Discovering New Ways to Paint with Pastel, Level 1

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Learn Stan Sperlak’s very innovative and direct methods for working with pastel to create strong and satisfying works in pastel.

There is so much the pastel medium can offer that gets lost in the old ways people have “tried” pastel. With this course you will be introduced to pastel and encouraged to work and paint in a vigorous and color charged way.

Through several structured demos and assignments you will come away with a new understanding of pastel with this online course.

Start Date:

February 12, 2013

Course Length:

4 weeks



Course Materials (included with tuition):

  • Course registration includes digital download of 4 photo demos


Stan Sperlak, PSA (bio)

View Course Schedule


What You’ll Learn:

  • An overview of the materials and tools and options available today in pastel
  • Easy and versatile application methods and experimental techniques, glazing, scumbling, texture building and more
  • Ways to improve and organize the process of creating an exciting and clean pastel painting

Who should take this course:

  • Emerging artists who are searching for direct and sound advice, without hearing the same process that has defined pastel for too long
  • Experienced pastelists who might enjoy shaking it up just a bit!


  • 30-90 soft pastels to start and enjoy, more as you get serious, the Sperlak 90 set of Terry Ludwig or either of the Sennelier sets of 80 or 120 half sticks at
  • Sanded paper such as UART, Wallis, Richeson, Pastelbord 9×12-16×20
  • Pencil, Kneaded eraser, sketch pad
  • Small variety of paintbrushes
  • 90% rubbing alcohol, water
  • Creative and accepting attitude!

What has always attracted the instructor to pastel is the directness and quick color decisions that come from not having to mix pigments, and the speed that one can accomplish a representation of a subject without a lot of set up and clean up.
In this course the instructor encourages you to repeat the exercises several times using different colors and compositional changes.

But most importantly, if you follow the instructor’s advice correctly, you will become a better pastel painter. Remember: it is paint you have chosen as a way to express your creative soul, so use this paint (pigment/pastel), for all its qualities and apply it to a surface with the resolve of an individual who seeks to express and contribute to the collective well being of humanity. Be yourself, make a mark that identifies you, and while you are a student, your goal is not so much to copy but to understand and explore and go to new levels. The demos are based on the instructor’s own photos, you are encouraged to use them, but the instructor is also happy if you apply the same order in completing assignments based on your own photos. Keep them simple! Read entire exercise first to be aware, and read back through lessons each time to keep the ideas going.

Some of the instructor’s basic tenets for success in landscape painting with pastels:

  • Dark to Light
  • Big to Small
  • Cool to Warm ( and layer back and forth )
  • Background to foreground (Far to Near)
  • Be original, embrace the marks you make, keep it clean!

The instructor also recommends several books on pastel: Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley, Liz Haywood-Sullivan’s Painting Realistic Landscapes in Pastel: Skies, and Painting the Landscape in Pastel by Albert Handell.

All assignments should be completed on 9×12 or larger sheets the papers listed above. Then scanned, or photographed at full size, at 72 dpi or better, jpeg.

All assignments must be submitted through the Blackboard System for evaluation. To expedite responses to questions, contact the instructor via e-mail.


Course Syllabus

Lesson 1: The Direct Sketch/Landscape Study

The homework assignment this week is to use this photograph, or your own, to render a quick one hour or less, painting of a scene. Here we are using Wallis paper in the Grey Tone called Belgian Mist.

  • The instructor always starts with a horizontal dividing line lightly drawn in to set things on, or to make measurements from
  • After the line is drawn, the instructor makes a quick map of the most important masses in the scene (important to stay thin and light with your sketches). When you start avoid “coloring in” this isn’t a coloring book it is a painting, let colors flow and overlap
  • The instructor likes to establish the source of light first, the sky, and recommends being careful to stay close in Value shifts and to work from top to bottom, layering each color over the edges of the preceding one. Choose only 3 “blues” and then plan on adding a light yellow near the tree tops. Leave the colors broken for this first assignment ( i.e., don’t blend)
  • Now establish the landscape masses, by using thin liberally applied darks, that you will build half tones on. You will always be able to lighten these darks, so don’t be afraid to push these
  • Now break those masses into half tones using less detail and cooler colors in the background tree masses, and warmer colors with more detail in the mid-ground
  • Continue to refine these areas by introducing more local colors and more detail in the foreground as you make the work have excitement and good mark making. By allowing some of the paper to show through, a unity is created and the viewer appreciates the transient nature of the sketch that should show movement and direction of light

The homework assignment this week is to use this photograph, or your own, to render a quick one hour or less, painting of a scene. Here we are using Wallis paper in the Grey Tone called Belgian Mist.

Lesson 2: Skies, Oceans, Blending, and Layering

In this sketch the instructor encourages you to apply layers of pastel in orderly ways, and then lightly blend them, while keeping your hands clean between each color shift and learning how you are actually mixing the pigments, not smearing and rubbing into the paper. Make sure you “draw” your horizon straight and just put an angle the represents the overall edge of the water, then add a couple lines for where waves go. They tend to be more parallel to the horizon that to the angle you make.

  • Again the instructor starts at the top and from several pre-chosen colors, that are similar in value, applies them gradually overlapping them as he moves to the horizon
  • A secret the instructor has learned is to keep the order from the horizon up: Violet/Red/Orange/Yellow/Green/Blue/Indigo. Certainly we are not using the pure colors, but a value of these that is close and allows gentle shifts. The instructor usually yses yellow last as it can cause trouble
  • Now blend carefully one color into the next, staying clean and working from side to side with a slight lifting action
  • Then with a mid-value grey, carefully scumble some clouds over this sky as in the photograph. Stay light! The instructor adds a little warmth on the lower side of the clouds to show the setting sun’s last rays
  • Now build from the darkest color in your water, which will be the wave faces when done. Lay it in thinly in the entire sea. The start from the back, or top of the water and slowly layer half tones that reflect the sky into the water leaving open areas for the wave faces. Lightly blend these to give the illusion of no detail and depth at the back
  • Now add some detail in the water with additional reflections, crashing waves and warmth for the foreground beach to give the proper depth. Note how the pastels are ground into the crashing waves to create interest and detail. The most forward waves should be the lightest and brightest value

The homework assignment is for you to use this photo or your own and turn in a completed work following the instructor’s advice.

Lesson 3: Painting Storms, Experimenting with Water and Pastels on Board

Now let’s have some fun experimenting! This is always one of the most popular parts of the instructor’s workshops.

  • Using a PastelBord by Ampersand, or any other smoother panel that accepts water will give you the best results. The instructor uses a greenish tone for this demo, but gray or white work just as well. Keeping this subject simple will help so that you have lots of sky to play with, and no details to get caught up with in foregrounds
  • First do a simple line sketch, adding in any element of the landscape that will protrude into the sky. Basically mop around some darks in the foreground
  • Spray this passage with any regular fixative to lock it down and keep it from blending with the sky when it gets wet
  • Now select several colors for the storminess of your sky, not too dark, keep values close and don’t be afraid of variety. Thinly but vigorously put this pastel all over the sky in broken patches overlapping as you go. The instructor has found this is one instance where he does put in some lights under the darks so they peek through
  • Now using distilled water in any spray bottle, lay the work flat and lightly mist the work until a thin layer of water exists on top of the pigment. Either let it float or tilt the board and enjoy the exciting changes that happen
  • Once you are satisfied with the effect, lay it perfectly flat and allow to dry (1 hour)
  • Now accept the result and move onto painting the foreground. (Touching the sky with more pastel might work, but it usually ruins the look.) The instructors likes to just add rich warms and cools and slowly work to half tones and lights sparingly added to just give the hint of light coming through the storm
  • NOTE: the sky is not fixed by the water, it will still smear or blend so be careful not to rub it

The homework assignment is after a couple tries on your own and getting comfortable with your ingredients, turn in a completed storm painting using these methods.

Lesson 4: Changing the Time of Day or Weather to Explore Your Pastels Even Further!

  • Do a simple map drawing of the scene, with little detail and only the major masses (shapes)
  • Select a dark violet, blue, or gray as the jumping off point for all other colors to follow. This one will establish what part of night it is. If it is too light, then your painting will be twilight, if it is very dark, it will be more like midnight without much chance for glow. The instructor usually shoots for a bit after twilight so he can use blue greens (go outside and look on a clear night to judge the colors and how the darks contrast against the sky)
  • Build slowly to a lighter color near the horizon, always keeping your colors consistent across the paper (don’t ring your subjects, go behind them)
  • Now mass in your darks, all verticals will be very dark, roof’s and other objects on angles will probably reflect the sky so keep them open for darker halftones
  • Now break into your darks as they touch the sky with a halftone, and describe other parts of your foreground with halftones that give detail and form to your subject
  • In the instructor’s scene he chose to make it winter so that he can just layer 3 values of a blue violet, dark to light in ways that mimic light and form and keeping it simple!

For the final homework assignment you can use my the instructor’s photos or yours, taking in any season or time of day and then make plans to turn it into a nocturne, or snow scene or both!

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