How to draw a landscape with pastels

Soft pastels are a great medium to work with, because they enable you to draw and paint at the same time. You hold the stick of pigment in your hand and apply it directly on to the surface. The results are immediate and tactile. There's no drying time to hold you back, or brushes to swap around. 

In this article I'm going to show you how to create a pastel landscape, making the best use of the varied types and grades of pastel that are available.

01. Pick the right pastels

You need rich, pure pastels to create depth in your landscape

For this painting I want to capture the feeling of distance in the landscape by varying colour and tone. I need the rich and pure pigments of quality pastels, such as Unison, to go from saturated colours in the foreground to soft hues in the distance, with lights, mediums and darks of each colour.

02. Create a tonal sketch

A quick sketch helps you focus on the tones in your painting

To focus on the tonal recession in the view, I do a sketch in charcoal and white pastel on neutral grey paper. I can see how the biggest contrast of light and dark is in the foreground, with soft grey mid-tones in the distance. This exercise helps me keep calm when I start to deal with colours.

03. Test your colour choices

Experiment with your colours before going to work

Thinking of tonal recession, I pick the pastels from the box and test each one by making marks on a sheet, hatching to combine them. By hatching the marks and letting the integrity of each colour show, I'm able to produce lively mixes. Experimenting with colour choices first means I can paint later with confidence.

04. Start in the distance

Smudge the distant hills so they're subtle and muted

Using light blue, lilac/grey and cream, I sketch in the sky and far distant hills, using the pastels on their side, applying several layers and softening and smudging constantly with my fingers. These hills have to be subtle, soft and muted. By smudging the sky colours down into the hills I can make them appear even more distant.

05. Create atmosphere

Mix your shades as you go along, so they all intermingle

I introduce a soft grey/blue for the next hill, but still mixing and blending softly with the lilac and cream. I take each colour further down into the picture, so that they all intermingle and are related. I then hint at light greens and yellows for the far fields, dusting these into the blue hill to give it form. 

06. Move to the mid-ground

Bring in warmer tones and stronger marks for the foreground fields

In the foreground the colours can become warmer, with yellows and greens growing progressively richer as they get closer to the viewer. Time for some stronger marks – there's no need to smudge so much now. If a colour looks too strong, I use the cooler distance colours to knock it back. I lay down some energetic marks for the foreground base.

07. Introduce the foreground darks

The foreground trees require sharper, more energetic marks

Sketch the foreground trees using sharper, more defined marks and darker shades of browns and greens. I use a deep brown for the foreground and a softer greyer brown for the middle distance. I also have a warmer red/brown for the very front of the picture, to emphasise the tonal recession. I use energetic marks rather than detail at this stage.

08. Create intensity

Hatch the foreground details in more saturated colours

Now the fun really starts, as I introduce a collection of more vibrant, saturated colours to enrich the field in the foreground by hatching these on as long grasses, without any smudging, I create a vibrant mix of hues and tones that blend optically. Blues, yellows, orange and warm brown are a contrast to the cooler distance.

09. Add hatching and highlights

Hatch in some final lights to add a bit of sparkle

To bring the piece together, I hatch lighter areas to describe the curve of the field, and detail among the trees. I add lighter patches of yellow between the trees, and shadows and lights to the trunks. The joy of using good-quality pastels is that you can apply lights over deep darks to add sparkle.

This article originally appeared in Paint & Draw issue 7; buy it here!

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