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The pastels I useWednesday, January 18, 2006 by Steve Hill
Filed under: Artwork
I've had several inquiries about my work at Macy's Gallery in Seattle - asking what kind of pastels I use and what fixatives, etc.

Unison pastels
Unison pastels
I use a mixed bag, but primarily, Unison, Schminke and Sennelier brand soft pastels. I use Nu Pastel sticks for underpainting as well as detail work. They are a harder pastel stick and can be shaped to obtain fine lines for detail. I also use watercolor underglazes for some work, which allows me to lay on some broad areas of color without filling the tooth of the paper. I simply apply pastel directly over the watercolor after it has dried.

I work mostly with the broad side of whatever pastel I pick up covering larger areas with big strokes to obtain the values (light & dark)and color areas, allowing a lot of the pastel to show through from previous layers of color. This gives my pieces a great deal of "luminosity" as the colors are really mixed by the eye and not blended on the paper surface. Soft pastels will quickly fill the tooth of any surface so I have to vary the intensity of each stroke to allow the layers to bleed through and create interesting colors. it takes a lot of practice and some pre-planning of color applications to work this way.

The whole time I am doing this, I'm also thinking about the lights and darks, especially how the light affects colors within any given area. I usually only spend 1-2 hours maximum working in front of my subject matter, as the light is constantly shifting and changing everything I see. I really try to work quickly to get all the elements in place before everything changes. Sometimes, I get lucky and finish an entire piece in that time, but usually end-up in the studio re-working or finishing the piece. I rarely work from photos anymore, as the tendency is to copy the photo which defeats the whole reason I paint outdoors in natural settings.

I do not use any fixatives, but prefer to keep the tooth of the paper alive as I work, not muddied by too many color applications. I frame my pieces to ship and display with a special 1/8" spacer between the mat and the pastel that allows any random dust (very rare) to fall behind the mat. All pastels require glass to protect them when they are framed.

The tooth of the paper (in my case, sanded paper, similar to 500 grit sand paper) holds the pastel very nicely. It won't "flake" off or dull with age like a pastel that has been sprayed with so called "fixative". If you ever get a chance to look at the pastels Degas did 130 years ago, you will see what I mean . . . they look as though they were done yesterday!

Hope this answers some of your questions. Feel free to contact me for prints from this show (some of you already have) as most pieces are available as "giclee" prints in full or 3/4 size. The show hangs until January 31st.

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