Pastels gives a tactile experience that you can’t get out of watercolors or oils.
Pastel Art in Singapore – a book of pastel art works – caught TNL’s eye when she was at the stairs landing on the 6th floor of Central Library. Its jaundiced cover stood out like well… a jaundiced thumb.
Looked it up, she did. And man, check out these 2 gorgeous pieces inside:
This is “Temasek on 6th February 1819” by Siew Hock Meng (1997).
Pastels makes what you draw shimmer. You can just feel the gossamer lightness of the flag as it is lifted up. You can barely see the man’s hair braid curled tightly around his head. The light coming through the yellow stripes of the flag highlights his braids. With pastels, you don’t need much rendering to show detail, just touches of color and it suggests a story.
The part that caught TNL’s eye is the neck and shoulders. Look at the glow of mauve, yellow and orange and how these bright, cheery colors are used to carve out the tough solidness of his muscles.
Lim Cheng Hoe’s “Old woman” is an excellent piece of when not to let pastels take over. The control here is just right.
The problem with using pastels is the risk of creating a “muddy” piece or a “flat” piece. “Muddy” – when you are trying too hard to get the colors you want in. “Flat” – when you want to get the colors perfectly put together. The result is a lifeless 2-dimensional piece.
“Old woman” has patches of dark color highlighted with streaks of grey, yellow, orange. The most striking is the pink. It just brings out the life and softness in her lined and worn face. Check out the pink in her scalp.
As you can tell, pastels is about color. But once you start using it, you realise technique is extremely important. That is why pastels is used to teach basic drawing skills. TNL gave up on pastels some time ago. Simply because she is just downright lazy. But she continues to practise with charcoals.
Check out Pastel 101 if you want to try pastels out.
And oh yeah, check out pages 71-76 of Pastel Art in Singapore. Siew Hock Meng, TK Sabapathy and 3 artists tell us what they think of pastels in the chapter “Mass Medium: a Discussion of 5 Questions on Pastels”.