the gallery floor unless the director tells you to, and never, ever interrupt anyone working with clients. You’re there to support the work of the gallery. Your spouse or a friend should help you retrieve paintings, and hold back all but the two you carry in—your two best, of course.

As you show the work, talk about what you do. If this idea is hard for you, discuss with your mentor or a friend two things you can point out about each painting. You want to give the gallery a sales pitch they can give to a client, something like the location of the subject matter, a special color you used, or an experience you had painting it.


The director just asked you to consign work. Now what? Be prepared to read over any consignment contract the gallery may want signed, which is for your protection as well as theirs. Don’t quibble over details unless you feel that what they’re suggesting is outside the norm. Read sample contracts so that you’re clear on what’s standard. There are many showing online that you can peruse ahead of time.

Carry two copies of a short, simple consignment form in your portfolio, left blank so that you can fill in the gallery name and address, as well as the titles, sizes and prices of your paintings, should the owner want to take the work immediately. Most often a gallery will offer you a form, since paperwork is part of what you’re paying them to do. Don’t be afraid to ask about policies such as how often the gallery pays its artists and whether it sends notice when nothing has sold. (Most don’t.) This is professional and expected.

They want to accept all your paintings today and ask if you can deliver a few more in a week or two. Many galleries prefer to have some back stock so that they can rotate work or show interested customers more paintings. Be prepared ahead of time. Have three or four additional paintings stored at home ready to frame. If you don’t have the work, be honest and let them know when you can deliver it. Do not run home to paint four more and try to deliver them in a week. It won’t work, trust me. If you have work available, show photographs or agree to send digital shots via e-mail as soon as you can. It’s best to develop a good working relationship with the gallery by asking which paintings the owners want to show. You can always slip in a couple of your other painting subjects when you consign, if you don’t mind framing them at the risk of having them turned down. Determine some standard sizes you will use so that you can replace one painting with another.

It’s always a good idea to ask when the gallery would prefer to accept deliveries of your paintings. Some busy galleries won’t consign on Saturday afternoon, for instance, so be sure to let them know when to expect you, and arrive on time. Whenever you show up at the gallery, carry framed work in with cardboard corners in place. (I carried my framed work in homemade canvas bags for years, sized to accommodate three or more paintings that I could easily transport myself. This allowed me to come in quietly and unobtrusively, without making too many trips, and I could quickly corral corners to carry away when finished.) Ask where they would like you to place the paintings. Stack your consigned paintings in one spot and request that the sales clerk or director sign your already-filled-out consignment form as you count and read the titles of the paintings to her. You can always line out anything that isn’t consigned, and initial beside the title, if she doesn’t want it. Even if the gallery has paperwork it wants filled out, I suggest you have a neat little consignment form of your own. If nothing else, they can copy titles and sizes from your typed copy. Save them time, trouble and hassle!

Once your business is transacted, clear out anything taking up space, and if you have time return to the gallery to look at the work. Notice the prices, review the framing styles, look at the lighting, the displays, etc. You’re in partnership with the gallery to sell work, so take note of the business. Ask what’s selling, and admire the work you see. Keep a consignment list in your pocket and check your inventory to see that it’s displayed, that the price is correct, and that it’s clean and well-lighted. If needed, problems with any of these issues can be taken up later, over the phone or via e-mail. Take a photograph of the wall holding your work for future reference, if the gallery doesn’t object.


There’s far more to dealing with galleries than I can detail here, of course. Some have likened a gallery-artist relationship to marriage, and there’s some truth to that -- aside from “‘til death do us part.” Your job is to provide good work, ready to display, in a timely fashion. Their job is to represent you well and show and sell your work. Each partner must do the job well to make the relationship flourish.

When you encounter problems, think through how you want to solve things and approach the gallery personnel with respect. Remember that you’re one of many artists they deal with, so try to maintain a strong working relationship that’s built on mutual benefits. Determine that above all, as much as it depends on you, you’ll keep your word and try to consider things from the other’s point of view.

When you find a trusted gallery owner who can market your work well, you may develop a longtime working relationship that benefits both of you. The bottom line is to always seek out how you can support the gallery. Be sure to express your appreciation for the hard work the owners do. Thank them for sales -- send an e-mail or write a little note once in a while. You are in this together.


You’ve been painting in pastels for a while now and have taken some classes and workshops. Your teachers have encouraged you, some of your work has been accepted to a national show, and even though you haven’t won any prizes you know it’s time to start making a little money with your art. A good next step might be to begin with an art fair. Art fairs, or booth shows, are a great place to embark on selling. Shows allow you to step into the sales arena with a relatively modest cash outlay, effectively introduce your work to a local audience that can be receptive and supportive, and help you find the price range and niche your work may fill in the marketplace. Being accepted to a fair may be the boost you need to get your paintings finished, framed, priced and ready to sell, and could provide the opportunity you need to be seen by galleries as a selling artist.

First consider local shows. If you can, attend the show and take detailed notes about what you see. Try to picture yourself showing there. Ask the promoters or participating artists what has been provided. If this is an outdoor show, find out whether the artists supply everything from the ground up or if a structure is provided. Notice whether aluminum display panels, pegboard sheets or other walls are in place. Most of the time there are small tables or cabinets where customers may pick up cards or brochures and the artist writes up sales. Take note of the height, style, and sizes used to decide what works best. Look at the chairs. A tall, folding director’s chair is often the best choice, as it allows the artist to sit at eye level with customers.

Once you’ve found a show that interests you, request a prospectus. The application should tell you a lot about the show, even if you haven’t been able to attend. For instance, is the show held outdoors or indoors? Do you have to provide your own display system or tent? If this is an outdoor show you’ll need weather protection for your pastel paintings. Determine whether you can you drive up to a booth to drop things off, or will have to carry everything in from a parking area. Find out the cost of entering the show and the cost of the booth, including all your options. In a juried show you submit slides or photographs, or present examples of your work, and there’s usually a jury fee that is separate from the booth fee. You need to know exactly what you will get for your investment.

You also want to know a few things about the show and its history. How long has the show been in business? A successful show will have a good track record. How many artists do the promoters plan to host? You’ll be sharing the available dollars with the other exhibitors. Do they intend to balance art and craft exhibitors, or is this exclusively a painting show? The kind of work featured will determine the response from the community. Notice how many days the show runs and what hours it’s open to the public, and find out whether you may safely and confidently leave your paintings in your booth overnight or whether you’ll need to take down the show each day. If you were able to attend the show, refer back to your notes. What was the venue and were there many people attending? What physical set-up worked best? Were there walls or curtains dividing the booths? Most importantly, could you picture showing your art there?

Once you have applied to and been accepted to a fair, you have some important decisions to make. You will need to look into the various methods for displaying your work. Most artists use flexible, lightweight display panels that may be broken down and carried easily, but provide attractive wall space. Outdoor fairs often require you to provide your own tent, as well. Your notes should give you some ideas of what artists do at these shows. Consider the need for lighting, if the show continues into the evening hours. Be prepared to deal with weather considerations, as well.

You need to exhibit a range of sizes and prices. If you’ve already sold work in an exhibit use that as your foundational price. If not, you’ll need to decide on a fair price for your work. Review the notes you took where you carefully logged the prices of work similar to your own and be fair in your pricing. Don’t undersell too much or unduly overvalue your paintings. Decide whether you are willing to sell your pastels without a frame and if so at what price. Think about the possibility of taking commissions for your paintings if your subject matter warrants. If you’re willing to do this, establish your deposit and payment policy.

A fair is a wonderful opportunity to advertise your work. Show promoters may offer you a chance to advertise in their bulletin, an effective way to get your name in front of everyone who attends. Be certain to have excellent business cards with a color photograph of one of your paintings, as well as your name, phone, e-mail address and web page on them. A brochure that tells about your history as an artist and features more of your work can be made on your computer. You can use the show as a chance to build your mailing list, so put out a guest book where customers can record their name, e-mail or mailing address and comments. Be sure to send thank-you notes to anyone who buys a painting, no matter the size or price. This is a great way to build good customer relations in your community so that you can continue to enjoy the life of a selling artist.


Self-criticism is a skill every artist needs to develop. The ability to look at your work dispassionately and see clearly its strengths and weaknesses is a tool that serves the artist as much as her easel or palette. The goal is to be honest without being overly brutal -- or too lenient.

It’s difficult to determine why it’s easier to dislike certain parts of a painting than it is to find those we value. However, most of us can go more quickly and easily to the things we don’t like about a piece. We need to develop a means by which we can evaluate the painting, something we can rely upon to help us find problems and see where we need to enhance our skills.


Each painting should have an objective, some target you’re aiming at in this single piece. Setting goals helps you know where you’re headed and how close you came to hitting the mark. Your goal might be broad, such as painting realistically or capturing the quality of an object or mood of a place. Or it could be as specific as having put the detail in all the right places or utilized heightened contrast in value. You might be attempting to paint new subject matter, say landscapes, or trying out a new kind of paper or other materials. You might be attempting to use more brilliant color or broken color, or perhaps you need to concentrate on painting foregrounds or perfecting trees. Whatever the issue, first ask yourself where you were heading and where you ended up.

You must try more than one painting to achieve any goal. Challenges take work and time. If after your first attempt you’re not satisfied, look carefully for those things that worked and why they worked, then paint another one that aims at the same purpose. Most of us are not likely to succeed on the first try -- and even when we do, that probably will not give us the skill to be able to do it again. So don’t give up. Dare to keep on trying.

Hold onto your first attempts at something new in order to be able to compare later on. Consider this “research and development” a good way to approach something new. You can more clearly evaluate your progress when you have a basis for comparison. So slide the first attempt or two under the bed or into the back of the portfolio and pull them out later on so that you can see how far you have come.


Be willing to learn things you don’t know. This is a lot like walking to the edge of a cliff in the fog, not knowing how far you might fall. Until you’re willing to risk failure, trying something that you’ve never done before or something that you have had no success with in the past, you can never learn it. Many times we stand at the edge of the thing we don’t know and imagine it to be a cliff when it’s only a curb. The failure can be relatively painless in the face of what we can learn from going there. After all, how much do we learn from success and how much from failure? A baby learning to walk falls down quite a lot, but once he finds his balance he uses the skill for a lifetime. We will assuredly use the skills we develop, but we learn the most when are in the fumbling, falling-down stage.


Once you think your new painting is fairly complete, spend some time looking at it, reviewing the goals you set. This time should be spent only looking, not making changes. Let your eye come to see the strengths of the painting over a period of time. This might mean that instead of setting it on the easel to review, where you could be tempted to grab a pastel to correct it too soon, you should instead set it somewhere away from the studio. Spend time with the piece, walking past it at different times of the day, in different lighting situations. Live with it a while until you have some sense of the good things you see there, as well as the things you know need changing.

When you see what needs to be changed, think about the solutions you might use. Too often in our haste to rid the painting of the offending portion we snatch a color and cover it up or wipe out that part altogether without taking the time to think. Stop and consider at least two or three possible ways to correct the problem. If color is the difficulty, what additional colors layered over might cure it or what color might replace the existing one? If it is a compositional problem, how might you rearrange the elements? Whatever the trouble, taking the time to think of several ways to treat it will help increase the knowledge and skills you must have as an artist.

When you’ve arrived at a decision about the changes to make, try the first way. If that seems not to correct the issue, try the next solution. Rational, well thought-out decisions are the instruments by which we learn.


Never become so devoted to any one part of a painting that you’re unwilling to sacrifice it to the betterment of the entire work. These little icons of success can often be the obstacles that hold us back from progressing. No matter how successfully painted, if the sheen of light on the river is too light in value, distracting the eye from the center of interest, you must take it out. No matter how beautifully rendered the lacy edge of the foliage, if the sky shining from behind is too dark, it must be replaced. Too often we esteem the one part that succeeds and forget to reach toward the success of the whole.

Most of us tend to be somewhat enamored of those paintings that make it past the first few revisions. We’ve put considerable time into the painting and may find irresistible what has been achieved. Now we should wait until we have fallen out of love with the piece before continuing to evaluate it. This might be a good time to put the painting away for a long enough time that you forget that first blush of pleasure. When you can look at it more dispassionately, in a manner that’s detached enough to admit the flaws alongside the strong points, bring it out for a final evaluation.


Now is the time the painting should be subjected to the opinions or advice of the critic you select. Learning self-criticism does not mean you never ask another person to criticize your work. In fact, having a critic you trust is important. You can learn a lot about how and what to criticize by working with a good critic.

Find someone who can consistently help you grow and has your best interests at heart to help you evaluate your work. Whether this is an artist friend or a professional teacher you pay to critique a small body of work, do not neglect this aspect of learning and evaluation. You have to seek criticism in order to grow.

Do not ask for an opinion about a painting or body of work until you are ready to hear and use the advice. Nothing is gained by asking for guidance you intend to refute. To defeat this, be sure you know what you value in the piece and what parts you want help changing. Instead of approaching the critic with a helpless “I just don’t know what to do” attitude, it might be more helpful if you point out those things that please you and are working, as well as those you feel need improvement.

The opinion of an untrained critic can be valuable as well. If a neighbor steps into your studio, ask what she thinks of some aspect of your piece. Again, this might work best if it’s specific rather than general. Asking a question about the color or composition elicits a less ambiguous reply, but be open to hearing whatever comments come. Children can be particularly candid -- and often helpful in their forthrightness if the artist is willing to be open.


Criticizing your work is a skill that must be developed alongside the painting techniques you need to succeed. Being able to evaluate what works and why, as well as what needs improvement, is an ability you can develop with practice.

Set goals and remain open to possibilities. Be willing to take risks and look for the things you need to learn or improve. Take the time you need to see your strengths and weaknesses, to decide rationally on a course of action and pursue it or try varying solutions. Find a critic you trust and listen to the advice you receive.

As an artist, you have a lifetime of challenges and new growth ahead. Do not neglect the art of self-critique.

How to Criticize Your Own Painting

Before you change anything...

As you look at a new painting consider many possibilities before changing anything. Analyze these and consciously decide on changes before doing anything. Then ask the following three questions:

1. Where are the places of harmony and movement? What has succeeded? Which part is most pleasing to you and why? Are there places that you especially like?

2. Where are the places that jump out? What causes this? Think of two or three ways to correct the problem.

You may stop here and make the needed changes if you feel you have enough ideas and information to go on. If not, try step three, but be sure you know what you like and don’t like before asking anyone else.

3. Show the painting to a critic. This should be someone you trust to tell you the truth, trained or untrained, or can be someone off the street whose opinion you know nothing about. The idea is to get a fresh viewpoint, not to determine the majority opinion. Ask people to help you see problem areas before you make changes, then develop a plan and learn from what you try. This is a way to aid in the development of your own opinion.

Do not stand in front of a painting and “try things.” This rarely results in improvement. Instead, make brief note of the possible changes in each piece and consider what will happen if you try them. Willy-nilly changes sometimes work, but often you can’t sort out why.

Take the time to ask questions about the painting, then move around and try different ways of looking at it before you pick up a pastel.

When you’re ready, make the needed adjustments.

Questions to ASK about the painting

What was my goal in this painting? What is it about the place or the photograph that made me want to paint it?

Was there a feeling or mood I wanted to express here? Did I succeed?

What is my center of interest or focal point?

Have I used detail in the appropriate places to enhance the focal point, or is the painting overly detailed and boring?

Are there a pleasing variety of textures and lines? Do they enhance the focal point or overwhelm it?

Is there a good range of light to dark values? Do they form an interesting abstract pattern?

Where is the area of highest contrast? Where do the darkest dark and the lightest light come closest together? Is this enhancing the area of greatest interest?

Are the four landscape values presented accurately? Is the sky light, the ground medium-light, the mountains medium dark and the trees dark? If not, why not?

What palette of colors have I used? Are the colors in this painting generally bright, muted, dark or light? Is it mostly warm or cool? Would some variation improve it?

Did I begin with a strong underlying abstraction of shapes? Did I retain them throughout the painting? How might I improve this in the future?

Is the shape and size of the paper best suited to this composition? Would this painting be stronger if I changed the format?

What movement occurs in the painting? Is it interesting? Is it organized and complete? How could I vary the shapes to improve the movement?

Are the negative shapes in this piece interesting?

Are there a compositional X that traps the eye or a V that points the eye off the page?

Do I have a visual treat at the apex of any visual path such as a road or stream? Does it move the eye or stop it?

Is the linear perspective correct?

Is the aerial perspective correct -- lighter, bluer, less detail, less contrast, softer edges? Is there a sense of “air” no matter how shallow the depth?

Are there little objects sitting on the windowsill of the painting?

Are there any places where the painting is unresolved and mysterious?

Are there places where color jumps out or there are needlessly interesting details?

Are there any haloes?

Are there any wallpaper patterns?

Is there any object cut in half or less? If so, why?

Are there any unintended repetitive shapes?

Different ways to LOOK at the painting

Squint your eyes to lose detail. Is the underlying design of shapes and values strong?

Use a red filter to look at your painting, your photo or at the world so that you can see values. Remember that any reds will turn white or very light in value.

Stand back far enough that your painting looks no larger than a postage stamp, even if you have trouble seeing that far. Take ten steps closer. What has changed? Take ten steps closer. What has changed? Repeat. Notice how distance changes your perceptions. At what distance is the painting strongest and why?

Trace the movement by closing your eyes for a minute, then tracking where your eye begins and ends in your painting. Try this several times until your eye moves easily around the composition. Name the kind of movement: horizontal, vertical, circular, etc.

Look at the painting using only your peripheral vision. Stare at a point to the side of it.

Turn your painting upside down and sideways. Look for the abstract elements of color and design.

Look at your painting in a mirror or use a reducing glass or binoculars turned backward. Look for the abstract shapes.

Put a mat around the painting or use wide masking tape to make a mat to cover any vivid color on the edge of your painting.

Crop parts of the painting to see if it improves.

Put your painting in direct sunlight. What happens to the colors?

Put your painting under artificial light at night and use a dimmer switch to see how the light levels change it.


Have more than one painting to work on at any time. Give your mind room to wander from subject to subject as your mood changes.

Find your strengths and don’t try to do someone else’s work. Emulate techniques. Develop your own style.

Let go of failure and look to the future.

Relax. Have fun. Learn. Grow. Experiment.


Poblanos Autumn, 12" x 9"
 (With thanks to The Pastel Journal where this was originally published.)

A man stands at his easel painting the breathtaking vista before him. The sky is bright blue, the day calm and warm. His black umbrella punctuates a field of green and yellow grass near shady cottonwood trees. The mountains are a sweep of cobalt and lavender, topped with crisp white clouds. It looks ideal. No wind. No rain. No bugs. No dust. It’s no wonder painters wish to paint outside on such a glorious day.

But the fact is that it can be uncomfortable painting “en plein air”—meaning on location. Dust does blow, bugs do bite, the sky darkens or the wind blows. It takes planning and energy to drag the easel, pastels and umbrella to the car, drive to a location, lug your gear to a spot, set it up and take it down, then drive home again, usually tired and sometimes unsatisfied with the day’s work.

Working in the studio is usually far less challenging than location work. There, you can control the environment and are able to settle down to work. Lighting conditions remain stable and you can take the time to carefully plan and execute a painting, which can be difficult when working outside. There are no burrs clinging to your socks or stray dogs wandering under your easel, no wind or rain to contend with. Studio work is much less physical, and if nothing comes of the day’s work at least you haven’t spent gas money to do it.

So why do so many painters go through all that to paint outside?

It’s simpler to paint a striking locale from a photograph, yet open-air paintings have a depth and range of color impossible to find in any photograph. Photographs taken at the same time and location look accurate but often are unsatisfying. We’ve come to believe that the color in a photograph is somehow more real, when in fact the interpretation of colors that the artist brings to a painting is far more valid. Shadows are frequently too dark or light areas washed out in a photograph. Paintings made on location have an appealing variety of colors, in shadow or sunlight.

Color is made from light. Painting in the natural sunlight reveals the complexity of the colors all around us. As you look into the shadows you can see details, though they are cooler and darker in value, while the light areas are luminous and glowing. Although most painters prefer to work under the shade of an umbrella or in the solid cast shadow of a building or other object, it’s not impossible to stand in the open sunlight and paint. Light and color go hand in hand. Light is the key to color, which is in turn the key to mood in a painting.

Still, plein air painting takes some getting used to. The almost overwhelming amount of subject matter can result in crowded paintings with no focal area. No piece of paper is adequate to the task of painting the whole world -- or even the western horizon alone. It’s necessary to limit the scope of what you paint on location. Rather than trying to do a painting of the road that leads to the house with the shade trees and flower garden, and the mountains beyond that with the clouds building up to a storm, it’s better to select only parts to paint. Choose the road leading to the house one day. Move closer and paint the garden another day. Then take on the mountains and clouds on a day when they are spectacular.

Even within the context of your chosen subject -- say the mountains and clouds -- use some tried-and-true methods to limit what you paint. Frame the world with your hands or use mat corners to block out portions until you can see clearly what will fit on the paper. Select a visual landmark where you can place your viewfinder, putting the corners in the same position repeatedly so that you can renew acquaintance with your selected bit of the world when needed. Some artists like to look through an empty slide mount. Because you have to close one eye to do this, your field of vision flattens, which sometimes makes it easier to see shapes as interlocking puzzle pieces.

Paintings composed using photographs often look different from those painted outdoors. They contain details that are easily ignored when painting on location, such as the grass directly in front of the easel and the branch overhead that protrudes into the picture plane. The camera lens puts the world out at arm’s length, pushing everything away from the viewer, changing the perspective. The point of view of a plein air painting seems grounded, as though you can sense the easel sitting in the dirt, and extraneous details are easily ignored.

Instead of attempting to complete a painting while on location, it might help to begin by making color and composition sketches on site. When you work quickly and freely you are freed from the desire to paint the perfect finished version of the view. Take along your camera to record details of the place but paint to record your personal response to the colors you see and select the viewpoint and details you want to include. The photographs then become an aid to your personal vision rather than commanding the image. In the studio you can use both photos and sketches to make a finished painting.

Once you discover the pleasure of painting on location and see the merits of color and composition done there, in all likelihood you will be willing to pack your gear and drive out to that special spot or spend time searching out a new one. The delight of seeing and the pleasure of recording your surroundings will begin to outweigh any annoyance and distraction you find there. You probably won’t abandon your studio but you will likely discover that location work strengthens what you do in the studio.

One day you may find yourself standing in a green and yellow field under an umbrella, painting cobalt mountains on a perfect day. No wind. No rain. No bugs. No dust. Then you will know why painters go out on location so often.

Coronado, 12" x 9"


Materials for Plein Air

lightweight, portable easel
stone sack or empty gallon jug with twine
small palette of pastels (~125 half sticks)
small drawing board, clips, clamps
paper cut to 9x12" or smaller
11x14" newsprint pad with clips OR Clearbags (to transport paintings)
umbrella, clamps
spray bottle (to keep cool)
camera, sketchbook, charcoal, pencils, viewfinder, red filter
wet wipes, paper towels, tape, tools
sunscreen, bug spray, hat OR gloves, scarf, extra socks, jacket
large plastic bags (rain protection, garbage)
cooler, water
folding chair (if watching a demonstration)

Back yard plein air.

Many people ask me about my easel and palette setup for plein air. I keep it fairly simple. I use the Anderson Swivel Easel, which works perfectly for my height (5'4"), and an old Rembrandt box filled with half-sticks and smaller bits of pastels that I open and set on top of the easel. I carry most of my supplies in a rolling box. (I have carried things in my backpack, too, but I do that less often now.) I try to keep things simple, lightweight and portable, although I pack a lot into my car so I have it when I need it.

Painting with mast flat.

My well used plein air palette.

I enjoy the Anderson Swivel Easel because I can swivel the mast around 360 degrees, allowing me to simply turn another direction without rearranging my easel, or lay it down flat and paint looking over it, standing to one side of the easel. (In windy conditions this can be quite helpful.) It's lightweight, only around nine pounds empty. I often cut paper and tape it in place on my board, one piece on top of the next, so that I can start painting the moment I arrive on location. Then I simply remove that piece, slip in into the newsprint pad or a Clearbag to transport without smearing, and I'm  ready to begin the next one.

I prefer to do color sketches rather than trying to make a "finished" painting. I record the scene as soon as I'm set up and starting to sketch, taking a photo as I see the view from the easel. I record another shot at the end of the hour (if I paint that long--rarely any longer), so that I have two photos and a color sketch to use in the studio if/when I make a finished painting. However, having freed myself from the mental straitjacket of painting to a finish on location, ironically I'm far more inclined to paint what I consider to be finished work. The three paintings shown here, for instance, were painted entirely on location, with no further work in the studio. 

Corrales Acequia, 9" x 9"


Mesa Meadow, 18" x 12"

Color and value are inextricably intertwined. They're very much like a hand in a glove; although the glove exists independently in the material world, it does not function until the hand is inside it. So it is with the glove of color, which needs the hand of value to motivate it. Artists rely on color as one of the fundamental elements of painting. Value is an issue that comes up as the artist advances in skill and consideration of the theory of painting. Value or tone, which is the lightness or darkness of any color, is independent and exists with or without color. It's black and white and all grays in between, as well as all of the dark to light tones of any given color. It's an essential component of any color. You cannot separate color from its value, but you can and should consider value as an issue of primary importance, separate from color.

Understanding value can strengthen color. Most artists use color easily, almost without thinking, far more often than they consider the underlying, driving force of value. This doesn’t mean that they disregard value -- quite the contrary. Value is so intimately linked to color that they seem not to consider the hand apart from the glove. As the artist progresses through her career, value sneaks in, becoming increasingly important. As fundamental as it is, value is often left to the consideration of the more experienced painter. This should not be a surprise since, as in so many other disciplines, the further one goes into the depths the more elemental the concepts become. Still, the most experienced painter can learn new things, which is why art is one of the richest and most varied of pursuits and may continue for a lifetime.

One way to come to understand the interdependence of color and value is to plan a painting that utilizes only complementary colors but retains the original value of each of those colors. In doing this you will come to see the value or tone of the color more exactly as you challenge yourself to duplicate it while using its complement. Spend some time looking at a painting you have recently completed. Select one of the colors you used and name its complement. In your mind begin to choose the complements. If the sky is blue, it becomes orange. The green tree is now red, the yellow grasses are purple, the white clouds are, surprisingly, white. Why? Because the complement of white is not black. White is a value, in this case, not a color. If you’ve retained the correct values of the colors in your mental painting, they haven’t shifted except in color. If the clouds aren’t really white, but are a very light pink with touches of pale purple and blue, they become very light green with touches of pale yellow and orange. If they’re white, they stay white. This exercise will help you begin to think of value and color independently, and will increase your awareness of the multiple colors you can use in any value range. It will aid you in learning how to layer or lay side by side different colors of the same or similar value in any one tonal area.

In doing this painting it’s best to have two photographs from which to work, the original color photo and an excellent grayscale copy of it that accurately shows a range of dark to light values. The photograph is helpful because you’re freed from making compositional decisions and are also able to study the colors separately from their values. This is strictly an experiment in value and color. Using the grayscale photograph, do an underdrawing or value study of the image using black, white and grays. Accurately render the tones. This can become an elegant rendition of the scene that develops your sense of colors as values. As you draw, you’re able to see the color of the object you are depicting in your mind’s eye, which helps you identify its value.

White Wallis paper toned with gray pastel.
Charcoal underdrawing on gray-toned Wallis paper.

Now, looking at the color photograph and using a color wheel, select and lay down the opposite color of the natural one. Be careful to select the correct value, whether a light, medium or dark tone. It’s helpful to use a color wheel to find these complements at first. Find the blue of the sky and lay your finger on the orange as you seek out the right shade.

Once you have placed a single layer of the complementary colors in the proper values all over your paper, put the color photograph out of sight. If you’re looking at a photograph of a blue sky it’s very difficult to discipline yourself to pick up orange, but if you have already chosen the new colors and briefly recorded them in place, it’s easy to look at the black and white copy to paint. Forget the colors in nature now, and begin to expand your painting using the correct values and opposite colors on the color wheel. Think of the purple mountains as yellow. You already have a layer of yellow in place so you no longer need to think about that. What color is a dark yellow? Most yellows tend to shift to a muddy brownish-green as they darken, so choose a dark gold or yellow-green instead. Make it dark enough, sacrificing the exact complement to the correct value if necessary. The important thing here is to get the appropriate darkness or lightness of the color while not relying on the real color to find it. When you lean on the colors of the natural world, you’re dismissing value. Remember the hand and glove effect of value and color.

Complement layer in place.
You might spend some time completing this complement painting. It will almost certainly look like some unfamiliar place or thing, with all the colors shifted out of the world we see. Don't be concerned if you feel that it's unsettling and looks wrong to you. Relax and have fun in this alien place. A glowing pale orange sky, billowing white clouds with yellow shadows, dark reddish-orange hillsides, purplish-red grasses or red and orange trees with pink highlights can encourage you to play with color. Allow this new reality to inspire you. Think of the ways you flavor color when painting the natural world and apply that way of thinking to this complement painting. Analyze how it is that you vary colors. Do you consistently rely on a certain shade of blue to flavor a shadow? What version of orange color does it become now? Is there a way you might use that new orange color, rather than consistently using the same blue, in a future piece? What might happen if you begin to layer it over or put it down next to the favored blue? If it grays the blue too much for your taste, how might you shift it slightly one direction or the other on the color wheel to aid the blue, making it more lyrical and visually stimulating? Experiment with color this way. A series of paintings could be very instructive, freeing you to have fun with color in a way you might not have tried before.

Once you’ve completed your new complement painting, spend some time analyzing what happened. Ask yourself if this has challenged you more than you thought it would. Most of us have become dependent upon a palette of colors that we routinely use, which in itself is not a problem unless it’s become overly dull and boring. This experiment might suggest some new alternatives or additions. At this point you might have a painting that‘s worth keeping as it is. Often the new colors are intriguing and inspiring. If so, set it aside and try another using a different photograph. However, in painting the landscape you must keep in mind that you have a filter for the color blue that’s built into your brain. You know that the bluer and paler a color is, the farther away it is, but when you switch to the complementary colors you create an orange filter. Your brain is not able to process orange as a distant color, so landscapes often seem to lack a sense of air or space. This can be a dissatisfying effect. The solution might be to paint the colors of nature directly on top of your complement painting.(See Mesa Meadow, at the top, the finished painting with the natural colors added over the complementary layer.)

You might choose to spray a layer of workable fixative on your painting to give it more tooth, which will help hold another layer of pastel, but remember that fixative will slightly darken the colors. (If used, I suggest Spectrafix, which is non-toxic and alters colors less.) It’s not necessary to fix your work if the paper you’re using is adequate to the task, such as Wallis paper. After all, if you’re going to match the values using the colors of nature, you should be able to carefully lay them down directly atop the complement and arrive at a color that’s only slightly grayed or dulled. Finger blending is not recommended, as it tends to result in colors that are somewhat dreary and grayed. Now is the time to return to your original color photograph so that you can add the colors of reality. Remember, however, that the photograph is not a goal, but an aid to you. Use it to recall the colors you saw when you recorded the scene, then let this new color take the painting into places the photograph cannot go. As you put down the latest colors beside or on top of the original ones, notice how they optically jump, dazzling your eye. This is the power of complements. When a bit of red shines beneath the green, it adds some sparkle and pizzazz. Orange under blue gives some zing. Purple below yellow makes it snap a little. This is the essence of optically blended color. The artist must choose the degree to which this is successful and pleasing, but should not disregard the potential of such color use. Experiment with this idea, adding colors of the same or similar values to your paintings. Think about how using broken color might make your paintings stronger, so that instead of falling back on the color habits you have developed you become more adventurous. Take a chance with color and see where it takes you.

You might also choose to leave a portion of the complement painting untouched while covering a part with the natural colors. Divide your painting somewhere that logically leaves some of the underpainting showing so that you can see both lower and upper layers. Now make a painting the usual way, using the same photograph, without first layering the complementary colors. Notice the color choices you make and analyze whether the experiment has changed the way you think about and approach color.

Original photograph.
Painting color with value in mind is not a new idea. Most artists seem to intuitively come to understand value as they progress through their careers. However, using this series of exercises can help show you some new ideas about the use of color and challenge you to attempt new, visually exciting combinations. Put your experimental paintings alongside one another and compare results. Include the one that shows the complements below and the colors of nature directly on top, as well as paintings you did in the usual fashion before these experiments and subsequent to them. You may see that you’ve come to understand the values of the colors a bit more thoroughly, and you might also have found a way to utilize new colors of the same or similar values, but shifted toward the complements to enliven your color.


20-stroke sky

This experiment is designed to help you make fresh, lively paintings using a few well-chosen and carefully placed strokes. Where in the previous chapter, Limit Time and Palette, you moved fast, here you may actually slow down a little and take time to find the most effective and efficient strokes you can use. You’ll find simpler colors, use somewhat larger, gestural strokes, and overlap them to create an impression of detail, while limiting the number of strokes you use. The idea is to see how few strokes you can use to make a painting that effectively expresses a place.

thumbnail sketches
Begin with a few thumbnail sketches to sort out the major shapes. Keep these simple and fast, which will allow your brain to see shapes without regard to what the object is. Your eye and hand have the ability to see and record these things more accurately than you think, almost independently of your will. Do more than one thumbnail. Start with a credit card-sized box and do a quick drawing of what you actually see in your photograph. Then begin to move in closer, remove objects, rearrange them or add to the shapes to make an interesting composition. It’s simpler to stick to three values, dark, medium and light (which is usually the paper), although you might use medium-dark and medium-light values, too. As you refine the thumbnail, think about how you could make use of strokes to create the shapes.

only one stroke each
Let’s talk about what constitutes one stroke in pastel. Unlike an oil painter, your brush won’t run out of paint as you drag it across the paper. You can make some very lengthy and intricate strokes. Count each stroke from the moment you touch the paper to the point at which you lift your pastel stick. You might lay a stick flat on the paper and drag it over the entire area of the sky, using a back and forth motion to fill it in. If you have distant mountains, that same stroke might be lightly incorporated there as an under-color. A jagged stroke might simulate a line of trees or grasses across the entire span of the paper, while a continuous curlicue could create foliage or the undergrowth on a distant hillside. One stroke could serve several purposes as you vary the pressure on the stick. Use a big zigzag shape, or a huge swoop that curls and curves back and forth. It could go on for quite a while, so eke the best out of each stroke. You could conceivably paint half the piece in one well-conceived and executed stroke if working on a small sheet of paper. For our purposes, count using your finger to blend a passage or a Colour Shaper™ to brush pastel around like paint as one stroke.

I recommend preparing a smaller sheet of paper and doing a very simple line drawing to locate the major shapes. Think carefully about what needs to go down first. Paint what lies behind before painting what’s in front of it. Paint through objects, varying pressure where the sky passes behind trees or other items bisect space. Utilize some of the lovely habits of pastel, sometimes making a thick, impasto stroke to obscure what’s below, or a soft dry-brush stroke that allows color to glow from beneath. Think about how you can create color modifications using careful layers and different kinds of strokes.

Don’t try to make every nuance of color, highlight or shade. Distill the colors to essentials, modifying them where most useful to express the scene you’re painting. Choose the most vital shadows or highlights. Decide where smaller strokes will be necessary and most informative, and use them judiciously to draw the eye to the area of interest.

Painting in progress with hash marks to one side.
Keep a record of your strokes, limiting yourself to only 20. It’s probably simplest to make hash marks alongside your painting. You may find your paintings too rudimentary to start with, but in time you’ll find there’s a charming elegance to these simple little pieces. Paint a series of smaller images using 20 strokes. Later, if you desire, increase the stroke count to 30 or 40, and analyze how that changes your paintings.

Take the time to find strokes that work together to create the impression you seek. Go slowly, thinking through how you will structure the piece. In searching for the essential stroke you may find that you honestly don’t need to use more strokes. You only need to use better ones.

20 stroke Sandia


9” x 12”, 30 minutes

I’ve been teaching for many years now and very few people have come to me to ask how they could become tighter painters. Far more often they ask what they can do to loosen up and be free, not constricted by tight realism and a slavish adherence to detail.

This exercise will help you relax and paint a little faster. It limits the amount of time you have to paint, making you move faster and without inhibition, as well as limits the palette of colors, which forces you to be creative.

Start with a smaller piece of paper. This small size seems to allow you to let go a bit more easily since you aren’t filling up a huge piece of paper. A smaller paper also allows you to move more quickly without getting bogged down. I usually suggest a 9x12” or smaller size.

If you’re working on Wallis or another sanded paper that has no color, toning is a good idea. It makes the first marks on the paper, which frees you of “white canvas syndrome” and gives an overall color to the paper that you can use with a limited palette. You may choose one of the colored papers such as Art Spectrum, La Carte or Pastelmat.

Any subject matter will do for this exercise, but clouds and skies are particularly suited to it. The idea is to paint fast and furious without a lot of detail, which works nicely in the sky. The palette of colors found there is already somewhat limited, and clouds lend themselves to looseness.

Prepare ahead. Tape your paper to the board, clip your photograph on the board where you can see it and take out a white paper towel for your palette of pastels. As in the last chapter, devoted to limiting your palette, carefully choose only 10 colors. Use dark, medium-dark, medium, medium-light and light colors, based on the photograph. Lay out the colors you’ve selected on a paper towel and put away your palette.

Find a timer, preferably one that has a loud alarm that will stop you in your tracks, and set it for 20 minutes. Begin with an extremely fast sketch that only locates the horizon line and the major elements of the composition. There’s no time for details.

Work all over the painting with the colors so that you structure things altogether at one time, relating all the elements to one another. Don’t start with any detail. If you begin to put in too many details you’ll slow down too much. You must keep moving. If you don’t have the right color, layer the ones you do to achieve the right value instead. Make use of the different colors and values on hand to make new ones, layering and blending them.

Keep the timer where you can see it so that you’re aware of how long you have left to paint. This is a sprint, so go all out. Abandon yourself to the color and mood, dashing in streaks and smoothing down swaths of colors all over.

When the timer sounds, lay down your pastels. Now step back and analyze what’s happening. Look for the accidental things that thrill you and for those things that are working. Ask yourself if you missed one or two colors, perhaps colors you didn’t choose or missing values.

Choose only one to two more colors and add them to your limited palette. Set the timer for an additional 10 minutes and get going. Again, move fast, not letting up for details. Work right up until the timer sounds, then lay down your pastels.

If you’re like most of us, you’ll find things you like about this fast little painting, and some things that displease you. Sometimes it takes a little practice to loosen up and accomplish much in just a half hour, so practice! Set a goal for yourself, perhaps to paint 10 of these little ones in a week. This will give you the motivation to keep working.

When you have a small body of these paintings lay them out together and analyze what’s working and what isn’t. There’s a lot to be learned from this.

• Stop criticizing what doesn’t work because you were moving fast, and instead look for trends, for those things that happen repeatedly that please you.

• Put them in order of your own personal preference and ask yourself why you chose this order.

• Find the things in each one that works and ask why. Use corners to crop down to the area that is spontaneously successful and think about what happened there that is good. Did you use a certain kind of stroke, a particular set of color layers, or another element that works? Be specific.

• Evaluate the things that happened that pleasantly surprise you with their clarity, despite the messy, spontaneous strokes.

Then go paint some more.

6" x 9", 20 minutes

6” x 9”, 20 minutes


To learn how to control color and use it creatively, try an experiment that limits the number of colors you use. Find a photo -- really any subject matter will work -- but make sure it’s something that you find intriguingly colorful. (This may not be a brightly colored photo, just color you like.)

You’ll begin with only 10 colors, so choose them carefully. Use dark, medium-dark, medium, medium-light and light colors, based on the photograph. If it is a high-key photo with lots of light colors your darkest dark may be a medium. If it’s a moody, dark photo, you may choose far more dark colors and only one or two medium-light ones. Lay out the colors you’ve selected on a paper towel and put away your palette. It’s much easier to do this exercise if you can’t see what’s missing.

Work all over the painting with the colors so that you structure things altogether at one time, relating all the elements to one another. Don’t start with details. If you don’t have the right color, layer the ones you do have to achieve the right value instead. Make use of the different colors and values on hand to make new ones, layering or scumbling with a slightly harder stick over softer pastels. Notice how the color effects differ when you layer them in a different order. Pay attention to the way some colors look dark in light areas and light in dark areas. These ‘bridge’ colors are very useful!

After you have painted for a while, you’re likely to find yourself missing one or two key colors. This is not the time to add 10 new colors -- only one or two. You may need a particular color that’s missing. You may need a darker dark or a lighter light. Whatever you really need you can add. Cover your palette after choosing them so you aren’t tempted to grab more. Then work to your conclusion using only those colors.

I suggest you make a separate chart of the colors you chose. You’ll find it comes in handy later to remind you how you made those colors, so it might be a good idea to stick it to the back of the painting.

• Evaluate this painting a bit differently than you would your other work.

• Look for the things that happened that pleasantly surprise you with their clarity, despite the spontaneity.

• Where are the accidents that please you, and what did you do to create them? Which colors did you layer together?

• Did you blend them?

• Why do you think that grassy foreground look good or the tree-covered hillside work?

• What is it about the lavender you were forced to layer into the sky that is so pleasing?

• What color combinations did you find surprisingly successful?

When you have developed a small body of these paintings, lay them out together and analyze what’s working and what isn’t. There’s a lot to be learned from this. Put up a little show for yourself in the studio and analyze them. Look for trends, for those things that happen repeatedly that please you. Put them in order of your own personal preference and ask yourself why you chose this order. Find the specific things in each one that works and ask why.

You can see that I chose three colors as the most significant ones, the medium blue-violet, orange and rose. In addition to those main colors I chose a deep lavender, dark green, a medium yellow-green, a light cerulean blue, peach, light yellow-ochre and two peaches, one pale and one medium. The colors in wall behind the pot with the dappled the sun and shadow please me.

I found three key colors here, as well, a light yellow-orange, medium magenta and cobalt blue. The bright orange and intense yellow-orange layered over the light and medium-light blue sky work well. I added a dark red-violet and blue-violet, as well as touches of deep turquoise and dark blue to finish the palette.