To Blend or Not to Blend Pastels? Expert Advice on When and Why

There’s some debate in the pastel world as to whether pastels should be blended, left unblended or be some combination of both.

Renowned pastelist William Schneider has found using a combination of blended and unblended pastel strokes gives his work greater variety, softer edges and more unified areas of light and shadow.

Pastel: Perfect for Portraits and Figures

Other than highlights around the nose, Them’s Fightin’ Words (20×16) features clearly unblended strokes.


One of the greatest benefits of pastel is that it mimics the nature of flesh itself. Skin is translucent, so we see into it.

The ivory bone close to the surface in the forehead or the bridge of the nose shows through. In some skin tones, we see the pinkish color of the capillaries in the nose and cheeks; we see the subtle cool violet caused by the veins near the surface below the eyes.

If you overmix these complementary colors in oil paint, you’re likely to get a grayish mud. However, blending those same colors in pastel leaves microscopic particles of pigment lying next to each other on the painting surface.

The resulting vibrations enhance the illusion of light on skin. In addition, when you place the highlights as unblended strokes, they read as light reflecting off the surface of the skin.

Another positive is that blending pulls together large areas of light and shadow. This simplifies and unifies the painting.

An added benefit of blending is that the few untouched strokes stand out when contrasted with the softly blended areas behind them. This visual variety adds impact.

In Mandella (20×16), the sharp highlights make the eyes appear in focus even though the edges are very soft.


Schneider shares a portrait demonstration, below, in which he uses both blended and unblended pastels to achieve a sultry image defined by light and shadow. Enjoy!

Demonstrating the Magic of Pastel Blending in Portraiture, Step-by-Step

Step 1: I placed broad strokes of the colors I observed in the model and blended them on the face.

Step 1


Step 2: I blended the rest of the tones, drew the model using vine charcoal and placed marks to indicate the extremes: lightest light, darkest dark, sharpest edge and most intense color.

Step 2


Step 3: Next, I covered the rest of the support with broad areas of color and began to render the shadow pattern.

Step 3


Step 4: I refined the painting, still blending most strokes to create soft transitions. Note the unblended highlights on the lips and jewelry.

Step 4


Final Step: I completed Reckless Abandon by adding key strokes that I left unblended. These include highlights on the dress, details on the scarf around the hips, and highlights on the eyelids and lips.

Reckless Abandon (pastel, 24×18) by William Schneider


For more of Schneider’s thoughts on blending, as well as the tool(s) he finds work best for getting the job done, be sure to check out the October 2017 issue of Pastel Journal. And, discover how this artist paints eyes using pastels with this free download.

Bonus Tip: Preparing Your Surface

The right surface makes all the difference for your pastel strokes. Watch this quick tutorial to see how artist Christine Ivers prepares her painting surface.

You can find more of Ivers’ pastel tips and techniques by streaming her video workshops on

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Protected: Paint Along 39: Create Drama with Weather Effects with Johannes Vloothuis | Resources and Recordings

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Your Painting Needs an Old Master’s Boost: Glazing

Glazing tutorial from Kent Lovelace

Lueur by Kent Lovelace

Color Choices for Glazes That Make Your Painting Glow

You have the power to make your paintings glow. With this glazing tutorial, Kent Lovelace breaks down every section of a painting and discusses the ways and means to use glazing (or not), including what colors to dip your brush into first.

The painting Dolmen (below) by Kent depicts an area in rural France that’s believed to be the quarry site for a prehistoric dolmen (tomb) found five kilometers up the valley. Below he describes his painting process for this piece, particularly the glazing.

Get inspired by how light-filled Kent’s artwork appears. And remember that you can create the same look and feel for every one of your paintings with Glazing by Michael Wilcox. It is the leading resource for the methods of a technique that goes all the way back to the Renaissance. Imagine! You could get the same “glow” that the Renaissance’s Old Masters are known for! Enjoy!


Glazing tutorial: Dolmen (private collection; oil, 32x35) by Kent Lovelace

Dolmen by Kent Lovelace


I paint in oil on a copper support, which gives my finished paintings a luminescence or glow. After sanding the copper support, I create a monochomatic underpainting of the land and plant forms (but not the sky) with Old Holland neutral tint.

Painting with old, stiff brushes allows the copper to come forward. You can see the directional marks in the foreground of Dolmen. I use a razor blade or rubber scraper when I want especially clean marks.

Color Glazing

Once the underpainting is finished, the color glazing begins. For this I use transparent or translucent paints that let hints of copper shine through. The paint films are very thin. Even if you can’t see the copper, you can feel its presence.

Glazing Tree Forms

I began glazing the tree forms of Dolmen primarily with umber green, yellow ochre and cobalt blue. In much of the painting, I utilized the purple-ish underpainting for darks and subtle texture.

I created the light on the trunks by using the transparent nature of both Liquin and Cremnitz white over the warm tone of the copper and the darker neutral tint of the underpainting. I made highlights and shadows with cobalt and manganese violet reddish.

Glazing Upper Land Forms

For the upper elements of the lands forms, I glazed the underpainting with yellow ochre, umber green, violet and Cremnitz white, I chose a mixture of yellow ochre, Cremnitz white and Italian brown pink lake for the area beneath the outcrop.

In the foreground, I glazed with transparent Italian brown pink lake over the textured brushwork of the underpainting.

Glazing the Sky Area

For the sky area, I used cobalt blue, blue violet, manganese violet reddish and Cremnitz white. I painted the sky directly on the copper without an underpainting,


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Paint Atmosphere Using These Five Secrets

As a landscape painter in the United Kingdom, artist Oliver J. Pyle is engaged by the idea of atmosphere and how it relates to painting, using watercolor.

Read on to uncover Pyle’s five secrets for creating compelling scenes and atmosphere that have the power to capture the viewer’s eye — and heart. Enjoy!

The Evocative Landscape

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

Corfe Castle and Beyond (20×28.5)


I love the landscape and everything about it. And, watercolor allows me to make my own response to what I see and feel. Specifically, certain landscapes in the U.K. have become favorites because of proximity or family holidays. I know their vistas and details intimately.

With that being said, why is it that some paintings are deemed to be atmospheric, while others aren’t? Atmosphere in a painting is, with a few exceptions, not about technique. First and foremost, it’s your connection to the place that matters.

1. Know Your Subject

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

A New Day, Studland (watercolor on paper, 13.5 x 20.5)


On numerous occasions, I’ve walked along a particular beach in Dorset, where I’ve built sand castles, played cricket and swam in the sea. I’ve been sunburnt by lounging on it for too long, and have sat looking across the bay, shivering, while drinking a cup of tea. I feel as though I know everything about the place.

In painting A New Day, Studland, I hoped to translate that experience into brushstrokes so that viewers can, in some way, experience what it’s like to be there. If I’m successful in this endeavor, then I believe the painting has atmosphere — a true sense of the place and the time, if you like.

If you’re in love with your subject, and spend time getting to know it and understand it, then it’s very likely your work will have this elusive quality.

2. Tell a Story with Atmosphere

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

Eventually the Rain Stopped (watercolor on paper, 28.5×19.75)


The best way to turn an otherwise ordinary scene into something compelling and atmospheric is to tell a story. Consider a subject like Elizabeth Tower (also known as Big Ben). It’s probably London’s most iconic landmark, to the extent that its familiarity can work against an artist.

My reference photos and sketches for Eventually the Rain Stopped, a studio painting of Parliament Square featuring Big Ben, were from overcast days, saying nothing new or interesting about the scene. To bring the scene to life, I needed a story.

Having played around with a few sketches and ideas, I felt that wet pavement and reflections, with a break in the oh-so-British weather, would help to create interest. The inclusion of people walking into the painting and toward us gives a sense there’s some early-evening movement to get to the underground station — or even to attend a late session of Parliament — now that the rain has stopped.

3. Use the Light

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

Stormy Light, Kimmeridge Bay (watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 15.5)


More often than not, artists think it’s difficult to create drama and atmosphere without strong sunlight and deep shadows. In the U.K., however, strong directional light can be something of a rarity. Dull, overcast days are far more commonplace.

Stormy Light, Kimmeridge Bay benefits enormously from the flat lighting and brings back strong memories of the day I was there. I watched children search for fossils and hermit crabs in the rock pools before making a retreat to the warmth of a local tea room.

I couldn’t help but notice how the bright greens and oranges of the seaweed contrasted with the cool slate gray of the ledges that jut out into the bay. With strong highlights and deep shadows, the effect wouldn’t have had the same impact. Color was far more important than tonal contrast.

While light is an essential part of the toolkit in creating atmospheric paintings, understand what it is about the light that makes a scene compelling. It doesn’t need to be high contrast. Many wonderful paintings have been made on an overcast day.

4. Understand Your Technique

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

Colours of Tuscany (watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 15.5)


I hinted at the outset that it was primarily the artist’s connection with a subject — not technique — that leads to atmospheric paintings. Does that mean technical issues aren’t important? Of course not.

Hopefully, a couple of pointers from Colours of Tuscany will be helpful. It features a well-known area in Italy, and the undulating landscape is home to many wonderful vineyards. These present a challenge. They add a level of detail to the hillsides and need careful handling. Painting them in detail would be a mistake. It would spoil the atmosphere that comes from the strong but hazy light and the depth in the landscape.

For passages such as this, the simplest of brushstrokes to create broken washes, as well as a sound drybrush technique, are all that’s required to suggest rows of vines in the distance. The foreground vines are painted wet-into-wet. It’s just enough to suggest vines without lots of hard edges to distract us from the main subject — the charming villas.

To help build atmosphere in your work, try to simplify and reduce what you see to as few brushstrokes as possible. Something suggested rather than stated creates a more satisfying experience for the viewer — and helps to ensure your story or vision isn’t shouted down by distracting details. Make sure you have firm control over both color and tone; they’re vital in creating atmospheric paintings.

5. Bring It Together

Oliver Pyle | Artists Network | Painting Atmosphere in Landscapes | Watercolor Techniques

Evening Haze, Kimmeridge Bay (watercolor on paper, 13.5 x 20.5)


We’ve seen how to create atmosphere, but exactly what is it? I think Evening Haze, Kimmeridge Bay helps to get to the crux of the concept. The painting is of a scene on the Dorset Coast with which I’m very familiar.

This is one of my favorite paintings — the evening light; the calm, silvery sea; the focal point of Clavell Tower; the sheep; the receding cliffs in the distance. It’s so redolent of my experiences in this beautiful part of the country. I find it incredibly evocative.

To me, atmosphere is nothing more than a true sense of a place and time. Presenting that for others to experience and enjoy is truly satisfying and is often why viewers engage with a particular painting.

Of course, it’s very subjective, too. A painting may not evoke the same emotion in one person that it does in another. Generally, though, if a piece of art is able to draw viewers in — to make them enter into the experience of being there at that moment in time — then it’s undoubtedly an atmospheric painting.

You can read Pyle’s entire article on painting atmosphere in Watercolor Artist‘s October issue. And, learn more about this artist and his work by visiting

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Train Your Eye With Figure Sketching

Figure Sketching: Drawing of Katerena (graphite, 12x16) by Vincent Giarrano

Drawing of Katerena (graphite, 12×16) by Vincent Giarrano

Do It Right and You Sketch Art

Have you ever considered how powerful your figure sketching is? On so many fronts! First, it is the greatest and best way to get comfortable with the page. Blank paper is intimidating! If you are unsure or unease with getting started, the best way is with figural work. There’s nothing more compelling than the human body. It immediately calls to mind who, what, when, where, and why! All the stories are there in those people you depict.

Figure sketching and drawing is also a great way to hone your skills–skills that translate to every part of the artistic process. Proportion, point of view, color and line, and how to make a two-dimensional artwork appear as if it lives in three-dimension: all of these are in the realm of figure drawing.

Below, you’ll find artist Vincent Giarrano’s process for creating unique figure studies that work well for training your eye, which is yet another boon that comes from this kind of art prompt.

Figure sketching with Vincent Giarrano

Train Your Eye With Figure Studies

I have a procedure for doing figure sketching studies that works well for training your eye—disciplining yourself to override what your mind is telling you about shapes and to follow what your eyes are really seeing. I’ve separated the steps and used darker lines so it will be clearer what’s going on. My actual lines in the early stages are quite light.


1. Draw the gesture

In a quick (just several seconds) gesture drawing with very few lines, establish the top and bottom of the figure as well as the overall rhythm and major directions of the pose. You also can indicate the angle of the hips and shoulders. Long, sweeping strokes are best; move from your shoulder and use your whole arm.


Figure sketching: draw the silhoutte

2. Draw the silhouette

Next do another gesture drawing, but this time focus on the silhouette of the figure, which brings much truer information into your drawing. Think of these first steps not as a way of achieving precise information as much as a means of getting to know what you’re really seeing.


3. Map out the figure

At this point, pause and look over the pose. Find an area or shape that you feel confident about getting accurate. From this shape, move out to neighboring shapes, one after another, bleeding out from where you started. I think of this as mapping out the figure. During this stage it’s important to consider the small individual shapes you see and also how those shapes line up with other parts of the figure.


4. Render the contour and subtleties

Once you have the figure mapped out, begin refining from a point you feel confident about. This time you’re observing and rendering the finer aspects of the figure; the subtleties of the contour, smaller shapes within your initial simple shapes and details. Shading should be put in as even, flat tones.

Keep in mind that, from the beginning, your drawing will be a series of corrections. Think of it as focusing in from a blurred image to a more defined one. When everything has been corrected, your drawing is complete.

Art That Spans the Spectrum

If you are hungry for more of the ease and excitement that comes along with honing your figure drawing, maybe it is time to accelerate your engagement with your art. Do it with Brent Eviston’s Figure Drawing Essentials: Master Class. You will get instruction that spans the spectrum from loose gestural figure sketching to anatomy know-how to how to position your model and see your works on paper to a drawing worthy of a frame and pride of place on a wall near you.



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Are You a Beginning Artist? Here is What You Need to Know

Beginning Artist Education 101

From Sept. 10-16, help us celebrate National Arts in Education Week, during which “the field of arts education joins together in communities across the country to tell the story of the impact of the transformative power of the arts in education.”

Whether you are a beginning artist who decided to turn your passion for art into action, or a veteran who wants to explore a new medium, knowing exactly where to start can be a challenge. But don’t worry, artists. You’ve come to the right place!

Below is a list of five educational guides jam-packed with just-starting-out goodies, from learning painting mistakes to avoid to trying your hand at the basics of drawing. These articles are great for understanding the fundamentals of painting and drawing so you can begin your new artistic journey.

And, if you really want to master the art of painting and drawing, then you’ll love our North Light Book, The Absolute Beginner’s Big Book of Drawing and Painting. This comprehensive resource includes more than 100 lessons to help novice artists improve their craft, including instruction on composition, value, perspective and more. Enjoy!

Conquer Common Painting Blunders

Beginning Artist | Basic Art Tips and Tricks | Drawing and Painting for Beginners | Artists Network

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images


We all know practice makes perfect. But, with practice also comes trial and error. Lucky for you, we’ve listed eight of the most common mistakes to avoid when learning how to paint. Discover what they are, and how to overcome them, here.

Put Your Art in Perspective

Beginning Artist | Basic Art Tips and Tricks | Drawing and Painting for Beginners | Artists Network

Peters Cartridge Factory by Mark Willenbrink, watercolor on watercolor paper, 8″ by 11″.


An essential skill to learn as a beginning artist, whether drawing or painting, is perspective. If you want to achieve three-dimensional art, knowing perspective is key, including how to find the horizon line, determine the vanishing point and an overview of linear perspective. Here is what you need to know.

Get Started in Painting, the Right Way

Beginning Artist | Basic Art Tips and Tricks | Drawing and Painting for Beginners | Artists Network

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Beginner painting is all about getting started the right way. In order to be successful, you must consider these three things: your surface, brush and palette. Once you feel at ease with the materials, you can start having fun. Get started here.

Try Drawing Tips for Beginners

Beginning Artist | Basic Art Tips and Tricks | Drawing and Painting for Beginners | Artists Network


When it comes to learning how to draw, introductory lessons, tutorials and demonstrations are great for enhancing your skillset and producing better drawings. Check out these three tips perfect for drawing newbies.

Find the Right Medium

Beginning Artist | Basic Art Tips and Tricks | Drawing and Painting for Beginners | Artists Network

Painting by Nancy Reyner, detail


With so many mediums available, how do you know which one to choose? Well, to be honest, selecting the “right” one is simply a matter of preference. And, if you are indecisive like me, then this handy list of pros and cons for some of the most common painting mediums can certainly make your decision easier.

More Beginner Articles to Read

Still craving more tips and tricks geared toward beginner artists? Then you will want to check these out:

Share some of your favorite beginning artist advice in the comments below. And, be sure to tag @artistsnetwork on Instagram to let us know how you are celebrating National Arts in Education Week (#BecauseOfArtsEd). Happy art-making, artists!

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An Artist’s Response to Climate Change | The Planet Needs Our Help

Climate change is a hot topic of conversation that draws many opinions from all sides. Celebrated sculptor Lorenzo Quinn’s response to the ongoing debate was, well, larger than life.

Lorenzo Quinn’s large art installation titled Support is in response to the planet’s ever-changing climate. The subject — two massive hands helping hold Venice’s Ca’ Sagredo Hotel — plays with the duality of the human experience, how we’re equally capable of creativity and destruction.

The Need for Support

Represented by Halcyon GallerySupport marks a first for Venice. Never before has an installation been installed out of the Grand Canal itself.


Lorenzo Quinn | Climate Change | Venice Art Installation | Sculpture | Artists Network

Support rests against Venice’s Ca’ Sagredo Hotel.


“The hand holds so much power,” says Quinn, “the power to love, to hate, to create and to destroy.”


Lorenzo Quinn | Climate Change | Venice Art Installation | Sculpture | Artists Network

Support made its way down the Grand Canal in parts by canal boats.


Support is both a love letter to Venice and a cry for help. “Venice is a floating art city that has inspired cultures for centuries. But to continue to do so, it needs the support of our generation and future ones, because it is threatened by climate change and time decay.”


Lorenzo Quinn | Climate Change | Venice Art Installation | Sculpture | Artists Network

One massive hand from Lorenzo Quinn’s installation Support.


Support is on display until Nov.26 during the Venice Biennale 2017. What are your thoughts on this piece? Tell us in the comments!

This post is taken from an article featured in The Artist’s Magazine’s October 2017 issue.

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