Donna Aldridge, international award-winning master pastelist and oil painter, fine artist, has work in collections in 25 countries and teaches painting workshops nationally and art classes in Kansas City.
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Adding New
Pastel Colors

Keeping Clean in
the Pastel Studio

HEPA Filter Fans

Masking Painting
Edges before

Masking Slides

From DaVinci

Storing Pastel Paintings Flat

New Pigments
—and Old

Your Fixative

Before Shipping
Works to Shows

On Choosing

Donna Aldridge's "Zinnias and Concorde Grapes" is a pastel painting 18" x 24.4". Donna Aldridge is an international award-winning artist, master pastelist and oil painter with works in collectons in twenty five countries. This work is available as a giclee print. The original is in a private collection in the USA.
Studio Tips
for the
Pastel Painter

Donna Aldridge

© 2001 Donna Aldridge

Zinnias and Concorde Grapes
18" x 24.4"
Private Collection

Adding New Pastel Colors

1. Buy half-stick collections offered by many makers.

2. Shop for new pastels with a fellow-artist agreeing to cut each piece in half, taking turns to pick the first piece.

3. When you need a color between two existing sticks, break off equal-sized pieces of both, grind carefully, mix, add water to create a thick paste, knead, form into a stick and let dry. It may help to use a plastic bag or plastic wrap to work the mixture.

4. Save tiny, unuseable pieces; follow procedure in #3. Ardis Burley and others are carefully saving the pastel that falls when painting. Ardis puts a fresh newspaper sheet folded L-shape under the painting board to cover the easel’s ledge. This both keeps pastel off the floor and easel and makes an easily-handled collection basin. When finished, she pours the surprising amount of pastel powder into a film container to save till she makes less saturated or neutral-colored pastels, something we often seem never to have enough of! By mixing with other pieces as above, you’ll recycle, save money and make needed colors.

5. For softer pastels beginning with harder sticks, add pure pigment to the pieces in # 3 and #4.

6. Make pastels ‘from scratch’. Recipes available in several books on pastels and artist's materials. This is a good experience to understand our materials and makes one more appreciative of the pastels we purchase!

• Always be careful of pigment dust! Work with a mask.

7. Use Wallis Moist Pastels. Work with friends to save time and money; these soft sticks less expensive on average.

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Keeping Clean in the Pastel Studio

Keeping hands––and pastels––clean while painting can be a chore, particularly when using the softer pastels. The dust can be drying to skin, though good moisturizing hand creams or ‘gloves-in-a-tube’ can easily help to overcome this aspect if one is not wearing gloves––something that many of us can just not bear doing. Still, even wearing gloves, the fingers become covered with color that immediately transfers to the next stick of pastel picked up.

Mis-colored, unidentifyable sticks is an entirely different type of problem––a very real one also, usually directly related to those ‘dirty’ hands. It takes time finding the right color when we can’t tell what it is under all the transfered color––and can lead to frustrations. Having a damp or dry, dust-accepting cloth to wipe hands (gloved or not) is a great benefit to the pastels and certainly to our hands if ungloved.

Baby wipes come in containers nicely moistened for the job, often with antiseptic additives, if those appeal to you. Paper towels, just slightly moistened, work well––less expensively. Either of these cloths kept in an opened plastic bag. to prevent rapid drying, allows you to reach in and clean your hand easily, whether working in the studio, plein air or class. Fastening the bag to your easel makes it handier still.

Cheese Cloth makes a wonderful handwipe for pastel, dry or slightly dampened. The coarseness of the soft, 100% cotton weave easily holds the dust. A soft old cotton t-shirt or similar item would serve well. Experiment with the amount of dampness if you perfer moisture over a dry cloth.

The benefit of the damp cloth is that you can just touch or blot your fingers against it and remove the covering of pastel from your hand. The dry cloth usually takes a two-handed wiping action. Find what suits you best.

A further aid in keeping pastels clean across the painting tip or edge is to have a piece of paper towel folded and anchored on your table to brush the just-used stick again before returning it to its ‘home’. We’ve all picked up a stick, perhaps last used on top of a very dark color and this time we pull it over a very light area, leaving a dark, unwanted scar across that lovely light area. It can be fairly easy to get into a habit of preventing this.

For a long day of plein air painting in warm weather, moist towels for soothing your face, neck and arms can be welcome––and kept in their own separate plastic bag. Baby wipes with their antiseptic and other additives for the skin might be even more welcome than plain water at times and certainly can keep the moist towels fresher when closed up in their plastic bags during the travel period.

Pastels––and their artist––can often benefit from a wiping down with a soft, dry towel in order to remove the camoflaging other colors that completely hide the identity of the actual color. (I’ve been amazed sometimes to see what was really lurking under that motley surface!) This might be a great project to do sitting out in the grass on a lovely day.

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HEPA Filter Fans

A HEPA Filter Fan is an excellent investment for any artist's working space when using painting materials which include solvents, sprays or particles of pigment, etc. released into the air. Honeywell makes an excellent product and more brands are being introduced to the market. These filters make a tremendous difference in air qualitly and therefore your health and comfort.

Masking Painting Edges When Photographing

When photographing your pastels painted on paper, particularly when making slides, consider taping off the edges of each piece with photographer’s tape––essentially, black masking tape. It will create a clean, solid border around your painting, often making it unnecessary to go back later and tape your slides, something imperative when entering shows or presenting to galleries.

If you do need to tape the slide, because of occasional reflections on the photographer’s tape or a particular painting’s proportion, it is still far easier to do so with the clear edges established by the black tape. Taped paintings make trimming photo-prints much easier, too! The photographers tape will lift off easily when you are ready to frame.

Tape is available at art or photographic supply stores.

Masking Slides

A special silver mylar tape is made for taping off slides. It is highly preferable over any other tape and is specifically designed to accept the heat from the slide projector. Do not use other tapes.

Tape is available at art or photographic supply stores.

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From DaVinci

Keep a mirror in your studio area, facing your easel if possible. DaVinci advised “turn your painting to a black glass (mirror) and it will appear as though another master had done it and you will see its flaws.”

This decidedly different (reversed) view puts your painting into a new context and can 'shake up' a taken-for-granted acceptance of problems in the work. It can also give you the advantage that the painting seems twice as far away, giving you a better overall view of your piece. Very useful!

Storing Pastel Paintings Flat

Safely storing pastels paintings that are layered on a shelf or in a large drawer can be a problem, when you need to go back through the stack to find a certain piece. A tab with the name, size and other pertinent information can help locate a work without having to sort through every piece. The tab can be either a pH-balanced piece of paper laid over the glassine and allowed to protrude or a tab can be attached to one edge of the glassine for each painting much like you would do with a school notebook.

Using the thinnest version of pH-balanced foamcore board or other non-acid or archival board in the layering process, along with glassine, helps keep the weight of unevenly-stacked or slightly different-sized papers more evenly distributed. Use interleaving boards that are all the same size and at least slightly larger than the largest painting paper you are storing. Interleave each piece with glassine and board or use the board every 2, 3 or 4 pieces.

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New Pigments—and Old

New pigments are being created in the lab in amazing numbers now. Exciting times! They certainly allow for fascinating new types of colors, softness and other attributes that the pastelist can delight in.
Still, while there are accelerated light-fast tests, they can not account for every condition, idiosyncraty and use.

It’s always good to pay attention yourself to how both your new and your older colors behave! Just because an artist materials company has put something on the market does it mean that it is strongly lightfast. Read their ratings on the pigments they use and learn more about particular pigments from other sources.

Some—PB17, for example (a paler phthalocyanine) fades within a few years unlike it's well-behaved cousin PB15 (the deep, dark phthalocyanine we are most familiar with). Red-violet colors have been the greatest offender in fading, some popular pigments of that hue fading to pale pinkish gray off-white within 2 or 3 years! Yes! Thankfully, better pigments are finding their way into our pastels. Let go of the old ones—or the student or kiddie grades, which are fine for. . . the kiddies, unless you want to preserve their work for your grandchildren to see!

So, do pay attention to what you are using! Make sure the painting statement you make remains consistant thru the years, if it meant enough for you to make in the first place and present to the world! And remember—when you say a color has not changed with daily exposure in normal, average conditions in five or ten years, how would you feel if the Michaelangelos and Rembrandts and Van Goghs had lasted not all that much longer? For a fine work of art, even 100 years is nothing!

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Experiment Applying Your Fixative | more info on Fixative

Experiment with things about which you have questions concerning the application of your fixative. Set up several little test ‘paintings’ that have comparable applications of pastel with similar handling to your actual works. They can be small pieces, just large enough to really give you good information.

Then try different amounts of spray, various intervals before the next application, different distances, speeds of moving your arm as you spray, etc. Perhaps you might get together with several other artist friends, each with a different brand of fixative so that you can carry out broader experiments––and it just might even be more fun experimenting together! Several observers and commentors can certainly enrich the experience. And, like playing a musical instrument, you may find a way of ‘playing’ your fixative that lets it do just what you want and need.

Before Shipping Works to Shows . . .

When sending off a painting or two or three or more, do gather full information about timing, packaging and other requirements from the shipping company. Each differs in several ways. Particularly check very precisely about their insurance for artwork. Some dramatic differences exist here and you need to be aware.

Many artists are paying for insurance that they would not be able to collect on because they are shipping a painting rather than a load of empty frames (multi-produced merchandise).

Also—read again very carefully the entire prospectus of any exhibits you are juried into. Some have some very stringent rules and, again, each differs. Do pay attention! It will make life so much easier and more pleasant!

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On Choosing Frames

When choosing exhibition frames, you might want to take into consideration whether your paintings will stay in their frames long term or, as some do, change out the paintings often. This could lead you to different choices in some of your materials, tools and handling

Shipping boxes are another consideration. They can be investments in themselves. One frame or another can be the factor that lets you use a box on hand or need to order a new and larger one. Great if that does not matter, but if it does, like the old sign says—Think Ahead!

Some artists work consistently in one set size, letting the body of the work be interchangeable from frame to frame, or if style varies, at least glass, etc. remains the same and might be purchased in quantity for savings.

Other artists make each painting a unique size and proportion and each frame a new adventure.

If you are trying to simplify you life in the studio, setting a standard of size/proportions for your paintings is one good way.

If you live thinking “So many gorgeous mouldings, so little time”, adventure in ever new frame styles may be your best direction!

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Please Note:  All artwork and materials contained on this website are copyrighted by Donna Aldridge.  No image or picture may be downloaded or copied without written permission from the artist.  Many of the painting images you will see on this site may be available for sale in original or in print form by contacting Aldridge Studios.

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