So, Senneliers….. When I bought them they were said to be the “best”. They were lauded as the “softest” and so I thought they would be just the thing for me. So I made paintings- lots of them. I had hoped to make strong paintings that would pop with color, but no matter what I did, I was always disappointed…sound familiar? There is a great Pixar movie called the “Incredibles”. When my girls where little, it was a favorite, and I would always hear it playing in the van (yes, I was a mini-van mom!) In the movie, there is a child villain who wants to be a super-hero but has no super-power. His ultimate revenge is to grow up and invent superpowers to sell to everyone, explaining, “When everyone is special, no one will be!”
He wanted to “level the playing field”, so to speak. I love this phrase because I realized that this is what was happening to my paintings. Senneliers are extremely powerful. They have one of the most pigment-to-binder ratio, and so the sticks are very strong. Not just in the color, but the overall strength of the color. Even in the neutral sticks. So, by using Senneliers all over the painting, they were essentially cancelling each other out. Everything was intense, so none of it was. It was all the same power, with no contrast in pigments. Think of this concept like using watercolor paints.
The more water that is added to the paint, the more the color gets “watered down.” This is what I found is happening in pastels when they are made. Certain brands- sticks or pencils- are just more watered down. All pastel pencils, for example, have to have binders added to them to make the pigments strong enough to be in the wooden barrel and not just crumble. As a result, the color is weakened or diluted. Even a bright, hot-pink pastel pencil is a diluted color or what I call a “low power”. So, if you are using a bright pink pastel pencil in a very important part of, say, a main flower in your painting, do you realize you are painting with diluted color?
But this makes them awesome!!! An entire watercolor painting made with the same bright hues all over the image can be very jarring! ( “When everyone is special, no one will be!” ) The best watercolor artists control these pigment fluctuations and have a lot of low-powered colors to push against the most dense areas of pigment….pastel can do that too!
Do you wind up using only tiny bits of your Sennelier? I mean, have you used up that first set by now? I know you still have the pastel sticks with tape on them, so you must have some from the past still, in 2021, but I’m wondering how important those high end sticks are to purchase, in comparison to others. At this point my numbers of sticks are pretty low compared to many other artists that I see with tables filled with colors. I think that having a nice range of low to high power sticks is more important than the number of high power sticks I own. After figuring out which colors I struggle to find, I think my best option is just to paint a lot, and try combining “crazy”colors to learn my values. I guess I’m wondering how much importance you now feel that your Sennelier’s have if you are using them to be special, high power. Still very important, is my guess, but not gauged by how much pigment you use on a piece, but what the purpose of the mark is on the piece.
exactly! that is a great way to phrase it- ‘what the purpose of the mark is on the piece” – so yes Sennleiers are very important. And yes, I have many, many of those original sticks left- already 23 years old. No, you don’t need every stick- it is too much to control. Just a few concentrated brands of each power, then it is better to control.