Ah, here it comes… one of my biggest pet peeves.

I see it all of the time…those pretty, perfectly sorted travel boxes and drawers full of pastels. And the lamenting…”Oh, I spent three days sorting my pastel sticks! Look at how pretty and organized I am now!” (while wiping a sweaty brow)

Ooh silly, you could have been painting for those 3 days!

Sorting pastels by value or hue does NOTHING to help you paint better. I promise. Color is complex. It is nuances and ever-changing relationships. No color exists in isolation.

Recently, I started posting a series of videos on Instagram with the theme, “Grey is not a color” and some reached over 8 million views. You would not believe the hate-responses I got! Who knew so many people were in love with grey and mad at me for “picking on” grey mixtures. 

But that is the key- Grey is a mixture of colors and there is NEVER a neutral balance. If you mix up equal parts blue and orange you will get something that looks like grey, but put the mixture on an orange surface and it will now appear to have a blue dominance. Put that exact same mixture on a blue background and it will now appear to have more orange in the mix.

Ah Mother Nature!

So, slavishly sorting my pastel sticks in to their “proper” place beside sticks similar to itself is both tedious and unnecessary.  And you can miss the wonderful complexity of colors. So I opt for letting my hues rub alongside colors from another mother and see their differences.  Because once a stick is picked up it will look one way, and then once it is put into your painting it will shift and appear to change based on its surroundings. It can now even appear darker or lighter, Even appearing to change hue. I have quite often picked up a stick that I thought was dusty pink and put it into an area of my painting and the stroke then appeared green.  Its  magical. Its amazing. And it can be hard as hell to predict. Be sure to check out my videos at https://www.instagram.com/christine_swann/reels/

Crazy right? So I “go with the flow” when it comes to my sticks. They do not need to be by their similarities, but rather near their opposites.

So no need to sort my travel boxes by color. Here is my larger Heilman box. There are a lot of very good travel boxes out there and I just happen to have the Heilmans. I absolutely love them. Just big enough for travel and the memory foam keeps sticks from crumbling and moving around. I highly recommend them. Plus the Heilmans are pretty cool people. The far left has my darks and the far right has my lights. In the middle chamber are “neutrals.” 

As for sorting, you can see that there are all different brands and repeat colors. This is because I DO sort my sticks by power. Now what is that, you say? Well, if you have taken my workshop, “The POWER of Pastel” then you know. In this blog it is hard to describe exactly what that means, but basically I sort by binder/pigment ratios. It lets me work the way I need to work and to control the medium. So lower-powered sticks are at the top. And higher-powered sticks are at the bottom with mid-powered stages in-between. So not only do I pick a stick according to the color I need in the moment,  but I also consider very carefully what power I need. Because that controls everything. Knowing what power a brand is will let you layer effectively, or not. So here you will see the exact same colors repeated across the compartments but in different powers. On the far right at the bottom are some Roches. I just have them in this corner so I can keep track of them. They are too expensive to lose.

When I am paring down for painting Plein air, like I have been recently, I use my smaller Heilman box. This is what mine looks like currently. This is PLENTY of sticks to work on outdoors and capture anything I want to work on. Less is more.  And the powers are set up the same way. Repeated colors yet in different powers.

If you want to know more about the “powers” and why I do not refer to any stick as “hard” or “soft, then you are in luck!  My next online workshop goes over everything a pastelist needs to know about power, light and how to nail a likeness when it comes to the portrait. I’ll teach ya everything on August 10th and 11th. Register with me at [email protected].

So anyway, Don’t feel “boxed in” by any system of sorting your pastels. It is ok to let that go. 

Share this!