It had been years since I worked with pastels when an old friend asked me to do a couple of portraits. Despite having bought a box of 100 Sennelier Pastel a l'ecu especially for Portraits in a beautiful wooden box, I discovered that it contained very few colours for doing the cool tones in the skin. I went online to see what was out there that wasn't going to cost too much and found this great collection for portraits by Sennelier containing 40 half pastels. The weren't wrapped, so didn't show their name or number, but I made a sheet detailing the colour with the contents listed on the outside of the box. I discovered that one of my favourite cool tones is Van Dyke Violet, a colour that I would not normally use in either watercolour or oil.
My make-shift colour chart
Although I made the chart in rather a hurry, (and don't refer to it much), it was a good exercise in taking out the colours and actually looking at them so that I could build a picture in my head of what colours I needed to make the kind of portrait that I wanted. It was also a good excuse to just 'play' with the pigment and enjoy the silky smoothness of applying the colour. However, I found that even though I had made an accurate drawing of my subject, I found that the soft pastel was a little bit clumsy for getting detail, and that, without intending to do so, my lines were getting thicker and creeping out to make the initial drawing lose its accuracy and therefore lose the likeness of the subject. What I found that worked very well was to do a tracing of the face after I had drawn it, and use this to refer back to a when the portrait had progressed. I do this by simply laying the tracing over the work and then I can see exactly where my edges may have spilled over, enlarging the subject's features. It is still a very slow process though. I can usually get the main drawing done quickly and lay down the foundation colours without a problem. It is the little small marks and adjustments though, that take the longest. During this period, which may take up to two weeks, I work in hourly sessions as it can be tedious and tiring. When I have done all I need to do, I then bring the portrait inside to where I can see it as I'm passing as I go about cooking dinner etc. Usually one or two things that were not obvious before, jump out and I return the portrait to the studio where I work on it some more.