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Love Your Subject: 8 Steps to the Perfect Pastel Portrait

Love Your Subject: 8 Steps to the Perfect Pastel Portrait



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Viewing a pastel portrait by Sharon Pomales is like peering through a door cracked open or wandering unnoticed into a room. Her intimate depictions invite even the most casual observer to linger and look more closely at a subject — a subject who may be unaware there’s an observer at all.

Pomales prefers to paint her family, particularly her children. “I think every artist shows more love with paint when they’re painting someone who’s close to them,” she says.

All in the Family: Know Your Pastel Portrait

She relishes in creating pastel portraits that catch the everyday moments and gestures that are unique to her subjects but relatable to her viewers. “I catch them when they’re not posing,” notes Pomales regarding subjects like Thomas, her camera-shy son. “He’s kind to people and animals, and animals have always responded to him with special affection in return, like the cat resting on his shoulders [in Thomas With Cat].”

In Thomas With Cat, below, Thomas wears an orgonite pendant containing copper. “I carried that copper color into the painting’s background using a metallic copper color from PanPastel,” explains Pomales.

Pomales’ daughter stars in the painting Little Girl With a Big Guitar, inspired by an occasion when she borrowed a too-big instrument from her brother Seth. “I was particularly interested in capturing all the different textures, and the light coming from the right side and conveying a sense of movement as she played,” says Pomales.

Seth, the artist’s stepson, was inspiration himself as he read in the comfort of a cozy room on a snowy day, a scene which influenced Hibernating. “When it’s cold outside, we all want to hibernate,” states Pomales. “I wanted to create a sense of warmth and tranquility.”

How to Create a Pastel Portrait, Step-by-Step

When Pomales was a teen, her mother gave her a framed poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall called “Comes the Dawn,” which begins with the words “After a while,” a phrase that inspired this painting’s title. “Seeing my daughter grow and mature before my eyes made me remember that poem,” recalls Pomales.

Love Pomales’ approach to pastel portraits? Below she shares how it’s done in just eight steps. Enjoy!

Step 1

I made a charcoal drawing on gray Pastelbord, using a photo on my computer for reference. Then I applied workable fixative before starting to add pastel.

Step 2

Working from left to right and from top to bottom, I established the base for the subject’s skin tones by layering with Derwent pastel pencils — first vermilion red, then Naples yellow.

Step 3

I finished the subject’s skin base with ultramarine blue.

Step 4

I switched to Rembrandt pastel sticks to continue layering color. I also used Rembrandts for the background.

Step 5

I began working on the face using the same color-layering process.

Step 6

I worked to completion on the left side first, and then gradually moved to the right.

Step 7

At this point, I began working on the hair, dark to light.

Step 8

I finished the subject’s eyes and mouth, and I worked on finishing the skin, paying close attention to the form and the direction of the light as it falls on the face and hand.

Final Step

I painted the shirt a value lighter than the photo showed to create more differentiation between the hair and shirt. I started to work from life on the subject’s skin, hair and the rug, to complete After a While.

Enjoyed this step-by-step demonstration? Be sure to subscribe to Pastel Journal for more pastel art inspiration, interviews with expert artists, tips and tutorials, and more!

Before You Go …

Ready to pick up your pastels and catch your own family members in action? Check out this preview trailer pastel artist Alain Picard’s workshop, Pastel Techniques for Painterly Portraits, to learn how artist Alain Picard creates lively portraits in pastel.

Learn from this modern master by streaming the entire video instruction here!


Watch the video: How to Create Blonde Hair with Pastel Pencils (August 2022).