Builders are my staple sticks. I think of them as the frosting on my cupcake. The delectable part.

I am an “indirect” painter and so they have saved many paintings. “Direct” painting is how most oil paintings are handled. The exact color, temperature, value and mark is made with that little blob of paint on the end of the brush. Then that mark is left alone to represent what is being painted. No retouching. So stressful! ( I greatly admire artists that can do that). An indirect painter (like me) comes in the “back door.” If you think in terms of glazing, I treat my pastels more like watercolor washes or layers of stained glass placed over top of each other. I may put something down that is “kinda” right, and then feel free to glaze over top of it to change the nuance, value, texture or temperature, etc….that’s indirect painting. It is more forgiving, and I think we artists need to forgive ourselves often and be allowed to find something “kinda” right for a while until we dial an image in.

I consider all pastel pencils builders, since I layer with them a lot. Of course, since they have so much binder in them (and are low-powered) they can loose their “tooth”- the ability to grip a surface- but I still find them invaluable to layer in areas along with “softer stuff”.


So builders are crucial. They work nicely alongside other brands and will let me “mess around” to my heart’s content. Giraults are best for this and so are old Grumbachers. Both square and rounds. (Although the round sticks have more power and hence more pigment in them.)

Winsor Newtons and Daler-Rowneys will build. Diane Townsends will let you build as well but they will feel thicker. This could be a good thing if you are looking for more deliberate, texturized areas. For example, if you like more of a crosshatching effect.

Roches are great builders too. But are serious budget-breakers. They average around $20 a stick. I love em, but don’t feel the need to use them all over a painting. They are very handy in high-powered and high-chroma areas where I need flexibility. Like in the face. But, save your pennies! Other brands will do.


I believe good portraits are built with a soft “hand” and forgiving sticks. An exciting portrait is not just about finding the nuances and being “accurate” but allowing personal choices (and exaggerations) to show through. Portraits are as much about the artists creating them as the sitter. They are a signature of the artist! Colors choices ebbing and flowing in many layers underneath the final image can be a truly personal stamp of the artist. So don’t be afraid to play! Take chances! Use that fuchsia stick! Keep it to a builder and it will be ok. Fear and frustration are easily spotted in a portrait, so if the artist is fighting the materials, it will show.

Here is an eye from a recently finished painting…..there are colors everywhere! Look at how many! Smooshed together. Mixed up and scribbled over. Hit hard and backed off. A little bit of green. A little bit of purple….oops…shift back to green……it’s ok!


Layer, layer, layer…… I am in my happy place!

Next week….Gliders!

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