Thursday, August 29, 2013

Making Illuminated Pastel Sticks

Illuminated pastel sticks

Think of the wall of a house painted one color – flat.

Now imagine the sky just after sunset.  You can see the colors in the air – there's a sense of space.

We can get this sense of space by using illuminated colors.

Here is how:
1.     Pick out two colors of the same value.  For those who want an example, I used Terry Ludwig's dark green G520 and dark red R170X.  This made a stunning, glowing shadow color.  

2.     Crush each color separately into pieces like small cracked pepper.  Do not turn it all into powder or leave in pieces larger than a grain of quinoa.   I put the stick in a fold of paper and roll a rolling pin over it.  Open the paper and rearrange the pieces in a thin flat layer to expose the remaining larger pieces to further crushing. Fold paper and roll again until stick is crushed evenly.  Repeat same operation with second color in a separate paper.

3.     When both are crushed evenly combine them by gently stirring them together on a pile of 3 or more paper towels.  Spray with water in a mist, gently folding the particles over and over inside the towels until all particles are wet – not soaking.

4.     Bring the paper towel over the moist particles and push them together, including all the bits stuck to the paper towel.  Do not knead the colors into a lump.  To succeed with illuminated colors, the colors of the particles must remain distinct.  Firmly press them together. 

5.     Form into a stubby stick, 3/4" in diameter.   Be careful there are no wrinkles, cracks or spaces in the stick.  The nature of these sticks is weaker than regular pastels, they cannot be made too thin or they will break when you use them. 

6.     Set the stick aside to dry.  If you like to use a dehydrator let them sit for 24 hours first. The particles need time for the binding agents to interact with each other while still wet to form new bonds.  They are dry when no longer cool to the touch, like laundry.

The procedure is simple, but choosing exactly the right color is very tricky.  It took me 10 years to suddenly realize the power of my illuminated colors when correctly matched.  Certain combinations fall flat and others are fabulous.
Stay tuned here for some recipes for specific illuminated sticks that will amaze your eyes.
If you have colors in your studio that were disappointing and you haven’t been using them, post the brand and color number on my facebook and I’ll do my best to make you a custom recipe!

Coming soon:
Making your own set of Illuminated colors. 
Learning about values
Recipes with 3 or 4 colors


  1. My first successful illuminated stick was made of two blues. Mid-value ultramarine and same value pthalo blue. These two blues, warm and cool, made a lovely, radiant blue. If these two colors were mixed together in the usual way they would make a grayed blue.

  2. I am very excited about learning all about your methods. We met @ IAPS ! I am the crazy Canadian girl! Hope to meet you and chat again one fine day.

  3. For those who consider broken pastel a loss, you can use my illuminated stick recipe to reform the stick. you do not have to keep the particle size, but grind to fine powder, moisten to a clay-like consistency, roll and let dry.

    When you wet and roll pastel you must tet it completely dry. Pastel sticks are weak until they have dried because the binder doesn't reset while damp. they take a week to 10 days to dry in temperate weather. They are cool to the touch, like laundry, while still wet

  4. Hi, I am analysing your Liquorice Allsorts Stack for my Art. I would love to know what your idea was behind it and if it means anything to you. It would be great if you replied so I could add it to my portfolio!

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  6. Hi there Kitty, my name is Kelly and I am just starting out in plein air using soft pastels and you wonderful Wallis paper. This paper has been recommended by a most impressive pastelist, Kim Lordier. I am so eager to learn, but you paper seems to be sold out everywhere. Do you have any idea on when you will be making it again. Hope you are ok and just busy with wonderful art things. Thank you ever so kindly.