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How I start a pastel painting

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

I am starting a new pastel painting now. Yes, right now at three pm on December 1st, 2023. At my art table with my pastels ready, a blank sheet of Canson paper, and my bright red teapot with freshly brewed mint tea. I have been eager to write a blog entry for a while now, however, life got in the way and as I am sitting here looking for inspiration for a new piece I spontaneously opened my laptop and started writing.

How do we artists start a new painting? The short answer is that it depends on the artist. Some make a sketch before, or a loose drawing, or wait for inspiration to strike and then paint quickly what needs to be expressed without an underdrawing. In my case, it might be all three. It all starts with a seed story that grows slowly, very slowly inside of me. The key word is "inside" as my work is a representation of my internal world, and perhaps a reflection of my viewers as well.

I work spontaneously guided by my intuition, which doesn't mean that there is no direction. Once my art table is clean and I have hot tea and some soothing music on, I choose the paper to work on, without knowing what I will create. Today I chose a warm grey tone for my Canson pastel paper selection. I follow my intuition from this very first step, and then I carefully open my pastel paints and position them next to the paper. I look at a "references" folder on my Mac and browse through select images that I have been collecting over time. Today I felt guided towards my "fairytales" subfolder and looked up some fairies, mermaids, and other magical creatures for inspiration. At this point, I still don't know what I will create but the general direction is starting to unfold. I drink some hot tea and just get into a state of flow where the perception of time has temporarily left me. During my "flow stage" I concentrate fully on the task at hand without any worldly distractions. The beginning of a story begins to emerge as I spontaneously decide that I will paint a mermaid, one with earthy tones. And that there will be a magical Christmas element, I don't know what it will be but it is part of my general direction. This is enough to start working, I take a white pastel pencil and start a loose mermaid drawing over my warm grey paper. I changed to a blue pastel pencil as I could hardly see the white marks.

The drawing starts to show a wild-haired maiden holding a mermaid baby, a subject that I have drawn before and there is no other reason to do it again other than it feels right at this very moment in time. I realize that the lower half of her body reminds me of the shape of a Christmas tree. The wild-haired maiden is now sporting a long Christmas tree skirt!. Sometimes my paintings stay as they are at the beginning (current stage) but often they evolve into something completely different. Time will tell. Sometimes the process is short and more often long with many revisions.

As I look outside my window I feel happy about the direction the work is taking, and as dusk is announcing herself it is time to call it the day and feed my four-legged family, then take the dogs for a walk by the beach. I clean up my workspace, store the pastels, and hang the drawing in a visible space so I can look at it throughout the day and be ready for another art making session tomorrow. Look out for my Instagram stories to see how this painting evolves!

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