Soft Pastel Beach Landscape Tutorial
Soft pastels are a unique medium, unlike any other.
Their incredible color, texture, and ease of use offer an opportunity to expand your artistic abilities like you never thought possible.
In this lesson plan, we explore a landscape in soft pastel, and the basic steps to creating your own pastel painting.
Pipe Insulation (for blending)
UArt Premium Sanded Pastel Paper 9 x 12, 400 Grit, Beige
Getting Set Up:
Pictured here is a piece of scrap cardboard (about 36 in. x 24 in.) that I prop up on my easel as a backing for the paper, and the tape hinges I make to hold my paper in place as I paint. Taking a few minutes to make these hinges is the best way to secure the paper, allowing all 4 corners to be exposed and the paper to lie flat.
How to Make Tape Hinge
1. Tear a 2 in. piece of tape and position it vertically on the corner edge of the back of paper with the sticky side facing you.
2. Tear another 2 in. piece of tape and position it crossing over over the sticky side of the vertical tape, fastening it to the backboard. Repeat for all 4 corners.
Popham Beach, Maine
I took this picture of one of the most breathtaking beaches in Maine, a place where I have summered for most of my life. It was an unforgettable day, with an ever-changing, beautiful sky. The strong composition and simple elements; sky, water, sand and grass, make for an ideal subject to paint and learn from. I printed an 8-1/2 x 11 photo as inspiration and reference.
Looking carefully at my reference photo, I choose as many pastel colors as possible, keeping in mind that more colors and layers will add more interest, depth and complexity to the painting.
Also pictured here are pieces of foam pipe insulation which is an ideal material for blending pastel.
Begin with a Simple Sketch
Here I began by lightly drawing the horizon line of the scene, followed by a very simple outline of the beach area and path leading through the grasses. I used a medium toned purple pastel, not too light or dark.
Paper—Instead of white paper, choose a toned, textured pastel paper for your art. This can speed up the drawing time and set you up for success. When choosing the paper, consider its tone or value rather then actual color. A good middle toned grey or warm beige is a good start.
The more “tooth” or texture to the paper, the better it will accept many layers of pastels, thus giving amazing results.
Blocking in the Darks
The next few steps are about building layers of color by creating light and dark shapes. Here I begin to create a loose foundation by blocking in the darkest value of the image with a purple pastel. This color in the grass area serves as the darkest layer, or “dirt,” under the grass. I apply the pastel by using the side of the stick loosely laying in the darkest areas.
Experiment with different colors, strokes and pressure on a scrap sheet throughout the painting process.
Blocking in the Lights
Next, I fill in the lightest areas in the same manner as the darks. I do not yet use white; rather, I use a mauve to tie in with the purple and act as the darkest underbelly of the clouds. Next, I add the lightest blue of the ocean.
Third Layer of Color
Here, I lay down some of the lightest areas and local color (green) directly over first layer of color, some white in the clouds, and two tones of sand color.
Now that the entire paper is filled with pastel, it is time to blend. Using a torn- off piece of the foam pipe insulation, I begin with the sky and rub over the pastel covered paper. I blend going in the direction you would as if using a brush, changing my direction for different areas; vertically for the horizon line land mass, horizontally for the water, diagonal for the swaying grasses. I’m trying to achieve a soft, out of focus effect with this first round of blending. It will serve as a foundation and allow me the chance to decide where to create focus in the following steps.
The best blending tool for using with soft pastels is foam pipe insulation. It is readily available at any hardware store and very inexpensive. Cut into pieces, a package of this material lasts a very long time, and can even be washed and reused.
In this step, I begin to refine the painting. I come back in with more rich color, using the side of my pastels, reinforcing the grasses with more greens and a bit of yellow.
I add a darker blue to the water.
I lightly begin to play with the sky and anatomy of the clouds, shaping and defining them by adding more blues, with mauve and light lavender to the underbelly, a bit of grey, and a hint of warm pale yellow.
Erasing—the best tool for removing unwanted pastel right down to the paper, is canned air. Be sure to use it outside and point and blast the area on your paper at an angle, away from you. You do not want to breath the pastel dust.
Balance and Blend
Here, I continue to refine the painting: I create the illusion of distance by lightly blending and fading out the horizon line land mass. I use the pipe insulation blending tool in a light-handed, up and down motion, leaving it loosely done and painterly. I allow for bits of the paper to peek through here and there.
Directly above the horizon line, I create smaller clouds receding into the distance.
I keep the water soft and simple, lightly blending the blues and adding some aqua to indicate shallow water as it nears the shore. I add short simple strokes of white to suggest a few waves.
I gently blend areas of the grasses, and add warm, light sand colors.
Here are a few ways to paint natural looking, irregular blades of grass with pastel. Take the time to practice these methods before you attempt it on your painting:
• Using the long edge of a soft square pastel, angle your mark and press, then lift the pastel to create irregular lines; lines that break and are both thick and thin.
• Create fluid, meandering lines with a harder, round pastel, by rolling the top edge of it along the paper.
Practice combining these methods, creating uneven, crisscrossing marks, representing the natural growth and movement of grass.
In this final step, I bring some grass detail into focus. I choose some areas of grass, and paint in a few blades. A few well placed blades in the foreground will make the whole area read as grass, without covering it all with detail.
Finally, I add a few highlights with fresh white pastel to the clouds, and I consider the painting finished. It is important to know when to stop and not overwork the art. The longer you work on the painting does not mean the better it will be. In practice, fewer strokes placed with more and more confidence is the goal.