Building Colour Palettes: More Instinct than Science.

Oil Pastel Landscape Caran d'ache

I sit here in my studio/office, surrounded by a mess. I have so much stuff. It’s genetic you see, my father is a “collector,” and his studio is full of ancient trinkets and unusable objects. In my case, it’s more of a compulsive accumulation of art supplies. I know I’m not the only one and that most artists are pretty much drowning in them.

Since I got started, I have been searching for my “signature colour palette”. Whatever that may mean. In the beginning, I used to try to capture real colours. Green for plants, blue for the sky, skin tones as close as possible, but that wasn’t interesting. As you may know, my first love was watercolor. I learned to mix colourful palettes, but again, what is the interest in capturing things as they are? I rather take a photo.

So since last year, I’ve been searching for colour palettes that are more me. I oscillate between strange, almost jarring colours and very soft neutrals. Oil pastels allowed me to achieve a softness and a texture that watercolour could not give me. Watercolour became muddy, gouache too, if you weren’t careful, oil pastels are perfect for getting pinkish grays, neutral earth tones, and gray-blues and deep contrasting blacks.

But without some kind of fixative or protection oil pastel artworks get smudged or ruined, which prompted me to get some Caran d’Ache Neocolor II wax pastels. These are harder, you can lay down large blocks of colour, and they don’t run out as fast as oil pastels, but they don’t blend as seamlessly. Though they are great for layering,

Wax Pastels

Also, wax pastels by Caran d’Ache are incredibly vibrant. All the examples I’ve seen using these crayons are intensely colourful.

I tried to mix wax pastels as I would mix gouache or even watercolour (as they are watersoluble). Still, no matter how much I tried, I could not subdue them.

Should you bend the materials to your will or use the materials that work best?

I like colour challenges, I tend to wrangle a medium as much as I can to get it to do what I want. Still, in this case, after doing several quick landscapes, I realized that their colour is way too intense for my taste.

Wax Pastels

I’d made the same mistake with the Inktense blocks AND with the PH Martins liquid watercolours. It seems I never learn!

Working with limitations

So definitely, my landscapes needed some fine-tuning. By limiting the colour palette and being intentional with my choices, I went for the simplest rule: primaries in alternative hues.

Wax Pastels

This has been a lot of trial and error. I’m nowhere close to where I want to be in terms of style, line, and even subject matter, but as the summer goes on and I continue with my Social Media Sabbatical, I can spend long hours sitting at my desk and drawing.

Oil Pastels

I’m sharing many of my experiments on Patreon. I’m also tip-toeing into video and filming some basic drawing exercises.

If you have any questions about this, you can definitely drop me a line! I’ll be happy to help. Or come join on Patreon, it’s a tiny, friendly place!

Wax Pastels

Lastly, if you’re just getting started with wax pastels, you can check out Lindsay Stripling’s Skechbook Class on Creative Bug.

Where to buy Neocolor II Wax Pastels and Oil Pastels

If you are, like me, trying to get away from Amazon, try out these two places:

Jacksons’s Art: they are in the U.K. but their prices are surprisingly affordable, plus you can search for vegan supplies and their packaging is environmentally sound. They sell both Neocolor II and Neopastel.

Kings Framing Art in Ontario, they have an incredible variety of materials, brands and their customer service is amazing. Super fast shipping. However, they don’t sell the Caran d’Ache Neopastel (oil pastels).

Oil Pastels