Plein air mini challenge with soft pastel

plein air pastels collage
The order I painted these: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right

My main goal with buying a few soft pastel supplies was to get outdoors to paint more. Ultimately I want to be painting more outdoors in oils, but the setup is more involved than soft pastels and there’s not always time for that level of time commitment.

I put together a kit that fits in a relatively small messenger bag that includes a small set of soft pastels, some hard pastels, precut 5×7 Canson Mi-Teintes papers, a backing board to clip the papers to, and various supplies for sketching and cleanup.

When I got myself outside to do a few studies in our yard, being new to soft pastels was actually working in my favor. I didn’t have expectations that they would turn out well, just that I wanted to get more comfortable with the process of making a thumbnail, putting the drawing on paper, and the general process of painting in the shapes of lights and darks. My limited palette of colors and the moving sun meant that I wouldn’t have time to match my colors to what I was seeing, so instead I could focus on values and temperature.

This mini challenge (based on one Karen Margulis mentions on her Patreon page) was about choosing simple subjects in my own yard. As she puts it: poems, not novels. It was exciting to see the nuances in the shadows, the reflected light, the dark accents…and putting in those marks of direct sunlight really make them come alive for me.

My two favorites are the rock and the tree trunks. I love the warms and cools on the rock, and the dark accents that give it dimension. My favorite moment was adding the shadow on the lower left that grounded it nicely.

Soft pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes Moonstone paper

On the tree trunks, I enjoyed seeing how the trees on the left were bouncing light back into the tree on the right. And how the evening sun was dappled on the trunks, causing spots of high contrast.

Soft pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey paper

Having this kit is a good step toward doing more plein air painting. Now I just need to shuffle it aside in my crowd of art supplies!