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Whether attending a class or working en plein air, it can be advantageous to have a smaller downsized palette instead of trying to transport an entire studio. But, with so many pastels to choose from (mind you, I’m not complaining), it can be a difficult task to narrow it down.
All artists’ palettes need to facilitate the three aspects of color: hue, the individual color family; chroma, the intensity or saturation of said color; and value, the relative lightness or darkness of said color. Simply stated, we need a full spectrum of color representing every hue and grayer degrees of those hues at a variety of value from near white to almost black. Don’t rely on one brand’s complete set to provide everything you require. By selecting individual pastels across a range of manufacturers, you will be better able to represent the full spectrum of color.
Brands also have personality, their own characteristic feel. Some are very soft and velvety, while others are slightly hard and gritty. Typically, harder pastels serve well for dark/dull passages, imparting a limited amount of pastel allowing heavier luscious layers of light to be added on top. Conversely, softer pastel sticks work better for the light/bright sections. These allow a bold bright mark to be applied, representing the power and intensity of light. The old opaque painters’ tip of working thinly in the shadows is well heeded here.
Strong sturdy pastel palettes have made our painting lives easier, allowing for easier transportation of our pastels. Two of the major manufacturers (Dakota Art Pastels and Heilman Designs) offer a variety of sizes. The larger sizes are better suited for studio/classroom work, when we’re able to open them in a secure stable setting. The
medium boxes hold a large amount of individual pastels (especially when half or smaller pieces are utilized) and are a good choice if car travel is your means of transportation. The smaller compact boxes hold less but provide adequate room for a sensible palette and are much lighter when packed great distances. Removing the label and breaking the stick into a usable size also allows for more individual selections to be transported. If a palette holds 120 full sticks, it will be capable of accommodating 240 if broken in half.
By breaking pastels into half size pieces and selecting harder brands to represent the bulk of the dark/dull tones with the softer brands selected for the bright/light tones, a downsized palette can be accomplished (see my example above), providing a full spectrum of hue, chroma, and value. Everything we need to paint well except for inspiration, knowledge, and experience. But that’s another discussion.